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More Stories - The Way We Were
Really Cool (Spooky) Dogs
When I was seventeen, I worked one winter in an "exclusive" (translate to expensive) boutique, The Import Shop, run by the wife of a circus star, a great juggler named Massimiliano Truzzi. Sonya, a Russian immigrant, was Truzzi's assistant in her earlier days as he juggled all over the world. But neither were any longer young, and although Truzzi still was on the road a lot of the time, Sonya opened the small shop catering not quite to the wealthiest in Sarasota, Florida, but to the very well-moneyed. I had worked during the close-out of another "exclusive" dress shop the previous summer, and these experiences confirmed my taste for well-made designer clothes that, unfortunately, stayed with me despite a budget that has never encouraged me to indulge.
Sonya fixed fantastic Russian and Italian food, and eating with them was one of my fringe benefits, a good thing as salaries for clerks back then were barely enough to keep body and soul together, even though I was able to earn as much as many women with years of experience. She introduced me to Cucumber Salad with sour cream, one of her favorite side dishes. Truzzi, when he was home, cooked Italian food, including a frequent Sunday breakfast treat, eggs scrambled with cow's brains and served with toast; not to everyone's taste but certainly to mine, although I no longer indulge due to the Mad Cow or Creutzfeldt-Jacob Disease and other prion scares.
Working with Sonya contributed greatly to my education. The husband of one of her associates offered to teach me Russian, which went quite well for several sessions as I cleaned, dusted, tidied and arranged, until I proudly demonstrated my new language skills to Sonya. She shrieked, grabbed the phone and berated the fellow and his wife in three languages, in which the Italian word "innocente" played a large part. It seems he was teaching me very special words, telling me they were something else quite normal.
Another moment of enlightenment was when she asked me to take some velvet evening pants, an embroidered jacket, a ruffled shirt and some other clothing to a bachelor's house not too far away, and wait while they were tried on. I balked, not wanting to get into a sticky situation, until she sat me down, telling me I had nothing to fear from the man, and explained about transvestites, something which wasn't talked about back then. Sonya, when her husband was on the road and with his approval, went with the gentleman as his "date" to social events in the community, during which he dressed normally in suits or tuxedos, so she could make contact with wealthy clients, and indeed he was an intelligent, witty and charming fellow.
One day an extremely well dressed and elegantly coifed blond woman, not quite yet middle-aged, came into the shop with a strange dog on a leash. After she and Sonya air-kissed and Sonya had asked about her travels, when she had returned, etc., I asked about the dog. She explained it was a Weimaraner, a rare breed imported from Germany. The dog, all silvery and loose jointed, sat down and stared at me with ghostly yellow-gray eyes, scarcely blinking.
"I've been thinking about you," gushed Sonya, "because I got in a few cashmere sweater sets and matching skirts the other day that are just you! Come and try them on."
"I can't," replied the client. "I have the dog with me."
"Can Bess take her back to your husband's office?" Sonya inquired, never one to miss a chance at a sale.
"What a great idea!" The client handed me the leash, giving me the address and instructions. I looked at her blankly, as it was in an area of Sarasota where I had never been, a veritable rabbit warren of winding little streets.
"No problem." She snapped her fingers to get the dog's attention. "Go to Daddy," she instructed, pointing at the door. The dog jumped up and dragged me out of the shop. We walked about a third of a mile, and I was beginning to wonder if the dog knew where he was going when he turned in to an office entrance and began pawing the door.
I spent a lot of time in the next few years expounding on this spooky looking dog. The breed was hardly known at all in the USA until artist and photographer William Wegman started dressing and posing his patient and uncommonly cooperative Weimaraners and selling the prints for megabucks.
I thought about this incident in Sarasota when I was checking some of our recipes' rankings on the search engines. I put in my recipe for "Cool Dogs", and up popped a great site, also called Cool Dogs. Another site, dedicated to Wegman's work is at Artsy.net.