Coco on the 47th Floor

by

06/29/2002

W 65th St & Broadway, New York, NY 10023

Neighborhood: Manhattan

My girlfriend Emily recently got a job as personal assistant to a stockbroker who lives on the Upper West Side, on the forty-seventh floor of a building directly adjacent to Lincoln Center. The stockbroker goes to work at eight or so and often doesn’t get home until eight or nine in the evening, at which point she eats and goes to bed; this routine is repeated until the weekend, when the woman and her daughter drive to the New Jersey countryside and relax like crazy until the inevitable Sunday evening. Emily starts her own workday by consulting a detailed list, and spends the rest of it traveling to far-flung, expensive stores to find the desired items. She also cleans and cooks on the rare occasions when the family doesn’t order out. She once spent an entire hour trying to understand the controls on the apartment’s state-of-the-art oven. The woman returned home before Emily had figured it out, and Emily asked for some help. “We live in building with seventy employees,” the stockbroker replied. “You can call one of them. I hired you because I work hard all day.” Then she went to lie down until dinner was ready.

A substantial portion of Emily’s work involves the woman’s Schizaea dogs, which are expensive and fragile animals. Emily takes them to the groomer every two weeks, buys them gourmet baby food, and is generally required to keep an eye out for any of the myriad health problems that plague the purebred toy breed. The youngest, Kaluha, is cheerful and affectionate, unaware of her terrible breath. Coco is older and sort of wizened and mean as hell. The first time I visit Emily at work, I lean down to pet the dog, trying to quiet the little bark that sounds like the laugh of an elderly woman who’s smoked since her teens. Coco stops barking when my hand gets close, but her tiny black lips curl into a sneer.

“Don’t,” says Emily.

Coco makes a low sound like a cat purring, which slowly morphs into a full-fledged growl that any Mastiff would be proud of.

“Christ,” I say. “What’s the matter with her teeth?”

“The vet has to pull them sometimes.” Emily lies down on the floor. “You have to be perfectly still,” she explains.

The animal walks over and sniffs her head. Emily asks if I think she’s walking funny. “I think it’s her hip,” she tells me, as Coco climbs onto her chest and eyes her suspiciously, like the Lilliputians with Gulliver. Coco lets herself be pat on the head a couple of times, but isn’t really into it and climbs down after a few moments. She seems contrite, but as Emily begins to sit upright Coco once again sneers and growl-purrs and bares her infrequent teeth, finally limping to the water-bowl only after we’ve ceased to give her our full attention.

The next time I visit Emily at work, she’s rushing to clean the apartment before her boss gets home from a business trip. The dogs are doubly excited because I’ve brought a friend. After Coco barks at him for a while, she regards me with some trepidation but gives my hand a light lick when I put it down for her to smell. I find myself wanting Coco’s approval; I think of her as an emissary for the stockbroker, a little representative whose own personality is a perfectly distilled version of her owner’s manic shifts from genteel ferocity to condescending affection. But, I remind myself, I don’t know this woman, apart from Emily’s descriptions. I’ve only been acquainted with her apartment and her animals.

I take my friend to the window. We stand and look out over the Hudson and on to New Jersey, then turn for a comprehensive view of Manhattan’s upper west side. The city looks beautiful from here, especially this afternoon in the muddy winter sunlight. “Is this like the tallest building in the area?” my friend asks, and while the answer is no, one could almost believe from this vantage point that he or she lives at the very top of New York. I turn around, a little dizzy.

Emily brings us some coffee and tells us that she finally figured out how to work the big TV. We all sit as she explains that the remote control to the television is so large and elaborate that it’s unrecognizable as a television remote control. Then her eyes catch on something and she stops, mid-sentence. We look towards whatever’s interrupted her.

Not surprisingly, it’s Coco. She’s in the middle of the living room rug, circling and sniffing a discolored, saliva-hardened teddy bear.

“Uh-oh,” says Emily.

After a few more circles, Coco positions herself on top of the bear’s head, shifts a little for comfort, and starts fucking it. Her eyes, which already protrude from her head to an alarming extent, bug out impossibly further as she scoots along the length of the bear, making low noises that sound vaguely human.

My friend starts laughing. “She’s nervous,” says Emily. “She wants to show us that she’s dominant.” Any authority Coco hopes to establish, however, is seriously undermined by the complete abandon with which she violates the defenseless toy. Coco may want to show us that she’s the boss, but when in the throes of her inexplicable passion, clearly Coco is the one being dominated. She humps with a fervor born of terrible compulsion. We laugh and sip on our coffee while she thrusts and grunts, without any evident pleasure and certainly not with the hope of eventual release.

Emily stands up, a sign it’s time for us to go. “I’ve got to finish cleaning,” she explains. “I don’t know when she’s coming home.” We head out the door, and I kiss her and tell her my greatest hope is that the stockbroker’s in a good mood that evening and that she isn’t reprimanded for no good reason. “Oh, whatever,” says Emily. “I’m not sure she can help herself.” Coco stands to one side, glaring – now she’s angry we’re not staying. I scratch her behind the ears and we leave Emily to her view, however temporary, and her terrific responsibility.

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