The air is warm, dinner is done, and I have a friend outside the back door of my garage. Biff is waiting for me to walk down the steps with a Wiffle ball in my left hand and an oversized red bat in my right. When I do, he fixes his unblinking brown eyes on both and paces in small circles, never craning his head or averting his gaze.
In the wordless way of communicating I’ve come to understand through our six years together, Biff very clearly says what he means: Hit the ball.
Biff is my English bulldog and a 70-pound brick house of a canine—heavily muscled at the shoulders, soft around the belly. And throughout his life, my wife and I have been waging seasonal wars with Biff’s waistline. Right now, he needs to lose about 10 pounds leftover from winter. Don’t we all.
There are two obstacles facing us. The first is diet. It’s not the variations of home-cooked turkey, steamed vegetables, and brown rice that he eats at every meal. It’s the three or four occasions a week when I’m not looking that he slobbers through the bowls of Moist & Meaty intended for Schwartz, our blind, deaf, 18-year-old dachshund. So we’ve got to keep closer tabs around dinnertime.
The other obstacle is meeting Biff’s exercise predilections. He won’t walk on pavement anymore—we’ve never managed to loop through our neighborhood—and he’s barred from visiting his favorite beach between May and September. And when we’re in the back yard, he won’t fetch a stick or a tennis ball. Only one game can interrupt his snore-filled beauty sleep.
Two summers ago, when Biff first started chasing Wiffle balls as a habit, he lost close to 10 pounds in short order. That’s because once I smack the ball, he zips across the yard in a full sprint—bulldogs, it might surprise you to learn, are capable of great bursts of speed. He finds his target and pounces, barrel rolls, and sometimes somersaults across the lawn, crushing feeble perforated plastic with his underbite. He doesn’t really have the retrieval part of the game down though: He doubles back toward me, then jukes me like a wide receiver. All I can do is wait for an opportunity to grab him by the collar, pry the ball out of the vice that is his mouth, and send it sailing through the air again.
The after-work routine that Biff and I share is part of the cycle of summer. It’s the time of year we celebrate in the July issue that you hold in your hands—one that, hopefully, you’re reading with sand between your toes. It’s the time to enjoy the fact that more of our lives take place outside instead of on the couch. It’s the time when lifelong memories are distilled from small moments.
Biff is firmly into his exercise regimen once again. The only problem is getting him to stop—he ignores the rigor of the game. Once, he played so hard that he dislocated his shoulder. When I remove the ball from his maw for the last time, he wants to keep going.
But by then, his tongue is unfurled on the ground like a red carpet. He’s panting 100 times a minute, and the corners of his drooping jowls climb toward his eyes. If I didn’t know any better, I’d say he’s smiling. I know I am.
Jeff Harder, Managing Editor