I’d been watching prices on Car Guru for a few weeks. Waiting for used Fords to come down, waiting for dealers to put some up. Waiting and just looking at pictures of trucks while sitting on the toilet. That sort of thing. This was around when Linda called me and said her irrigation system wasn’t working.
“All the plants are dying,” she told me over the phone. “The arbor vitae is crispy.”
Couple summers ago I rigged her this simple sprinkler setup that runs off her garden spigot. It snakes all around her yard with these tiny sprayers every five or so feet. Even hooked a battery timer to it so it’d run on its own. I told her she wouldn’t have to touch it. Ever. It’d just do its thing. Easy peasy.
Over the phone I asked her, “Is the system on?”
“Is the faucet handle turned all the way to the right or to the left?”
“Oh I don’t know, let me go look.” She put the phone down and I heard her screen door slam.
She was gone awhile. I got bored and started munching on some potato chips I didn’t know I had. Finally she came back and said “Left.” Some potato chips shards went down the wrong pipe and I started choking and coughing a bunch. I ran my mouth under the sink and took a big gulp of tap water.
“Are you dying?” Linda said.
“Well, then get over here and fix my sprinklers.”
So I went over in my old truck. There’s nothing wrong with my old truck, per se. Sure, it’s got some rust. Sure, it’s got over 200,000 miles. But it runs fine. It’s a fine vehicle, I just hate it. Linda’s sprinkler system, it turns out, was fine too, and I wondered if she just hated it. I wondered if we saw things the same.
Linda was in her patio chair wearing big sunglasses, deck umbrella angled over her, drinking Absolut vodka mixed with RC and smoking Camel lights. Because she’s a hearty midwestern woman.
“I’m so glad you’re here,” she said and tried to hug me but more kind of fell into me. I had to hold her up. She reeked of alcohol.
“Woopsie,” she said, “I’m on a lot of painkillers.”
I helped her back into her chair and inspected the irrigation system. It was fine. There was nothing wrong with it. I didn’t know why she called me in the first place.
“Everything looks fine,” I said slightly annoyed while pushing a sprinkler stake deeper into the ground to make it look like I did something.
She stood up again, all wobbly, and removed her big Blublocker sunglasses to show me her black eye.
“My husband didn’t hit me. I fell down some stairs.”
Knowing Linda as long as I have, I believed her.
“The sprinklers are fine,” she said. “There’s nothing wrong with them. I accidently turned them off the other night when I was washing the house.” She took a big gulp from her vodka RC.
“Listen. I just, I’m lonely. My husband watches TV all day. I can’t go back to work because I’m disabled. And my mother just died.”
I’m not an asshole. I did feel bad for her. But I also had other jobs to get to. I didn’t tell her that though. Instead, I started to make up some excuse about locking my cat in the bathroom. And that made me feel like an asshole.
“I’ll pay you,” Linda said, desperation in her voice. “$60 an hour.”
That’s my normal hourly rate. There was at least half the bottle of Absolut left. Though I’m more of a beer and brown liquor guy, I was pretty sure I could make this work.
“I really just want company,” Linda told me. “I’ll pay you to watch me get drunk.”
So I sat there with her a few afternoons a week. Just sitting and drinking. Drinking and listening. Sitting and drinking and listening and smoking. She was happy because she had someone there with her. I was happy because it was way better than real work.
She told me about her mother. How it was her time and all that. She told me about her husband. How every day he became less her husband and more his TV programs. She told me about herself too. How every day she became less herself and more of the pills she ate and the alcohol she drank.
And we both wondered what vice of mine would replace me in the end.
The sun dipped beneath the houses and some birds flew overhead, flying off to wherever they needed to be. Like hundreds of generations of birds before them had done. All the life around us was quiet or quieting down.
“You sure got me thinking, Linda,” I said. And I sat up straight and leaned forward determined to say something smart and prescient about our place in the world. But suddenly a stream of water hit me in the face. The sprinkler system had turned on. And one of the sprayers was broken in such a way that it was shooting a concentrated rope right at my face. Whatever I was thinking about saying, or wanting to say, was gone. I had work to do.
I got out my little box of sprinkler parts and my needle nose pliers. And I crouched down onto my knees and replaced the broken sprayer. Easy peasy. Then I put the broken one in my pocket and turned the system back on. It worked fine.
Before the sun went down completely, before things got dark, Linda handed me some cash and a little extra for the repair and we stood there in front of each other. Me and her. Her and I. Two souls.
And at the end of summer the prices had finally come down on Car Guru and I had enough money from Linda plus money from a trade-in. And that’s how I got my new truck.