A FELINE IN DESIGNER SHOEWEAR
Do you hate feeling lied to like Rachel hates breaks?
Do you loathe being misled down a shocking road of fingernails and palm trees?
Do you have a grudge against the whole ‘first impressions are the most lasting’ thing after being burned one too many times by people who initially seemed kind and wonderful, but turned out to be kittens in rain boots? (Nice for half an hour.)
Yes, you say?
Well. Be a good fellow and make room on the boat. I’d like to join you.
This is an incident concerning the greatest first-impression-deception of my adult life.
THE FIRST HELLO
THE HOMEMAKER’S EMPTY HOME
Last summer, I had the privilege of working full-time.
I locked down a regular 9-5, five days a week. Deciding it was remarkably unexciting to go to work and then go home, I found a second job with flexible hours. My second employer was a research organization, who asked me to gather demographic information of the general population with household surveys. It kept me busy, as I was never much into the party scene.
With outstanding optimism, I calculated my double earnings and thought: I’m making bank. One payment to university later, I was back at zilch.
One day, I was assigned a territory in an elevated-living neighborhood. The numbers on houses increased by 30s: The house at the start of the street was marked ‘4’ with a mile-long driveway leading to the front door. And the house after that was the 34th lot of the street with an even more redundant driveway leading home. These two houses were supposedly ‘neighbors’.
They also had naked male statues planted out front, relieving themselves in fountains.
I whispered “Oh boy,” and approached the first house with the wrought-iron gate tipping its nose at me. There was an intercom.
I pressed the little button: “Hello?”
I gave my introductory spiel. It took a few tries before I could finally get the voice to say, “Okay. Okay. I’m coming. Wait there.”
Five minutes later, a man appeared. He was dressed in a white shirt, making his skin look like Doritos. His jewelry declared wealth. His expression spoke power.
Let’s call him The Homemaker.
We shook hands. I told him I would need twenty minutes if he could kindly spare the time.
“Come inside. Have a seat with me,” he said cordially. “My wife usually handles these things, so I apologize if you must be patient. She’s at work today.”
He was an immigrant, like me, but he had not lost the accent of his first home.
We entered through the gleaming double doors to confront a cascading spiral staircase encased by marble pillars shooting up to the sky. Crystal and gold embellished both the furniture and furnishings. Our shoes clacked against the hollow space. He waved off the idea when I tried to remove them.
“The cleaners are always here,” he said. Here was a man people took orders from.
The kitchen was inappropriately spacious, overlooking the backyard terrace that featured two swimming pools and a fire pit. “I’m building a gazebo,” he explained with a modest pride.
“Why do you need two swimming pools?” I asked.
The Homemaker smiled. “I don’t. One’s for backup.”
I could see he thought I found him charming. I politely corrected the misconception. “Where can we sit? I can see you’re a busy man, so I’ll be out of your hair as soon as possible.”
We set up shop at the kitchen island, although I recall it to be more of a kitchen country.
Before he could answer any questions, he had to offer me a Fiji water from his spaceship fridge. I took a grateful sip. Behind him, I accounted for the fridge empty of food or condiments, stocked to the brim with only Fiji water. They stayed hydrated, this family.
As I did my job, he began to open up about his life and family. “My wife and I work a combined eighty hours a week. Maybe ninety. Our business is our baby.”
“That’s admirable,” I said. “Not everyone can put so many hours into their business. Not everyone has that kind of dedication.”
“It’s because of my son. He’s very sick. This is our distraction.”
And I learned about the chronic illness his adult son had. Without invading this gentleman’s privacy, I can say that I was deeply moved at the measures he had taken to have his 30-year-old son cared for in the United States, in a facility of the highest calibre.
“And your daughter?” I asked.
“Oh. I’m glad.” I meant it.
He noticed and smiled for real. He had been leaning on the counter, elbows propped, but now stood up to excavate his pockets.
“What are you looking for?” I asked.
“Here,” he said, sliding a twenty-dollar bill in front of me. It had been taken from a money clip in a smooth flick of the wrist.
I was aghast. “I can’t take this!” I screamed. It was a bit of an overreaction, in hindsight.
“Yes. You have to. How much do you make?”
I blushed, embarrassed by the expensive china behind his head.
“Right. You have to take it. Please, I’m asking.”
But he wasn’t really.
Here was a man who did not ask when he could command.
We went back to the survey.
The Homemaker told me more of his story: “I started this company of mine years ago. Now, I’ve got over 200 guys working for me. They’re here all the time. This kitchen, where you’re sitting right now, all of this was designed by me. It all came from here.” He tapped his temple.
“That’s amazing,” I said.
“I’m directing the construction of the gazebo right now. When it’s finished, this place will be complete.”
“Your wife must be so happy.”
His eyes shuttered. His openness dissolved. “I don’t see her much,” he said.
I didn’t know what to say. Except, “I’m sorry.”
The Homemaker breathed in deeply through his nose. “When you’ve been married this long…for as long as we have,” he gestured in a way that only a certain kind of European men can. “It becomes a different kind of marriage.”
I looked out from my seat, out into the acres of land in his backyard, out at the green grass, the main swimming pool, the fire pit, the backup pool, and the dirt in the ground awaiting a gazebo. I looked out and saw so much wealth. I looked back to his face to see engraved in the lines of his eyes and mouth a different kind of poverty.
Upon packing up my things, he said, “I wish the best for your mum.”
“Oh,” I said. “You remembered.”
“Yes,” he said. “You mentioned it.”
“Yes, but in passing. I’m just surprised you remembered.”
“You ask so many questions,” he said. “The least I can do is remember one thing you said!”
At the door, I looked up at him. “Thank you Mr. Homemaker, for your generosity and time. I wish the best for you and your children also. And your wife. I’m sorry I didn’t get to meet her today.”
He reached into his pocket again. “You have a brother right?”
I began to panic. “You’re not going to tip me again, are you?”
He took out a one hundred dollar bill.
He laughed and laughed. “Think of it as a thank-you gift. I didn’t realize this survey was mandatory. You saved me a lot of trouble, and my wife the time. Also,” he said conspiratorially. “Between you and me, this is nothing.”
His money clip was packed with hundreds, but it didn’t feel right taking one.
Again, in hindsight, my reaction may have been slightly effusive.
He pushed the money into my retreating hands, and I joked, “I’m definitely leaving now so you can’t give me any more money!”
He said, “Use the money to take your little brother to his favorite restaurant. Give your mum a break. That’s how you can thank me. Sophia…” We were silent for a beat. “I’ll walk you out.”
The Homemaker and I walked to the car I’d borrowed from my parents.
“You drove?” he said.
“Of course. If I walked in this neighborhood, I would end up a little puddle on your grass, and you wouldn’t get your survey done.”
He looked at the sweltering sky. Hands in pockets. A broad-shouldered man. I briefly imagined what it would have been like to have him as a grandfather. Mine had died when I was very young, and I missed him every day. The Homemaker would have bought me lots of Barbies, probably, and the Ken dolls, too. Growing up, my parents could only afford me a few dolls, so I always made it known to friends that they were only invited to my parties if they could bring a Barbie and were willing to cooperate with my storylines.
I was a sweet kid.
“Here’s my card,” he said. “If you need anything, if you need someone, you call me.”
I was beyond touched. I recognized the company name.
We hugged. As I pulled away, I realized my sweaty makeup had transferred itself onto his shirt.
“Oh no,” I said. “Better change your shirt.”
“It’s okay,” he said.
“No, it’s not. Think about your wife!”
He threw his head back and roared.
As I started my car, he said, “Call me! I’ll have a job for you next year that pays better than this!”
I waved with one hand, lips saturated with thank you’s as I cruised the two minutes down the street to hit the next house.
My heart was so full. Hours later, when I got home to tell my mother what had happened that day, she buried her face in her hands and said, “Thank you, God.”
My brother said, “So when do we go eat?”
END OF PART 1
PART 2: CONTINUE READING HERE
Have you ever met someone for the first time and was swept away by their kindness and warmth? I’d like to hear about it! Please share your story briefly in the comments.