Berkeley Episode 7: Goth Boy and the Peach

One of the best things Kristi ever did was to rid us of our aspiring singer. He was bloody awful. Like listening to a herd of cats fighting with an amorous water buffalo.

Singing was all he did all day long. He sang while he made his food. He sang in the shower. He sang as he cleaned. And he only left the house to go to his vocal lessons. I don’t know who his teacher was, but they should have been jailed for fraud.

There was only so much we could take. We played our stereos at top volume to blot out the sound and Kristi started a steady campaign to annoy him until he cracked and left, shouting about how we didn’t appreciate art as he slammed the door behind him.

So we needed a new roommate.

As it turns out Will had one for us. His friend Steve from somewhere in the Midwest. Nebraska, I think. He was just turning 18 and was chaffing to leave the blandness of the prairie and get away from his parents.

The feeling was apparently mutual. Two weeks after we decided to take him in his parents had shoved him on a plane with two brand-new suitcases and a one-way ticket to SFO. They were probably high-fiving each other as he boarded.

Will went to the airport and brought back a tall, chubby, pale kid with a mild case of acne on his cheeks. He was dressed all in black and had hair that looked like it had been inked by a squid. He blinked at us like he only sporadically saw the sun or real, live people and then retreated to his basement room with his suitcases.

Burt showed up later in the day with his hopeful caulk gun and a lease for Steve to sign. And then it was official. He was in.

Lucky us.

Steve went through the next couple of weeks getting his feet under him. It was clear that he’d never A) had a job, B) cooked food, or C) done laundry.  Not only had he never done any of these things he didn’t seem inclined to attempt them. (Except for a single ill-fated attempt to boil water where he forgot about the pan and boiled all the water off and I found it red hot and making alarming popping noises.)

He just seemed helpless. When I laughingly told him he was helpless he was offended and told me he wasn’t “helpless” he was just “sad” and found the world “pathetic.”

I had never heard that being “sad” could contribute to not being able to boil water, but what did I know. I was Wonderbread and naive. When I told Sarah Beth about Steve’s being “sad” she just rolled her eyes and said, “He’s such an Emo.”

“It’s that a Muppet?”

She laughed and said, “No. He’s a Goth, silly!”

I was intrigued. I’d never really met a Goth. Goth didn’t happen in my farming community of 7000. Skater punk? Yes. Pot-smoking hippies? Yes. Preppies? Sure. Farm boys? Of course. But Goth was a foreign land to me.

I started trying to observe Goth Boy in his natural habitat. Like Marlin Perkins from Mutual of Omaha’s Wild Kingdom and the Lions of sub-Saharan Africa. He didn’t make it easy, though.  His door was closed most of the time and I’d catch snippets of bands like This Mortal Coil and Nosferatu coming through the thin wood. And he kept his shades drawn, which made it difficult for Sarah Beth and I to spy on him from outside.

Somehow he found other Goth Peoples to hang out with. I have no idea how it happened. Suddenly I was meeting him comping home at 6am from Goth Clubs while I was on my way out the door to work at the vet clinic.  And that was pretty much the only time I saw him. Sweaty and tired and stumbling from God knows what drug he pretended to take.

According to Sarah Beth, my reliable informer on all things Goth Boy, he would get to bed at 7am and then sleep until 4 or 5 in the afternoon.

We didn’t care. People are going to do what they want. We weren’t his parents. Once he ran out of money he’d smarten up.

And then food started disappearing.

I want you to understand. We were poor. None of us made more than $16K per year. Hourly. With no benefits. I could barely afford to keep myself housed and fed. And that was with a diet of instant Ramen and beans & rice. My primary thought each day was “What am I going to eat today?” Next was, “How much can I afford to eat?” And after that was, “What am I going to eat tomorrow?” It was a very tight existence that we shared. So to have food that we were counting on disappear was more than just an inconvenience. It threatened our existence.

The first to disappear were some of the unsold sandwiches from the coffee shop Sarah Beth would bring home when she closed. That wasn’t so bad. That was extra bounty. Then different cartons of leftover takeout food started to disappear.  That was much more serious so we had a house meeting. Goth Boy couldn’t be roused from his sleep and so he missed the meeting. It was just as well. We knew it was him and so we bitched about him the entire time.

It was decided that Goth Boy needed to get a job. An income and responsibilities would solve most of his issues.

Duncan flat out refused to recommend him for a job at the game store where he, Will, and Raj worked.  I certainly wasn’t going to invite him to join me at the vet clinic. So it was Sarah Beth who offered to get him a job at the coffee shop.

His shift was 3pm to 7pm. Just 4 hours, but that’s all the manager would give him until he could prove himself. Easy work and he didn’t have to get up early in the day. And, bonus, the coffee shop uniform was black so he didn’t need to buy new clothes. In fact, he just added a new t-shirt to his collection of Gothwear.

So here’s how Goth Boy’s new career as a coffee jockey went:

Day 1: Good. He got up, showered, and made it on time. Worked his shift. Came home.

Day 2: Good. On time. Worked. Brought food home. Went to Goth Club with Goth Peoples. Got home at 6am.

Day 3: Bad. Couldn’t wake up on time for his 3pm shift. Chose to not go in as opposed to being just “late.” Went to Goth Club with Goth Peoples. Got home at 7am.

Day 4: Not Good. Sarah Beth drug him out of bed and got him to work. Bitched the entire time about being “sad” and “misunderstood.” How we “norms” don’t get him. Finished his shift in a huff and went out to Goth Club with Goth Peoples.

Day 5: Bad. Did not get up and go into work. Locked door of room so Sarah Beth couldn’t get to him. Snuck out to club. Got home at 6am. Hid behind fridge so I wouldn’t see him as I was on my way to work. Thinks I am stupid.

Day 6: Way Bad. Fired.

We had another meeting, this time with him. (One of Raj’s many talents appears to be lock picking.) We explained how there was this thing called Rent that happened each month and Goth Boy needed to get his shit together so he could pay Rent. Otherwise he’d have to talk to Burt and the caulk gun and that was bound to be unpleasant.  He swore he would get a new job. The coffee shop job was just too cheerful for him.

So we decided not to kick him out.

And then more food went missing.

Specifically the peach I was going to have for breakfast. The only piece of fresh fruit I was going to eat all day – maybe for 2 days – and this freeloader has swiped it from me. This is a line you just don’t cross.

I was beyond furious. I wrote an incredibly bitchy note about the theft of my peach and demanded that “whoever” had eaten had better go out and buy me another one. I left it right on the kitchen island for everyone to see and them I went to work. At 6am. Like a muthafuckin’ adult.

Everyone saw the note. And apparently everyone knew what was coming, except Goth Boy. When I got home Duncan, Will, and Sarah Beth were standing in the kitchen with Goth Boy. The note was still there and written across the bottom of it was “IT WAS JUST A FUCKING PEACH!! GET OVER IT!!”

I looked up and glared at Goth Boy. He shrugged and said, “Well, it was.”


The next thing I remember Will had his hands on my ankles and was pulling me back across the island and Sarah Beth had her hands around my wrists. Goth Boy was pressed against the stove, eyes wide, holding his throat.  “Jesus Christ!” he yelled, “She’s a psycho!”

Duncan turned to him and said, “She’s right. You have to move out. We’ll help you pack.”

I never saw him again.

And we needed a new roommate.

I am (becoming) a pest!

I’m obsessing. Just totally obsessing about our new house. Poor Mark. I am becoming such a pest about it!

The first thing we need is a new chandelier for the dining room. So I’m scouring Lamps Plus for some ideas and presenting said ideas to Mark.

Every night.

But then in a weird twist of fate and completely coldly calculated marketing, Lamps Plus leads me to Pottery Barn and I find more chandeliers there!

And then I remember all about Pinterest!

Pinterest has so many good ideas and the pictures can be guides for achieving an actual style or look. A skill that has seemed to elude me in my 40+ years on the planet.

Dear, God. I’m back on Pinterest.  Like 5 times a day.

I currently have 5 browsing pages open of ideas for various items and projects that will make our household worth living in. Including a page giving step-by-step instructions on painting a kitchen cart I bought from Ikea and details of how to use chalk paint on a faux wood Ikea corner buffet that we bought 8 years ago and are now tired of looking at. Well, I’m tired of looking at it. Mark doesn’t seem to express any dissatisfaction about it. But he will.

And then in the check out line at the grocery store was an issue of Cottage Style flirting with me. It now resides beside me at the computer with different pages dog-eared down. Sometimes it is left strategically open next to the coffee pot so Mark might just *happen* to see it as he is refilling his cup in the morning.

It’s a good thing I don’t have cable and access to Fixer Upper and Rehab Addict. I’d never be able to leave the house!

I will admit, and probably terrify Mark by admitting, that I am actually holding back a bit because we haven’t signed the title yet.

I’m not only searching for projects. My eyes are also examining what else I can purge from our house and, therefore, not move on moving day.

For example, this weekend while Mark was out running the boys to their various activities I stayed home and sorted out the boys’ bookshelves. I now have a bag of Magic Tree House books going to a friend, small box of books to donate to the library, a medium pile to keep for nostalgia (I mean, we can’t possibly give away Goodnight, Gorilla!!), and a large pile that will go to the preschool I work at for parents to pick through.

Mark is going to go through his suits and shirts and will discard the ones that are looking worn. I’m going to pretend to weed through my cooking pots and pans. I might actually weed through some fabrics. Maybe. Plus there are some toys that need to find a new home – and not my new home.

But all this still leaves me giddy with excitement! There is nothing like a to-do list of things you actually WANT to do!

Don’t worry. Updates will be constant.

Berkeley Episode 6: Dance of the Sugar Plum Ecstasy Fairies

The Berkeley of my twenties was an era of experimentation. My experimentation was pretty tame, though, and limited to food, sex, and pot. (They didn’t call me White Bread for nothing.) I wasn’t even much of a smoker. Back in college I had made an attempt at coolness that ended after a case of strep throat that was so bad I needed oxy to help with the pain. Smoking just didn’t taste the same after that.

My roommates were much more bold in their experimentation. They reveled in their mostly-harmless Free Spirit lifestyle. I was never sure what I was going to come home to. And that wasn’t even taking into account whatever Burt had come and caulked lately.

After one particularly heinous day at the vet clinic that included a puppy sick with parvo virus and a Chow that tried to take my hand off I trudged up the stairs and shouldered my way through the front door hoping for some decompression time with Sarah Beth. However, I rammed into a woman I’d never seen before. She was smack in the doorway swaying and writhing to the music of Mazzy Star.  I started to say, “Who the fuck are you?” but only got as far as “Who-” when it hit me that she was buck naked.  The only thing covering her was her long red hair and it wasn’t doing that great a job.

Just as I determined she was a natural redhead my roommate Duncan can pirouetting through the living room. Naked. All 5 limbs flinging around. He saw me and crooned, “Heeeeeyyyy,” pure joy on his face. “Yoooouuuu!”  He twirled to me and gave me a big, full-body hug. He leaned back, grasped me by the shoulders, and looked me full in the eyes like he was looking for my soul. “You,” he said, layering the word with about 500 pounds of meaning.

Then he twirled away to a shirtless guy with stringy blonde hair who was petting one of our cats named Tank. He was so focused on Tank’s black fur he didn’t even register the penis that almost slapped him in the face.

I shut the front door and came a few more steps into the living room. Van, our new Goth-wannabe roommate came bursting into the room from the kitchen wearing nothing but his baggy tighty-whiteys. “You guys! The water! You have to try the water! It’s the best water ever! It’s like water, but water.” And he ran back into the kitchen.

Raj was the only one fully clothed, wearing his typical uniform of black jeans and black t-shirt. His feet, however, were bare. “The air,” he said, gulping in big breaths. “It’s sparkling. It’s sparkling in my lungs. It’s making my lungs sparkle.” He knelt down to Sarah Beth who was sitting on the couch. “Am I sparkling on the outside?”

“You sure are,” she said. She hadn’t even looked up from her book, Growing Mushrooms for Fun and Profit, but Raj seemed totally satisfied.  “Cooool,” he said and started taking huge breaths again.

I plopped down next to her on the couch, “What. In. The. Fuck,” I asked.

“They’re on E. I’m the watcher.”

“The watcher?”

She turned a page, “I make sure no one thinks they can fly or that the cat is edible.”

“Who thought the cat was edible?”

She nodded over to Blondie with Tank. He was trying to lick Tank’s fur.

“He tried to shave your cat earlier so he could wear the fur.”


“That’s why his shirt is off. If you look closer he’s got dried glue on him to hold the fur. Don’t worry,” she said to my horrified face, “He only got a little bit off. Vishnu and Buddha are locked in your room for now.”

“I’m going to check on them. You should probably check on Van. He seems to think the water is amazing,” I said.

She sighed and hoisted herself up off the couch. “Yeah. We don’t want another flood.”

I got up from the couch and hurried downstairs to check on my cats. They met me at the door, meowing with indignation. Well, Buddha met me at the door. Vishnu, the one with the survival instinct, was hiding under the bed.  She’d probably been there since the first pill was swallowed. Buddha, however, was a sucker for love and was sporting an inch square bald patch in the middle of his back.

I changed out of my scrubs and into some clean jeans and a t-shirt. After soothing the cats and carefully locking my bedroom door I rejoined the group upstairs.

The music had changed from the slow angst of Mazzy Star to something faster with a thumping bass line. Everyone was dancing. Kind of. They were all bumping and grinding and jumping and twisting around and into each other. Van was wet – I hoped only from his adventures with the sink. Duncan and Redhead were still naked. Raj was gliding his feet across the floor moaning, “smooooooth,” with every step he took. Tank had finally made his escape from Blondie, who was now rubbing his torso along different vertical surfaces – walls, curtains, people – and he was purring.

I had never, ever seen anything like this before. It was like watching a car crash. I couldn’t look away even if I wanted to.

When Blondie came over and started rubbing both sets of cheeks against Redhead and Van I decided it was time to take myself over to Mark’s house and offer to cook him dinner.

I have no idea what happened after I left and I don’t want to know. But I was never bored.

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.

Late to School

Everyone’s been late to school, right? Especially when you are 17 and have your own car and are supposedly mature enough to wake yourself up on time and get yourself to school before 8:20am?

Well, that is not why I was late when I was 17.

I was, in fact, up early.

There is nothing that can rocket you out of bed faster at 5:30AM than your mother shrieking: “OHHEAVENLYGODMINDY’SPIGSAREOUT!”

Let me explain. I was born and raised farm kid. I have 3 generations of farming in my blood.

I started raising pigs for 4-H when I was 10 years old. Only about 6 or 7. Not many. I showed them at the fair just like 100 other kids in my hometown.  At 15, I joined the FFA and upped the ante. I bought a larger pig barn and started my own operation raising 60 pigs each year. I did the feed. I did the water. I did the upkeep. I did the care.  This show was aaallll me. And the money went into my college fund.

So, my mom’s dulcet tones at C above the staff that spring morning made me immediately aware that I was solely responsible for the 60 pigs weighing 60 pounds each running around the yard.

I pulled on athletic shorts over my pajama bottoms and shoved my feet into the first shoes I found which happened to be my favorite reddish leather flats.  In case you were wondering, leather flats are not what I would call ideal farming shoes.

I went out our front door and wasn’t far into the backyard when I saw them. Waves of pigs were running through the grove of fruit trees. It was like a scene out of Mutual of Omaha’s Wild Kingdom when the wildebeest herds are racing through the savanna.  Only Marlin Perkins was missing.


The first thing I did was search the barn for the escape hatch. Right in the back I found a loose board that swung open just wide enough for every, single pig to escape. I was able to fix it pretty quickly. After all, I was alone. All my pigs were roaming the countryside.

So, now that things were secure I set off capturing those 60 little pigs.

I picked out my first escapee. A little white pig that was rooting around hopefully under an apple tree. I carefully crept around behind him, trying to be as quiet as possible and before he knew it I was grabbing his leg and WHAM! He tucked his rump down and scooted to the side and I ended up smacking my head into the apple tree.

Serves me right, I suppose.

I tried again with another pig and managed to snag one. I picked him up and carried him like a baby back to the barn and tipped him over the door.

One down. 59 to go.

I spent hours chasing down pigs. I dodged around trees. I dove into the grass. And I got mud and pig manure all over my legs, arms, and torso. I don’t know if you’ve ever seen a greased pig contest or not, but this was more than a little similar to that. By the end I had carried a total of 3600 pounds of wriggling pork back to that barn from every corner of our 6 acre farmstead.

It was 8:15am by the time I came back into the house – stinking and filthy.  My favorite leather flats? Totally ruined.

And I was going to be late for school.

Not just for school. Today was also the day of my choir concert.

My choir director was Mr. M. He was a fun guy who liked a good joke, but he was absolutely 100% serious about choir. Missing the before-school choir rehearsal the day of the spring concert was about as serious a crime as you could commit in Mr. M’s class. Anyone who missed it was banned from performing that night and probably had a month of detentions lined up for themselves. Not to mention the dressing down you were going to get in front of the entire choir.

That rehearsal had started at 7:30am. Given that it was 8:15am when I came inside, I knew that I had missed the rehearsal entirely. My future was bleak.

I passed Dad on my way into the shower, where I anticipated spending the next 45 minutes trying to remove the pig stink from my skin cells. It dawned on me that (A) I was going to need an excuse note and that (B) he was “a parent” and an official excuse note writer in the eyes of the school. So, I asked him to write me an excuse note.  “Sure!” he said, more than happy to help.

When I was ready to go I found his note neatly folded up into an envelope. I picked it up and hauled ass to school. Normally it took me 15-20 minutes to get to school. Today it took 10.

Being the good, law-abiding girl that I was, I stopped in the office first to check in.  The secretary took my note out of the envelope and started to sign me in. She stopped writing mid-word, put the note back into the envelope, and handed it to me saying, “I think you’re going to need to show this to your teacher.”  She handed me my green “she’s not really tardy” slip and sent me on my way.

I walked with immense dread into the choir room. The entire choir – about 115 students – were up on the risers and Mr. M was standing by the piano in front of the Altos, one hand striking out pitches and the other up in the air.  He saw me and froze.  The Altos sucked in air. I wished for the earth to swallow me up.

I fearfully walked towards him. His face was going from its normal color into alarming variations of red and purple. I was just within an arms length of him when he exploded. “Where the hell have you been?!?! You’ve missed the entire before-school rehearsal and now you’re late to this one!!! WHAT DO YOU HAVE TO SAY FOR YOURSELF?!?!??!?!”

In a soft and shame-filled voice I said, “My pigs got out,” and I handed him the note.

Whatever he had expected it wasn’t that. He exploded into laughter. He completely lost it. He wasn’t the only one either. The Altos had heard everything and they started laughing, too. They told the Tenors and Basses who then told the Sopranos. Soon everyone was dying with laughter while I stood, red faced, by the piano. I think I eventually kind of giggled.  Mr. M went into his office, read the note, called the main office, and then put his head on his desk and laughed until he wept.

When he finally recovered and came out of his office he told me all was forgiven. I was going to be performing that night with no problem.  He lost it again when he asked me how many there had been and I had replied “60.”

Later I got to read the note.  Dad had written:

Please excuse Malinda for being late.

Her pigs got out and she had to catch them.


It was the first and last excuse note Dad ever wrote for me.