The surprise visit from our landlord’s main man was not appreciated. Good thing I was midway through vacuuming up all the baking soda I’d sprinkled on our now multi-animal soaked and defecated carpet when I heard the knock. I left the vacuum on and bolted to the room, unplugging the hydroponic light, nailing a sheet over the window, and positioning a chair against the door so it wouldn’t open all the way. I could hear our dogs Gladiator and Maya making noise on the other side of the door. Great. We were only really allowed to have one dog and now we had a cat and a pitbull.
I adjusted as much as I could in the room while Lindsay, who didn’t hear the knock because she was unbraiding her hair in the bathroom, walked through the living room ignorantly enough and said, “Okay honey I’m going!” without knowing the man was at the door. She opened it and shrieked at the sight of tall, lanky Danny at the door in tight jeans, rubber boots and a white tank top. Call it Eureka Chic, or just plain bonafide creeper fashion, but it was a statement all the same.
“Ah, sorry Danny!” Lindsay said to him. “I thought you were Darren.” Gladiator broke free from the spare room lockdown and was at her side lunging at him. “Gladiator get back!” she shouted at the sketchy shepherd mix. “Sorry Danny.”
“Uh, I’m sorry. I-I called earlier but… I was gonna cut down the lawn a bit and maybe fix the faucet.”
“Okay. Hold on. Let me get Darren and put Glad away.” She closed the door on him and said aloud, “Honey, Danny’s here,” in a forced, excitable tone, like it was something to be both happy and alarmed about.
I emerged from the grow room where we crossed paths. She hilariously carried the pitbull and ushered Gladiator into the backroom. After a solid minute of procrastination I faced the music and met Danny at the door. We chatted briefly about his plans for the day. For the most part he was an amiable guy. Skinny and tan from mowing the lawns of our landlord’s other ramshackle properties for the past couple weeks, he was an equal mix of small town charm and potential Zodiac killer.
“So I’m just gonna weed wack the lawn a bit, and cut down the berry vines a little.”
“You want any help?” I offered him.
“Nah it’s uh… it’s all right Darren. I got it.”
“Oh excuse me,” Lindsay said to Danny, hugging me bye and passing us on her way to her car for work.
“So I’ll come have a go at the faucet in a bit,” he said.
“All right man, I’ll be here.”
Seemed harmless enough. I closed the door with the knowledge that at some point Danny would be inside. The guy figure of our landlady. Good thing I had this brief yet manic burst of time to prepare. I stashed the Heads magazine that was on top of our coffee table, hid the Grower’s Guidebook and all the color how-to visuals that spilled out onto the floor, and chucked the two clones of Trainwreck that were soaking in a latte mug on the kitchen counter into a cabinet. Everything looked pretty good eventually. It was only a matter of keeping Maya the pitbull quiet and out of sight. And the room of course.
I walked down to the mail box and collected the Friday mail. My unemployment check never arrived. Our landlord Teri was sitting on a check that was postdated for today for the remaining half of our rent. We needed groceries. Our checking account was at negative $120. That’s not counting the checks for bowling and sushi out there in oblivion. I wasn’t sure where we stood financially till the day before when I called the bank’s automated line. I listened as if it was a game of chance, as if we wouldn’t be overdrawn, as if the Christ of currency had deposited funds overnight. “Your current balance is,” a brief pause, “negative one hundred twenty three dollars and sixty two cents.”
I spoke to my mom yesterday and she told me it was the nine year anniversary of the day my dad moved out for good. I said, “nine years, huh?” She has this impeccable memory of the anniversaries of all morbid affairs. “You know it was four years ago today that my mother passed away,” she had said to me before how many times? I can’t remember much after yesterday. Well, in snippets I can, and with much effort, bits and pieces come to mind. I do remember that it was weird how my dad told us both times in advance that he was moving out. It was like giving his two weeks notice. Maybe the whole restaurant lifestyle ingrained in him that it was the noble thing to do. I asked Lindsay one time if it was, and if I was lucky he hadn’t just left in the middle of the night. It was a good question. Maybe a father’s two week notice to his family was the only thing he could do, if he had to leave eventually.
It’s funny but I can remember the first time he left. I’m sure most kids do. My dad had his Jimmy 4X4 then, the same one he bought because it was his street name and that he drove up onto our front lawn in when he surprised us all with his reckless purchase. My mom had no idea he was buying a new ride. But there he was, with our neighbors looking on, screeching up over the curb onto the grass in broad daylight, honking the horn, and parking inches away from the hedged bushes that lined the perimeter of our house in Arroyo Grande. On the day he left, it was sunny and warm. I was in the 4th or 5th grade, or it may have been the summer in between. But I can picture him pulling out of the drive. The packing and moving to his apartment in San Luis Obispo had already been completed. My brother may have been out in front of the house with me, a little ahead of me, and I know my mom was watching from somewhere. She may have urged us to go stand out in the front yard to watch. But my dad headed to work with his cup of coffee and a banana, took the corner that our house was on without looking at us, and he was off, the whine of his engine fading out up the street.
My mom then told me on the phone “I’m just not meant to meet anybody again in this lifetime.”
“What? Why would you say that?”
“Just some people are meant to be alone.”
“I wouldn’t rule it out, Mom. It just, you know, takes time.”
Then she surprised me by saying she mailed up a check for some groceries because she was worried about me. “Things will be cool,” I told her in classic behind-the-redwood-curtain-dialect. “I’m working a bottling at Whitethorn in early August, and then a few weeks in a row for harvest in September.” Even my mom knew that those figures wouldn’t add up to rent, bills, and food. I didn’t trust her enough to tell her I was on unemployment. She thought it was a very trashy thing.