“Is the old man back yet?”
It had been five weeks, and the old man who left me his house keys before an elk hunting expedition was still MIA. His daughter-in-law was calling to see if he was back yet. The neighbors said they were going to give it a day or two after the season closed before going out there themselves to look for him.
“No, not yet.”
Working at the Hotel made me happy. I was getting tons of hours and I liked what I was doing. The only downer was I hated our clientele- they were entitled, rude and completely boring. Overhearing their conversations put me in a daze, so I would wander over to chat with Gary, a huge Native American dude who often blended into the background and was a big time stoner.
“These people have absolutely nothing of any interest to say to each other,” I said.
“Good point … so, do you have a dog?” I asked.
“No, but my friend had a big ole’ fucking rottie and she was really nice but once she bit my friend,” he said.
“Oh, I hope it wasn’t serious,” I followed.
“Oh yeah, fuck yeah it was serious. He fucking bled out all over the place. It was hilarious,” then he would giggle over the silverware. “It must have been because she was drunk.”
“Yeah,” he said. Then he laughed to himself for about 5 more minutes.
One of the pm managers was a guy around my age, with light brown freckles and a close, fuzzy crew cut. He wore small glasses and strolled like he was a young Santa Claus, almost waiting to grow in a pot belly but I found him attractive. Mostly because he gave me his jacket whenever I was cold and working an event outside. It really takes something that simple for me to start a crush. He was married and had three young boys. It was strange to look at this person, smile, laugh at his jokes and exchange drug stories knowing he was someone’s Dad.
“So when I used to work at Safeway, all of us would go home together after work and just get stoned. That is all we did, everyday. We were big time stoners. We used to do these knife hits … you ever done those? They fuck you up! You take these two heated knives and you press them on both sides of the nug and you suck them through a bottle. I mean, we got thrashed nightly. Well, one night I went home and decided to smoke a whole bowl by myself. Then my roommates came home and kept pushing me to get stoned with them? ‘Just one hit …. come on!’ So I smoked another bowl with them. I took a sip of Pepsi and everything stopped. My friend is like, ‘Dude, are you ok?’ I couldn’t answer him. I had a mouth full of Pepsi and I forgot how to swallow. I fucking forgot … how… to … swallow.”
“Whoa,” Gary said. I was stoned at work this particular afternoon and couldn’t stop giggling at QB (the Quarterback), my 18-year-old at work flirtation. Gary, QB and I were killing time erecting odd structures out of serving utensils on the banquet table.
“Once I took a shit load of peyote on a Greyhound bus and I was tripping hard!” When Gary wanted to emphasize something, his eyes would get wide and he would stretch out the word like it was melting cheese. “There was the big old cat that was chasing me on the bus. This big, fucking 25 foot cat. I was scared, and I couldn’t go anywhere because I was on the fucking bus.”
I would buckle over laughing so hard, my knees would give way and I would tip over the edge of the table. QB would give me a crumpled look of disapproval and then grin through his closed mouth. “You laugh like a Jew,” he said.
I was working my ass off at the Hotel and knew that I had to leave soon. Ideally, I would leave before the Old Man came back, but I knew it could be any day now. I knew he would come back as soon as I got comfortable and felt ownership over his dusty little farmhouse. So I put in my two weeks notice the last week of September. I started telling everyone.
“That’s gay,” Tate said. He was a skinny 18-year-old with bad acne and too much confidence.
“Gay as in happy or gay as in homosexual?” I asked.
“Gay as in … gay.”
A few of us were working insane hours. Sometimes 15 a day. Sometimes we all worked 7 days in a row. I was exhausted, but I took everything they gave me as long as they let me leave between my double shifts to go walk my dogs. Everyone got surly, and I would sing all day long.
My shift would start at 5am, and with a sub-par but tolerable cup of coffee I would start, “♪ ♫ There’s a fire starting in my heart, Reaching a fever pitch, And it’s bringing me out the dark … ♪ ♫”
One of the 18-year-olds would scream, “Stopppp! It’s too early!” Everyone else chuckled.
I kept singing, off-key, following her around the back hall, “♪ ♫ The scars of your love, they leave me breathless, I can’t help feeling, We could have had it AHHHHLLLL ♪ ♫”
“NO! STOP!” she said covering her ears.
“ ♪ ♫ …Rolling in the deEEEEP… ♪ ♫”
“OH my God!”
“I am going to record it and make that a ringtone for ya!” I said, winking.
One of the few things that kept me going was the singing, the espresso I dropped in my coffee, the soda (which I usually never drink) and cigarettes- which I took up again to keep me awake.
Walking out of a wedding reception we just finished, I would start, “♪ ♫ Rah Rah LA LA LA LA. GAGA OOH LA LA LA ♪ ♫”
Another girl, “Oh my God, no!”
“♪ ♫ I want your love, and I want your revenge, You and me could write a bad romance … ♪ ♫” I kept singing.
I loved everyone that worked there. The snotty teenage girls were cute and friendly to me now. The few am workers who showed up everyday were my confidants. And then there was QB, who heard I put in my two weeks and got moody. He was the only one who was working even more hours than me.
I would be checking the Banquet Event Orders (BEOs we called them), turn around and see him sitting there with puffy eyes staring at my ass. “Why is your ass so flat?” he asked.
We both worked a 40 person banquet alone together and he harangued me about everything “You aren’t supposed to have your arms crossed, they are supposed to be behind your back or at your sides.”
“You aren’t filling water glasses!” he said.
“Excuse me, I am bussing and serving 40 people by myself. I will get to it,” I curtly responded.
“We are behind, hurry up!” he prodded. Things got intense. We were both exhausted and the sexual tension was snapping like a cheap rubber band. If we served on the same event and briefly passed each other, I could feel his red arm hair tickle me. My vagina throbbed. Later, I would demonstrate this effect on my friend Frank: “He made my vagina do this-” and I slowly squeezed his arm.
“That’s really beautiful. He made your vagina skip a beat. Lovely.”
Those last two weeks, strolling into work, QB would dig into me almost immediately. “You want to fuck me. I can smell it on you,” he said.
“That would be charitable on my part. I mean, the greatest experience of your life . . .”
“Please, it would be the greatest experience of your life,” he said.
He offered me a fortune cookie in a wrapper and wouldn’t let go of my hand after giving it to me. He smiled at me as he crushed my fingers over the cookie, demolishing it into small crumbs inside its plastic wrapper. In my palm, under his hand, I could feel the clammy sweat from his work on my skin and smiled back at him. I liked him.
Once after a service, he found me and said, “You are going to cream yourself when I show you what I got for you,” then he revealed a huge plate of curry tofu.
“That is my favorite food, thank you!”
“Are you being sarcastic?” he asked.
“No, it really is. Thank you!”
We alternated from hate to love throughout the day.
“Why don’t you just say you want to sit on my face?” he yelled down the back hall. I was working doubles, trying to finish my school work and walk the dogs at least once a day. I was exhausted and grouchy.
“Why would I waste my time?” I snapped.
One of the single moms hi-fived me and I turned away just before seeing the dazzling smile on his face as he opened packages of cocktail napkins and straws. I will never forget that smile. The one where he showed me his teeth. It was beautiful.
“Is the old man back yet?” Lilith, the 50-year-old painter who fiercely hated her job asked me one Sunday morning.
“No,” I answered, “but I found his supply of 1989 Penthouse magazines yesterday.”
“These lemons were out on the am breaks and for the lunch. Should I throw them away now?” Kelly asked. She was 18.
“No, you should dip each one in clorox and put them back in the fridge,” Lilith said, rolling her eyes. I steadied myself on the counter laughing as Kelly stood frozen with a container of old lemons. God, I miss that place.
Then the day came. The one day I left my weed out, the beer can bong, the dirty clothes on the bathroom floor and one dirty dish. It was on that day I drove home from work and saw the light on in the house. The old man was back.
I walked in and was greeted by my three dogs, happily jumping on me and dancing back and forth between him, seated on the chair by the window, and me, standing in the kitchen. I was friendly and smiled. I even walked over and tried to talk to him.
“I was worried about you,” I said.
“Why?” he asked, kind of smiling without looking at me.
“Because no one heard from you.”
“Oh. (pause) I was fine,” he said. He wouldn’t look at me as he studied envelope after envelope. “Bills.” is all he said.
The next afternoon, he came home drunk. He popped through the door, barely able to stand. “You’re home early!?” he said.
“I had an early shift,” I said carefully.
He stumbled towards me and held on to the cabinet in the living room to keep from falling.
“How are you?” I said, slowly.
“Drunk!” he cheered with big eyes. I kind of chuckled. “My friends asked me, ‘Who is that woman living in your house?’ and I said, ‘I don’t know …’” He said it almost sing-song and that made me chuckle again.
Then my deaf pitbull, Esther, started growling at him. She didn’t like that a man was stumbling towards me and wavering around like a garden flag on a windy day. I didn’t like it either.
“Shut up. SHUT UP!” he yelled. She couldn’t hear him but she didn’t like that either and growled some more. “This is my house. MY HOUSE!”
“She’s deaf,” I said softly as I drew her close to me and buried my hands in her warm, caramel coat. I was touched that she was trying to defend me.
Then he turned towards me and waved at me as if I was to join him in the bedroom. My eyes got wide and I kind of twitched my head like I was saying “No” but hoping it could pass as “I don’t understand.”
“I am going to take a nap,” he said, “Don’t come in there after me.” He smiled to indicate the sarcasm.
“I won’t,” I said.
He disappeared into his bedroom. I was angry and worried and anxious, so I fell back on my shitty coping mechanism and went to the Bungalow to get drunk. I was scared and told everyone there what happened. They listened but didn’t know how to help me. They didn’t know me.
I drove home drunk, swerving into the opposite lane and stumbling into the house. He was awake, watching television. I drunk emailed something nasty to the Eric (my ex-boyfriend of 5 years), Abe (my ex-boyfriend of 2 years) and Huck (the lover who dumped my ass shortly after I moved back to Washington):
“Fuck you all . ..
I loved you and you left me to fend for myself with my 3 dogs.
They love me despite imperfection. And you ALL love your pot, alcohol and women more than anything. SO fuck you!!!
I am sorry I gave you three my heart. And I truly ;loved all 3 of you.”
I remember trying to keep my eyes forward and my finger steady so I could hunt and peck for each key on the computer. Then I collapsed on the couch in the living room and felt the Old Man’s hand stroke my hair. My mind was submerged in whiskey and beer until the morning, when he was back in his bedroom and I was on my way to work. The only one who responded to my drunk email was Huck who wrote, “What’s your problem?”
I thought that was hilarious. Partly for being so wonderfully simple, and partly for needing such a complicated answer.
That day, I came home and he was sitting in his chair staring at the TV set. “You and me gotta talk!” he said roughly. I knew this would come. I was allowed to stay there as his lady friend, not as a down-in-out girl studying and working full time. Now that would just be ridiculous.
“You had a friend over,” he said firmly.
My mind reviewed the one night Matt was there in the guest room and the kids who smoked a bowl with me on the back porch. Both fairly harmless. I bluffed.
“Once,” I said.
“I had to wash my bed sheets. I don’t smell like that,” he said.
“Um … you are implying I had sex in your bed.”
He leaned back. “I am not an unreasonable man. I won’t kick you out, but you have to find somewhere else to live,” he said.
“You mean you are a better person than my parents,” I thought. I nodded and said, “I am already working on trying to find another place to stay.”
“Oh, then you knew something I didn’t,” he said.
“I knew after I rejected you that you would ask me to leave,” I said.
He slowly nodded and I followed up with, “Give me a week.”
“Ok” he said, “You have one week.”
Part of me wanted to stay. I kept drilling people I worked with about whether or not I could move in with them. Many of them simply didn’t have room for the 3 dogs, me and their kids. Some had cats, which my pit bulls would eat. I didn’t want to put money down on a place and get stuck there. The money I was earning was for Los Angeles, not Skamania.
Already I had been working my LA connections for a way to get back. Frank was looking at places for both of us and I believe he got frustrated with the pet policies and threw an ultimatum on me:
“I will buy us a house right now, but we have to go in as a couple. I want us to start this off the only way I know I can. Commit to me and I will do everything I can for you and the dogs.”
I sighed … “No. I can’t do that and you know it. And that is no way to start a relationship.”
“Then I can’t do it. I can’t move in with you.”
A friend from the Doggie Daycare where I used to work said that I could bring the dogs down to his house and stay with him anytime. He would drunk dial my dogs, which I always thought was hilarious:
“Hey … hey … put Maggie on. Put Maggie on. I have to tell her something. Maggggggie. Maggggie,” he would say.
The house he lived in already arranged for a new roommate who had a cat. So that was out.
It was endless walls. Wall after wall after wall. I was sleeping with my shoes shoved under the door to jam it from being opened. I stole one of his fishing knives and kept it on the bed stand. Drunks are unpredictable and I was scared of sleeping, all the while exhausted from insane doubles at work.
“Do you need a place to stay? You can come here,” she wrote.
“But I have three dogs,” I wrote back.
“That’s ok,” she posted.
One week to work my ass off. One week to say goodbye to Washington. And one week until my new life back in L.A.