The panic and hunger that will rise in you when you see another of your kind, even though together you unlock a different loneliness in your contained camaraderie.
January 27, 2023
We’re wearing rented tuxedo coats to work the launch of a $3,000 luxury dog bed at a pop-up on Bowery. We walk the green carpet (astroturf) into golden lights and black tie. A magical string quartet serenades the line of seated, shining celebrity dogs.
In perfect unison, we bend to deliver each dog its plate of farm-to-table chicken glazed with an almond butter reduction. I feel graceful and godless, like part of a miserable dance troupe.
Having served Horchata the Chihuahua (no unauthorized photos, no exceptions) his entree, I make the rounds with a tray of champagne flutes. This is one of my favorite things about living in New York, even if it’s less true when I’m working: being invisible, being unafraid to look and notice and linger. I note a woman with a stiff white wig and a hat that seems to just be a taxidermied pigeon. A strung-out kid is watching a pug sneak some of a St. Bernard’s food. A sour-faced brunette behind me tells another girl that she is so lucky she doesn’t have to do nights for work, which always happens when you do marketing for Danny Meyer. I swallow a chuckle watching a toddler waddle toward the dogs in his little suit, like an eager and stumbling penguin hatchling, hands outstretched like a zombie.
A guest stops me in a way that immediately earns him a spot on my shitlist: he touches my arm. “Yes?” I ask as he swaps his empty flute for a full one.
“Can I ask—where are you from?”
I used to joke with my sister that this is the hottest unsolved true-crime mystery among white people. There will always be small, sexy, delicate tales (true, televised, false, a combination) of white girls who vanish only to (metaphorically, actually, never) rise up to the surface of their river, blanched and beatific. But anyone whose skin fails the manila folder test knows this puzzle can’t be solved, and we can swap stories all day that span from the eye roll–worthy but where’s your family from to unnerving one-offs like the barista in St. Louis who asked me is that your real skin.
I give today’s amateur investigator a once-over. Rich, dull, and confident. Like Gaston from Beauty and the Beast or one of those awful rings from the Zales commercials or both.
I lean in, and so does he.
“You really want to know?”
That’s all I need. I pitch that Ken doll right into the answer. Sorry, I almost say, to give you none of the things you wanted to see here. The bright poetry of spices and henna and song and dance is real, too, but fuck if I’d give any of it to you.
Nah, here’s what he gets instead: The leash tight around your neck that says, surely, someone more intelligent must supervise who you are and what you have the balls to bring into this world. The white noise of chatter about you that you can’t join, that can’t or won’t hear your voice, your loneliness, your nuanced need. The panic and hunger that will rise in you when you see another of your kind, even though together you unlock a different loneliness in your contained camaraderie. You are a mirror held up to each other’s subjugation. The doctrine of control as compassion. The story, choking you like air pollution and humidity in Dhaka’s factory air, the story that you are dirty and hopeless and lucky to have been saved by your new masters even though the only goddamn reason you ever needed saving was their brutality, their greed, their insecurity trying to stretch over every inch of everything to own the sun and tan their pasty skins forever.
Okay, I’ll stop there. You can follow this metaphor all on your own.
I pluck the champagne flute back, and down it in one gulp. I look at my interrogator, who’s slobbering on his fresh set of patchy paws. He’s got a wiry coat that feels like crushed sandpaper. His tail winds around him like an overcooked, single piece of spaghetti. He whimpers at me with eagerness, confusion, need.
Poor baby, I murmur, rubbing my knuckles on his head so he can’t help but pant and smile and lean into my palm as though I’m all the light left in this world.