Berkeley Episode 4: The Education of the Rube

Kristi was the first person I met in the house. She interviewed me only hours after I had arrived off the plane to see if I was “suitable” and would “fit in” in the house.

The irony in this will appear later.

Apparently the word “Rube” written in secret ink across my forehead told her I would fit in just fine.

Kristi was not what I had expected in a landlord liaison type person. I don’t know, really, what I expected, but it wasn’t an almost 30-year old Chinese Queen Victoria body double wearing Daisy Duke cut-offs and a short sleeved Henley t-shirt licking fried chicken bits off her fingers.

Kristi wasn’t going to be a model anytime soon, but she wasn’t bad looking either. She had long, shiny black hair, perfect skin, and fascinating clear light grey eyes. She was clean and seemed friendly and did have an air of professionalism about her, so I didn’t hesitate in taking the room.

Plus $300/month rooms with free laundry and close access to the BART didn’t grow on trees.

Still. Something about her nagged at me at being “not quite right.” After awhile I realized I had trouble reading anything in her eyes. They were flat with the emotion of a glass of water.

But I didn’t realize that until months later.

Sarah Beth and I liked to hang out with Kristi. She was always around, had a car, and was a native of the area so she knew all the great, cheap taco places. Great = somewhat tasty and being 95% sure you wouldn’t get salmonella.

There was also a certain amount of drama that seemed to follow her along. Not too much at first, just enough to be interesting.

First there was her sob story.

She had these two large 11 x 15 portraits of kids up on top of her gigantic entertainment center in the most opulent frames that Target had to offer. They were placed so prominently they were the first thing you saw when you walked into her room. They begged you to ask about them.

She had been married to this guy Jason for a few years and they had two kids together. But Jason had been mentally and physically abusive to her. Beating her and calling her names until she had just gone in to this deep dark depression. Her parents had stepped in and gotten her out of there, and then! It turned out that Jason had been dealing “a bit” of weed! So he ended up in jail for a while!

She had let her parents take the kids for a bit, “just until she got on her feet,” but then! They totally betrayed her! And they took her kids! Her parents had gone to the judge and implicated her in all of Jason’s horrible deeds in order to get full custody of the kids!!  She only got to see them once a month in supervised visitation! DUDE!!

It kind of set the stage for drama expectations.

Sure she was quirky and several of her “pieces of advice” would have sent me to the hospital if I had taken them, but things in the house really hummed along. She collected the rent and drove it over to Burt every month. She collected what we owed on the shared phone bill and got that mailed in on time each month. (Cell phones were brand new, kids.) It was actually kind of nice that she was home all the time. She was on disability – lord knows what the exact details of that were – and couldn’t work a full-time job. Burt was giving her free rent for managing this circus and that seemed like a pretty sweet deal.

My favorite little pearl of wisdom, and the one that tipped me off that I needed to exercise some judgement, was about highlighting my hair.

“You can use Clorox to highlight your hair.”

“What was that?”  I had been flipping through a fashion magazine that someone’s girlfriend had left behind and hadn’t really been paying attention, but the word Clorox was always an attention grabber. In our household, if you needed bleach it couldn’t be good.

“You know. Bleach. If you wanted to get highlights in your hair on the cheap. You use Clorox and then wrap the strands in foil. Let it set for about 15 minutes and then rinse. Poof! Highlights. I was a licensed hair dresser before I had to go on disability, you know.”

Now, I happen to know, courtesy of an experiment my brother performed on his own hair when he was in college, that should you decide to use Clorox bleach to lighten your hair you will not end up with highlighted hair. You will end up with practically no hair.  See, bleach will actually melt the proteins and oils in your hair. Pro Tip: Don’t do it.

I think I mumbled something about the color red and kept flipping the pages.

Kristi was a wonderful, vast field of educational opportunities for a naive little Iowa farm girl.

You know the podcast Serial?  I bet for most of you the awesome opening of Adnan calling from the Maryland State Correctional Facility is the first time you’ve ever heard what it’s like to receive a call from an inmate.

Not me.

“You have a collect call from ‘Christian Smith.’ An inmate at the _______ Correctional Facility. Will you accept the charges?”

But wait. There’s more.

“Please say ‘Yes’ to accept; ‘No’ to refuse; or, to prevent any future contact from this inmate, please say, ‘Stop Contact’.”

Stop contact?!?!

What.The.F*ck.

I went with my gut response of “Uhhhhh…… No?” and hung up.

As soon as the phone was in the cradle Kristi came bolting into the room. “Was that the phone?” she asked breathlessly, eyes wide.

“Yes,” I answered truthfully, because, duh. The phone had rung. It’s not like that sound could be anything else.

“Well, who was it?” she asked, hands on hips.

“It was some person in a prison!” I said, trying my best to convey my absolute disbelief that I had just received a collect call from a person currently residing in an actual prison.

She lit up. “Oh, that was Christian! If I’m home when he calls you need to just accept the charges so I can talk to him.”

“Excuse me?”

Now at this point, Kristi had never mentioned a man other than Jason in my presence. And I’d never answered a call for her. I checked with Sarah Beth later and she confirmed, “Yes, she has this ‘friend’ Christian who is in prison somewhere in California.” Then she shrugged, said, “I really have no idea,” and went off to have a smoke.

When I asked Kristi more about Christian she told me they met as part of a pen pal program at her church. (Which I never saw her attend, but I suppose the cross up on the wall of her room was proof enough.)  She said Christian had fallen in love with her, but, alas, she didn’t love him at all. He was only a friend. She was such a heartbreaker and felt so guilty, but the heart wants what the heart wants. Ya know?

When I asked her why she continued to accept collect calls from a man she (A) had never met in person and (B) didn’t have any real feelings for she replied that he was depressed and even a little suicidal and if she had cut off all ties with him, poor Christian would probably commit suicide.

Ooookaaaaay.

Incidentally, I asked one of the other roommates about this Christian situation and he told me that Christian was an old friend of hers who went to prison on assault charges defending her from her abusive husband. He confirmed the “he loves her so much” and “he will kill himself if she stopped talking to him” parts of the story, but the state of Denmark was starting to stink.

In the midst of her weird little romance with Christian, there was Bob. Back when the internet was a dial-up affair and having it in your house meant that you were probably a college student, Kristi somehow managed to find her way onto it and then to what had to be the very first internet dating site and land herself a man.

Bob was as tall and thin as Kristi was short and round. He was a 30-something white guy with dark brown accountant hair, wire-rimmed glasses, and a horridly thin mustache. Not a cool-thin mustache like Clark Gable, either.

He oozed banality and dullness, from his striped button-down shirts, to his too dark jeans with a brown belt.  He seemed so old to those of us who were in our exuberant early 20s.  And he was either painfully shy or completely unsure of what to say to a 20 year old.  I think I heard him say 4 words in our presence.

We would be hanging out in the living room, doing what 20 year olds do, and she would flounce in with Bob, plop down with us and leave him to find a place to settle in.  He would look around the room, hands in pockets, searching for the least intrusive spot to sit.  Bob would just get sat down, all legs and odd angles, and Kristi would bounce up again and pull Bob downstairs to her room.

Then one day Sarah Beth and I found Kristi in her room eating her way out of a half gallon container of chocolate chip ice cream.

“What’s wrong?” we asked.

“I’m pregnant.”

The words hung in the air as our jaws hit the floor.

Now, to a 22 year old who did not want children for a long, looooong time this was horrifying.  Sarah Beth, however, recovered first and got right down to the nitty-gritty.

“Who’s is it?” she asked.

Kristi took another enormous bite and said, “Bob’s.”

I asked, “Are you sure you’re pregnant?”

She gave me one of those looks that said areyoukiddingme?!?! and dropped the ice cream bucket. “Look at them!” she cried, pulling down her shirt to flash me her boobs. They were enormous, like two giant cantaloupes in a black lace sling. “They are practically climbing out of my bra!” She let go of her shirt and it miraculously snapped back into place. She stifled a sob, hoisted the ice cream back to her lips, and said, “This is just like the last time with my daughter.”

Then she proceeded to fill me in on details of her sex life with Bob that no amount of mental bleaching can scrub away and hints as to what lay ahead with this pregnancy that made me double check my birth control pill supply.

“Does he know?” I asked.

“Nope. I haven’t told him yet,” she said between bites. Well, not even between bites. Her mouth never seemed empty of ice cream and she talked around the spoon like a pro.

My sense of justice and fairness reared up. “Well, you have to tell him. He has a right to know!”

I’m not telling him,” she said, firmly. “No way.”

And because I was young and stupid I said, “If you want, I will tell him. He’s got to know.”

“Fine,” she snapped. She clenched the ice cream between her knees and dialed his number on the phone.

“Hello, Bob?”

“Yeah,” a wary man’s voice responded.

“Kristi is pregnant and it’s yours.” (I learned tact much later in life.)

Silence.

Then, “What? Did you say?”

“Kristi is pregnant. And it’s yours.”

Silence.

Dial tone.

We never saw Bob again.

Kristi, of course, blamed me for ruining her future happiness, but I’d like to think that I scored a few karmic points that day helping Bob dodge an enormous bullet.

No other signs of pregnancy appeared, but Kristi wasn’t with us for very much longer.

I came home early from work one day to find Kristi and a short, stocky Nordic looking man filling black trash bags with her clothes.

“Hey!” I said, “Cleaning house?”

“Moving!” she said, delight on her face that never, ever seemed to reach her eyes. “I’m moving in with Jay and I’m going to get my kids back!”

“Cool!” I said. I had never heard her mention a ‘Jay’. It was awfully close to ‘Jason,’ but I wasn’t going to poke too hard at this soap bubble. But then, proving I still had no idea who I was dealing with, I asked, “Need any help?”

“Naw,” she said, but then she added, “Can you just carry these bags to the back door?”

Her room was mostly cleaned out. Just debris remained and she was busily bagging that up as fast as she could.

“Oh, Mindy, can you do me a favor?”

“Sure.”

“Don’t tell Burt or the others I’ve moved out yet. Wait until the end of the day.”

“Uh…. okay.”

And she rode off into the sunset in her car crammed with trash bags full of mostly her belongings followed by this ‘Jay’ person who had her enormous entertainment center in the back of his little pick-up truck.

And we never heard from Kristi again.


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