1988: “Takin’ What They’re Givin’”

I wait in line at 2:15 pm near the double doors. Dad always arrives early to pick me up. His car will be first in line, behind the last school bus.

When we get back to the apartment, I will do my homework and then practice riding my wooden scooter. My mother gave it to me. A hand-me-down from my older sister. I’m not afraid of going fast anymore, either.

Instead, Dad says, “Good, you’re out right on time today. Poppa got us a job, starting right now. Remember that rich woman and her husband who own the antique store downtown?”

I nod.

“Yes, well, you know your Father. I always find work somehow. Anyway, her daughter, Jan, owns a giant house, and I guess they need someone to clean for them. The place is probably filthy so Daddy’s going to need your help. I’ll teach you to clean like the drill instructors taught me in the military.”

But, but, wait, I have homework to do. And I’m scared to clean a stranger’s house. What if I do it wrong? Will you hit me like last week when I didn’t know how to fight with a samurai sword?

 After Dad drives a few blocks, I’m lost. “Daddy, where are we?”

He chuckles a little, “Oh, this is where the rich live, my child!”

Jan’s house stands in the middle of a cul-de-sac. How many mansions are there on this one circle-shaped street?

But Jan’s sticks out because it’s pink. A pink castle. If Barbie were real, then she would live here.

 No one is home, but dad already knows how to open the door through the garage. I scan the concrete ground with apprehension and wonder. So this is what a garage looks like inside? It’s bigger than our apartment.

 Once we’re inside, Dad surveys the task. Why are we here by ourselves? Why would these people let strangers in their house? Everything is so pretty. I scan the room noticing, couches, chairs, curtains, rugs, and beds with flowery pillows. How did they get all this stuff? I want to be rich when I am grown up too.

 I hear Dad cursing, “Goddamn, mother fucker. It’s going to be a real bitch to clean this one bathroom alone. This is what the filthy rich do. They don’t appreciate what they have. They let everything go to pot.”

He finishes his tirade with a brag, “Well, I guess that’s why they hired me—because your father is the best! Nothing beats me ever! I can’t wait to see their faces when they see this grime turned to sparkle. Now I just have to find an old toothbrush under the sink.”

Now he turns to me, “Daddy will start on the tiles while you clean the sink.” He shows me how to scrub the sink with the Bon Ami and a cloth. “And don’t forget, you remember where everything is. And put it back exactly as you found it—just like Dad taught you to do at home.”

I shudder while burning the contents of the vanity into my brain. Toothbrush holder on right side, soap dish on left side. After I get the hang of things, I mostly forget about my homework due tomorrow.

Just as we are finishing the kitchen, the owner comes home. She’s very tall. Not like a Barbie, but she has pretty blonde hair and pink skin. Jan and Dad talk while he shows her around. I hear her squeals as he reveals his accomplishments.

I glance at the clock on the stove. 6:00 pm. Oh no! It’s late. I really need to go home and work on my school assignments for tomorrow. Please let them finish talking soon.

But when Dad and Jan return to the kitchen, he has a grin from ear to ear. I know this look means something is happening. “Jenny, Jan just invited Daddy and you to cater dinner here for her and her fiancé tonight. Isn’t that great news?” No. No. We did our job. He said cleaning. Why are we cooking now? He offered! You know he offered!

 Through blood-filled eardrums, I hear Dad mutter something about how, “Jenny is really great in the kitchen helping her pops. I used to own my own catering business before Jenny was born, you know. Just getting started back up. It’s been difficult raising her on my own.”

Jan responds with the usual, “Oh we’re so happy to have found you. This is perfect for us. Someone we can trust to clean our house and cook delicious meals for us. And Jenny is just darling. We would love to keep her here, my fiancé and I.”

While Jan is upstairs, Dad cracks open a beer from the their fridge. “You did good work today, poppa’s little girl. Daddy is teaching you an important lesson. You never turn down work. And I’m glad you helped me today because all of this money that we earn—it’s all to keep you alive. It’s not for Poppa.”

I stare at him blankly. None of my other classmates work. We’re only seven years old.

 He pours a bit of the beer into a small paper cup, and slides it toward me. “Go ahead. Try some.”

Now I look more confused. Isn’t that for adults?

 He nudges me, “Oh don’t worry. That little bit won’t hurt you. Daddy would never do anything to hurt you.”

The first sip is sour. Ugh gross. Why would people drink this? But the second one is better. I secretly wish he would pour just a little more in the cup.

On cue, he does. “Jesus, Dad just realized that you haven’t eaten anything all day! That’s my girl. You never complain.”

We snack on a few things as Dad whips up a gourmet dinner. He gives me my usual task of chopping lettuce with the big butcher knife.

Later, while Jan and Rob enjoy dinner, and dad enjoys their compliments, I’m permitted to watch T.V. on their couch.

I flip through the channels until a catchy tune takes my breath away. “There’s something strange in the neighborhood…Who you gonna call—Ghostbusters!” I glue myself to the screen until Dad says it’s time to go home. I’m thankful Jan takes an extra five minutes to write Dad’s check so that I don’t miss the last scene.

I love the Ghostbusters. And I love this house. And I love Jan. I want to live here with her and Rob. She said I could!

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