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His Name's Gus

The moment had come and gone in a flash, and I had already moved on, both physically and emotionally. And then, Joanie jumped in and reignited it.

Sunday, we took a long walk, and I mean a looooonnnnngggg walk, one which turned out to be a bit more than either of us had planned on. (That’s another story for another day.) Toward the end, we passed a small church as a wedding couple emerged with all their guests. The church had a large cemetery in front of it, and I thought how it seemed to ruin the “vibe” of the celebration erupting not 50 yards away.

A moment later, we passed a man walking a large, black poodle.

Joanie fell back a step so the sidewalk could accommodate both duos (the two of us and the man and his dog). As the first to pass him, I waved, nodded and in a friendly voice said to him (and the dog if he was listening and able to understand English), “Nobody complains on a day like today!”

Rather gruffly, the man replied, “What’s that supposed to mean?”

Immediately realizing the vagueness of my statement, I held out both arms and looked up to the cloudless sky. “The weather,” I replied and continued on my way, not giving the encounter a second thought, trying to respect the man’s obvious wish to walk his dog in peace without people yapping at him. At least that’s the impression I got, and I understand; often I feel the same way, though I’m working on being more cordial and friendly to others when I’m out and about.

Not three seconds later, I heard chatter, and I turned to see Joanie stopped, talking to the man and petting the dog. (To say Joanie as a “way” with people – and dogs – would be an understatement. You can also add babies to the list.)

Of course, I headed back to where they were standing (interestingly, at least to me) in front of a sign that read, “Dogs prohibited in cemetery,” a cemetery which provided the backdrop for the wedding party. (These details aren’t important, I just needed to offload them because they were all included in my memory of the situation, and I wanted to give you the complete picture.)

As I returned to the scene of my own botched attempt at friendly banter, Joanie was already well on her way to making this man’s day (and the dog’s too). His tone had softened, from the gruff, textured timbre of someone whose best oratorical years had long since passed, to the kind, mellow notes of a beloved uncle talking to his favorite niece.

“What a cutie!” she said, scruffing the dog’s ears as he happily wagged his tail, hoping this moment would never end. “What’s his name?”

“Gus,” the man replied with what I detected to be a mild southern accent. “Wanted to name him Renoir, you know, like the French painter? But my grandkids said, ‘What’s Renoir? Nobody gives a dog a name like that.’” He chuckled to himself, then continued. “So, I looked him up and found out his full name is Pierre Auguste Renoir. So, I thought maybe I could keep everybody happy by naming him Gus. And they liked that.”

I nodded – resisting the urge to speak -- as Joanie continued to gush over the dog and make light conversation. The man liked her; he tolerated me. (That’s fair.) A moment later, I got my chance to pet and gush over Gus as well, and I did. He was a beautiful dog: jet black, and when he stood tall his head came up to my waist. He had a beautiful coat, and though excited by all the attention, he was extremely well behaved. “He’s great around people and little kids, as you can see,” said the man as Gus went back and forth between Joanie and me, enjoying every second.

Joanie and the man continued to talk, and for once in my life, I resisted the urge to chime in, opting instead to simply nod and smile, and when I did speak, it was to Gus. “You’re a good dog, aren’t you Gus? Yeah, you’re a good boy!” He happily accepted my words and scruffs, and we had a great time as the “adults” continued to talk.

Moments later, we went our separate ways, both groups off to complete their respective walks on a beautiful Sunday afternoon. As we parted, I once again spoke as I waved goodbye. “Have a great afternoon!” I yelled.

“You too,” I heard over my shoulder. It made me feel good that he and I ended on a better note than in our first encounter. (Who knows? Maybe he’s also working on being friendlier and more cordial when he’s out walking.)

The entire encounter lasted maybe three minutes, but if Joanie hadn’t been with me, it would have fallen flat, a failed attempt to engage on my part. Instead, it turned out to be a short but sweet moment, one that all four of us – and that all of us – need sometimes. Just kind words shared between people with no other reason to connect other than that we occupy the same sidewalk -- and the same planet -- at the same time in history.

And it was all made possible by Joanie and Gus. I wish I had gotten a photo of us together, but I’m sure that would have ruined the moment, and besides, it’s cool to know that I’ll always have that picture in my mind, though I might mentally Photoshop out the cemetery. And I might suggest the wedding couple do the same? But do I know, right?

© 2023 David R. Haznaw

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