Monday, November 14, 2011

It's one thing to joke about cops coming to the house when you're high on paint fumes and another thing when it actually happens. I'll just say this: it's not as funny as it sounds. Nervous giggling usually doesn't go over well with the law, and when your hair looks like it hasn't been washed in eleven days--specifically, because it HASN'T been washed--and you're giving off guilty vibes because of that time, twenty years ago, when you thought it would be amusing to write "I have a gub" on a piece of paper at the bank with your then-boyfriend, and he threw the piece of paper in the trash, and the cleaning person found it, and gave it to the bank manager, and next thing you knew you and your boyfriend were being interrogated at the police station--

That was twenty years ago, and my terrified tears quickly proved me innocent (and stupid), but for some reason the guilty conscience is still there, to such a degree that when I saw the cop car pull up to the curb I went and hid, and it took a few moments of standing in the dark hallway, clutching a paint can, before I came to my senses and thought "What the hell am I doing?" THEN I walked, a little more assuredly, to the open window of the office, which I was painting various shades of green, and said "Can I help you?" to the strangely bulging-eyed officer crossing the yard.

"Hello," he said. "How are you?"

"Fine, thanks," I replied. "And you?" I didn't do it!!

"Just fine," he said, eyeing me--scrutinizing my sloppy painting getup, my guilty aura, my past lives as a gondolier and a squirrel--with mild suspicion. "I'm looking for someone"--my throat tightened--"who, I'm told, lives at this address. Do you know David Rice?"

Phew--he wasn't looking for me! I started to feel friendlier towards the cop, and for a second imagined myself inviting him in through the window, offering him a glass of milk, maybe gently broaching his eye problem. All I could manage, though, was a smile--a smile that said, I hoped, I'm a good, rule-following person. Those mushrooms I wrote about? Shiitake!

He waited. Gesturing awkwardly with the paint can--what was wrong with me?--I croaked out an answer: "David Rice? NO! NEVER HEARD OF HIM."

It was too vehement. The cop looked at me, his bulging eyes still bulging, and I began to think it was a trick--I'll make them nervous with my weird eyeballs! I'll make them think I'm the one doing illegal things, things that make me look this demented way!--but caught myself. "He used to live here, you say?"

"Yes, his sister told us this was his last place of residence. You've never heard of him?"

HELL NO, I wanted to yell, while in the back of my mind I started to wonder: maybe this David Rice lived with the seven other male occupants during the house's looney bin phase? Maybe he's the one who kicked the bedroom door in? Maybe he left the deep holes--enraged-looking gouge marks--in the kitchen counter? Something kept me from going into all that, and I just offered this piece of information instead: "We do get mail for other people, sometimes."

It seemed to do the trick. He looked at me one more time with his disconcerting cartoon eyes, asked my name--why??--and thanked me. When his back was turned, I got braver: "Have a nice day!" I called out. "Thanks for stopping by!" He waved, and got in the car.

Hiding behind the living room curtain, I watched him sit there for ten minutes, ten minutes during which, I was sure, he did a background check, triple background check, and inside-out cross-pollinating background check of my current life and the ones spent as a gondolier and squirrel. Finally his car pulled away--Good riddance, I thought, go do your job and catch David Rice!--and I went back to the office, where the afternoon light was making the newly painted room look especially happy and inviting. In the past week, the bathroom, hallway, kitchen, and front door had undergone similar transformations, making the whole place so much nicer--more dignified, more respectable, more normal--than it did when we moved in last year, not long after its illustrious time as a halfway house. To have helped bring about that change, to have replaced ugliness with beauty and carelessness with order, to have created, in a way, a new reality for myself and the family, felt really, really good...

No one's come looking for David Rice again, and I think it's pretty clear he doesn't live here anymore.

p.s. please note author wearing pig hat in photo. Get it? Pig?


Cassandra said...

Great entry! Really funny and the room turned out pretty :)

Isabel said...

Thanks Cass!

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