This story is part three in a series. Read PART ONE and PART TWO here.
I held the phone bill closer to my face and read it again, in disbelief. $300? How on earth did we do that?
Two months after accepting the pet sitting job in San Francisco, I moved in with my boss, Krystal. Despite my reservations about her quirky personality, I jumped at the opportunity to live in a neat old house that was pet-friendly and conveniently located for both work and entertainment; besides, she said she was planning on leaving soon and moving in to a loft where she could have a nice office and living quarters together. She believed that her boyfriend Allesandro, who was likely to ask her to marry him any day, would be joining her. From my point of view, Allesandro only invited her over to his apartment for sex, then had her leave. He never came to her/our place, and never took her out for dinner or anything else. Today we’d call this kind of relationship a booty call – I don’t know what the term was in the 90’s. How, then, was she so certain that marriage was on the horizon? The Psychic Hotline.
976 phone numbers had a brief but profitable history in the pre-internet 80’s and 90’s. Offering everything from phone sex to financial advice, they were heavily advertised on TV and in the newspaper and caused people to run up some astounding phone bills. Charging as much as $3 a minute, operators of these 976 numbers did their best to keep callers on the line as long as possible and to encourage them to call back frequently. So it was that Krystal called the Psychic Hotline almost every day. Since the walls of our bedrooms were paper-thin, I could hear every word she said on the phone; if that wasn’t bad enough, she’d recount the entire conversation as soon as she saw me. She really believed that these people were real psychics and worse, that they were her friends. I realized after a while that they were skilled conversationalists and counselors of sorts, making statements that could apply to anyone like, “I sense that you have an unresolved issue with your family,” then listening and responding carefully as the caller gushed information.
“$300?” I said to Krystal when she got home. “Seriously, give me twenty bucks and I’ll tell you the same things.”
She gave me a look that went from blank to hurt. “They’re really psychic,” she said, “They know a lot about me and what they say really happens.”
“Well, it was going to happen anyway, so how does it help you, knowing these things?” But it was no use. She’d argue tooth and nail on the validity of the psychics, and there was no swaying her. I felt bad for her wasting her money like that, and I also felt concern for the fact that my paycheck and the phone bill were being funded by the same account. Luckily, we had enough business to cover it all.
The following week, I came home from a morning of pet sitting visits and, as I put on a pot of coffee, I noticed a big box full of stuff in the kitchen. I saw what appeared to be leather gloves sticking out of the top of the box, and as I waited for the coffee to brew I peeked further in. At this moment, Krystal came down from her bedroom and walked into the kitchen. “Did you see our new earthquake supplies?” she asked with an excited look on her face.
“Is that what they are?” I replied.
“Yeah, look,” she said, pulling the box to the middle of the floor and extracting the contents. Her two little terriers had followed her into the kitchen, and they were watching with interest. As she took each plastic-wrapped item and placed it on the floor, they sniffed it. “These,” she said, holding up the leather gloves, “Are for picking up broken glass, and this,” picking up a small plastic box, “will detect leaking gas.”
I thought to myself that if my home was littered with broken glass and leaking gas, I’d probably just leave, but I said nothing. “How much was that?” I asked.
“Only $250, but the batteries for the flashlights were extra.”
Good lord, I thought, $250 for a bunch of junk we don’t need. But that wasn’t all. She went on to explain that she hadn’t actually paid for our earthquake preparedness kit, she had charged it on her new credit card which was now up to the limit.
“Want coffee?” I asked as I poured myself a cup and sat down at the little wooden table in the corner of the small kitchen. The smell of coffee permeated the room. I poured my usual obscene amount of sugar and small amount of creamer into the cup, then looked up to see her crinkling her nose in disgust.
“Coffee isn’t good for you, you know. It really doesn’t give you energy.” She went on to give me a lecture about healthy eating and drinking habits – which she, by the way, didn’t practice – and to talk at length about the homeopathic remedies she took and gave to her dogs. “I’m so sensitive I can’t even eat ginger. In fact, a client gave me a box of ginger snaps, do you want them?”
I took the box, pulled out a cookie, and ate it. It went well with the coffee, so I had another. I looked out the window at the mountains of lumber, scrap metal and other junk piled up next to an outbuilding that looked like a cross between a tool shed and the Winchester Mystery House. I wondered about all that stuff.
“So I started going to the acupuncturist.” Mind wandering, I don’t know how we got from ginger snaps to acupuncture. “But,” she continued, “I’m too sensitive for the needles, so he just tapes magnets to my hands.”
“Magnets?” I almost spit up my coffee.
“He tapes them to my hands, and my hands just shake. See, they’re still shaking now.” She held out her skinny hands and indeed, they were quivering.
I listened to her prattle on as she did, sometimes for hours, and felt bad. She really worked hard, between the pet sitting visits she did herself and the managing of the business and her several employees. She was lonely and didn’t seem to have any friends, she didn’t eat or sleep well, she wore the same old clothes every day, and she spent all her money on psychics and alternative medicines in an attempt to cure her neuroses. Lost in my internal dialogue, I hardly noticed some noise outside the kitchen window, but I couldn’t help but see a man walking right by.
“Who’s that?” I asked Krystal.
“Oh,” she said, “That’s Howard.”
“Howard?” A neighbor? Another boyfriend?
Now, in crowded and costly San Francisco it’s not uncommon for homes to be chopped up and subdivided until landlords have 10 people living where there should be three; however, I was still surprised – and amused, I’ll admit – when Krystal said, “There is a very nice, very quiet gay couple living in the back yard.”