Damon Young/VSB
Damon Young/VSB

Couple things you need to know before we get started:

1. The Wife Person and I have an 11-year-old pit bull named Mickey. Now, you might not trust me when I tell you Mickey happens to be the nicest, sweetest, and smartest dog I've ever met. Because of course a dog owner probably isn't going to be particularly objective about his own dog. But, Mickey is actually The Wife Person's dog. I am not a dog person. I don't dislike dogs. I just don't consider them to be necessary. Like peas. Or Rita Ora.

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But, Mickey. Damn. That little motherfucker is amazing. He's so amazing that I'm still not entirely convinced he's not a tiny person in a very elaborate dog costume. If I learned Mickey was actually Peter Dinklage, I'd be more surprised an Emmy award-winning actor decided to disguise himself as a Pittsburgher's dog for a decade than I would be about Mickey not being a dog.

human in very convincing dog costume
human in very convincing dog costume
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Anyway, Mickey is so well-behaved that I walk him without a leach. And every time I go outside with him I witness a social experiment. Because EVERY SINGLE WHITE PERSON who sees him wants to pet him. And talk to him. And hug him. And rub his belly. And whisper sweet nothings into his paw. And EVERY SINGLE BLACK PERSON who sees him…crosses the street. Even after I say "It's cool. Don't worry about him." a dozen times. And if there's no street to cross, the nearest high stoop or bench or car will be jumped on. (Yes. Cars. I've seen two separate too-old-to-still-be-jumping-on-cars-and-shit Black men jump on cars to avoid walking next to him.) Basically, Black people treat Mickey the way everyone else treats Black people.

2. I live in a refurbished school house that's surrounded by a few empty lots and boarded up houses. In a decade or so, there will probably be other apartment complexes and couscous stands and shit there, but now there's nothing. Except empty lots. And, at night, the occasional White prostitute or two. I don't know why they're always White. And I don't know why they've chosen this particular stretch of the city to work. I guess I could find out if I just asked one of them. But I'm already kind of an awkward motherfucker. And kind of awkward motherfuckers probably shouldn't approach White prostitutes at night to survey sex worker demographics and zoning best practices.

Anyway, while walking Mickey, he usually relieves himself in one of the aforementioned empty lots. His favorite lot is filled with weeds that are at least three feet high. Sometimes he completely disappears into them, and I don't see him again until he's done. And sometimes one of the women will be out there pacing, smoking, and waiting. And for a two or three minute stretch, we'll be standing 20 feet away from each other; her still pacing, smoking, and waiting for whatever she's waiting for and me wanting this damn humanoid-ass dog to hurry the hell up so people walking or driving past will know I'm walking my dog and not soliciting sex.

just a dog and his owner out for a walk and not soliciting sex
just a dog and his owner out for a walk and not soliciting sex
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And then one night we might make eye contact. And the eye contact leads to a smile or a nod or some other type of normal human acknowledgement. And then I'll start thinking that I'm being paranoid, that no one driving or walking past is going to see us standing on the same block and immediately assume there's a transaction going on.

And then a car will drive past, slow down, observe us standing close enough to each other to speak, pause for a couple seconds, and then drive away. And then she'll mutter "Shit!" and start running after the car faster than I've ever seen any White woman in heels run before. She looked exactly like…shit. I can't even think of any fast White women to compare her to. Hope Solo? Sue Bird? Reese Witherspoon? Just imagine a fast-ass White woman in heels. And then it'll dawn on me I wasn't being paranoid at all.

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And then Mickey The Humanoid will finally emerge from the weeds. And we'll go back inside. And I'll tell The Wife Person about what just happened. And then she'll say "Wow. You should write about this tonight."

And I'll agree.

And now, a couple hours after that happened, I still don't know what to make of it. Those interactions always feel surreal. Like I'm in a deleted scene from a straight-to-DVD sequel of Crash. Or the beginning of a Bob Saget joke. ("A smart dog, a Black man, and White prostitute walk into an empty lot…") And I never know what exactly I'm supposed to be feeling while it happens. I mean, I'm writing about it because that's what I do. And sometimes this process helps me figure out things I hadn't figured out before I started writing. But now, I'm trying to make sense of it all, of what (if anything) should be going through my head besides "I should write about this" and it's refusing to happen. And maybe it's refusing to happen because there's no sense to be made.

Damon Young is the editor-in-chief of VSB, a columnist for GQ.com, and the author of What Doesn't Kill You Makes You Blacker (Ecco/HarperCollins)

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DISCUSSION

Meh, dogs.

I'm not afraid of them but I don't care for them, don't try and palliate and say oh they don't bite, that's not my concern, your filthy animal touching me is. Just the other day, I almost had to take it to that ghetto University with a neighbor who legit let his dog sh t on my lawn and was going to just walk away until he peeped I was on the porch, if I wanted fertilizer I would purchase it, B. Also if you're white and your dog barks at me I think you're a racist