Picture this: It’s a beautiful morning in Brooklyn. The sun is shining, the trash bags are releasing their sweet summer aromas, and the pigeons are dropping paint pellets from above. I, like most millennials in New York City, live in an apartment building, one that is full of characters. There’s Moira, the unmannerly dog whisperer who happily exchanges open-mouth kisses with her canine friends while scowling at passersby. There’s Eddie, the aloof and yet mildly entertaining maintenance man who can often be found hiding out in the garage. I sometimes sit in my car and wait for him to arrive, just to observe his daily routine and keep track of his accomplishments. Last week, he finished five sudoku puzzles and one crossword (a new record!), all while complaints of leaks were coming in. And, of course, there’s my favorite character of all: Bob the Borrower.
Bob is a white man in his mid 30s, and at the point in life where he compensates for his receding hairline with a beard that would make Chewbacca jealous. He’s a driving instructor by day and in his free time, he enjoys writing erotic fantasy novels that he recites during cosplay exhibitions. It’s actually quite meta. Of course, his name isn’t really Bob the Borrower; it’s more of a title that he earned from years of bombarding the building group chat with asinine requests. His requests have ranged from three-quarters of a cup of sugar for cookies that he “felt inspired” to bake, to earring backs for a pair he hadn’t worn in months. I should clarify that he does actually ask to borrow these things, meaning he intended to replace the sugar and bring back the earring backs that he needed to complete his outfit. The most memorable request came shortly after that beautiful summer day.
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Bob and I met in the lobby of the building as he was coming and I was leaving. However, we weren’t the only ones. In each hand was a leash attached to a different dog; one Doberman and one Cocker Spaniel. Don’t read too much into that, as I don’t actually know dog breeds. They could be Golden Retrievers or wolves for all I knew. I just noticed one of them was new.
“Hey! How’s it going?” Bob said while fumbling with the leashes and his mail.
And, before I could reply, the Cocker Spaniel lunged at me and began barking as if possessed. What could I do? Pinned against the elevator, time moved slower than the Supreme Court when debating progressive legislation. I saw my entire life (all 33 years) and I was filled with regret. Why didn’t I hit that kid who stole my toys in kindergarten? Damn what the teachers thought. Why didn’t I release my rap album? So what if I have no musical talent? Why did I ever willingly travel to Florida, knowing that it’s the third circle of hell?
I stared that little bastard in the eyes, knowing the end was near. “Man Dies from Dog Bite,” the paper would read. Just another statistic.
“No, stop!” yelled Bob as he yanked the leash towards him, nearly falling over. “I’m so sorry,” he continued, as the bully kept barking. “He’s just not used to people yet.”
I accepted the apology and mustered enough courage to go on with my day. When I returned home, I ran into them again but kept my distance. I witnessed both dogs happily wag their tails at each of our neighbors that passed by. No barking. No lunging. Not so much as a grimace. But how could this be? This dog isn’t used to people yet. I went to sleep that night perplexed. Perhaps all dogs have secretly hated me. Maybe he’s related to the dog that I wanted to buy, just 29 years ago, until I learned that I misread the sign and the price was $1,000 rather than $10. Or, maybe this dog was simply trying to exert dominance. The answers to my questions wouldn’t come until the following morning:
- Hey everyone, our new little buddy is still getting adjusted and we could use some help. He tends to bark and get all worked up when people of darker complexions are around. Can any of you hang out with us, for him to feel comfortable?
Bob’s text was the validation that I needed. Nothing was wrong with me individually, just my dark skin. This dog wasn’t trying to exert dominance over me. He was trying to exert dominance over my entire race!
To my knowledge, no one came to Bob’s rescue. He was unable to borrow any Black neighbors to pretend to be his friend. I assumed that, over time, his little buddy would grow to become more tolerant and more accepting. However, I was wrong.
I recently saw them in the lobby again and while Bob excitedly approached, little buddy menacingly lunged toward me. Amidst his barks, I could make out a single phrase: “I’m gonna get you, Blackie.” But this time I was ready. I sidestepped and quickly moved towards the garage, without ever breaking eye contact. When I relayed the story to my wife, there was one thing that really stuck with me.
“The dog has black fur,” I recalled.
She motioned towards the kitchen, dropped her shoulders, titled her neck, and reminded me of an essential proverb: “Not all skinfolk are kinfolk.”
And the struggle continues.
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