The Unexpected Banker: Berkeley Episode 5

Back in the late 1990s the California economy was booming and interest rates were lowering. Refinancing a mortgage was fairly common. (Or so my economist husband informs me…)

Apparently our landlord Burt rose of his haze of booze and pot smoke long enough to figure this out, too, and we were given notice to expect him with a banker at some point “next week.” Now, for Burt “next week” could actually mean next week, but it could also mean tomorrow, the next day, next month, or never. We didn’t take him too terribly seriously or act with any urgency.

Plus it’s not like we were slobs. We were actually fairly neat and tidy. We were serious about not having roaches, so the dishes were done everyday and food was cleaned up. Laundry was kept in our own rooms and the shared areas were relatively free of clutter.  We were dream tenants. Well, dream tenants might be a bit of a stretch, but we were pretty low maintenance.

We even didn’t bother Burt with the pesky details of roommates moving in and out (with the notable exception of Kristi).  In order to keep life harmonious we found our own roommate replacements. Around August, Will told us he was moving out. He was going to live closer to the college he was attending with a couple of other computer nerd friends. We were saddened, but that is life. It gave us an empty room and another roommate to find. But we were in no hurry.

We were a diverse group of strangers living together in our own little commune. The only people that knew each other beforehand were Duncan, Will, and Raj – who took bat-shit-crazy Kristi’s place. They all worked at a game store and had a nice friendship. Duncan and Raj were also both pagans and celebrated holidays like Beltane and Imbolic. And they threw a killer Summer Solstice gathering, complete with tasty melon sacrifices.

I got quite a religious education from Duncan and Raj. Not just rituals and customs, but also tolerance. I learned that people following and practicing their own beliefs and convictions had no effect whatsoever as to how I lived my life or what I chose to believe. In fact, being open to hearing and observing their practices enriched my own beliefs.

As we waited for Burt to show up with The Banker and his caulk gun to do whatever to the house, Lughnasadh came along. The room was still empty and Raj asked if he could use it to set up his harvest festival altar and have a little ritual to celebrate food being ripe enough to eat.  “Well, sure!” we said. “That’s not a problem! Set it up!”

“Thanks! Great!” he said, clearly relieved. “I’ll take it down right away the next day. Don’t worry.”

None of us were worried. It’s not like we were using that room. Plus Raj was a good roommate. He kept to himself and wasn’t too creepy, so we were willing to let him do pretty much anything he wanted. This ritual was no exception. I didn’t even know when he performed it. Suddenly he was done and we were having cashew chicken from the Chinese place a few streets down.

I was curious and checked out the room. Raj had moved a long, tall bar table in to the room. He had an orange and red brocade table cloth with gold trim that went all the way to the floor covering it. On top of the table were:

  • tall red pillar candles,
  • a brass goblet,
  • a 12-inch carving knife with an ivory handle,
  • a plate with tomatoes and zucchini hacked to bits,
  • a vase with stalks of wheat,
  • and part of a baguette,
  • with a 14-inch brass plate with a pentagram drawn on in drippy burgundy paint it hanging over the whole affair.

Against the stark whiteness of the walls and beige carpet the cacophony of bloody reds and butchered vegetables throttled my retinas and pushed me, stumbling, back out the door.

“Whoa,” I said to Sarah Beth.

“Yeah,” she responded.

It was a moment of bonding between someone being introduced to something completely outside their experience and someone who had been there before. We celebrated our deeper bonding by going to Target for a slushy and to look at all the stuff we couldn’t afford to buy.

A couple of days went by and Raj’s altar remained in place. Maybe this was a long-term ritual and it needed time to work? Like letting bread rise? I had no idea. We didn’t question it. We didn’t have a new roommate yet so there was no one to care.

Then Burt actually showed up. With an honest-to-God banker wearing an honest-to-God suit complete with shiny shoes and hair perfectly gelled and coifed. We were all in jobs that didn’t require anything fancier than jeans and a t-shirt and our shoes were Chuck Taylors so this was impressive.

Only Sarah Beth was home that day. Burt knocked and sauntered in with The Banker who immediately started giving the front living room a once over. He introduced himself and shook her hand and then Sarah Beth seated herself on a bar stool behind the kitchen island and Burt seated himself across from her, with his back to the rest of the house, while The Banker did his thing.

He gave the kitchen a quick look and glanced in the TV room. Then he announced he was going to check out the bedrooms. Burt waved him on and told him to help himself.

Sarah Beth had a clear view of The Banker over Burt’s shoulder as he opened the first bedroom door. The door to the bedroom Raj had used for the ritual. The bedroom that had nothing in it except the red altar still complete with red candles, a big pentagram, and a long ivory handled knife.

The Banker froze. He spent a long minute standing there, in his expensive suit and shiny shoes and perfectly coifed hair, drinking it all in.

Then he backed out of the room, shut the door, and practically ran from the house.

Burt was caught off guard when he heard the front door bang shut. “Oh!” he said, looking around. “I guess we’re done!”  And he hurried out the door after The Banker.

We never did hear if he got his mortgage refinanced.

And he didn’t even get to use his caulk gun.


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