Never to return

For the past two Wednesdays, I've been working for an old lady named Gertrude, doing housework and such. I mildly disliked her from the first day we met, as she talks too much and has a sarcastic comment always at the ready, and she never fails to find fault with my work, and she smells funky, too. That 'old person' smell, plus lavender parfum.

She pours a bottomless glass of lemonade for me every week, so what the hell, right? Work is work, and I need the money. Still need the money, but after today I'm done working for Gertrude.

I got there right on time, said hello, and she almost hugged me, I swear. Her arms went up, but I stepped to the side.

Then I scrubbed her toilet bowl, washed her dishes, swept her steps, and defrosted her refrigerator, while my brainwaves went flat listening to her recite another week of her life. She told me about her arthritis, about a church charity function she'd gone to, about a neighbor's dog, and when I tried to say anything, tried to make her monologue into a conversation, she interrupted to correct my grammar, to scold me for saying "God," or she simply babbled on top of my words.

She reminds me of my mother, but with Mom I put up with it because I love her. I don't love Gertrude.

At the end of today's sentence at hard labor, she paid me and tipped me $10. I said thanks, and meant it. That's a nice tip. As I gathered my pack and jacket she said, "I need you back again next Wednesday."

I'd been hoping she wouldn't say that, but "OK," I said. "What time?"

"I think we should clean the drapes," she answered.

"What time?" I asked again.

"It's just so nice having a man around the house again," she chirped, with a goofy, giddy look on her face, and I was pissed off.

Her line about a man around the house seemed creepy, and I'd asked twice what time, and she was still talking.

"You're such a hard worker," she said, "and I'm starting to think of you as not just the handyman, but a friend," which is exactly the opposite of how I'd been thinking of her. She'd never be a friend to me, and I didn't even want her as a boss one day a week.

"Yo, Gertrude," I said, in a tone that made her smile disappear, which I enjoyed. "I listen to your stories and do the work for five bucks an hour, that's the deal. I don't yell back when you snap at me, and I haven't cussed you out, but none of that means we're friends."

"Well!" she half-sighed, half-screamed, "If that's not the rudest thing I've ever heard—"

"Yeah, yeah, yeah," quoting the Beetles, as I squeezed past her out the door and down the stairs, thirty bucks richer, immeasurably happier, and never to return.

A few words of meanness from me probably ruined her day. Maybe she cried. And I do feel bad about it, but that's not the same as regretting it.

I think she either had a crush on me or wanted to adopt me as her son, but I was there to clean the toilet and vacuum the hall. If she wants me to pretend to be a friend, that costs way more than $5 an hour plus tips.

From Pathetic Life #18
Wednesday, November 1, 1995

This is an entry retyped from an on-paper zine I wrote many years ago, called Pathetic Life. The opinions stated were my opinions then, but might not be my opinions now. Also, I said and did some disgusting things, so parental guidance is advised.

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