Dogs Have Angels Too
By Sarah Cavallaro
Copyright © 2011 Sarah Cavallaro
All rights reserved.
It is a blistering, hazy, humid Sunday morning in mid-August. The flowers wilt, half dead and in need of water. For a week it’s been like this. Central Park stinks from uncollected garbage. Normally the hyper squirrels jump from branch to branch, but now they simply stretch out in the downward-dog position on thick tree trunks, shaded by leafy branches. Meanwhile, a group of pigeons, some with deformed feet, circle the overflowing cans searching for yesterday’s scraps. They peck listlessly at the littered ground, sometimes at breadcrumbs, sometimes at just plain asphalt.
Make up your mind,” I say to them. “Are you hungry or not?”
The few people who are around aren’t looking to make eye contact. They keep to themselves. I smile at a thin, tired-looking woman in her sixties, with wispy blonde hair and gold-rimmed Jackie O sunglasses perched on her head. She doesn’t smile back. Her sheltie, who is groomed like a million dollars, fidgets, squats, then scans around to see if others are observing her vulnerable position. In need of privacy, the sheltie turns her back to my stare.
“I don’t have all day,” her owner says.
When I owned as many sunglasses as this woman probably does, I always smiled back at others because I wanted to be thought of as friendly and nice. I could have easily gotten away with being bitchy or aloof because I was near the top of the corporate food chain, selling ad space for a trendy fashion magazine, and my clients weren’t locals but Fortune 500 movers and shakers. I traveled everywhere in the United States, and more than half the time I flew first class. I loved being the first on the plane and the first off. I also loved the white cotton tablecloths. The last time I flew first class was a few years ago, a month before my company downsized.
* * *
Being let go was unexpected. I hadn’t done anything wrong. I was working at peak performance, but the company execs claimed they were bleeding money and had to downsize to survive. I felt it was cruel to punish me for their mismanagement, but their verdict was set in stone and I could do nothing about it. Having been successful and loyal was not enough. It was a humid morning like this when my butch forty-year-old boss with her embossed initials on her sleeve came into my office and shut the door.
“Lena, can we talk?”
“Wait … I know what you are going to tell me,” I said, holding my hand up to stop her.
“We won the Princess Cosmetic account!”
“Thanks to you.”
I was so excited I jumped up from my chair, and she was so somber she sat down. Generally, she was upbeat and gossipy. I knew she wasn’t romantically involved with anyone, so it couldn’t have been a broken heart.
“Then why are you bummed out?” I asked.
“Because.” She leaned on my desk and fiddled with the three small pink crystals I had picked up in a gift shop on a business trip to Sedona, Arizona. I had read that the energy from these beautiful stones vibrated self-love, and although I was a successful career woman, I was no lover of myself. In this regard, I figured, I needed all the help I could get.
“Sit,” she said.
“That’s my sitting.”
“Seriously, please, I would appreciate your full attention.”
I sat down and swirled my white leather chair around a few times. “I really love the smell of leather.”
“It becomes you,” my boss said. Her words were personal, but her tone was anything but.
“I knew we’d get that account.” I remained positive.
Expressionless and matter-of-fact, she said, “We’re downsizing and I have many issues to deal with.”
“I’m sorry, I’m sure it’s a drag. But you’ll get through it.” I had little compassion for her management problems. I only cared about maintaining my slot of top sales reps year after year.
“We’re not just downsizing. We’re merging into another company.”
“Will I like the company?”
“It’s not your choice.”
“Do you like the company?”
“They’re the same multinational company that is gobbling up all the other fashion magazines.”
I asked, “But do you think this move is better for us or not?”
“Not for your department.”
Her face hardened and she looked down at her short, stubby, unmanicured fingers.
“There are too many people in the same positions, especially the assistants.”
“You’re letting go of my assistant?”
“And Jim and Janet and Fran and …”
I jumped up and paced around the room. “I don’t want to hear anymore. They’re getting rid of very good people from a fantastic department. They must be on drugs. I can’t work without an assistant. You’ll have to talk to them.”
“The entire department is finished.”
“What do you mean, the entire department?”
“I’m really sorry to be the one to have to tell you how stupid our company has become. Especially because you are our best cheerleader.”
“Okay, I can survive without an assistant.”
“You won’t need to.”
“Good, now let’s stop talking about this.”
“You’re being let go as well.”
“Impossible. They are not that stupid.”
“I’m really sorry.”
“They can’t do this. They need me.”
“They are giving bailout packages to certain executives. You are one of the lucky ones. They’ll give you six months’ full salary and medical.”
“They have no one else like me.”
“That’s what I told them. But they think they’ll find someone.”
“They can kiss my ass.”
“I’m so sorry.”
“You know what? I don’t want anything from them. Tell them they can take their money and shove it. I can’t wait to see them squirm when I work for their competitor.”
“Take the compensation package. You’re entitled to it. You have worked here for over twenty-five years.”
“I don’t want their charity.”
“I’m okay. At least I don’t have kids to support like you. You take it.”
“I don’t need it.”
“You lucky dog, you’ve been stashing it away.”
“Then why don’t you need it?”
“You’re staying?” I said, half shocked.
“Yes. They asked me.”
“Why you? You never sold one account. Granted, you’re my boss—but you’re a manager, not a creator. Doesn’t make sense.”
“They had to keep one of us to walk them through the accounts.”
“They really are morons.”
I had worked closely with this woman, who was my boss by title only, for over ten years. She was a good diplomat with a knack for smoothing over rough personalities. I guess those traits won over sales. I’d confided in her about my failing marriage, and in turn she had revealed her sexual exploits with other women who had worked for her. She loved going down on her twenty-two-year-old secretary, who eventually moved in with her. They adopted two toddlers to fill up the second bedroom. I never told anyone about anything she told me. But now, a lack of compassion in her tone made me feel she had sold us all out.
“I can help you get a job if you’d like. It shouldn’t be hard. Your reputation precedes you. So do your good looks. No one would know your age. You look, at max, forty.” I’d heard this before; it had nothing to do with her being gay.
I sat down and stared out the window. Drops of rain smudged the glass, and I could see a faint outline of the Empire State Building.
“Nice day out there,” I said.
“Typical fucking August,” she said.
“It’s chilly in here.”
I took the light sweater that I kept hung over my chair and wrapped my shoulders. There is no lonelier feeling than to be sitting in a chair that you love that you will never sit in again. “I’ll be gone by the end of the day.”
“You don’t have to. You can stay until the end of the month.”
“No, it’s better I move on as quickly as possible. Time is essential.”
I tried to keep a full smile. My teeth were white and straight, and I’d been told many times my smile was beautiful. I knew it and used it often. She got up to shake my hand. I was wondering why she would want to do that. There was nothing left between us anymore. But I went through the motions and smiled again.
“It’s been nice working with you. We’ll stay in touch. Let’s have lunch soon,” I said. But I was thinking, I hope I never have to call you again. I pray I get a job tomorrow.
“Let’s do that.” She walked out of my office and my smile disappeared.
The phones started to ring from people within our company, asking logistical questions about where this and that would go after the merger. I wanted to scream at all of them: Who cares? But I couldn’t, because some of them had also been axed, so I tried to be helpful instead. Hours passed, then it was lunchtime. I could barely make myself stand up again and face my other coworkers. If I had owned adult diapers, I would have pissed in them to avoid walking down the long, busy hallway to the bathroom. I wasn’t sure if I had committed a crime or been falsely accused. Guilty or innocent, the shame of not being enough carried the same noose.
Eventually, I did have to pee, and without saying a word to anyone, I walked through the halls to the lobby and exited the cement monolith in which I had spent most of my adult life. When I got outside and looked back at the gold name adorning the building, I was determined to get even with the company. I ducked into a busy deli and waited in line at the bathroom, behind four other people. After I did my thing, I went home and ate an apple pie, and then I ordered Chinese food. After I gorged myself on that, I went out for a walk and ended up in a bakery, where I ate two chocolate cupcakes with vanilla frosting. Then I went back home and cried myself to sleep.
Later that week, after crying and sleeping for days, I called former coworkers who were also victims of downsizing, I offered words of support, and created vast networking arrangements through lunch dates and dinners. Some of the people I spoke to were excited about their futures and others were depressed. I noticed that it depended largely on age, kid count, and savings. I followed that activity with call after call to other fashion magazine marketing departments. After many fruitless months of breakfast meetings, I widened my net to include home design, furniture design, and art magazines. I was then fifty-seven years old, and the deep recession—which was really a depression, though the government was loathe to admit it—hit the country hard. There were no executive sales jobs in New York City. The bailouts were not meant for the workers, just for some employers. But I maintained high hopes and was still determined to get even by being successful.
One day, however, I felt so desperate that I called my old boss, the one who had promised to help me, but she neither answered nor returned my call. The more she avoided me, the more I called. I called many times and she never called me back.
Between paying my rent, keeping up appearances with nice clothes, regular manicures, waxing, and massages, and taking potential employers to dinner and former coworkers to lunch, I was going broke.
I decided to tap into my 401(k) retirement plan, which I had spent over twenty-five years investing in. The last time I looked, I had about $250,000 in the account, give or take 5 percent. If I took early retirement, I could pay the tax and penalty and still have enough to last until I got a job. While sipping on an espresso at Sant Ambroeus, a trendy Madison Avenue coffee bar, I called my investment company. They told me they had invested in Madoff Securities, which was under investigation for a Ponzi scheme. I called the SEC, every related government organization, and many attorneys, and they all said the same thing: there was no money and I was on a list with others to retrieve whatever the Feds could. Like so many others, I was a victim of securities fraud. All those years of selling and planning were over.
* * *
The blonde-haired woman yanks her pink-leashed, panting, overweight sheltie away from the evidence. The dog seems almost ashamed. The woman sees me watching her but apparently doesn’t care what I’m thinking or might say to her. She makes no attempt to pick up the dog poop, which has already attracted swarms of buzzing flies.
“Come,” she says to her old sheltie.
“Pick it up! It’s the law!” I call out to her.
She ignores me, and her dog ignores her.
“Abby, I’m speaking to you.” The woman tugs hard on the leash and the dog motors slowly behind.
They walk out of the park’s 59th Street exit, past a lineup of costumed men sitting on horse-drawn carriages waiting to snag their first customers. The horses have black leather blinders fastened on the sides of their eyes and manure buckets attached to their behinds. The woman’s sheltie barks at a large brown horse, but the horse doesn’t move a muscle.
Then, to my surprise, several photojournalists aggressively surround the lady, barking question after question at her. Her sheltie tries to defend her owner, but her whimpers are no match for the feeding frenzy. My curiosity piqued, I walk quickly to the exit to listen in.
“Your husband bilked people of billions of dollars. You worked with him. Where’s the money?” says the most aggressive reporter of the bunch.
She doesn’t answer and keeps walking. They hustle in front of her. She avoids them and continues.
I approach the aggressive reporter. “Don’t scream at older women. It’s unbecoming.”
His face is flushed with pent-up anger. “You’re defending a sociopath.”
“A man should never scream at a woman, no matter what. Didn’t your mother teach you anything?”
“Lady, you’re defending a criminal.”
“Let me remind you, we are all innocent until proven guilty.”
Inspecting my somewhat worn-out pink pants suit and gray roots, he dismissively says, “Let us get the story, then you read it.”
The lady quickly runs across the street. The others follow close behind. There is nothing else I can do, so I walk back into the park.
I’ve never seen her face before, but that’s not surprising since I don’t read the newspapers or watch TV anymore. I don’t even have a computer. But I’m like that lady in three ways: I keep busy walking dogs in Central Park, I have pink leashes, and I used to emulate Jackie O’s style.
By the time I’m crossing the park, I’m chanting a long-overdue prayer of thanks to Dr. Styler for helping me find my volunteer job at the animal control center over a year ago. Without this job, I would never have been able to weather the series of hardships I faced.
* * *
After I lost my job, my period stopped immediately. My body entered premature menopause and my sex drive disappeared. My husband, who was sometimes employed as an actor and refused to work in any paying job (partly because I enabled his belief that he would be a famous actor one day), started to have affairs with young actresses. He blamed me for going through menopause at the wrong time. He said he was doing what normal men do and that I was acting abnormal. He told me he would stop cheating if I gave him oral sex, but I felt betrayed and refused. His womanizing disgusted me. When I ran through all my money, which also supported him, he left me, saying that I had made him codependent and that he needed to break away and grow. He took his clothes and his acting books and nothing else, not even a photo of us.
Eventually, I lost my beloved river-view apartment on the Upper East Side, where I’d lived with my husband for ten years, and where I’d only recently grown accustomed to living alone. The world came to a temporary end that night when they padlocked my front door. I hadn’t paid the rent for over a year. The neighbors were embarrassed and hid in their apartments as if I had committed a crime. I realized I didn’t have anyone to call because in all the years I’d lived in New York I hadn’t made one good friend. I’d been too busy socializing with my clients and coworkers, and catering to my husband’s career needs. Now I was on the street, armed with a low cell-phone battery, twenty-five dollars in cash, maxed-out credit cards, and a half-read romance novel.
Excerpted from Dogs Have Angels Too by Sarah Cavallaro Copyright © 2011 by Sarah Cavallaro. Excerpted by permission.
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
Excerpts are provided by Dial-A-Book Inc. solely for the personal use of visitors to this web site.