Authors: Lindsey Grant
After I brought the rain-damp dogs in from the backyard, they got a thorough toweling down and a dog biscuit each. Their water refreshed and the mess of crumbs from their treats wiped up, I latched the baby gate and took my leave.
It wasn't just the rain or Ian's marked success with money and significant others that had me dispirited and distracted that day. On the way up the road toward my afternoon clients, before the bank, I had another stop to make.
The pawn shop, and my destination, was on San Pablo, past the BevMo! near the big shopping center with the Ross and Payless ShoeSource. I passed it daily on the way to my Richmond clients, which had given me the idea in the first place. I had long been toying with the idea of selling some jewelry to help me make ends meet, and I'd finally reached the point at which it was less an option and more a necessity. I'd been wearing the same cracked galoshes for long enough that, despite my duct-taping job, more rain seeped in and soaked my socks than was repelled. I'd ordered replacementsâgood ones that I could walk many miles in and that would presumably last for a whileâbut I kept canceling the order to use the money for something more pressing. I still had plenty of duct tape.
In free fall, it's hard to know where the bottom is exactly. Where on the wide spectrum of failure did pawning my personal possessions fall? I was a far cry from compromising my morals and had yet to consider trading anything more than sentimental gifts for cash. But I was feeling pretty piss-poor about the choices that had resulted in my entering a pawnshop with intent to sell. Jewelry. My jewelry. I couldn't bear to part with the sapphire ring my sister
gave me for my twenty-first birthday, or the gold tree of life my mom brought back from Egypt, so I settled on an amethyst ring from my aunt and a pair of diamond studs from my sixteenth birthday.
I almost kept driving, but there happened to be a curb spot right in front of the store. I took this as a sign that this was a good idea and I should see it through. Also, I needed the majority of this check from Flannel and Salvador to cover an overdue cell phone bill, and the gas tank was millimeters from the dreaded E.
The facade was fancy, all green marble and gold lettering. But the interior was completely the opposite. Everything was locked down or behind bars. The guy at the counter stood behind Plexiglas. I had to lean over and talk into a little speaker.
“Hi,” I said, “I have some things to sell.” He looked at me blankly, waiting for me to produce. “I don't really, uh, know how this is done.”
He gestured to the narrow slot beneath the divider and the mouthpiece. I pushed the earrings and the ring through, and he scooped them up in his massive hand. He put on an eyepiece to examine the diamonds, and I worried that maybe they were fake and he'd think I was trying to swindle him. I cast my eyes around and realized that my diamonds looked like Grape-Nuts compared to some of the stuff under the counter. He pushed the earrings back through to me. He'd linked them, the one stud through the other and clasped to keep them from separating, in a way I'd never seen before. So tidy.
“I couldn't give you more than $16 for those; you might as well give them to a kid niece or something.” I swallowed hard. I'd never give them away. I loved them too much. Yet I'd been moments from trading them for three-gallons-worth of gas. My eyes were smarting at this betrayal in progress, but I refused to let this guy see me squirm.
Meat Hands pawed my ring next.
“For this I could give you $24. The band's worth more than the stones. Just melt it down . . .” his voice trailed off as he fingered the ring, so tiny between his sausage of a thumb and pointer finger.
I held out my hand, implying that I wanted it back. I pocketed the ring and the earrings both, nervous sweat beading my upper lip and dampening my shirt.
“Sorry,” I said. But I wasn't apologizing to him. I'd done myself really wrong the moment I slid my baby diamonds and priceless ring beneath that bulletproof partition.
I pushed through the barred doors and into the spitty rain. I still had a sixteenth of a tank of gas left. The warning light would blink on at any moment, but there was still some juice in there. I also had some change in the console, which would get me a little less than a gallon in case of emergency.
Back in the car, I felt safer, and better now that I was breathing normally. I transferred the earrings and ring from my pocket into the cup holder, then changed my mind. I slid the ring onto my left hand and unlinked the diamonds, pinning the studs into each ear. Fancy dog walker. Dog-Walker Barbie. That was much better.
Subject: Turkey time
I was hoping you could give me some instructions for my Thanksgiving “feast.” Mom said you use an old T-shirt to keep the turkey moist?!? Do parts of the bird taste like armpit?? Maybe the butter masks the flavor of Speed Stick and sweat. I have absolutely no idea what I am doing here, so any advice you can offer will save this bird from ruin.
urely there are more annoying ways to be woken, but as Simpson furiously kneaded my head with his needlelike claws, I couldn't think of any. I rolled away from him, leaving my neck vulnerable to his unshorn nails. Twisting and turning in my half-asleep stupor, I tried and failed to escape his relentless attentions. He worked his way down my back, and I farted on him through the thick blankets. My dream of serial earthquakes and melting cell phones completely dissolved into the bleak gray light of predawn. I tossed Simpson onto the carpet with weak-fisted force, but he was back on me in no time, redoubling his efforts on my head. This was no outpouring of love on his part; Simpson was hungry. He was always hungry.
I was staying with Simpson, his counterpart Larry, and the dog Leilani for the week while their owners were vacationing somewhere tropical. They were clients of my colleagues; like so many of my gigs, the work was done in the capacity of a subcontractor.
This wasn't the first time I'd cared for this trio, so I'd already known that this wouldn't be one of those jobs where the clients directed me to the top-shelf tequila, the hot tub, and their king-sized bed. The mattress was lumpy, the fridge was bare but for a bunch of wilted spinach and a door full of condiments, and the cabinets were stocked with inedible ingredients like flaxseed and protein powder. Plus, it was a good twenty-five minute trek to get to their Alameda house from my north Berkeley apartment. That was if traffic was moving steadily through the MacArthur Maze, which it rarely did.
But I'd always liked these clientsâhuman and animal alike. Sara was always smiling, a woman overwhelmingly in love with Andy, her charming and carefree husband. Sturdily built, tanned, and handsome beneath his mussed curls, Andy ran an extreme adventures outfitâskydiving or scuba, waterskiing or the regular snowy kind.
The pictures of their wedding displayed in the bedroom and tucked in nooks around the house showed him in a Hawaiian shirt and sunglasses, her in a simple sundress, her uncoiffed blond hair blowing in the sea air. They seemed real, young, and in love. I liked being in such close proximity to these happy and wholesome people, trying to absorb some of their stability by osmosis.
Their house, down to the odd but pleasing variety of colors they'd painted their walls, always felt joyful and warm. Their animals, too, radiated the contentment that comes with being well loved. I was well aware that there were worse ways to spend a weekâand dramatically more difficult animals with whom to spend it.
I'd miraculously managed to wrangle the upcoming Thanksgiving holiday as a rare day off and was celebrating by hosting at the apartment. I'd cook for Ian, his latest in a long string of ladies, as well as my college roommate who'd recently moved to the
Bay Area, the guy she was sleeping with, and an old ex-boyfriendâthe only one I'd ever managed to remain friends with. It was going to be like the Island of Misfit Toys, but I was bound and determined to make it a memorable meal.
This would be my first Turkey Day away from home as an adult, as well as my first time hosting, and the money from these overnights would certainly help offset the grocery bill for the feast. I'd been doing some research into the best (read: most affordable) turkeys, and I thought I could keep the bird to $25 or less, especially if I went to Grocery Outlet. The guests didn't need to know where I bought it from. No organic, well-adjusted, Heritage Tom with good genes and high self-esteem. We'd likely eat a Butterball bird, much abused in his lifetime, because that's what I could afford.
Even taking into account my appreciation for this happy house and its occupants, and the utility of the money I was making, I didn't feel that these pros excused or entirely offset Simpson's early morning wake-up calls. I was a girl who needed her eight hours. Unable to imagine his exertions on my neck and back as a form of acupuncture, I tossed away the comforter, momentarily burying him in bedding. After pulling on my favorite sweatpants, the heather gray kind with elastic around the ankle circa the Gap in 1989, I climbed over the baby gate that partitioned the kitchen from the rest of the house.
Leilani, the German shepherd mix, was stirring in her bed tucked in the back corner of the breakfast nook. The Hansens had found her years before while on vacation, falling instantly in love with the stray pup. After very little deliberation, they bought her a one-way plane ticket on their flight, direct to San Francisco.
Larry the cat was Sara's before she ever met Andy, and he became equally theirs when they'd married eight years prior. The way Sara
told it, Larry was there before Andy, and had been there for the duration of their life together.
He'll probably be here after Andy, too,
she'd joked. This didn't necessarily give Larry preference over Leilani and Simpsonâor Andy, for that matterâbut certainly seniority.
Larry suffered from hyperthyroidism, leaving him extremely lean and in need of medication twice a day. In the past, mixing that medication with some wet food had been the only contact I'd have with him in a day. He was an exclusively outdoor cat, only venturing so far indoors as the mudroom for meals and cat naps atop the washer in his round furry cat bed. It was a rare occasion indeed that he joined Simpson and Leilani in the kitchen.
After he ate his doctored meals, he was off again to lead his mysterious cat life. Though he was a scrappy tomcat, a prowler and a hunter, his pure white coat and subdued demeanor lent him an air of stoicism utterly absent in Simpson.
Named after the famous animated family, Simpson was the younger of the cats and was about as different from Larry as he could be. In perfect counterpoint to Larry's uniformly snowy coat, Simpson was jet black with a white bib and boots on all four paws. He was comically obese, and next to the skeletal Larry, he looked even more grotesquely overfed. Where Larry was the quintessential felineâaloof, independent, and completely indifferent to humans and animals alikeâSimpson was so desirous of constant affection (and constant feeding) that he made himself a pest.
Fat as he was, Simpson was able to leap from the floor to the kitchen island to the countertop faster than I could swat him down. Whatever I was preparing, be it dinner, a cup of coffee, or Larry's medication cocktail, Simpson would be on it in a flash. So his food came first, always, to occupy him and keep him out of my face. He ate atop the fridge, a vantage point that allowed him to see who else was eating what, where, and when.
Leilani was far more relaxed about her morning meal. I scooped a cup of kibble out of the bin in the cabinet, and the dog was soon settled in front of her breakfast. I intentionally left Larry for last, since his morning regimen was far more involved for the both of us.
Larry had been sick for a whileâfor at least as long as I'd been pet-sitting him and his housemates. The only changes in his care over that year or so had been how much medication he got and how frequently, and then later, in what he was eating and in what quantities. But any differences in Larry himself had been small and slow, and the Hansens never seemed overly concerned.
When I arrived for this visit, they had left the usual note of greeting on the butcher block in the kitchen.
Lately he is only interested in eating baby food, but he eats it with gusto!
The last of their instructions read,
If he starts to go downhill, no heroics, okay?