The Sometime Burglar
I’m late to the demonstration for the homeless. I had to teach my Intro Psych class. I had to ask my Cortical Plasticity prof for another extension on my paper. Then I had to stop by the lab to feed my mice. I’m so late there are no parking spaces anywhere near the demonstration, and traffic is gridlocked with people who aren’t accepting that. It takes me forever just to extricate myself so I can go look somewhere else to park. I end up at least a mile away.
So by the time I reach the vacant lot where the homeless have set up their tents—and a few RV trailers—the scene is obviously winding down. Several of the food carts have closed their serving windows, and quite a few people are leaving, going the opposite direction of me, back to their cars and homes. The TV vans must have left, and maybe because of this, only a couple of people are still holding up signs. A man is still speaking, standing in the middle of the discarded signs, and some people are still sitting on the portable bleachers listening to him. Also, the homeless are still here, of course, some of them listening to the speaker but many just gathered around their makeshift kitchens, warming themselves by their barbecues and propane heaters.
It’s December, and although here in western Oregon we don’t have winters like some people have, it can’t be more than forty-five degrees today. Even the dogs, cats, and chickens look cold.
If I hadn’t just force-walked a mile, I would be cold.
Then just as I’m getting close enough to hear what the speaker is saying about the outrageous cost of housing, a truck pushes its way up beside me. It has a long low flatbed with a tank mounted on the front of it. A guy leaps out of the cab, pulls a hose from the tank, and hauls it to a row of Porta Potties.
The speaker is telling how most of the houses repossessed after the last real estate bubble were auctioned to private equity groups instead of letting the poor get the bargains. But now the truck is making motor noises right by me because the guy has stuck the hose into one of the Porta Potties and is sucking its contents into the tank.
Couldn’t he have picked a better time to service those things?
Then when he moves on to the next Porta Potty, a second guy rolls a hand truck under the one that was just cleaned and starts wheeling it to the lift gate of the flatbed truck.
Suddenly the homeless, even the ones who seemed to be pretty much ignoring the demonstration—people who were just jamming around their barbecues with harmonicas and guitars—are putting down their instruments and converging on the Porta Potty guys. I’m trying to get closer to the speaker. What little I heard was interesting. Plus he’s amazingly good-looking, and not much older than me. And I can’t help but notice that sort of thing even though guys like him never notice me—due to my straight-as-a-board hair and the fact that my glasses make me look as if I’m always startled.
But now homeless people—many of them with disgusting teeth and body odor—have surrounded me and are blocking my way.
It’s not me, of course, they’re trying to surround. It’s the Porta Potty guys. They’re shouting at them to leave the Potties right where they are. Apparently those things were brought here just for the people who came for the demonstration, which makes me wonder where exactly all these homeless do their business. When you think about that, it’s not surprising more and more people converge on the scene to protest the removal of the Potties. Even a lot of the nice middle-class demonstrators—with good teeth and little body odor—are now climbing down from the bleachers and closing in around me.
Then one of those plastic toilets falls over. The revolting blue chemical with its even more revolting contents comes seeping right toward me.
I’d been sort of joining the protest, shouting and pushing forward. Now I’m thinking I’d rather back out of here and just listen to the speaker, but the people behind me keep shoving me into the mess. Didn’t they see the Potty go over? What are the ones at the front doing?
Well, it looks like they’re gleefully splashing through the shit and tipping over more Potties!
Bodies bump me from all sides. I frantically hop right and left to avoid the expanding blue puddle. The sound system squeals and goes off. I doubt anyone could hear the speaker anymore anyway since everyone seems to be yelling. Some people are even yelling at me. Why? What have I done?
Apparently I’m blocking them from wading into the blue muck!
I’m wedged between shoulders and elbows and feet. A woman roughly pushes me aside, and I go down on my knees. I catch myself with my hands, then immediately pull them off the ground and check them for telltale blue. But it’s hard to stand back up in this crowd without putting a hand on the ground again.
Then someone grabs me by the arm and not only yanks me to my feet but pulls me out of the combat zone.
It’s the speaker! “Are you okay?” he says.
“Yeah, I guess,” I gasp.
“I saw you go down, and it didn’t look like you wanted to be a part of that. I think the rest of them do.”
“Yeah, they do! Throwing feces is thought to be a sign of intelligence in chimps, but in humans it’s generally considered aberrant behavior.”
Now, why did I say something like that to this sensational-looking guy? He has warm brown eyes, outstanding cheek bones, an edgy haircut, and great-fitting jeans he wears with a wooly sport coat over a black turtleneck.
“Aberrant, yeah,” he says with a laugh.
Clearly, my appearance isn’t my only problem. I try to act a bit more normal. “I guess they’re not exactly throwing it,” I say. “They’re just spilling it and sloshing it around.” Then in an effort to get completely off that topic now that we’re safely away from the rather simian activity that’s still going on, “I’m sorry your speech was interrupted. You were making such good points.”
This just makes him laugh again. “So I guess I have your vote. One down and several thousand to go.”
“You’re running for office?” Another dumb remark from me. I should know all the candidates, but wait. We just had the election a month ago.
“Maybe next election I’ll try for state senator,” he says.
So I talk about chimps and use big words but don’t even know what month it is. I go lamely on, “Well, whenever and whatever you’re running for, I’ll be sure to vote for you.”
“Then I’ll give you my card,” and he slips a card from the inside pocket of his sport coast. This gives me a glimpse of just how well his chest fills out that black turtleneck.
“Uh, thanks.” I force myself to look at the card instead of his chest, his eyes, or his jeans. Cade Durand—even his name is sexy. “If I ever need a lawyer, I’ll give you a call.”
I say this while wondering if there’s any way to prolong this remarkable if awkward conversation. I mean, he did come to my rescue, in spite of my lank hair and weirdly magnified eyes.
Could he tell there’s more to me than most people see?
“I was just closing my speech anyway,” he says. “Got an appointment soon, have to run.”
So no time to suggest we go somewhere for coffee, but could he drive me to my car? I bet he was here so early his car is really close. I’m working myself up to suggesting this, telling him how far away I’m parked. I get out, “Uh, I’m Emma,” and hold out my hand.
He just looks at it and says, “I hope you won’t be offended, Emma, if we don’t shake hands.”
So then I look at my hand. There is blue on it!
“Often the food carts have antiseptic wipes,” he says.
I run for the nearest food cart.
The next afternoon I’m still trying to forget that mortifying incident. Luckily I also have other things on my mind.
Because I am more than what most people see. I’m not just a nerdy graduate student compiling data on mice and teaching basic psych to freshmen who think the class will be an easy A. Sometimes I’m a burglar.
Copyright 2016, Winifred Morris, all rights reserved
Enjoy the beginning of this comic, romantic, and often suspenseful novella!
by Winifred Morris