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?

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