You know how they say that over time, dog owners tend to look more like their dogs? Well, if that really is the case, then Onesio is the most hyper, happy, tail-wagging dog owner there is. Spotted on the corner of a crosswalk on the Upper West side, Onesio is one with his dogs as they jump and get tangled in each other’s leashes. But he is quick to bounce back into his rhythm; he is following a strict schedule. He skips onwards saying his goodbyes, before heading off to grab the next group of clients.
Onesio is a dog walker. He has two Boston terriers back in his apartment, but most of his days are centered around a zoo of others, spending more time with random house dogs than their own busy owners do with them. He is awake at the crack of dawn and out the door, rain or shine, walking upwards of thirty miles before heading to his evening classes at Hunter College – sick or healthy, tired or not, this is his life.
I found him in the chemistry lecture hall, sitting in the front, grinning. He’s the first to shout out an answer, even if it’s wrong, and lets out a good chuckle in between, just for the heck of it. The cheerful and bronzed thirty two year old Brazilian man can’t help but stand out within a sea of miserable, undergraduate freshman struggling to pass.
And every time he stresses the wrong syllable or laughs with his deep voice, heads turn with puzzled looks. But he does not care. He is hungry to learn more, do more. One would never guess that his legs had run a marathon earlier and that his mind piles up with calculations of his salary on the daily. No one could tell that behind the huge grin and glasses are eyes struggling to decipher the chemical equations and terminology that don’t fit into his vocabulary. Regardless, Onesio was happy to be there, anywhere, alive.
How could such a job as simple as dog walking lead to such a happy life?
In a time full of constant stress and pressure, it is clear that Onesio is different. Today, one’s worth is still evaluated by the clothes they wear, food they eat, person they love, job they hold. One size fits all.
Yet somehow, around all that criteria and judgement, in a world full of carbon copies, Onesio is comfortable in his own skin. He does not amount to the subjective “success” that surrounds him. While his colleagues fight to the death for a highly acclaimed position at the newest firm, Onesio resides with the nonconformists: “that group”, that most judge and question from afar.
But in New York, where there’s a place for everyone and everything, anything goes.
It happens to be that Onesio once had a stressful job like the stereotypical Manhattanites.
Six years ago, home in Goias, Brazil, Onesio was an economist working for the National Congress. It was a position of power that for him, had, “very little flow or growth”. Behind the scenes, Onesio was a finite part of a complex government and could not make the changes he had once hoped to. He was left unfulfilled, as were many others. The paid employment rate of the country averaged at 64.%, with a constant decline in number of hours worked.
His distractions from the mundane 9 to 5 job were yearly trips to New York City. He had been going now for almost a decade, with everything arranged by his friend working at an airline company. And it happened to be that during one of those month-long trips, Onesio would meet his future husband.
One year later, Onesio packed his bags, left his family and home city of 25,000 inhabitants to join a crowd of 8,000,000 in New York and take the next step-all in the name of love, just like that.
Onesio had left a country that was lacking in access to secondary education, sanitation and personal security. But his arrival to Manhattan was not as romantic as the movies made it out to be…
Onesio’s previous hard work was not translating into a worthwhile career abroad. Even with a bachelor’s degree in economics, he could not find a job.
But because of the nature and flow of New York, he could hop around to the next available opportunity: real estate. He enrolled to get his license but never went through with it all. “I couldn’t make the deals. I got a pretty serious problem with my confidence. I was really shy to go and try; I was embarrassed and ashamed to be ridiculed because of my English.”
He searched further, stooping lower from his professional past to becoming currency exchange clerk. He was the first to admit, “It wasn’t the best job in the world, but I was obligated to get over my speaking problem.” Onesio was always trying to look for the positives, “I thought my decision was really good because I was working in front of a window and nothing mattered because I was alone and had to deal with the client.”
He had finally caught the wave of American spontaneity and opportunity, until, the firm closed and he got laid off.
At first, Onesio was drowning his worries away at the local night club, “I was doing everything you could imagine.” And almost instantaneously, he became addicted to the numbing feeling that masked his failures, insecurities, and aspirations.
It was not until he got his first dog, Juca, did he come to understand the true meaning of life.
Juca was his first Boston terrier puppy, and at that time, Onesio’s newfound joy. An animal, so vulnerable and innocent had entered his world, and it was up to Onesio to determine their fate together.
Greeted by slobbery kisses and energetic jumps on the daily, Onesio learned to leave his negative thoughts aside the second he opened the apartment door. It was an inseparable bond, “I stopped doing everything and didn’t really care. I thought, if I couldn’t bring my dog somewhere, what was the point of even going?”
That exact thought would transform Onesio’s perspective and create the career of his dreams.
All it took was a download of an app on his iPhone and he got his first job with Wag. The company, described by Onesio, is like, “an Uber for dogs.” It became increasingly popular as a part-time side hustle for those looking for an extra dollar or two, but with Onesio it was different.
He became obsessed with the idea of meeting a new personality and companion everyday, spending time understanding someone far different from the next. He rose to the top tier of clients, taking every opportunity available, pushing out the competition. And word spread like wildfire all over Manhattan, that Onesio was the best of the best, energetic and happy all the time, the perfect companion.
But overtime, Onesio felt cheated by the system. “The only problem when you work for someone else, is that they get most of your commission, around 40%.” He had already taken so many chances in life, that starting a new dog-walking business of his own was just another to add to the list.
“It was something that I always wanted to try but I was scared.”
Initially, he was scared of the judgement that followed him from past endeavors. In a city with law firms and research labs, choosing to walk a dog, for an unpredictable amount of clients and salary was not everyone’s top pick, to say the least.
He was starting from square one again, but this time, with a handful of clients under his belt and surrounded in a particular community that supported his transformation and passion in every way possible.
Onesio and his husband were immersed in the “gayborhood” culture in the center of Hell’s Kitchen. Their home was amongst the highest population of same-sex couples, found by a 2010 Census. And in June 2017, Hell’s Kitchen, along with Harlem, Chelsea, and Greenwich Village, were recognized as neighborhoods conjoined in an active effort to publicly support the LGBT civil rights movement. “It’s friendly and nice..I feel more safe here, more comfortable to go out, I feel at home.”
The couple jokes that their apartment here could buy a mansion in Brazil, but Onesio does not wish to return. Brazil was most recently noted as 74% Roman Catholic, a strict religion that in Onesio’s opinion, would “react aggressively towards me and my decisions.” In rural areas especially, a “traditional model of the sexual universe continues to dominate”, leaving Onesio and his new life displaced.
New York was a better fit and did not pressure Onesio into changing his sexuality, job, or dreams. In fact, they embraced it.
So he dove in, head first, into the world of entrepreneurship. “The only thing I really hate about the U.S. is to work so much. But the good thing is, if you work so much, you are going to get paid for it. Oh, and no real holidays. In Brazil, even the worst job gives workers thirty days off… here, you barely get two weeks.” Onesio was working harder than he ever did before, but this time around, he was enjoying every last bit of it.
“The only time I get stressed is dealing with the owners who like to book and change their schedule last minute.” Nevertheless, he was committed and earned respect; not everyone could find a dog walker willing to give up their time in the earliest of hours. And on those quiet weekend mornings, he takes the dogs to his favorite spot, Riverside Park. He likes it more than Central Park, which he learned early on is a tourist hub filled with busy roads and lawns. But near the water, on the edge of the island, Onesio and his dogs feel calm and at peace.
From a glance, Onesio’s life is busy, but surrounded by happiness and unconditional love.
Thirty minutes had passed, and mid conversation, Onesio has already made fifty dollars. He turns to me as his grin stretches an inch wider and keeps growing into laugher.
“I think I am building the American Dream yeah, but I’m really far, no? The American Dream here doesn’t really matter around what you do but if you do it well, you going to make enough money and a good amount of money. ” His success has just begun.
Amongst the crowds of 3.98 million workers, Onesio no longer cares what others think, laughing away. No matter his path, he is proud of his accomplishments, proud to be a part of the 95.7% employed in New York City, knowing that somewhere out there are others just like him.
Onesio’s New York is full of opportunity and second chances. He was able to uncover his identity and passions, and make them into his life’s work. He is no longer oppressed with rules and stereotypes. Onesio is fully himself, as happy as a dog with two tails in the city of dreams.
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