Friday, December 16, 2011

365 Jobs: Bag Lady of the Suburbs

December, 1987

I'm working on a man's shower.  I go out to my truck for a tool and find a crazy lady peering over the tailgate into the bed.  My first thought is that she's looking to steal something but all I say is: "Hello.  You need something?"

She jerks back and says, "I live in the house next door up the hill."  She's old.  She has red scars on her arms like they'd been shot full of holes.  "This is my dog."

A scruffy mutt is dropping a pine cone at my feet.  He looks up at me expectantly, wagging his tail. 

The lady, too, looks at me expectantly.  "He wants you to throw it for him," she says.

So I do.  Again and again.  While I'm playing throw-and-fetch with the dog, she says, "I could use a handyman to fix a drain plunger.  And a screw came out of the vacuum cleaner.  The furnace doesn't make any heat.  The dishwasher caught on fire and I had to pull the plug.  I could make a whole list of things."

"Uh huh," I say.  From inside the house I see the homeowner glaring at us.  I'm charging by the hour to fix his shower, so I'll have to adjust for the time spent out here.

The woman is speaking: "I’ve been reading the instruction manual about how to drive my car.  I haven’t driven it in four years but I have to go to the dentist tomorrow because my tooth fell out.”  She sticks a finger in her mouth and makes her cheek bulge where the molar is missing.  “Did you think it only happens to children?  Happy Hanukkah, huh?  I like your shirt.  Now that I’ve sold the property across the street finally I’ve got the money to fix things up.  I only need you for an hour.”

I say, "What you've got sounds like it will take many hours.  Several days."

Suddenly she’s angry.  She draws herself up straight and says, “Listen, buster, it will take less than an hour because I say so.  I’m the boss.  Get it?” 

Back inside the house, the man says, "I see you met Nelda.  You wouldn't know it, but she could probably buy half of San Jose.  She owns six houses on this road.  For God's sake, don't work for her."

"I can't work for her.  She already fired me."

"Lucky you."

Back home when I'm unloading the truck, I realize I'm missing a toilet auger.  It had been sitting in the bed.

After a flash of anger, I feel sad for Nelda.  Is she really going to ream her own toilets?  She's a lonely lady with an old dog.  If she were poor, I'd help her for free; but she's loaded and she stole my tool — a rusty, smelly, ten dollar tool.  She's a bag lady without the bag, with property.  How do you help somebody like that?

Tuesday, December 6, 2011

Flossing the Deck

Today's job is cleaning out the cracks between the boards of my deck.  Since I have about a thousand square feet of decking with a dozen giant redwood trees dropping duff all over, flossing is a big task.  For 30 years I've done it on my knees with a screwdriver or a putty knife or by running my power saw with an old blade.

This year, I googled "flossing the deck" and found this wonderful tool.  

Deckhand tool
I called up the guy who invented it, placed an order (he'll talk your ear off), and I'm pleased to report that the Deckhand tool is worth every penny of the $35 I paid for it ($25 plus shipping).  It works fast and handles well.  It saves your knees.  What used to be a multi-day job I can now do in a few hours.  Fantastic!

Flossing the deck

And hey — Santa!  If you're stumped for a holiday gift for the somebody-who-has-everything, I bet your somebody doesn't have a deck flossing tool. 

(I paid for the tool.  I get nothing for endorsing it here.)

Monday, December 5, 2011

365 Jobs: Murder of a Client

Friday, September 23, 1988

Isabella my favorite decorator calls and says, "I've got a strange one for you.  He's an alcoholic.  He's wealthy but you never know when he'll drive off a cliff.  Get your money before you leave.  Are you game?"

It's a new-looking community behind a security gate in Cupertino.  The units are conventional, what you get when you build tract houses with a dose of quality.  Large garages, no trees.  Sterile.

Bob is an old man.  He smokes, shuffles around, and mumbles "God damn it" a lot.  He's white.  His girlfriend Lisa is fresh, young — looks about half his age.  She's black.  She says she's studying for the Law Boards.  On the wall she's framed her undergraduate degree: Princeton, 1979.

Lisa Hopewell, Princeton Class of 1979

Lisa lives here with her two kittens — and Bob.

The white kitten, Lisa tells me, has just been declawed so he mustn't leave the house.  Without claws, he's defenseless. 

"And the other?" I ask, indicating the black kitten.

"That little pussy has claws," Lisa says.  "She can take care of herself."

Okay, this is weird.  And none of my business. 

I remove a valence and install one of those multi-globe lights over the bathroom sink.  I'm good at this.  I work fast.  Unfortunately, the faster I work, the less I can charge for labor — just the minimum service call.  I use these small jobs as loss leaders because they often lead to bigger jobs later on.

Every time I go out to my truck for a tool or supplies, the black kitten climbs in.  Mewing, purring, curling up and beseeching me with kitten eyes, she's either very friendly or desperate to escape.

When I finish, Bob is gone.  Lisa inspects the work and says, "Hey.  You're good."

"Good" in this case means you can't tell I've ever been there.  She writes a check and follows me out to the truck.  I roll down the window, hand her the black kitten who has nestled into a cup holder, and I drive straight to the bank as Isabella instructed.

At the bank, they tell me the checking account has closed.

I call Lisa.  She apologizes profusely.  I return.  She pays me cash.  She seems like a spacehead.  Maybe she's stoned.  Anyway, an hour wasted.

Tuesday, October 4, 1988

Isabella sends me back for more work behind the security gate in Cupertino.  Another woman is working there, hanging wallpaper.  I'm installing wall sconces and an overhead track light.

While we're working, Bob and Lisa get into a shouting battle.  After cussing each other out, Bob yells, "You're a junkie!"

Lisa says, “That’s right.  I’m addicted to your love.  If you don’t quit, you’re going to die of cirrhosis of the liver.”

Bob: “I don’t drink that much.” 

Lisa: “You’re an alcoholic!  You quit AA, you quit every treatment program...” 


“I haven’t had a joint in so long...”

The wallpaper lady finishes up quickly and somewhat sloppily.  Outside she tells me, "I'll never go back there.  Ever!"

I should probably feel the same.  These people are out of control.  But when I finish, as Lisa watches Bob writing me a check, a calculating look comes over her face.  "Could you replace these downlights?" she asks, indicating the living room ceiling.  "Is that all right with you, Bob?"

"God damn it," Bob says.

Apparently that means yes.  Lisa and I make arrangements for me to come back.  I give an outrageously high estimate — I'm not interested unless the money's good.  She accepts.

I don't know what Lisa's game is with the lights.  The robotic tone of her voice as she told Bob "I'm addicted to your love" sounded as if she were reading a line — badly.

Tuesday, October 18, 1988

Lisa is home when I arrive; Bob is out.  Good.  It's easier to work when they're apart. 

Everything goes well, working fast, but the blankety-blank electric supplier short-counted me and I have to drive to San Jose and back to pick up another can for the downlights, wasting an hour on a hot afternoon.  When I return, unfortunately, Bob is there.  He and Lisa commence fighting.   

She taunts him: "In eight days you're going to jail.  You got a string of DUI's.  They caught you driving with a suspended license.  You ready for jail?  They're gonna fuck your butt."

Bob throws a bowl of soup at her.  He’s shaky. 

In the kitchen is a placard: 

It is better to have loved and lost. 
Much better. 
I get paid and immediately drive to the bank and cash the check.  I never want to see them again.  Good money doesn't justify shit karma. 

January 10, 1991

Isabella calls and says, "Remember Lisa Hopewell?  She was murdered.  Isn't that awful?"

Immediately I ask, "Was it Bob?"

Apparently it wasn't.  At least he was never mentioned as a suspect, though Lisa was described as a "caretaker" of his "upscale condo" in Cupertino, and she was killed in that condo, and the killing had sexual overtones.  (The condo is not the same place as the house where I worked for them two years before.)

It's a gruesome story.  Lisa's hands had been tied behind her back.  Her face was bound with duct tape.  She died of suffocation and from knife slashes to her throat and vaginal area.

And then the wrong man was convicted of the crime.

Fingerprints on the duct tape led police to Rahsson Bowers, a drug dealer.  Bowers originally blamed "two white guys" for the murder, then changed his story when detectives suggested the name of Rick Walker, a former boyfriend of Lisa Hopewell.

On the stand, Bowers claimed that after smoking crack cocaine, Walker had forced him to wrap Lisa's face with duct tape.  Bowers described Lisa repeatedly gulping as she died. 

Bowers cried on the witness stand.  The jury was visibly moved.  One juror had to ask for a tissue.

Rasshon Bowers was found guilty of second degree murder.  Rick Walker was convicted of first degree murder.  

Bowers had lied.  He'd made a secret plea deal with John Schon, the Santa Clara County prosecutor.  Another witness, an ex-girlfriend of Rick Walker, also gave false testimony against Walker (after being coached by Schon) in secret exchange for lenient treatment of a drug charge.

In June 2003, after 12 years of hard time in San Quentin and Pelican Bay, Rick Walker was freed on the basis of DNA evidence, the result of dogged work by attorney Alison Tucher, the only hero in this sordid tale. 

From every house, there runs a sewer.

(Information about Lisa's murder comes from
, from the San Jose Mercury News, and from the Princeton Alumni Weekly.)