Work

The man who’s embracing me in the street because I have a piece of dust in my eye: yes, I know him. He grips me above the elbows, makes me fix my flickering gaze upward. Through startled tears I look at a square of sky until a big shape—his face—interrupts one corner.

“Relax, I have saline,” he says. “Relax. Can you see me?” Has all my work culminated now, in something as mundane as a man and a woman hugging?

We’ve shared a coffee cart for years. The first time I saw him was in periphery as I finished buying my breakfast.

“Hey, no fair,” he said, so I pivoted in my mud-spattered boots. “That’s what I was going to get!”

I walk dogs. I said “Sorry!” then pulled the dogs aside, thought about my Bavarian creme donut in a new way. From that moment, I’d be watching him; I wondered, with satisfaction, how long he had watched me and I hadn’t known.

I wondered what his briefcase was full of. I tried to remember ever having been watched before by someone with a briefcase. He seemed to own things, and I wondered, What kinds of things does he own? but guiltily, because what should have been enough was that he owned his shoulders, his broad back, the hands that put a dollar on the counter and carried away a paper bag.

Now this man’s body is over me and he is flooding my eye with drops of greasy water from a bottle that was in his pocket. Papers swirl everywhere because he has flung down the briefcase, and it has opened. I have let go of the leashes, thrown the coffee cup; the dogs bite the papers and lap the brown liquid. A horse may be whinnying nearby, or I may be imagining that.

I’ll admit I once thought about making love to him surrounded by things he owned: good umbrellas, leather-bound books, letter openers. Hey, no fair, I heard myself say, referring to some fine shoehorn or vase, but looking at his mouth which I was about to kiss. That’s what I was going to get! We collapsed right into each other.

I know how to recover from dust in the eye, I could have said a second ago. This isn’t the first time dust has been in my eye. But it’s too late. He grips my chin, like a veterinarian giving a pill to a cat. The drops are giant and cool.

“Blink,” he says, his voice disturbing the hairs inside my ear. “You can see me, can’t you?”

The piece of dust floats away in a torrent and I close my arms around him, I smear my wet eyes on his soft, expensive shirt.

The Reckoning (COVID-19)

During this time, we all have many things to reckon with. My biggest one, so far, has been: How important are our jobs in the city? I have always known that my services as a pet carer are a luxury. That’s not true for my friends the supers, the doormen, and the housekeepers. (Well—more accurately—it’s not as true.) These past two weeks they have been scrambling, disinfecting doors, distributing endless shipments of food and toiletries, and fielding panicked calls from the tenants. My work, up until I began isolating on Sunday, remained stealthy; I slipped in and out. If I had not come to walk the dogs, they might not have noticed. And now, they are with their dogs. Me, I’m parked on the couch.

I’ve arranged my business and my lifestyle on purpose to be like this. I love that they want me, but I don’t want anyone to need me. And now that I have my own guilty luxury—of free time, time to reflect—I am thinking of all the workers we really do need. I hold special regard for the ones that sell us food. My local supermarket has been busy every day. These people need big raises. They don’t get, like, a commission for each item they scan the barcode of. It’s time, too, to be evaluating how to give money to our favorite restaurants now that they can’t serve food at the brisk pace they’re used to. I want to just go around some morning dropping off envelopes of cash, but that is my old way. These days it is risky to “go around” doing anything.

Medical workers, as we know, are heroes under any circumstance and especially now. How will we repay our doctors, nurses and EMTs, not once they’re out of danger, but right now, today?

For us, the (healthy) non-essential, our very notion of “work” has been suspended. Our city will look so different when we emerge on the other side. Just yesterday, I was hugely uplifted by a simple walk around the neighborhood and some time on a park bench, far from other people; how long before I get back to that as my daily routine? In the meantime, I will miss it so much, the animals, the streets… life. A big man at the concierge desk of one of the big buildings where I walk dogs told me two weeks ago that, soon, I wouldn’t see him anymore: he was retiring. I shook his hand. Then in the confusion, I forgot to go visit him on his last day. I’m thinking of him now—his decades of service, and how we will never again see the same Manhattan where he worked.

Break Over

It has happened! September, and I am back to work. Valley of the Dolls concluded and, of course, everyone got miserable or died. I, without riches or fame, remain pretty happy. A man catcalled me yesterday by saying I had “that cougar look.” Being catcalled is gross but I also couldn’t help thinking: It’s about time! I’m too busy to enjoy my cougar status properly, which is just as well. I proceeded down the block and turned my attention to the tiny Chihuahua I was walking, talking to her, ignoring the man.

Break

Dropped off a dog at his apartment; the owner was happy to see us both and gave me a big hug. I’m sure there are plenty of other professions where your boss affectionately hugs you, but this is the only one I’ve had. I really like my job if you hadn’t noticed.

I had an hour before my next walk–slow summer! It’s all about to change the second Labor Day ends!–so, fuck it, I headed to Sundaes & Cones on 10th Street and got a goddamn ice cream cone at 11:30 in the morning. Hazelnut flavor. Life is so idle and lovely right now. I’m reading Valley of the Dolls by Jacqueline Susann and those shrewd, sensuous girls are as relatable as can be. I find myself wishing someone would give me a mink, a diamond, a fancy pied-à-terre. It’s evening now and I’m happy, though, having sparkling wine and sharing the couch with my cat.

Idle No More!

Hi, friends! Welcome to my site. I have been thinking for a long time about starting it, but today’s the day. I really hope you enjoy what I’ll be puttin’ down (this is slang for “presenting” or “revealing,” used in relation to a creative work). You can expect content about dogs, cats, and other animals; about the dog walking/pet care profession; and about living here in the city. I will record my voice, talking about stuff, and sometimes I’ll include other media like photos and drawings. OH YES AND I’LL BE DISCUSSING POP CULTURE!

Today was a cool, rainy day here in August, and I enjoyed it quite a lot–though this week is suddenly almost barren of work, and I would have enjoyed the cool weather more if I weren’t kind of anxious about $$$. Dog walkers are always at the mercy of sudden schedule changes. August tends to be a big month for these, as dog owners go on vacation out of the city and don’t know when they’ll be back, or sometimes they do know but forget to notify us. It is what it is. I have never done cancellation fees, because I feel like they’d eat away at the dog walker-client relationship. At bottom it’s a good-faith arrangement.

During my one long break in the day, between a walk in Chelsea and another near Washington Square Park, I sat in the AIDS memorial park under a tree and watched a flock of sparrows. I really just sat and watched them: I was bored of looking at my phone, and they were much more interesting anyway. They approached people, slyly, trying not to look like they wanted food; then one would get a piece of food and fly away with it or fight over it with another bird. I just sat there, with the luxury of free time, enjoying this and it underscored for me yet again how important it is for me to be near animals. I am most comfortable when surrounded by animals, I thought.

Definitely a simplistic notion, but it felt good to affirm that to myself.