Playing With Dolls
is a realtor. She's dark, intense. When I meet Lisa at the house, the
new owners have changed the locks. Wearing a tight skirt, Lisa wiggles
through the dog door and lets me in. "It's a job skill," she says,
sucking deeply on a Marlboro, filling her pretty little chest with
I don't usually think of women as dolls, but Lisa is
petite. With makeup her flesh is flawless, like plastic. There's a
distance in her eyes, an untouchable quality about her, off-limits.
Grown men shouldn't play with dolls.
Lisa's clients — two women
named Judy and Janice buying their first home — want me to convert a
wine cellar to a walk-in closet before they take possession. In
addition, Judy and Janice want me to move a wall to accommodate a
humongous bed. The floorspace will come at the expense of the other
bedroom, which I will convert to another walk-in closet. Judy and
Janice must have killer wardrobes. And an active, um, bed-life.
never met this couple, but I picture them in my mind as very young.
Only the most active people with the most youthful knees would buy a
house that should never have been built, a house on a steep hillside
where you enter at street level and then descend two long flights of
stairs to the living space. Nice view, though.
painters arrive and start to spread drop cloths. I hear them talking
about Lisa after she leaves. They, too, have noted her dolly quality.
One says, "You think she's anatomically correct?"
painter chuckles. "She's cute," he says, "though she acts like she
wouldn’t ever even kiss a guy. But I have to believe she’s lost, uh,
you know, lost control of herself some time."
"She'd have to be on top," the first painter says, "or she'd suffocate."
"I'd never fuck a client," the second says. "It's unethical. At least, not until after she pays the bill."
the window washer arrives in the afternoon. I know Don from a previous
job. He has a fresh scar on his forehead, a criminal record in his
past, and when Lisa is gone he speculates in graphic and colorful detail
about Lisa's body parts with particular attention to the scent and
substance of body hair. "Short women taste different — like
sauerkraut," he says. "And they have thicker hair." He claims to be an
Then Don starts explaining his new scar, which
involves a drunken bar fight: "He cut me, but I cut him worse. I needed
fifteen stitches. Fifteen. I don't know how many he needed."
isn't the sort of person you'd want to leave alone in your house.
Actually, come to think of it, maybe none of us are. And as it turns
out, none of us pick up the clues about Lisa. We all made up our own
I install an aluminum threshold and stupidly
bring my unguarded face close to the scroll saw so I can see the lines.
A metal chip flies into my eye. Fucking shit. It hurts. I get it out
but cry all evening, not sad, just making tears.
three telephone installers who do the work of one man. The senior of
the three supervises while talking about the house he's building in
Emerald Hills: "I'm making the kitchen twenty-five feet by twenty-five
feet because I'm Italian, and Italians always gather in the kitchen."
Then one of the installers staples his own finger to a baseboard, and
the other installer pulls with needle-nose pliers while the supervisor
swears in Italian. After they leave, Don the window washer in an
uncharacteristic act of kindness wipes up the blood.
cellar is of course at the bottom of the structure, down three flights
of stairs. I calculate I've climbed those 60 steps at least 100 times,
which is like climbing a 3000 foot mountain, and I've carried 500 pounds
of drywall and dripped enough perspiration — plus a few tears, still
flowing — to fill a 5-gallon bucket. I'm sure of that because in 3 days
I drank over 5 gallons of water. I feel victorious — and dehydrated.
tells me that Janice wants me to repair a leaking shower and that one
of the closet rods fell down. Suddenly it's just Janice. I'm
embarrassed about the closet rod and curious about Judy.
"Don't worry," Lisa says, "Janice is the one with the money. It's her house. You'll still get paid."
"I wasn't thinking about money. I was wondering —"
"About lesbian love affairs? None of your business, Buster."
But it's not that. Not exactly. I'm simply curious. There's been drama, unknown: fights, a broken heart. I want the story.
my final day of work, the moving company — Schmoover Movers — brings in
a gigantic bed for which I've moved the wall. The bed frame they move
in sections; the mattress they fold like a burrito to fit through the
I send a bill to Lisa. A few days later I receive a check in the mail signed by Janice, whom I've never met, who will be sleeping alone on a half-acre mattress in a house prepared by men — yes, in this case they're all male — who have bled their blood and dripped their sweat and echoed their voices within the bare walls — each with his own little comedies and tragedies — whom she's never met. It
seems sad. Or maybe it's just the tears in my eyes.
A month later, I get a call from Lisa: "Remember that wine cellar you converted?"
"Oh no. Did another closet rod fall down?"
that. More work. Janice wants to be sure I hire the same people
because you left the house feeling so clean and pure. I didn't
disillusion her. I know how you guys talk. I know what you probably
said about her."
"Actually, honestly, I don't think anybody said anything about Janice. What does she need now?"
"We want you to convert half of that closet back into a wine cellar."
"Can you hear me blushing? I know it's sort of unethical to poach a client."
"Poaching? Is that what you call it?"
So now I know what happened to Judy.
"I'm a small person with a small wardrobe," Lisa says, "and I'm sort of a wine snob."