Buddy went to his first cyclocross race of the season in Rochester, in that lovely Olmstead designed park. Buddy is fond of children, the smaller the better, although I suspect he likes the babies in strollers primarily for the stuffed toys wedged in the stroller with them. He is gentle, though, as he roots out the toys and tugs them from their dark corners. Some babies think this is funny and gurgle with delight as they see their stuffed alligators or teddy bears making their way in Buddy’s careful mouth to the light of day; others become upset as they see their toys changing hands. They are probably future Republicans.
Buddy had satisfying exchanges with three sets of children that weekend. The first was a tiny infant being carried by its mother in a front-harness baby holder. I had Buddy in his own backpack, on my back. In case you haven’t seen it, Buddy sits in the pack with his head and one leg visible, looking like, as someone observed, “a cabby with his arm hanging out.” When the infant saw Buddy on my back, his neutral expression creased into a slow, serene, appreciative smile. Really, it was just like having a Buddhist monk smile at us.
The second was a group of three siblings. They asked, (as most children do these days) if they could pet Buddy, who had trotted right up to them. He nestled himself into the center of the three as they crowded around, gently patting and exclaiming about how soft he was.
“I like how his mouth does this,” said the littlest boy and made a small moue.
“I wish we could have a dog. We might get one,” said the middle child, a small boy, with an Arab name.
“We won’t get one,” said his older sister, who had early adolescent pimples and braces but who seemed full of joy. She hadn’t said it to be mean, I could tell. There are disappointments in life, she seemed to know already, and there was no point in pretending otherwise. I really liked those kids.
The third encounter was a little four-or-five-year-old who marched up, and asked to pet Buddy.
“Sure,” I said. “He likes people who are little.”
As soon as I said that, I knew it was wrong and the child set me straight at once.
“I’m not little,” he said without rancor.
“I know,” I said. “I’m sorry, I don’t know why I said that.”
Facts restored, he proceeded to pet Buddy. “What’s his name?”
“Buddy,” I said. He paused, his face wrinkled in puzzlement. “What’s his nickname?”
I cracked up. Because, really, he had a point.
“Little potato,” I said, and now the boy cracked up.
An hour or so later, Buddy and I were near the finish line and I heard a shrill, piping voice behind us, getting louder, “His nickname is little potato.”
I looked around. The not-little kid was ushering a group of friends over to us.
“His nickname is little potato,” he informed them again, bending down to pet Buddy proprietarily.