Jokers To the Right

I get into more trouble over the phone than any other way. When it rings, I should climb under my desk and cower.

Paulie: I need a favor.

When your ex says, “I need a favor,” maybe you change the locks. I’m all ears and nerves. Most of my exes are very good to me. Paulie often drops everything to help. If I have to say no, I’m going to feel low, so low.

Tata: What can I do for you?
Paulie: I’m at the airport. My Uncle Tony was here over the weekend, helping us move. Today, he didn’t show. Can you call the phone company and get the phone service moved?
Tata: Sure. No sweat. What else?
Paulie: I’m going to Dallas for the week. Can you make sure Dad gets everything out of the apartment?

Inwardly, my inner brat wants nothing to do with this particular unselfish unselfishness – you know, deep inside. No! No! No! Nonononononono!

Tata: I’ll call him and find out what he needs. Don’t worry about it.
Paulie: Oh, thank you.
Tata: Please, get some rest and I’ll try to get things set up so you don’t have to kill him.

WHAT is with my MOUTH? I get on the phone and my mouth talks like I’m a nice person. What the hell?

Paulie: Thank you. Thank you!

Damn it! Three phone calls later, phone service was on its way to the new house Paulie Gonzalez shares with his recently widowed father Aaron. Aaron and I didn’t meet until well after Paulie and I broke up. Paulie doesn’t say Aaron doesn’t like me; Paulie says Aaron doesn’t like anybody. When I arrive, Aaron doesn’t answer right away. I keep knocking. Finally, he lets me in. He needs my help but he doesn’t want me there. Aaron offers a tour but never gets to the here-and-now.

Aaron: Sheila was the nicest person I ever met. Her children gave her coffee mugs. Oh, we had coffee mugs. Her kids gave her mugs about how much they loved her. “World’s Greatest Grandmom” like that one. See?
Tata: Mmm.
Aaron: That rug in the hallway was her favorite. We had it everywhere. I’m not sure where to put it. Paulie and I are going to fight about what we put up for display. Everything I have was picked by a woman and Paulie hates every bit of it.
Tata: He’s a Sinatra man through and through. He likes clean lines and interesting color combinations.
Aaron: He likes the sixties styles and I’ve got a a tan corduroy sectional sofa and rose accents.
Tata: Mmm hmm!

The house is a disaster and Aaron is a roadblock in my path. The living room is large but I can already tell it’s Home Decor Dodge City. Aaron’s set up the giant screen television, intent on making the whole room into a home theater. Paulie hates TV. We turn left into a room that must’ve been added on by a homeowner who didn’t know when to stop building: there are built-in book shelves and cabinets over paneling. The effect would make Bob Villa beg for a crowbar. The bedrooms are spacious and thank your favorite deity there are three of them and two bathrooms. The kitchen is sticky. Everything about the kitchen is sticky except for cardboard boxes and packing paper, which are strewn about everywhere, in every room. One thing that cannot be overstated is that previous owners had hideous taste in – well – everything and were generous enough to leave samples. Disgusting taste. Vomitrocious taste.

Tata: Are those your window treatments?
Aaron: No.
Tata: Have them burned. Let no swatch remain. It must be as if they never existed.
Aaron: We might keep them.
Tata: For what? As a sacrifice to appease the Miami Vice gods?

He walks in circles, complaining, describing his efforts. I survey the disaster. The giant moving boxes are in my way. Boxes empty of everything but packing paper I gather in the living room. He wants to talk about crystal and formal glassware and his wife. He says the same thing over and over.

Aaron: She was the nicest person I ever met. You never met her, but she was great. She was slim and beautiful and had wonderful taste in everything.

He holds up a goblet I wouldn’t throw at a burglar, no matter what its employee discount price was.

Aaron: Did you ever see pictures of her?

I’m here to work. As much as I hate to see anyone hurt, I’m so selfish and petty I’m going to finish the job I agreed to do.

Tata: These lovely pieces, all this stemware and all that, and those over there, and this all over the counter are in the way of setting up a kitchen you can use every day. Let’s move this into the room with the shelves and put all this there for safekeeping.
Aaron: I want to display them. They’re all so beautiful. Did you ever see pictures of her?
Tata: Aaron, you can’t display them if they’re broken. Let’s move them to where they’ll be safe.
Aaron: Okay.

When he agrees, I’m home free. It takes about half an hour to move glassware, crystal and tchotchkes into the room I’m sure Paulie never sets foot in again until he sells the house. After I’ve started cleaning the kitchen, Aaron takes control of the situation.

Aaron: You do that, and I’ll open this box.

I hang up pans, put away casserole dishes, find places for teas. Every cabinet I open offers a new, sticky surprise. The shelf paper is filthy. I don’t even ask before tearing it out and scrubbing the shelves. Aaron bursts into tears and tells me he’s going to his room. This may sound like a terrible, shallow, beastly thing to say (but why stop now?): once he leaves the room, it’s like dark clouds depart and I wish he’d lose interest in helping. Two hours after I knocked on the door, I give him no-nonsense instructions and tell him I’ll call tomorrow. I know at once I’m in Nice Person trouble again.

Tata: Now, about tomorrow…

Damn it! It might not be the phone!

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