I had never gone to a job interview at 10 p.m. But there I was ringing the doorbell, in the dark, wondering if I was crazy, or just desperate.
A girl in her late twenties opened the door.
“He’s on the phone.” she said boredly as she stepped back into the livingroom and sat on the couch across from to a voluptuous blonde girl.
I went in and shut the door. From a room to my left I could hear a man’s voice in a one-sided conversation.
I sat at the other end of the couch from the girl who answered the door. She was plain, almost Amish-looking, with short, blunt brown hair, a few freckles, and a very straight figure with no hips to speak of. She wore clothes I can only described as conservative and uninteresting – a dark brown skirt, a tailored off-white shirt, some pearls, no earrings, and little or no makeup.
I guessed the other girl was in her early twenties. She sat on a shorter couch set perpendicular to the big one I was on. She was quite the opposite of the first girl. She was thin, with voluminous light blonde hair (was it her natural color?), and equally voluminous breasts. I could smell her perfume from across the room, and I wondered how long it took her to put her make up on, for her face was well painted.
They watched me, too, scoping me out, as it were. I wondered what Miss Boobs thought of me. I don’t usually worry about what other people think, but there was something about the way she was eyeing me. My own looks sort of fell between the two girls – not plain jane, but not “beautiful”… I thought of myself as “earthy.”
“Are you here for the interview, too?” I asked them.
They nodded but neither seemed inclined to offer any more information.
We sat in silence, listening to the muffled conversation from the bedroom. A stylized clock with no numbers ticked away over the big stone fireplace. How tidy the place was, and I wondered if our potential employer was married or just had a maid. A dining room area was up a few steps from the living room, and a dark doorway probably went into the kitchen. The house wasn’t a mansion, but it was obvious the man had money.
It seemed curious that there weren’t any personal items set out – no family pictures, no books, not even a pack of cigarettes or a even a magazine. Sterile.
Under normal circumstances I would never have even considered answering an ad like this – “Female Personal Assistant Wanted, apply in person 10 p.m. Thursday, 405 Pinewood Drive.” But I was running out of options. I felt like I was in a trance or a dream, sitting there in some guy’s living room with two other girls.
Just then the talking stopped from the other room and we could hear someone moving around.
He sauntered in with a large clipped white poodle trotting beside him. He was in his mid forties, slightly grey around the temples. The “handsome executive type” I decided. He had that look about him of someone who worked out in the gym every day. He also had an urgent, goal-oriented stride, someone who always takes charge.
He didn’t even introduce himself. He stopped at the edge of the couches and looked us over as a group.
“Are you all here for the interview?”
He looked at his watch then he looked at each one of us. When he looked at me our eyes met. A strange curiosity seemed to creep into his eyes for a split second. But then it was gone, replaced by boredom and dismissal.
He pointed the Miss Boobs. “You’ll do. Can you start tonight?” She smiled mechanically and nodded. He glanced over to Plain Jane and me “Thank you for coming.”
That was it. There was no more to be said. Plain Jane and I looked at each other in disbelief, and then understanding set in. We stood up and showed ourselves to the door, humiliated. As the door shut behind us we could hear them inside.
“You can call me Jerome. What’s your name, sweetie?”
The door clicked shut behind us and Plain Jane headed for her car without a word. I stood in the middle of the lawn and watched her drive away, feeling her anger and embarrassment. I didn’t know what else to do. My mind focused on the unopened bottle of vodka under my sink.
The next thing I knew I was sitting in my car a few houses down the street from Jerome’s house at 4:30 in the morning. The street was empty, the houses dark. I was putting on some gloves, only my hands illuminated by the streetlight. I couldn’t believe what I was doing. It was like I was watching someone else.
As dawn was seeping through the rhodadendrens, I found myself at his door. Picking locks wasn’t on my resume. But the door was unlocked – apparently he was too distracted to remember to lock it before he (they) went to bed.
I’m not sure how I expected to fool the dog, but again I was in luck – the bedroom door was closed and no dog was in sight so I figured it was in there.
In the bathroom I saw his wallet. I didn’t stop to count. I just yanked out the dollars and stuffed them in my pocket.
I panicked when I heard the dog scratching at the bedroom door. I’ve got to get out of here! I thought. He can’t catch me. I would be too humiliated. I made it to the front door and eased it open. That’s when the dog finally started barking. But by then I was slipping out the door and closing it behind me. I heard him barking from inside as I started running to my car. At the sidewalk I forced myself to walk in case anyone was watching. I started feeling safe when I was several houses away and shielded from view by hedges.
But my heart skipped a beat when I heard the front door of Jermone’s house open.
“Hurry UP! Mongrel.” I heard him snap.
The dog ran after me, barking. I decided I’d better not run. Nothing sets a dog off more than a fleeing person. On top of all this I heard a car coming. I stopped on someone’s lawn a house away from my car and tried to act nonchalant. I started picking up trash from the lawn, as if I lived there and had just come out for the paper.
The poodle stood about fifty yards from me on the sidewalk, barking.
The car passed with no apparent interest in me or the dog.
“WINKEL!” Jerome was calling his dog in. I was sure he would come out to investigate. “WINKEL! Get your ass in here!”
The dog looked back toward the house, then at me. He stopped barking, and seemed to be deciding what to do.
“WINKEL! Get in here or I’ll beat your ass!”
That did it. Winkel turned and ran back to the house, obviously deciding I was not worth getting beaten over.
I stood on the neighbor’s lawn, shaking, a wad of paper trash balled up in my hand.
What had I done? I had robbed someone. I didn’t do things like this. But I had gotten away with it. Gotten away with what? There couldn’t have been more than fifty dollars.
My stomach started churning. Til then it had been seized up in fear. Now it was keeping time with my pounding heart, which was somehow in my head. I hated myself. I hated him for making me do this. Making me do this? He didn’t make me do this. That’s bullshit. I made me do this. There was nobody else to blame.
I found myself walking back toward Jerome’s house. His lights were off; apparently he went back to bed after letting the dog in. As the sun peeked out over the pavement across the street I was ringing his doorbell again.
He opened the door in his underwear.
“What the hell do you want?!” He was obviously not a morning person.
I glanced down at the dog who was standing next to Jerome looking more confused than his owner.
“Do you remember me?” I asked.
I knew the dog did. Jerome squinted at me and rubbed the sleep out of his eyes the ran his hand through his pillow tousled hair.
“I was here last night, for the interview,” I said.
“What do you want.” He was only slightly more civil than last night.
“Can I come in?” I asked.
He was confused, but he stepped back and allowed me inside. I walked in and stood in the middle of the living room. The sound of the door clicking closed behind me sent my heart into spasms. What was I doing? If I wasn’t crazy before, I surely was now.
He walked passed me and up into the dining room. The dog followed uncertainly, keeping one eye on me and the other on his owner.
“Want some coffee?” He asked out of the side of his mouth.
“No, thank you.” I got my feet moving enough to follow him through the dining room and into the kitchen.
He snapped on the kitchen light and headed for the coffee machine.
“Well, I need some. God damn dog woke me up about a half hour before you rang the bell.”
Had I been standing on the neighbor’s lawn holding that wad of trash for a half hour?
He got a mug from the cupboard and set it on the counter next to the coffee machine. The dog sat down by the table, apparently satisfied that I wasn’t a threat.
I was surprised at how homey the kitchen looked. It was as tidy and immaculate as the living room, but the gingham curtains, pastel tile, and checkered table cloth gave the room a comfortable feeling. I caught myself thinking it had a “woman’s touch.”
As Jerome went about the kitchen getting the sugar and cream out, I thought for a moment he had forgotten I was there. He was ignoring me.
I had to get this over with. “I’m sorry to wake you, but I had to talk to you.”
“It better be important. I didn’t get to sleep ’til three.” I wonder why. He stood waiting for the coffee to finish dripping, and he finally turned around, leaned against the counter and looked at me. “Which one are you?”
“Which one what?” I asked.
“Oh, yeah. You’re the – well, never mind. What do you want? The job’s been filled.” He was starting to wake up. He stood with his arms crossed, staring at me, starting to get bothered.
I took a deep breath. “The reason your dog was barking this morning was because I was in your house.” I wished I could have enjoyed the look of amazement on his face, but I was too scared. “I came here to rob you.” Now it was disbelief on his face. “I sneaked in and stole the money out of your wallet.”
I reached into my pocket and pulled out the wad of cash and put it on the table. Time to shut up and let that sink in, I decided.
He looked at the money, at me, then at the money again. Slowly, slowly, he uncrossed his arms, walked to the table across from me and picked up the money. He fanned through it, not really counting it, then looked down at me.
“Is this a joke?” he asked.
“I wish it was.”
He stared at me.
“You’re telling me you broke into my house, stole my money, got out of the house – then came back to return it?”
He sat down across from me and stared at the money.
It was explanation time. “Last night when I came here to interview for the job – I was desperate. I’ve been looking for a job for three months now. Tomorrow – I mean today, they’re going to shut off my electric. I’m living on saltines and dried soup. I had to get this job. I never would have answered an ad like this if I wasn’t desperate.
He looked dispassionate, though I didn’t expect any sympathy.
I kept going. “You made me so mad. All you wanted was… You were so rude, so …. Well, anyway, I went home and got drunk. I kept telling myself it wasn’t my fault you were a chauvinist pig. It wasn’t even your fault – you just were. And I should have known what to expect, answering an ad like that. But two hours and a half a bottle of vodka later I had convinced myself you needed to be taught a lesson. How dare you humiliate me and waste my time and my gasoline cause you wanted an easy lay. I blamed all my financial troubles on you. I saw you as the root of everything that was wrong with my life. Everything that is wrong in our society.”
I paused a moment to catch my breath but he was too shocked to speak. I could see he was insulted and a little mad. I had his attention. I continued.
“The next thing I knew I was sneaking around in your house. I found your wallet, took out the money, and then got out fast. That’s when the dog heard me. I was halfway down the street when you let him out.”
He started remembering, and nodded slowly, putting it all together.
“I guess I stood on your neighbor’s lawn for a while. Then I rang your doorbell, and here I am.”
He started shaking his head, still not believing it all.
“But why? You could have gotten away with it. Why come back?”
“Very simply, I don’t do things like this. I don’t believe in lying, cheating, or stealing. I even use my turn signal and return extra change at the grocery store.”
He didn’t say anything. I guessed that he didn’t think twice about lying, cheating or stealing, probably didn’t use his signal, and definitely didn’t return extra change.
“I’m not sure why I did it in the first place. I tell myself it was because I hated you, but that’s not like me either. I don’t like to do spiteful things.” I knew he did.
The coffee was done. He got up in a daze and poured a cup. He waved the pot at me in another empty offer of hospitality. I shook my head. He sat down again and sipped his coffee, staring at the money.
“Shit! This is unbelievable,” he said.
I sat silently.
“So what the hell do you expect me to do?” He was asking me.
I shrugged. “That’s up to you. If it were me I might call the cops.”
He sat back, trying to look imperious and in control. I was starting to realize that, although I was in the wrong here, he was the one on the defensive. I could see it in his puffed up posture and the way he stroked the handle of his cup with his thumb. He was at a loss; for the first time in his life he was faced with a situation he didn’t know how to handle. And this irked him more than what I had done. I felt strangely in control.
He glanced down at the poodle at his feet. “Some watch dog.” Jerome let out a kind of laugh, but it was more nervous energy. It wasn’t humor.
I didn’t respond. I just stared straight at him. I was wrestling with my own emotional uproar. On one hand I was angry with myself. Then again, this was my penance, so I was setting it right. But there was another part of me that was enjoying the predicament I had put this loathsome creature in. Served him right.
Whoah! That was just the sort of thinking that had gotten me into this mess in the first place. Why was I thinking like this? Not only did I pride myself in being honest, I worked hard to be fair and nonjudgemental of others. And, after all, I did answer the ad. So where was all this coming from? What did I expect? What if he had chosen me over Miss Boobs?
I shuddered at the thought. The light of day was bringing reason and sanity to me. I brought my mind back to the present. He was still thumbing his coffee cup.
He looked up at me and seemed startled that I was looking so poised.
“What will you do if I let you go?” he asked.
“And then what?”
I shrugged. “I haven’t gotten that far in my plans.”
He sat up a little straighter. “The ad was legitimate. I’m really looking for an assistant.” He paused a moment. I thought I saw a little guilt cross his face, maybe even a little embarrassment, though it was more likely resentment. “I just figured I could kill two birds with one stone… if you know what I mean.”
He looked at me for acknowledgement, but I just stared at him indifferently. He would get no allowances from me.
“Do you want the job?”
I couldn’t believe what I was hearing.
“No.” Oooh, that felt good.
“Then why did you apply?”
“I told you, I was desperate.”
“And you’re not desperate anymore?”
“I don’t understand,” he said.
Ha! I was confusing him again.
“You don’t have to.”
Now I was provoking him.
“What is your problem, lady? You come here looking for a job. When I don’t give you one, you come back and rob me. I could have called the cops, but I didn’t. And now I’m trying to help and you act this way? God Damn it.” He had thought he was getting control again.
“I’ll admit I wasn’t in my right mind last night. But I’ve got my senses back and they tell me to stay away from you.”
“Damn it, I don’t get you.”
“No, you don’t.” I smiled.