You can imagine how awkward it was moving into an Old Man’s house overnight with my three dogs. I was hungover and I had to go to work. There were bruises on my left arm from where my Father grabbed me the night before. “Let go or I will call the police. I promise,” I said. His fingers left a purple and yellow imprint over my upper arm.
After my first morning there at his house, and my shift at the Hotel, I got in after dark and immediately passed out from exhaustion on his couch. He left some beef and vegetable soup for me on the stovetop. The next day, we were in each other’s company for most of the day and it was, of course, uncomfortable. He sat and watched television from 4am to 11pm almost every day. Once in while, he would switch over to some audio recordings of an old country singer or simply stare out the window. Conversation was difficult.
“Just … this,” he said.
“You don’t go out, just to the Bungalow or … anywhere else?” I asked.
“No, the Bungalow gets expensive. Sometimes I chop wood for the neighbors, ya know,” he said. I noticed he was very hard of hearing, even with his hearing aid in. I hoped in addition to my dietary restrictions, he also misheard the agreement to be his ‘Lady Friend’. What I did learn was that he was leaving for a two to three week hunting trip with his friend, and the house would be all mine. That gave me two days to deal with our cohabitation before freedom.
The place was so dusty, you couldn’t help but taste it on your fingers when you touched things. Even with a sanitizer bottle on the kitchen table, inevitably the taste of old house and old man would find its way into my mouth. It was also dark from the blinds being drawn all day. The sound of the television was loud but not as loud as my parents, and I was able to read with it on. The two nights I spent there with the Old Man were on his couch because I didn’t know what to do. I waited for him to invite me into his bedroom, he never did. And I waited for him to touch me, he never really did.
Esther, my deaf pitbull, would stare at his Scandinavian gnomes and growl at them all night. “If they bother you, don’t look at them,” I scolded. She turned her head as if she understood me, but then saw their smiling faces in the corner of her eye and turned back around to growl at them.
The Old Man was a widower. His wife died of lung cancer six years prior. Across from the living room windows was a wood display case with a few drawers and cabinets. Her pictures were taped across the front along with old notes and letters that didn’t look very important. Everything was covered in six years of dust. He said he had a son but he wasn’t worth much, so we never spoke about him.
If I left the house, I came over to kiss his cheek goodbye. The day before he left for his hunting expedition, the third and final time I kissed him, he held my face and kissed my lips long and hard. I gave a faint smile and left. I was off to Hood River to buy a surge protector, some dog food and use the wireless at a cafe, until I could establish internet out of the Old Man’s house. My parents kicked me out on a Sunday, which was an important school day on-line. Everything was finished in about 5 hours before I headed back to Skamania. When I walked in, the dogs danced and smiled and the Old Man remained in his Lazy Boy recliner, frozen.
“Everything ok?” I asked.
“NO!” he shouted, his face grew pink.
“What? The dogs? Did they act out? Were they bad?” I asked.
“No,” he said, “They just aren’t my responsibility.”
I walked over to sit next to him and used my gentle, feminine voice, “You know, when I work, sometimes I work 8-10 hours. Sometimes more …” My dogs are used to me working long hours. We are a team. I still believe they are better with me than anywhere else.
He nodded. “I don’t have to work,” he said, then turned and smiled at me. The pale blue eyes widened again. Yeah … this wasn’t going to work out.
When the day came for the Old Man to leave on his elk hunting trip, I told myself I should get up and bid him a farewell. At 3am, when I heard him quiet my dogs then gather together his cowboy hat and duffle bag, I stayed in bed. I don’t know why. Then the front door closed and I felt more free than I had in a long time.
At first, I smoked some ganja, drank some wine and tried writing. I laid on the couch with the blinds pulled up, the dogs outside frollicking, and me sweating and tired. I realized there was no reason for me to drink anymore. I didn’t want to feel lazy or sedate, I wanted to walk my dogs, and read lots of books, and see some friends who still live in the Northwest. So I stopped drinking, not entirely- a beer at the end of a long shift just felt too good on some nights.
I would sit out on his back porch and smoke cigarettes, leaning back I saw a series of antlers still anchored to the scalps of their original owners. It must have been about eight, lined up on rusty, long nails hanging overhead. “That’s nice,” I said, with a cigarette hanging out of my mouth.
The road the Old Man lived off of turned into gravel then wound down to a river bank where the dogs played and Maggie could soak her old lady paws. It wasn’t half bad. The weather was gorgeous, the kitchen was stocked with my groceries (I selected and paid for) and the dogs spent more time with me in general. We were all happier but we were on a time limit. I knew that.
I loved working at the Hotel. I was always happy to work there but now I was just happy in general. The morning crew would be just as surly as they always are. “Do you have a to-go cup?” one golfer would ask. Gina would stretch out a smile, wagging those elbows on opposite sides of her waist as she walked away and mumbled, “Right up my ass, can’t you see it?”
The night crew expanded on weekends to include everyone in Banquets, that way we could properly staff a large wedding. Weekly there were multiple weddings, with the same bland food, the same cliche music play list, they same droning toasts and the same late nights. Once in awhile, I would get bent out of shape about everyone disappearing in the middle of a 50 guest dinner, leaving me to bus and pack up everything alone and in the dark. On the whole, I came to adore everyone.
The teenage girls were rough at first, flipping attitude whenever I asked them to do something.
“I ain’t gonna stay and put away all those glasses for pm crew. Let them do it! I am outta here,” one tomboy named Bobbi would say.
“Whenever you don’t do something, someone else has to pick up the slack. That isn’t fair. This isn’t a war against me and you, this is a job. Now put away those glasses!” I said. She did.
Bobbi really disliked me for some reason. She had stringy brown hair, freckles and a large mouth. She considered herself an athlete, though every time I asked a kid at the Hotel about college, they all said “I am more of an active type.” Bobbi was incredibly friendly to everyone but me, probably because I was completely stunned by her inability to perform basic math.
“Ok, there are 12 tables, so we put one bread basket per table,” Martin said.
“Why not two for each table?” Bobbi asked. “How many would that be?” Martin asked.
“I am not in the mood for math today, shit!” Bobbi said. She had learned that attitude would carry her far, but she hadn’t yet learned it couldn’t carry her all the way. She flat out ignored me when I was asking her a question in the Back Hall, “Bobbi is the beverage station set up? Bobbi?” then my Mother’s voice sprung out of me, “BOBBI?”
“Sorry, God. Yes. It’s up,” she said. After that, she didn’t give me anymore grief. In fact, she grew kind of attached. With the girls, I became more of a big sister/troubled-single-Mom type.
One portly girl of 18-years-old always avoided working during service, stood in the back hallway stuffing her face and would often pick her nose. If I helped her set-up a dining room for a dinner because she was an hour behind schedule, she would find some reason to undo everything I did.
“Are you helping her with her banquet? How’s it going?” my supervisor would ask.
“I am sorry, I can’t emotionally cope with helping her,” I said. It was accepted and I was no longer asked to help her.
I promised myself the next time she picked her nose in front of me I would say something, so sure enough, on one of our weekend shifts, she started digging into her left nostril mid-conversation. I exhaled and dropped my shoulders, “Wash your hands,” I said. Obediently, she did, “Its just a zit inside my nose.”
“I have heard that one before,” I said. I had, from QB (the QuarterBack), the 18-yr-old who grew up next door to my parents. I caught him once flicking at something on his face and accused him of picking his nose, “There is a zit in my nose!” he protested.
“Those suck man,” said Chad, the 25-year-old stoner who always flew to QB at the beginning of every shift, committing to whatever service he was food running for.
QB was one of the most reliable employees because he grew up in the Hotel business, his Mother was our boss- though mostly for morning shifts. He also was smart, worked fast and hard often knowing more about Banquets than the latest supervisor. He also snuck bottles of alcohol out of the Hotel to drink on his own after a shift. He flirted with every other girl that worked at the Hotel and would sometimes get blazed with Chad outside on a break. Despite all of that, his Mother thought he was an angel.
Outside, we were working a pig-roast-keg party for some company. I, of course, was stationed next to the whole pig that was baking under a cooking lamp, staring at me with burnt eyeballs. “Aw … he almost looks happier with the apple in his mouth,” I said.
“[StarFire]? [StarFire]! Stop staring at the pig!” my supervisor said.
“I just can’t help it,” I said, studying the glaze on his roasted flesh, the mid-section of his carcass collapsed on itself and meat was spilling out.
QB was standing next to me, often he was standing next to me. I assumed he was just curious about older women, or me. I couldn’t really tell.
“[StarFire], I just get this feeling like you want to fuck me?” he said, out of the blue. My eyes widened and I stifled a laugh. He remained still, with his hands behind his back, proper in his black button up uniform and black pants, smiling and nodding at guests.
“You know what they say about 18 yr-olds?” I said, leaning in so only he could hear me. He stuck his neck out, his ears wide, his smile wider, “They suck in bed. Not enough experience.”
“Come on!!” he said, smiling, readjusting his footing. “I have had sex like … over 100 times.”
“Amateur,” I said.
“You have had sex more than 100 times?” he asked.
“Yeah, even sometimes with the same partner.”
“Have you been in a porn?” he asked.
“God, no. Some porn actress stole my name … if that’s what you are talking about,” I said, faced forward, hands behind my back, nodding and smiling at guests.
“Yeah right …” QB said, staring hard at me.
Later, when we were breaking down the VIP room, we had to take a cart of food, risers and coffee pump pots through to the elevator, up a floor, across and down another elevator as to not disturb the guests relaxing in the lounge.
QB and I were still assigned the same Banquet services back then, before his Mother caught on to our little platonic affair. As we cut through Housekeeping, alone, he said, “You know, I broke up with my girlfriend.”
The last semester of school, QB dated a foreign-exchange student. His mother said they grew very attached to one another and often skyped a few times a week now that she was back in Europe. (That’s more than I can say for any of my boyfriends)
“Sorry?” I said. He leaned over the cart, his red hair buzz cut fine and short around his ears but even with an inch not given to military cuts. His eyebrows so red you could barely see him. I don’t know what it was about QB, but there was something that made my arm hair stand up.
“You know, I have had sex with a 26-yr-old before,” he said.
“ . . . wow?” I said. “Was she handi-capped or something?”
“Fuck no. She was hot. Yeah, we did it lots of times, especially in my Jeep. You know all the cars in my driveway, I have had sex in all of them,” he said, wobbling over the cart half-flirtatious half-nervous, waiting for the service elevator to arrive.
“When you are all grown up you get to do things like have sex in beds and bedrooms,” I said.
“Come on … I have had sex in my parents’ bed,” he said.
“Wow. I am really impressed. Thank you for sharing,” I said.
“Fuck you,” he said. That is usually what he said when he ran out of things to say.
In the day shifts, he would calmly ask questions about my life in Los Angeles or what happened with my parents. I remember once cleaning plates over a garbage can with him and the daylight lit up the green in his eyes. “Are your eyes green?” I said. “They can be,” he said in some kind of slight, hick accent.
Outside a wedding service, he would throw water on me. “That is the only time [QB] can get me wet,” I said.
“But its not the first time,” he said, smiling. He was incredibly handsome when he smiled.
Shortly thereafter, I made a date with Matt; the Carson boy I made love to in the baseball diamond. He came to change my oil in that ripped-up tank top and dirty baseball hat. Golden locks spilling out from underneath the cap and around his green eyes. God, those green eyes.
When he picked me up on our date, we went to a brewery and tried a taster tray of various microbrews in Hood River. He was texting a girl on his phone about where to take a vegan girl for dinner. I saw the words pop up, “Be sure to treat her like a princess”.
He opened up about how his mother lost custody because of her meth addiction. Now she is better, but he lives with his father who struggles with alcoholism. “When he kicks me out, I go stay with my Mother. Then he sobers up and asks me to come back home. So, yeah, that’s how it is.”
We went to dinner at Full Sail and he ate something vegan, even though I told him he didn’t have to do that. I felt the beer wearing heavy on me. I could not keep up with my usual allotted amount. Three pints had me spinning. “I am intimidated by how smart you are,” he said.
“Eh, don’t be,” I said. The kid was kind, considerate and attractive- but our conversations weren’t memorable. I knew I couldn’t get attached to anyone, anyway. I had to get us out of Skamania.
He asked if I liked dive bars, and I said I did, “How did you know?” Somehow he knew I was vegan, liked drinking and liked dives without even knowing my last name. We went to a place called the Red Carpet Inn, and I was so plastered by the time we walked in, I had to refuse the pitcher he bought me and bum a clove cigarette off of a toothless, black-haired woman playing pool outside on the patio.
When he drove me home, I was passing out. “You aren’t like blacking out or anything, are you?” he asked.
“No, I am just sleepy,” I said. I was working intense shifts, sometimes over 40 hours a week, sometimes “turn and burns” where I closed Banquets only to open it the next morning. Amid all of that, I had to read my books, write my annotations and work on an original manuscript for school.
“Are you sure, cause I don’t want there to be any misunderstanding if I take you home and we like … kiss,” he said.
“No, you can have sex with me. In fact, I encourage it.”
When we got back to the Old Man’s, we made out on the couch and he tried to pull off my shorts to go down on me. Brad, my little terrier, charged and snapped at his face twice.
“Brad, NU-UH!” I said.
“He is just jealous. I understand,” he said.
“Let’s move to the bedroom,” I said, leading him into the small guest bedroom with the itchy blankets and the bed too short for my feet.
We had sex, and I am sorry I drank so much because I remember very little. He had a golf tournament in the morning and, apologetically, left me to cuddle with my dogs for the rest of the night.
That night, I had the dirtiest, sexiest, most pornographic dream about … QB.