Tuesday, June 21, 2022

Alex Jennings & Karate Valentino

Who is in the photo at right?

That’s Karate Valentino, aka Mr. Boy, aka, Medium Baby. He’s a boxer/shar pei mix, and I’m convinced that he is the best dog in the history of dogs—and not just because dogs don’t much remember the past. He is 3 going on 4 at the end of August!

And that’s me in the photo, too. My name is Alex Jennings, and I’m an author/teacher/performer who has been living in New Orleans for the past—hm—sixteen years, now.

What's the occasion for Coffee with a Canine?

Usually, Karate and I take our coffee at home, but we live nearby a community green space called The Lafitte Greenway. Our favorite local coffee company, French Truck, has a café there, so sometimes we stop in to buy beans and a pastry or two, and give the local folx a chance to shower Karate with admiration and pets.

What’s brewing?

Almost always French Truck, and in the warmer months, I use my Toddy to make cold brew concentrate that I’ll then mix with a bit of water, some oat milk, and Splenda. And, of course, I’m brewing up my second novel, so may God have mercy on my poor soul!

Any treats?

Karate looooves his dried lamb’s lungs, but he’s also deeply appreciative of Cheez-its and white cheddar Cheetos. He deserves all these things, as he is the Best Boy, but we try not to overdo it.

How were you and Karate united?

During the first few months of the Pandemic, my roommate Kytara and I were overwhelmed by that buried-alive feeling of being stuck in our apartment trying to be good citizens, knowing even as we did that Covid 19 wasn’t going anywhere anytime soon. I was feeling pretty bad about the Covid weight I’d gained, and we decided that we needed something to cut through that loneliness and despair and help us be more active. We started looking for a dog and Karate wasn’t the first one we tried for, but when I saw his photo on the Animal Rescue of New Orleans (ARNO) website, I sensed that he was my dog.

We went out to Harahan, which was relatively distant to us as neither of us drives or has a car, and as we walked Karate (then erroneously named “Soldier”), I began to worry that we wouldn’t be able to complete the adoption on the spot and that I’d be separated from this guy who was clearly our dog. It turned out ARNO was able to get the paperwork done right away, and the three of us were frolicking together that same day.

How did Karate get his name?

I’m a fan of It’s Always Sunny in Philadelphia, and there’s a song created for the show called “The Day Man.”

The chorus is as follows:
Day Man
Fighter of the Night Man
You’re a master of Karate
And friendship
For everyone
So, in my mind, Karate and friendship go hand-in-hand, and Karate is definitely my best friend, so that part of his name came naturally. We’re also very much a queer household with a lot of respect for ballroom culture, so Karate is named for one of the great houses. I will say, though, that he’s barely able to vogue, and his death-drop skills are… questionable.

Does Karate do more to help or hinder your writing?

Karate 100 percent enables my decadent and indolent authorial lifestyle. When we got him, he had heart worms, (and ARNO paid for his treatment) so he was low-energy, but once he was over his illness, he was still very mellow. He had just come out of puppyhood when we got him, and he’s always been pretty distinguished, so he spends much of his time lolling on the sofa or curled up in his bed while I hunch maniacally over my laptop keyboard.

Has Karate inspired you to create any fictional canines?

Oh, definitely. Last year (I think it was last year, but what is time?) I wrote a horror story called “Them Doghead Boys” that was published in, of all places, Current Affairs magazine. The story was set in our New Orleans neighborhood and involved a sort of corrupted and diluted brand of lycanthropy where those who contract it remain mostly human but gain the heads of dogs. Karate was the model for our illustration, and I so loved seeing him rendered in black-and-white with his soulful eyes and august wrinkles.

Cat, postman, squirrel...?

Cat, for sure. Every time we go out, Karate is hoping to make friends with a cat. He’s a lover, not a fighter, so I don’t think he’s interested in harming them, but cats have generally made it clear to him that they don’t want him within three feet, so unless Kytara or I get a cat, I don’t think he’ll ever have a chance to live his dream.

Ball, squeaky-toy, stick...?

This one is a little embarrassing as I feel like we haven’t done a great job teaching Karate to play. He is basically unmoved by balls or squeaky toys, and maybe that’s because he considers them beneath his dignity. Every once in a while, he’ll play with a stick, but honestly, if it’s not flavored in any way, he loses interest pretty quickly.

Who is Karate’s best pet pal?

The local poet Shaina Monet is a good friend of mine, and her black lab, Booker sometimes has play-dates with Karate. The two of them got along from the start, even though Book was much more of a puppy when they met. They have a good time together, for sure.

If Karate could change one thing about New Orleanians, what would it be?

Honestly, if he was Emperor of the Universe, all New Orleanians would be made of cheese so that he could get pets, cuddles, and treats from the same exact source.

If Karate could answer one question in English, what would you ask him?

When Kytara and I board you because we’re both traveling, are you aware that we’re coming back and that you are still very much ours?

If Hollywood made a movie about your life in which Karate could speak, who would voice him?

This one’s easy: Keith David.

What advice would Karate give if asked?

“Just chill. No reason to get worked up, just take life as it comes—unless there’s a very loud engine, in which case, you should lose yore effin mind!”

Visit Alex Jennings's website.

--Marshal Zeringue