A boulevardier and his “official” dog
By Susan Koenig
She’s a lady, and she knows it. Frankfort’s first “Official Dog” was sworn in by the city mayor about three years ago. Doone, a collie/husky mix, is recognized on the street by young and old alike. They know her by name. They stop to pet her. They speak to her in cooing voices, sometimes paying no mind to the man at the other end of the leash.
“One time, a woman was walking toward us on her cell phone. I heard her say, ‘I’ve got to go—that guy who walks Doone is coming!’” says Kim Fairchild, the owner of Doone. (Or is it the other way around?)
There are many reasons why people choose to live in or to visit Benzie County, and the characters that inhabit our quotidian lives are not the least of those. A pleasant, gregarious man of a certain age, Fairchild nevertheless describes himself as a “total nihilist, misanthropist, an atheist since [his] early teens, a curmudgeon, a pessimist, and a cynic.” He says his mom used to tell him that “there’s no such thing as the Devil, no such place as Hell, and you can believe in God—if you want to.”
He is a cantankerous fellow, to say the least. However, when interviewed at his favorite Frankfort hangout, Petals & Perks, seemingly every person who entered the place would stop to chat, encouraged by this so-called grouchy fellow.
Unsociable and distrustful though he may claim to be, Fairchild is a person who converses with all and sundry, plays with babies, pets dogs, knows everyone, and everyone seems to know and like him, as well—yes, even those who don’t know him by name.
An informal poll of a few residents yielded such accolades as: “Kim has his finger on the pulse of the town,” “he’s a treasure to our community,” “a walking encyclopedia,” “bright,” “witty,” “cynical,” “the finest mind in Frankfort,” and, of course, “that guy who walks Doone.”
When asked how he reconciles his misanthropic curmudgeonliness with his very pleasant sociability, this sardonic lover of people quoted the acclaimed satirist Jonathan Swift: “I love men, but I despise mankind. People, one on one, are usually pretty decent.”
Kim Johnston Fairchild was born in Frankfort on Forest Avenue in the Anna Markham Hospital, now a house divided into rental units. He is the eldest of four—and the only boy—of Charles and Edna Fairchild, and he is the grandson of Charles Albert Fairchild, who owned and operated the landmark Fairchild’s Market for 50 years. His grandfather sold the market in 1974, and the building burned to the ground shortly thereafter.
Kim Fairchild attended the Frankfort school system from kindergarten until his graduation from high school in 1966. He admits to being a “disruptive student,” now self-diagnosing as probably suffering from attention deficit disorder. Not surprisingly, he considered school a social event.
After graduation, Fairchild continued on to Central Michigan University (CMU), wanting to emulate his esteemed science teacher, Scott Matthews. Disillusioned with student teaching, though, he dropped out of college and joined the Air Force, attending basic training at Language School in Monterey, California, before deciding that he did not want to go to China or anywhere else overseas (this was 1969). So he wound up in the Packing and Crating Shop in Colorado Springs, cutting 4×8 pieces of plywood to make boxes for shipping typewriters to Turkey.
Then came, as the saying goes, the defining moment of his life up to that point.
In 1971, while cutting the crates, Fairchild ran his hand through a table saw, which apparently was not bolted to the floor. After 27 months in hospital and many surgeries, including skin grafts, tendon repairs, and transplants, he was given an honorable discharge and returned home.
Fairchild has attended classes in elementary education, speech pathology, history, biology, agronomy, and nursing, rejecting them all for a variety of reasons, not to mention boredom and “math anxiety.” After two years at the Grand Traverse Department of Veteran Affairs and one more educational stint at Aquinas College, he came back, yet again, to Benzie County, where he took the U.S. Postal Service exam and worked for that agency for seven years, retiring in 1988.*
At the age of 40, Fairchild married Edith “Pinky” Marble, whom he had first met at a CSA dance 24 years earlier, when she was 14 and he was 16. The couple was married for 19 years, until Pinky’s death in 2006. They had acquired Doone—whom they named after the famous novel Lorna Doone—shortly before, and the Official Dog has been his constant companion ever since.
The twosome has a somewhat fixed schedule, with flexibility built in, of course, for ice and snow or the possibility of fly-fishing.
Their daily fair-weather outings go something like this: Carpe diem 8:30-9:30 a.m.; pick up newspapers at EZ Mart; head to Petals & Perks for coffee. Next, they hang out in the break room of City Hall for a while, where Doone gets treats and plenty of attention, and then they are off to Crescent Bakery, where Fairchild buys a doughnut and feeds it to sparrows on the sidewalk. They meander to the beach, perhaps meeting Bill Beck and Max, his schnauzer**, before backtracking to True Value Hardware*** for more Doone treats, then The Bookstore (treats and conversation), and finally L’Chayim, where there is usually a small stash of meat scraps for you-know-who, and where Fairchild eats a chocolate chip cookie. All this time, they are running into people on the sidewalk and stopping to chat.
“Winter is OK, but I really do prefer the lively summer scene for walking about and meeting all kinds of folks,” Fairchild says.
Then the boulevardier and his femme fatale wander home, where he puts on some “bad Rock ‘n Roll,” makes coffee, reads newspapers, does crossword puzzles, and smokes cigars. Fairchild usually reads for one to three hours (right now he is into sci-fi and fantasy), makes dinner, reads some more, and heads to bed.
A voracious reader, Fairchild’s taste in literature is eclectic. His two favorite novels are Dumas’s The Count of Monte Cristo, (“an exquisite story of revenge”) and George MacDonald Fraser’s The Pyrates (“a hilarious swashbuckling tale” that is set in the 1600s, though written in the 1980s). But his “Bibles” are The Portable Curmudgeon by Jon Winokur and Whatever It Is, I’m Against It—An Encyclopedia of Classical and Contemporary Abhorrence by Nat Shapiro.
“These are such great books, I go back to them all the time,” Fairchild says. They recall the satirical essayists H.L. Mencken, Oscar Wilde, and Edward Abbey, all cynics whom Fairchild greatly admires. He likens to Oscar Wilde’s most famous quotes: “We are all in the gutter, but some of us are looking at the stars. Be yourself; everyone else is already taken. Some cause happiness wherever they go; others, whenever they go.”
Fairchild is also a foodie. His culinary hero is Thomas Keller, and French Bistro cooking is his favorite style, because of that renowned chef. While at CMU and living in an apartment with two roommates, Fairchild says that he quickly tired of “very, very bad food” and began to experiment in the kitchen. Later, when married, he and Pinky (who also loved to cook) became known for their Sunday dinners. He makes a “killer” boeuf bourguignon and a “fantastic” roast chicken, plus a variety of quiches.
“I’m too old to work, but not too old to have fun,” Fairchild remarks. “I love everything about Frankfort, am umbilically connected to the Frankfort zone. It’s a wonderful, beautiful place. We have everything—25 miles from Interlochen, 45 miles from Traverse City, spectacular Lake Michigan, and all the remarkable people who appreciate this town. I’m Frankfort’s biggest booster—that’s what I do.”
Corrections to the print version of this story, which ran in Volume 5, Issue 2:
* Kim Fairchild retired in 2008, not 1988.
** Not a schnauzer, apparently. Something like a Maltese?
*** We incorrectly identified True Value Hardware as Ace Hardware.
Photo caption: Man. Beast. Cigar. Photo by Susan Koenig.