Chapter 1: The Rock Candy Fish - Part 1

“I really have to find myself my own apartment … tomorrow!”  I mash my pillow over my ears to muffle the noises coming from Jane’s bedroom.  This is the third night this week that I’m enduring the sounds of Jane and her current “experience,” a handsome young British man named Simon who loves beautiful suits and vigorous physical activity, having very unique sex.

Jane explains her sexual activity and the varied men as research supporting her ambition to go from office manager to sex therapist.  Although becoming a sex therapist doesn't necessarily mean using sex as a mode of therapy, she claims she needs to understand a broad range of sexual experiences in order to best counsel future clients. She has begun a mission to sleep with 100 men in one year and which involves a United Nations coalition of sexual partners, as Jane collects her 100 men from all backgrounds and geographical locations to ensure the success of her carnal undertaking.

I’m listening to this creative educational method because I’m sleeping on Jane’s pull-out living room couch, a set-up which I might have enjoyed at 18 or 20 but which I find embarrassing as a 50 year-old.  Still, I shouldn't complain, since I am free-loading on this couch thanks to Jane’s generous offer.  When John and I finally sold our Johnson City house where I still lived during the year and a half after being divorced, I was temporarily homeless.  While I point to my career as a consistently employed freelance writer as evidence that I am an organized person, I also can be very much in denial when unpleasant things confront me.  Like much of the divorce. So when we actually put the house on the market and it unexpectedly sold, I hadn't considered getting a new place before I had to move out. Jane offered to let me be her temporary roommate and now I find myself here; it has been only a week, though, and I am seriously questioning the merits of this plan.

The sounds from Jane’s bedroom include the dull slap of spanking, the insistent reprimand, “Bad camel!  Bad camel!” and Jane’s rendition of a camel braying.  Bad camel? Really? Considering the size of Jane’s breasts, she must be a two-humped Bactrian camel!  Suddenly I can’t get Maria Muldaur’s “Midnight at the Oasis” out of my mind.

The sounds continue for a few more minutes and then silence.  Finally, Jane comes out of her bedroom wrapped in a woven multi-colored Persian blanket.

“Bad camel?” I ask as she returns from the kitchen with a bottle of wine and two glasses.

“What’s so funny, Jackie?  If he had said ‘Bad horsey’ you wouldn't make fun of us!” Jane snapped.

“Oh, no. I still would. I really would.”  By the time I stop laughing enough to take a breath, Jane has turned and stalked back into her bedroom.  Yes, tonight has been the final straw for the camel, so to speak; tomorrow I find my own place.

As soon as I’m up – Jane’s bedroom now very quiet so perhaps the camel has gone off with another caravan - I pull my curly hair into a brown mass at the back of my head and slip on jeans and a purple and blue Goodwill flannel shirt.  On the way to my favorite breakfast diner on Conklin Avenue, I look in the rearview mirror and sigh at the sight of the circles under my eyes.  I'm feeling old today and I wish I wasn't still trying to decide where I'm heading in life.  Well, there’s nothing like some waffles with whipped cream and strawberries to head off the headache and self-pity. 

I read classifieds on my phone while sopping up some extra whipped cream with my waffle. Although I now have money from my half of the house sale, the thought of having the ease and lack of commitment from renting is very appealing at this point.  I don't need too large a place; it’s just me since my three kids are launched – mostly – and out on their own.  Still, I want at least one extra bedroom for an office and visitors.  I look at the houses to rent more carefully since there aren't all that many apartments available this time of year, it being mid-September with the university kids all back for the new school year.

Besides Jane’s constant night time activity and the lack of privacy, I need to find my own place for other reasons.  One is the effect Jane's project has on me. Even though it's been a year and a half since everything fell apart, I haven't felt ready to try dating until just recently. Jane’s research reminds me how long it’s been since I've had to consider all of the awkward social moments like the uncomfortable small talk, the unflattering moments, the sex.  The other reason is this set-up at Jane’s verges on interrupting my writing routine and ability to meet my deadlines.

Martha comes by with the check. Her broad red and white checked apron covers a bright pink blouse and green pants that stretch across her ample hips. “The waffles good today?” 

“As always,” I reply, smiling. “You don't happen to know of any good place to rent around here, do you?”

“Hmmm.  Not off the top of my head, but you should check the bulletin board by the door.  All types of things get advertised over there.”  Glancing around the busy diner, Martha smiles again and pats the table as she puts the check down. “Good luck, honey!”  Before I can thank her, she turns towards another table:  “Morning, Mr. Pappas, can I get you the usual?” 

After I pay my bill, I take Martha's advice. Announcements of new puppies, lost kittens, work-from-home offers, and open spots at local day care homes cover the bulletin board on the wall near the cash register.  Off to the side, overlapping each other a bit, are photos and hand-written descriptions of houses and apartments under the label “Places for rent.”  I try to picture the various locations, all the time wondering if any of the descriptions sound like something I can live with for a year. 

“Looking for a puppy?” a deep voice asks beside me

“Um, no.  Actually, I’m looking for a place to live.” I continue attempting to focus on the postings and ignore the intruder. 

“Well, this place over here is near my house, and the neighborhood’s not too bad.”  He wasn't taking the hint.

Frustrated, I turn towards the man who is also looking over the various pieces of papers stapled onto the board.  He’s holding out an ad for a small, two bedroom house with all appliances and a reasonable rent. He’s a little over six feet tall, dark hair mixed with some gray, comfortably built, and probably around my age.  He has sharp blue eyes and a really nice smile. 

I pull my attention away from his face and back to the paper.  “Only $500 a month?” I ask a bit skeptically, and then I notice that it’s in Vestal near the university. That explains the rent. 

“Aren't the University students annoying?” I ask, unconvinced.

“Most of the time they're pretty harmless.  I haven't had much trouble and I’ve been living a block away for a couple years now.” His smile warms.

Well, it wouldn't hurt just to look. 

I begin to rummage through my purse for something to write the landlord’s number on.  I always have so much junk in there and yet nothing I need.  I pull out my wallet, phone, hairbrush, camera, three lipsticks of unflattering colors, a half used lip balm, and a wad of old receipts and set them on the end of the checkout counter; at least I don’t drag out the tampons and packet of Gas-X.  I flatten out one of the receipts quite aware that all the time this guy’s watching me with a bemused look.  Of course I don't have any pens!  I pull out my eyeliner pencil, but the tip breaks off as I try to write. “Crap,” I say under my breath.  Before I can dive back into the black abyss of my purse, the man holds out a pen and asks, “Do you need a pen?”  

“Thanks.” I jot down the phone number.

“No problem. I’m David Wilson.”

“Hi, David.  I'm Jackie Connolly. You might have saved my day.” I hand him his pen, which he replaces back in the cup on the other side of the register.  I'm suddenly really self-conscious about my early-morning disheveled look.

“Well, if you end up renting the house, maybe I'll see you around the neighborhood,” David says, still smiling that nice smile, and walks out. 

That was interesting. I grab up my collection of things from the counter, stuff it all back into my purse, and go out the door myself.   I distractedly wonder if David might be date material.  Is this how the meet-someone-new works at this age?  Should I just hang around want-ad bulletin boards in various diners?  I'd probably find a better group of potential men than the group I would find at a bar, and there'd be the added bonus of having pie and waffles to eat while I wait for anyone to arrive.

I call the number from the ad.  Since the address is only a 5 minute drive down Vestal Highway, less than a half hour later I meet Mrs. Dolores Swenson in front of a house I figure was built in the late 1940s.  The house’s white siding, black faux shutters, almost square shape, gabled roof and second floor dormers, as well as the single car garage connecting to the house with a breezeway, all suggest returning GIs and neighborhoods of first homes.  It is the kind of house that might be considered cute just because of its averageness, and I like the thought of living here despite the apartment complex next door.  Once we walk inside, Mrs. Swenson begins a very deliberate march around the house, telling her renting history and interrupting her narrative with random gestures identifying the house’s different rooms .

“I've had this house – that room would work for a small bedroom or office - to rent for a while now – the bathroom’s in there.  I have trouble finding dependable people to lease it – these stairs go to two upper bedrooms - and this used to be my sister's house.”  At this point of the tour she stops in the tiny kitchen, “I don't want any noisy, messy and irresponsible college kids.  I tried that once and I just don't have the energy or the money to repair the damages,” she says pursing her lips.

I wonder how substantial the damage could have been considering the dated sage green cut-shag carpet and the pink and gray tiles and fixtures in the bathroom from the 60s.  Nonetheless, the house has a surprising number of rooms, even if little ones, as well as the benefit of a basement, aged but clean appliances, the garage, and a back yard.  For the price, I won’t find anything better.

“I'll take it.” 

Posted by Jackie Connolly

Chapter 1, Part 2

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