I came to New York a week after graduating from art school. Wearing a suit, bag and shoes my mother bought me I landed a job as an assistant to the owner of a by-appointment-only fashion salon. It was a glorified maid's job, but it was cash under the table. Plus, I could buy clothes at wholesale and I needed them.
The chain-smoking owner was a chic, fifty-something ex-Radio City Rockette. She ran her business illegally out of her posh twenty-fifth floor Lincoln Center pied-a-tierre, which she moved into after divorcing herself from her Long Island life as a doctor's wife. The two of us, plus Cocoa, her miniature poodle, made up her business.
My job consisted of offering tea to her semi-famous clients, vacuuming, discreetly retrieving and hanging up clothes as they were flung about, and feeding and walking Cocoa. Within two weeks I learned all there was to know about how not to run a business, and how to do it with Scarlet O'Hara pluck. The Rockette was at the tail end of her transformation from a suburban country clubber who nibbled lunch at the Nineteenth Hole to a cultured businesswoman with an urbane and exciting life. A dozen silly bill collectors weren't about to bust her fantasy, fiddle-de-dee.
Cocoa was as regal as the Rockette. When I'd run her out to do her business she'd glare if I tried to rush her, then she’d take her time choosing a perfect patch of grass that gave her lots of privacy.
One afternoon the Rockette was modeling clothes for her biggest client, a second tier TV talk show host. "Do you see how this blouse defines my bust?" the Rockette said, cupping her bosom to exaggerate her point. As she did, Cocoa began to heave. The Rockette snapped her fingers at me. "Pammy, please don't let Cocoa wretch on the rug." I scooped Cocoa up, grabbed her leash and ran for the elevator.
Outside, I gently put Cocoa down. She caught her breath as her heaving subsided, though her little body still jerked with each heartbeat. When she arched her back I saw she wasn't sick -- she had to poop. Cocoa looked around and she had to go so badly she could barely walk. There was no grass in sight but a tree had just been planted in front of a new, upscale restaurant. I carried Cocoa to the tree and she assumed the position.
A few seconds passed and she was still hunched over. A half-minute passed and she hadn't straightened up. I glanced down and found her big eyes pleading into mine. I had put her in full view of the restaurant! I blocked the diner's view, but Cocoa's expression didn't change. I stared at her, confused, then hesitantly glanced behind her. There, hanging out of her bum, was a three-inch hank of green yarn. People in the restaurant began to point, so I bent down, tilted her back until the string was on the ground, and placed my toe on the yarn. Ever so gently I stood, pulling her with me as I went. That yarn was over fifteen inches long and once Cocoa was relieved of it she wanted a cigarette as badly as I did. As I smoked, we couldn't look at each other.
I took Cocoa for a walk around the block to help her recover and she held her head high. If I just took the equivalent of a yarn dump in front of forty people, would I? Cocoa knew who she was and what she deserved and I wanted that. I wanted the expectation that I had a right to claim something for mine. That I could have this right was an epiphany. When the bill collectors came two months later the Rockette lost her business. She couldn't afford to pay me any severance so instead gave me a $1000 hand-made beaded belt. "Better you than the IRS, right Cocoa?" she said as she gave her little poodle a squeeze, then quickly dropped her on the bed and began to furiously pilfer her own stock. I gave Cocoa a little green sweater which she refused to try on, and as I left I saw Cocoa casually stroll onto a discarded $3000 cashmere jacket, hunch her little body up, and, ever faithful to her owner, take a massive crap on it.