Obeying the Alpha, Part II

One control freak ruled my days, while a smaller, four-legged control freak ruled my nights.


In the middle of our intensive training, I decided to take a full-time job. While I enjoyed the independence of freelancing, I needed the security of having a steady income to pay for the lifestyle to which Frankie and I had grown accustomed. When I left for work each day Frankie would be confined to the kitchen, since she was only half way potty-trained and so she wouldn’t destroy anything.

The first week at work was tough. I was part of a small design firm with just five people situated in the ground floor an apartment in Greenwich Village, owned by Mrs. Rebecca Rosenstein. The work seemed quite creative and we had access to the back garden to eat lunch. I didn’t realize at the time that lunch consisted of scarfing down some delivered food as quickly as possible, having some quick dialogue led and dominated by Mrs. Rosenstein, and promptly getting back to work. I wasn’t aware yet that we were practically constrained to the garden and if one suggested going out for lunch, one was met with a dirty look that brought to mind the movie “The Firm.” I thought it unusual how she could be smiling while her eyes shot daggers.

In Dallas while we worked hard and late into the evenings, we would get in our cars and drive to lunch, enjoy it at a normal pace, take time to swallow each bite comfortably, often resulting in a one to two hour dining experience. I quickly learned New Yorkers are not in the habit of taking lunch and, if anything, eat a cup of soup at their desk. On the other hand, I observed, they leisurely nibbled on breakfast all morning long, coming in with bagels, yogurt, egg sandwiches, bananas and coffee and taking hours to settle down to work. I was trying to adapt to the different pace.

New York office culture was easier to adjust to than my new boss’s unique management style. Mrs. Rosenstein was more hands-on than I was used to, at some points grabbing my mouse from over my shoulder and squashing my fingers in the process in order to tweak something just a bit. She would lean in close, invading my personal space—what there was of it in our crowded office—her nose inches from my computer. I wondered if the employer practically sitting on your lap while art directing was normal. I chalked it up to getting used to the difference in having tons of office space and sharing very little.

I soon realized it was not a space issue at the office but rather a control issue. While one control-freak ruled my days, a smaller one ruled my nights. I felt awful about having to leave such a young puppy for ten hours a day, and I began to ease up on her training out of the guilt. I’d buy her treats and let the latest shoe she was chewing on become a toy, giving her the second shoe to destroy as a bonus gift. I was drained mentally and I didn’t have the energy to scold. And besides, Frankie had a number of behavioral issues that the training book had no answer for, and I was beginning to recognize that I wasn’t a good disciplinarian. I couldn’t decipher between which things needed scolding and which things were merely cute or funny. Which things were just a puppy being a puppy and which things should be curbed? The last thing I wanted to do was stifle her creativity.

Beyond over-art-directing, Rebecca micromanaged us down to what books we were reading and what we were eating for breakfast. “I simply can’t tolerate fast food,” she once said. My officemate, Herman, and I rebelled by having one and a half hash browns each from McDonalds each morning. “Herman, you need a haircut, you just look so much more handsome with shorter hair,” she would often say. Herman let his hair grow to new lengths. “Christie, where did you get that outfit? I see you’ve discovered the local H&M; they do have trendy clothes but I’m afraid you’ll find they won’t last long.” I started shopping exclusively at H&M. Privacy was non-existent. If Ms. Rosenstein happened by as I quickly checked a personal email, she might peer in and say “Christie, that dinner party tonight sounds marvelous; you certainly won’t want to miss that. I would change clothes if I were you.”

Even though Rebecca liked my work she was so heavy handed that in the end it was changed back to what she would have done. I constantly had to fight for my design concepts, and then come home to my disobedient dog who didn’t listen to me either. Frankie did what she wanted no matter what I shouted. She never learned the meaning of the word no and she continued to eat my stuff.

Luckily I had a cousin visit for a week from Oregon. She was a sweet borderline hippy who had a part-time job working with juvenile delinquent teenagers. She didn’t shave her armpits or legs, which is way out there for my family. She told me straight out that if something was not done quickly I was going to have an out of control teenager myself, one with sharp teeth, sharp claws and animal instincts. She suggested a strong bop on the nose, while holding the mouth and jaw with one hand—not to hurt the creature, but to gain a bit of dominance, or at least middle ground. She did it well, certainly not mean-spirited, but direct and quick, right to the ever-extending schnoz. The only problem is, I sucked at it. In order to smack her on the sniffer, I had to hold it tight, then squeeze my own eyes shut tight, and rear back five or six time before I could actually make contact, and even then, I couldn’t put any muscle into it. Frankie would scoot off and sneeze. I felt so incompetent. It was humiliating. I realized corrective physical punishment just wasn’t for me.

Maybe I didn’t have the energy. It took all my strength to defend myself at work, to fight for my ideas—and for my health insurance. At one point I was told that getting health insurance was my “misunderstanding.” We had a similar “misunderstanding” about my salary and paychecks. Each of my first few bi-monthly checks was a few hundred dollars short; while I’m no rocket scientist, I knew it couldn’t be correct. I asked several times to see the check stubs. The excuses got more and more far-fetched, from “Can’t talk now, I’m running to a meeting” to “I’m not familiar with these check stubs you’re referring too. We don’t do things that way here.” Finally I was called into the office and it was brushed off as an accounting error. Although the “mistake” was rectified, I learned my lesson loud and clear. In this city you have to watch your back—while looking from side to side—at all times.

Rebecca and I were butting heads more and more. I resisted her art-direction and challenged her on issues of leading, font choice and tracking. I was always wiped out when I returned home after the challenge of dealing with my employer in addition to the workload itself. One day I walked up the five flights of stairs and realized I hadn’t eaten for ten hours, so I rushed back out to grab food.

Upon re-entering the apartment, I was overwhelmed by the strong stench of dog shit. That in itself wasn’t so unusual with the potty training and all, but the odor was several degrees more vile than usual. I came around the corner and entered the kitchen to see why. Frankie had pooped more than what seemed possible for a dog of her size, then proceeded to smear it with her paws to cover almost every square foot of the kitchen floor. She could have been a master painter with her dexterity; she hardly missed an inch.

A fit of rage mixed with exhaustion and nausea enveloped me. I thought about the puppy guidebook and what they would say to do in this situation. I was too shocked and weak to yell and stomp, which didn’t even work in the best of times. I decided to switch tactics; if she could be a manipulative little bitch so could I. It was a natural reaction as well—I started bawling at the top of my lungs. It all poured out; all of the loneliness of being new to the big city, the frustrations of the new job, the realization that the woman I was working for was a crazy tightwad and ten times more manipulative than me and Frankie combined, the fact that I only had two friends, and on top of it all dealing with this little poltergeist dog. The volume increased as I washed her paws. I scrubbed the floor, taking occasional breaks to dry-heave in the toilet, conveniently located off the kitchen. I wailed as I thought about my day and how Rebecca made me use Helvetica Light on yet another layout. The crying fest did not end until the floors were sparking clean. The intensity of this emotional outburst scared Frankie more than all of the yelling from the past months combined. She has never had an accident, number two at least, in the apartment since.

It was a changing point for me too—I’d had it at the office. I came in to find Rebecca chewing out the fifth freelancers she’d been through in just as many days. The first three had left in tears and the fourth was asked not to return after lunch. Upon seeing the design this kid had worked hard on, she leaned in close. “I don’t get it. I just don’t get it. It’s simply not working. This is bullshit, absolute bullshit,” she hissed as she hovered inches from his nose, crushing his soul, not to mention his toes, with her pointed Pradas.

This is total bullshit, I agreed silently, and it’s simply not working. I quit the job that evening so I could work from home and regain my creative freedom, not to mention what was left of my dignity. I became my own boss. I was getting by in the city. I thought I had grown tougher and more street smart… yet Frankie outsmarted me all the time.

I have to admit that I still can’t handle Frankie. She simply has more willpower; a stronger nature, I suppose, and more determination. She knows I’ve yelled all I can yell; I’ve cried all I can cry. I’ve learned to work around her differences and just let her be. I am me and she is she and I see no reason to control her. Plus I can’t anyway. I’ve adjusted my life to fit her needs, never leaving shoes or food within her range, letting her drag me on our walks and giving her rawhides when she’s being really bad to distract her. I’m exhausted. She’s won. She is truly the Alpha dog in our relationship. I’m just along for the ride.


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