Keaton was telling me a story about his time up in Fairbanks, how he’d gotten a job at a bar and spent some of his time taking care of Charlie, the 5 year old son of the bar’s owner, Trip. Keaton did all kinds of stuff with the kid while the weather was nice, but was short on ideas of what to do with him during the long, coldass Alaska winters.
Until someone suggested dogsledding.
“You mean like ‘mush mush!’?,” I asked.
“Dog sledders really are called mushers for your information. But you never tell a dog ‘mush’. If you did, he’d turn around and look at you like you were a fuckin idiot…and he’d be right.”
“So what do you tell a dog sledding team if you want them to go faster?”
“Usually your problem is gonna be that you want them to go slower. Eight dogs can go pretty fuckin fast, and they’re bred to run. And if you want ‘em to slow down, you just tell ‘em ‘easy’ like you do with a horse. But would you let me tell my fuckin story, bubba?”
“Sorry. Go ahead.”
“So this dude’s been to the bar a few times, and he overheard me talking with Trip about something to do with Charlie since both of us needed a change from the snowmobile and mini golf. This dude is a licensed Alaska hunting and fishing guide…and he keeps and breeds a sledding team on the side, partly for tourists and partly for locals. While plenty of Alaskans have their own snowmobiles (I was even thinking of buying one for myself), they don’t exactly all keep dogsled teams…and going for a ride in a sled sounded like a fun winter activity, even if I didn’t have a 5 year old to keep busy. The dude’s name was Jake, and he, Trip and I hit it off.
“Jake’s lived all over the place. His dad’s a Chicago lawyer, and he dropped out of college after two years, which disappointed the fuck outta his family. He wanted to be an outdoorsman, and he tried it all over the world. He even worked as a hunting safari guide in Kenya…if you can imagine a blue-eyed white dude doing that.
“Jake’s lived on every continent, and when he got to Alaska, he realized he found where he wanted to be. So he set up his business, and he’s doing pretty well for himself. We don’t get a whole lot of tourists up in Fairbanks, but the ones that do come usually want the full Alaska experience…and if you want a moose hunt, ice fishing excursion and dog sledding trip, Jake’s your man. But, like I said, some of what he does, especially the sledding, is for locals too, and a lot of people take their kids out to his place for sled rides.
“So that’s what I did with Charlie one December day. Jake let us meet the dogs first , then he harnessed them, then off we went. You wouldn’t believe how fuckin fun it was, bubba. I even got to stand on the runners after a while, which was even more fun. Charlie kept wanting to do that too, but they said he was too small. That was the one disappointment he had. Otherwise, Charlie was in seventh heaven from the first minute. He loved everything about dogsledding. He loved the dogs, he loved being in the sled, he fuckin loved the speed…he just loved the whole fuckin thing.
“There’s not a lot of daylight, so sometimes the runs we went for were in the dark afternoons. Sunset’s like 2:45 at that time of year.”
“Can you go sledding in the dark?” I asked.
“Yeah. They have a big headlight they put on the sled so the dogs can see where they’re going. Besides, dogs see well in the night anyway. We never got to go on one, but Jake does midnight excursions to go see the Northern Lights. That sounded super fun…but they were way past Charlie’s bedtime, and Trip and I figured that he’d probably sleep through most of it if we went.
“I think Charlie loved the dogs most of all, but it’s hard not to fall in love with a bunch of Alaskan huskies. They’re beautiful animals – the total opposite of that gayass purse dog y’all pretended to give me for my birthday. They’re super intelligent, too. Charlie just loved hanging out with them and petting them, and they took to him just as much as he took to them, even though he wasn’t much bigger than they were. You can’t imagine how cute it was to see a kid surrounded by Alaskan huskies. Jake told me they’re pretty nurturing animals. You could tell by how they interacted with Charlie.
“So dogsledding and sled dogs became the only thing Charlie could talk about. He had endless questions about it, and sometimes he wore all three of us out with them. I ended up having to do research on my own to get Charlie answers. That’s when I found out that there are two big dogsled races in Alaska, the Iditarod and the Yukon Quest. The Iditarod runs from Anchorage to Nome and the Yukon Quest runs from Fairbanks to Whitehorse in Canada. It’s the tougher race, but the Iditarod is the one people have heard of. We were super lucky that year because they changed the course for the Iditarod to go through Fairbanks. So we had to go and stand out in the fucking cold twice to see the start of the both races, the Yukon Quest in February and the Iditarod in March. By that time, Charlie was an expert and new the names of the mushers. It was the most excited I ever saw Charlie and it was totally awesome. You know how you fell in love with baseball?”
I nodded. Of course I did.
“That’s how Charlie was with dogsledding.
“Of course he wanted a husky of his own, although the last thing we needed around the bar was a dog when taking care of Charlie was all Trip and I could do. So we weren’t getting Charlie a husky. Even Jake tried to explain to him that huskys weren’t house dogs and that they had to live somewhere where they could be trained and hang out with other dogs.
“But Charlie wasn’t listening. It’s the only time I ever saw him throw a tantrum, but he man did he throw one when Trip told him no dog. Since Charlie never threw tantrums, Trip had no idea what to do. I could tell he was close to giving in.
“’You realize you can’t do that, right?,’ I asked him after we’d closed the bar.
“’But…,’ Trip said, ‘he said he hated me. He’s never done that before.’ He got out two glasses and a bottle of scotch he kept for himself. He never drank during business hours, but he usually did have one or two before going to bed. ‘Do you know what that feels like, having your son tell you he hated you?’
“’Kinda,’ I said. Charlie said he hated me too, but I reckon it’s not the same thing when it’s your own kid.
“’I guess I should go have a talk with him,’ Trip said.
“’Now? It’s 3 AM. Let the kid sleep until morning. ‘The morning is always wiser’ – Russian proverb. Really.’ I didn’t mention that I’d picked it up from a visiting drug dealer in Rotterdam.
“Trip went up to bed and I went home and went to sleep. I got woken up at 8 by the fuckin phone. Everyone I knew up there knew not to call people who work nights at 8 AM, so I couldn’t figure out who the fuck it was. Turns out it was Trip, and Charlie was still upset. Little kids can be little tyrants, and I think Charlie noticed how telling Trip he hated him worked. So he told him he was the worst father in the world. Talk about a cheap shot.
“I told Trip I’d be over to talk to Charlie myself.
“I got dressed – it was still winter so it meant putting on all that fuckin cold weather shit – and drove the truck over to the bar. When I got there, things were at a standstill. They were both sitting at the breakfast table staring each other down. I wasn’t sure if that was better than yelling or not.
“I ain’t no fuckin expert in conflict resolution, but there I was, stuck having to resolve conflict between a 5 year old and his dad. It was a good chance for me to think what a selfish bitch Charlie’s mother had been to strand Trip with double the job a single parent has to do.
“’C’mon slugger’,” I told Charlie, ‘let’s you and me have a talk.’
“Charlie looked a little scared but went with me. My feelings were a little hurt that he looked scared. The first thing he should have known about me was that I’d never ever ever hit someone so much weaker than me.
“I took him to his bedroom and he took a seat on the bed. I sat down on the floor so we could be more or less at eye level.
“’You know your dad’s upset with you, right?,’ I asked.
“’Yeah. Well…he said I couldn’t have…’
“’Whoa slugger,’ I said, ‘even if you’re mad at him or disappointed or some other shit like that, he’s still your dad. And that mans you respect him and you don’t say shit like you hate him. You know what my dad did when I was your age and I told him I hated him because he wouldn’t get me something I wanted?
“Charlie looked at me with those great big kid eyes and looked scared.
“’Did…he spank you?,’ he asked. I don’t think Trip ever hit Charlie. Not even when, if you ask me, he should have.
“’Yessir,’ I said. ‘And you know what he said? He said ‘now you can hate me even more’.’ Charlie stared at me like he couldn’t believe that. ‘True story.’
“’Did I what?’
“’Hate him even more?’
“’No. I know it sounds weird, but that one quick smack he gave me made me realize that I didn’t hate him at all and that I loved him. You know your dad loves you, right? I’m no expert, but I’ve never seen a dude love a kid the way he loves you. You know what time we closed up last night?’ He nodded ‘no’. ‘3:30. And he’s up with you every morning at 7:30 to make you breakfast. You know how little sleep that is?’
“Charlie looked at me.
“’Do the math, slugger. What’s 7 -3?’
“’4,’ he said in a real tiny voice.
“’Right. He gets 4 hours sleep every night. And do you know why?’ He nodded ‘no’ again, but barely. ‘Because he loves you, Charlie. Trip’d do anything for you. Anything.’
“’Then why won’t he…’
“’C’mon, slugger. You know why. We can’t take care of a great big dog here, in this apartment or downstairs. A husky isn’t a pet. They’re bred to run and they need the wide open spaces to run in. That’s what’s cool about them, isn’t it? How they can run?’ Small nod of ‘yes’. ‘Then can’t you see how it would be mean to the dog to make him live here with us?’
“’No ‘yes, but’. You know I’m right. And you know you’re gonna go out there, tell Trip you’re sorry and, most of all, that you love him.’
“So he did, and there was a lot of crying which I really didn’t want to have to watch, so I slipped down to the bar until they could pull themselves together.”
“You really did that,” I asked, “had that kind of a talk with Charlie?”
“Yeah,” Keaton said. “I was fuckin flying blind, but it worked out. It taught me not to get pissed off when a kid’s throwing a tantrum in public.”
So Trip took time off and the three of us went out to Jake’s so Charlie could play with the dogs and we could get squeezed in for a quick ride.
“Anyway, then the Yukon Quest and the Iditarod came to town, Charlie got all excited about them, and, not a moment too soon, it was spring. Fuck do you learn to appreciate spring living in Alaska. The minute the temperature hit 50 all the dudes there were out in shorts.”
“Naah,” he said, “I wasn’t that Alaska-crazy yet. I waited until it was closer to 60. It gets into the 70s and sometimes the low 80s in the summer. There’s plenty of time to wear shorts without being fuckin crazy about it.
“So then we had the next crisis in early summer. Once the sledding season is over they think about breeding dogs. Jake didn’t breed a lot, since he didn’t need that many dogs, but he did breed one bitch that year…which meant that Trip had to have ‘the talk’ with Charlie. That was hysterically funny, and I told Trip he was fuckin alone on that one. I was glad to help with the kid as much as I could…but I drew the line there. So the bitch had her litter…and you can guess what happened.”
“Charlie wanted a puppy.”
“Charlie wanted a puppy. And you should have seen the puppies. Fuck, I wanted one for myself. “
“You know the Dogecoin dog?,” Keaton asked.
I said I did.
“Husky puppies are 10 times cuter.”
“So what happened? Another tantrum from Charlie?”
“He kind of learned his lesson about tantrums,” Keaton said, “although he wasn’t too young to try a little emotional blackmail. You know: he went to Trip and told him he was the best father in the world. Shit like that.”
“Did it work?”
“Of course not. Trip’s not a fool. Besides, Jake wouldn’t have let us have a puppy anyway. They’re bred as working dogs. They’re supposed to work.”
“So what happened?”
“Actually it was Jake that saved us,” Keaton said. “He thought Charlie was a great kid…and it’s not all that often that you find a 5 year old kid who loves what you do as much as you do. So he agreed to name one of the puppies he was planning to keep ‘Charlie’…and made Charlie the honorary godfather.
“Man did that make him happy! He was thrilled to be a godfather, even if he didn’t exactly know what a godfather was. And so he had his puppy kinda, only we didn’t have to deal with it pissing and shitting all over the apartment and the bar. It was a perfect arrangement, although I did have to take Charlie out to see Charlie the dog all the fuckin time. It helped that Jake chose exactly the right puppy for a little boy: he was very gentle and loving and took to Charlie from the git go. So it ended up working out. And, hey, I’ll admit to you that I didn’t exactly mind going to visit the puppies myself.
“And if you tell anyone that I like puppies, bubba…”
“I know,” I said, “you’re gonna kick my ass.” He probably could, but the more I get to know Keaton, the more I think that it might not be as easy as he thinks it’d be lol. “So what happened to Charlie finally?”
“He’s in the 2nd grade now. I’ve even got a picture.” He brought it up on his phone. Charlie was indeed a cute kid, and the picture of him with Charlie the dog was totally adorable. “I don’t know if they’ve cancelled school in Alaska. But he’s doing good in that, you’ll like it that he’s started in little league, and Trip’s still being an awesome single father. He doesn’t open the bar until he’s picked Charlie up from school, although I think he’s got a girl who comes in…”
“…but nothing like you,” I said.
“Nope. And I miss the kid a lot. We video chat, so we’re still in touch. Trip didn’t want him to forget me, and the good thing about all this technology shit is you can stay in touch. So, if you tell anyone that I like little kids…”
“Well,” I said, “little boys.”
“True, little boys. I wouldn’t have had any fuckin idea what to do with a little girl. I don’t think Trip would have either.”
“Is he still so into dogs? And how’s Charlie the dog doing?”
“Charlie’s into them as much as ever. Maybe more now that Jake is teaching him to drive. Charlie the dog turned out to be a lead dog, believe it or not. They’re like the elite of the mushing world. See, they don’t have reins on dog sleds, so it’s not like with a horse. The only way you can tell it where to go is by verbal command, and it’s the lead dogs who know the difference between ‘haw’ and ‘gee’.” He could see I was puzzled. “’Gee’ is left, bubba, and ‘haw’ is right. And, yeah, ‘yeehaw’ comes from putting ‘gee’ and ‘haw’ together, although that doesn’t mean that the horse is supposed to run in both directions at the same time.”
“So it’s all good in Fairbanks now that you’ve been there,” I said.
“Yeah. I gotta admit that I miss it sometimes. Good people up there, and it’s cool that they’re all crazy. They pay you to live up there…and you don’t need a concealed carry permit.”
“So why didn’t you stay?”
“Because the weather is too fuckin crazy for starters. I went through 3 Alaskan winters and that’s enough for one lifetime. One reason why I came down here where it’s warm all the time. I was done freezing my ass off. But Alaska did remind me a little of Texas, except it was cold as fuck instead of hot as fuck.”
Keaton got up to get himself another Stella Artois and downed it pretty much in one gulp.
“That enough entertainment for you, bubba?,” he asked.
“Gotta admit that wasn’t the story I was expecting from you,” I said.
“Hey, I’ve lived 32 years. There’s still a lot you don’t know about all that time. I don’t keep no gayass blog where I tell everyone all about myself.”
“Well…you’re gonna get told about in someone’s gayass blog this time,” I said.