“I’m sorry, Miss, we allow dogs but not horses in the store,” the security guard at the 59th and Lexington Avenue entrance of Bloomingdales said jokingly as Debra and I entered the store. Chief was looking dapper in his matching collar and leash combo that I chose especially for our day of shopping. It was easy to dress him up, wipe his drool off a block away and brush off the excess fur from his coat, but it was hard to disguise his size.
Debra had come to see the new apartment earlier that morning and to compare notes on cohabitating with our respective boyfriends and their dogs. “I got this great leather cleaner,” I said sipping a Chai Tea Latte. “It’s amazing for removing dog slobber. Oh, and you must get Nature’s Miracle, it removes dog accident-stains.” I brought over my cleaning supplies, one by one showing her the miraculous powers of my cleaning arsenal.
As Debra inspected the bottles, reading the back of each for the active ingredients, I mused at the scene. “You realize, we are sitting here comparing notes on CLEANING? What’s happened to us? A year ago when we had a day off from work we would still be hungover at noon from a night out at Marquee.” But that was a lifetime ago; our world’s changed for the better as maturity and time altered our existences.
We decided to make the most of an overcast, unusually chilly, August day. With registry gifts to purchase for a battery of weddings this summer and the ever-present need for new jeans, we decided to head to Bloomingdales. “I can’t leave Chief,” I said as we were half way out the door and Chief was mauling a rawhide bone. “I have someone coming to change the closet configuration.” Realizing I would be a shut in waiting around for workmen, I opted to bring Chief with me. “I’ve seen dogs at Bloomies. I mean those rat terrier ones, but they can’t discriminate based on size, that would be illegal.” Debra didn’t say anything; she just looked at me as if I told her I was planning to shop naked.
Once we made it past security, I thought we were home free. “See, simple as pie,” I said, giving Chief a pat on the head and shooting Debra an “I-told-you-so” look.
“Second floor?” Debra said as she got on the escalator and I followed behind at Chief’s pace. Reaching the foot of the escalator, Chief paused. Had he ever seen an escalator? As a new New Yorker, Chief hadn’t been exposed, as many city dogs to marvels of city life: brazen city pigeons who don’t duck for cover when they see him coming, a limited selection of trees on which to lift his leg and store escalators. He looked at the escalator; weary of it, he looked up at me, confused. “Most people carry their dogs on the escalator,” a high-heeled woman said lifting her Bijon Frisse into his Burberry carrier and blowing past me leaving me in a wake of her perfumed trail. “I don’t think that’s an option for you,” she shouted as the escalator transported her away from me and an embarrassed Chief.
One elevator ride later, we found Debra examining a Juicy sweatshirt. I headed over to the sales rack to inspect some of last season’s bargains. “What kind of dog is that?” A crowd had formed around Chief and me and a row of white linen pants. “Can I pet him?” a little girl with her mother asked as she reached up to rub his ears. A half-dressed woman charged from the dressing room, sporting a shirt with tags on and buttoned incorrectly rushed towards us. “Someone in the dressing room was saying that a dog the size of a bear was out here. I love big dogs. I have two Labs,” she said as she joined the group of gawkers that congregated around Chief from all areas of the floor.
Debra approached us, carrying a Medium Brown Bag which held the new Uggs hat she had just purchased. “You would have thought Paris Hilton was tango dancing with Brad Pitt with this size crowd and all the commotion. The woman who rung me up was talking about you guys.” The news of Chief’s presence spread like a VD through a brothel. He was a celebrity of sorts, and as we wandered the floor browsing people shouted to us, “Hi Chief!” addressing him by name. Chief seemed comfortable with his new found fame, wagging his tail, his massive head hanging low as he sniffed the floor.
Up on the sixth floor I was panicked. “One full wag of his tail and that entire display of Baccarat is history. That would be one very expensive day of shopping with very little to show for it.” Searching for some Vera Wang home accessories, we made our way through the Fine China department. “Can I show you anything?” a salesperson inquired. “Some dishes, glassware, a parking space for your dog?”
An older woman offered me some sound advice as she examined some Nambe candlesticks, “Keep your man and your dog on a short leash, and that doesn’t just apply to the China Department.” Giggling, Debra and I continued walking. “He’s really well behaved,” Debra said in amazement “but you can’t get much done with him. People just won’t let you shop. He’s like a circus attraction.” She was right. There was no way I was going to be able to try on anything; Chief wouldn’t fit into a dressing room. “It’s not like he has any fashion sense. An animal dumb enough to step in its own feces certainly isn’t going to have an opinion on whether or not a dress looks good on me. But he’s easier to shop with than M,” I said. “At least Chief has more patience while I mull over another white tank top.”
“Can I take his picture?” we were asked as a woman pulled out her camera phone as we exited the elevator on the first floor. This request set off an impromptu paparazzi photo shoot as multiple shoppers and counter clerks rushed to take a picture of Chief. “Chief, Chief, Chief,” one woman shouted, “Chief move your head to the left. Chief, look at me!”
“Lady, he’s a dog! He can’t strike a pose. Maybe if you smeared peanut butter all over your face, you may have a chance.”
Chief couldn’t understand what all the fuss was about as flashbulbs went off in his face. “Ok, I had enough,” Debra said as she kissed me goodbye. “This is too much attention for me.”
Once I extricated myself from the throngs of camera-weilding fans, I dashed to the men’s department purchasing M three pairs of dress socks, what I came for initially. “Will you take the dog in trade?” I said exhausted and handing over the cash.
“You might have better luck in the furniture department,” the clerk said. “We have more things that size up there.”
With that, Chief and I left Bloomies. On the way home, we made two stops: a tree and the pet store. As I paid for Chief’s new bone and a box of Scooby Snacks, Chief wagged his tail in exaggerated excitement he knocked over a table display of sale merchandise. “Well Chief, it’s just a good thing that wasn’t the Baccarat….and that there wasn’t a team of paparazzi to catch you in the act.”
FOR MORE ON CHIEF AND M, PLEASE CHECK OUT THE COLUMN "THE HUNT" IN THE NEW YORK TIMES THIS SUNDAY, OR READ IT ONLINE AT THE NEW YORK TIMES WEBSITE.