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
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.
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.
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."
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
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
"I can't work for her. She already fired me."
Back home when I'm unloading the truck, I realize I'm missing a toilet auger. It had been sitting in the bed.
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?