At 7:30 am I get into the elevator with my laundry. I push the button for the basement but shoot up to the sixth floor. When the elevator opens a woman in her 50s with short, cropped grey hair and three LARGE dogs enter. The dogs shake and shift, taking over the small space. The overpowering smell of fur fills my nose and ever so slowly I inch away.
Now might be a good time to mention I’m not a pet person. We didn’t have dogs, cats or hamsters growing up. Well, once we had gold fish named Bo and Luke, after the Dukes of Hazard. But they died when my brother and I decided to make them smell nice by adding Old Spice to the fish bowl. In retrospect, it was a cruel death, but we were 5 and 8 years old and obviously stupid.
I think the reason my family doesn’t have pets or an affinity for them is because of my parents’ upbringing. Due to the 1947 Partition of India and Pakistan, both of my grandfathers moved their families to Mori Gate in Delhi. From my parents’ stories Mori Gate sounds like the Lower East Side Tenements: entire families living in poorly ventilated two-room apartments and shared bathrooms. At nine years old my father joined his elder brothers and began working to support the family. So pets were an inconceivable luxury and that perception migrated with my parents.
And in Manhattan, where life is harried and lonely, I understand having a furry bundle of dog who loves you unconditionally. Every now and then, I think, (if not for the doggie doo-doo) it would be fun to have an eight-pound pooch I name Killer, dressed in designer sweaters and toted around town in my pink purse.
Back in the elevator the dogs and the Crazy Lady stare at me with flat eyes. I find them unsettling and press my back against the wall, positioning a 100-ounce bottle of Tide and life-sized laundry bag as a shield. “You don’t like dogs do you?” she asks with a taunt in her tone.
I should have pretended I don’t understand English. I should have wondered how she and three dogs live in 500 square feet. I should NOT have said, “No, they’re fine.” Because that is how I became her friend.