Open House

I was on my way home from work when I noticed the sign. It was one of those signs that looked like it had been placed there by a tired real estate agent. There was not much care taken in the planting of the sign. The sign was hidden behind a few wilting plants and in blue sloppy letters it said: OPEN HOUSE with an arrow point away from the E. There was nothing else on the sign.

I was intrigued.

I left work early that Thursday afternoon. It was not even 2pm yet and I was ready for bed. I had nothing that I needed to do. I had a lot that I needed to do but that is what made it feel like I had nothing to do. Normally I worked till six or seven every weekday evening, but that afternoon I was trying out a different approach to living.

Why not go to the open house? This is what I thought as I drove past the second OPEN HOUSE sign.

It was not that I was interested in buying a new home. I was content where I dwelled. I just wanted something different to do. The work/life monotony of suburban living can induce a kind of amnesic state that unkowingly envelopes a person in a warm, predictable and comfortable tree-lined womb. If I went home that afternoon I knew I would drink a glass of white wine, water my plants and go to sleep. I wanted something different to do. I wanted to shake off routine, if only just for a few minutes.

I followed the direction the arrows pointed towards.

I drove my 1988 green Volvo down quiet, lower-middle class suburban streets. All of the front lawns were dying. The homes looked defeated, as if all the art had been drained out of the inhabitant’s lives. It was mid-afternoon but most of the homes seemed to already have television sets on. I was still feeling ill from all the white wine I drank the night before. White wine was the best medication I had found to temporarily inoculate myself against the various unpleasant feelings that came from the life I was living.

As I drove I wanted to have a glass of white wine with me. Few pleasures were as satisfying as driving around with the windows down, music on, a glass of white wine in my right hand, a cigarette hanging from my mouth and no where in particular to go.

What was the point of writing fiction any more? It no longer matters. Maybe I am the one who has outgrown it or maybe I have become too comfortable in my life. Writing is a solitary labor. No one cares if you do not do it. It doesn’t matter to anyone. When was the last time someone said to you, “Hey when is the next story coming out?” Never. Maybe I just do not have the energy or vigor to push myself any more. Maybe it is more satisfying to spend the free time I have keeping my house clean, watering my plants, reading and strumming my ukulele in the backyard. These are the things I thought as I followed the arrows.

Sign after sign appeared. The same OPEN HOUSE sign with an arrow pointing away from the E. Just as I thought that I had come to the end of the signs, another would appear. All of the signs looked tired and bored. They were leaning towards the ground, which made it difficult to know if I was going in the right direction. Fortunately, I have always possessed a good sense of direction. When I was a teenager I led a group of 11 other teenagers out of the woods after being lost for 3 days. Its a long story.

Until this point in my life, I have always followed in the direction that I felt like was the right direction to go.

When a person feels tired and bored in their life they think that everything and everyone is tired and boring. This is what I thought about as I drove.

Just as I was beginning to doubt my sense of direction, a final sign appeared. This sign was also leaning towards the ground but it did not say OPEN HOUSE on it. It just had a solitary arrow pointing towards a long, narrow driveway. The Volvo was hesitant to go forward. It jolted back and forth, not wanting to move. I pushed down on the accelerator harder than I normally would. I yelled out. I apologized to my car for my insistence that we go all the fucking way. Once I said sorry for using such physical and verbal force, the car stopped resisting.

At first I was startled. I thought that what I was seeing was not really there. I tried to remember if I had smoked any marijuana or drank any wine that morning. I had not. I then wondered if I was suffering heat stroke. Had I drank enough water earlier that day? I thought I had. I forced myself to look at the house in front of me. I was experiencing difficulty breathing. I wished I had a glass of white wine. Everything I had ever believed was put into question.

There was an open house in front of me.

There were no walls. There was no roof. The house was wide open.

I looked around for other signs of life that could validate what I was experiencing. All I could find were weeds, wilting plants, trees, squirrels, birds, bugs and discarded beer cans. No people.

I am not sure how much time passed between my arrival and the moment I realized I was twiddling my thumbs. I stopped right away. My father reprimanded me about doing this as a child. Only the bored and lazy twiddle their thumbs son.

I got out of the Volvo and walked. I walked towards the open house like I was approaching a large dog that I was not sure about.

How? This is what I thought as I walked.

The open house looked like people were currently living there. All the signs of a home lived in were there: couches, chairs, beds, televisions, tables, plants, bookshelves and various other pieces of furniture. There were potted flowers around the open house and there was also a swing hanging from a tree. Everything looked incredibly normal, except for the absence of walls and a roof.

How? I said it out loud this time.

I’ve read a lot about people losing their mind. Is it now my turn? I said this out loud also.

 I stood where I felt like the front door should be located and I yelled out.



I yelled out one last time and waited for a reply. Nothing.

What the hell. I said this to myself. I decided to walk in.

Hello? I did not yell out. I was trying to be polite.

Everything in the home looked as if it was well cared for. It was not what you would expect from a house without walls and a roof. The carpets looked like they had been recently vacuumed. There was no dust accumulation on the furniture, television or tables. The pillows on the couch and chairs looked like they had been artfully placed. No cobwebs. On the coffee table in front of the television there were magazines, a few art books and several television remote controllers. On the side table beside the couch there was a small clock that I noticed was no longer working and a few books stacked neatly beneath a reading light.

I walked through the living room and into the kitchen. There was a clean, modern sink with only a coffee cup in it. On the counter next to the sink were sponges, dish soap and a sign that said, A Clean Sink Is The Heart Of A Loved Home. The granite counter tops reflected blue sky, tree branches and sun.

The sun and the moon and the trees all spend their days hanging out. Why don’t we? This is what I thought as I looked at the kitchen table with four chairs around it. There was a stainless steal refrigerator. I noticed some desiccated leaves on the kitchen floor, which had fallen from the tree branches that hung above. Beyond the kitchen sink and counter, a backyard with a dying lawn, potted plants and flowers, sun chairs and a pool. Looked like a nice place to rest.

I used the toilet and felt uncomfortable being exposed as I peed. The bathroom was surprisingly clean. It was the kind of clean that I strived for in my own bathroom. I got some pee on the rim of the toilet and cleaned it off with toilet paper. Unlike most people- I have manners. I flushed the white porcelian toilet. The bathtub had a DWELL magazine in it. It looked as if someone had left it there to read the next time they took a bath.

I walked through what seemed to be a hallway. There were several bedrooms all around. All of the beds looked professionally made and the surrounding areas were tidy. At the end of the hallway was a larger king sized bed. The bed had a nice comforter and a plethora of patterned pillows. The space looked like it was the resting place of whoever owned the open house. Beyond the bed were weeds, plants and a few dehydrated trees, which dropped leaves onto the bed. Bugs flew all around. There was an old wood fence in the distance. I could feel the heat from the sun on the top of my head.

I sat down in a comfortable chair besides the bed. I looked around. I could see a toilet, shower, sink. Must be the master bathroom. This is what I thought. Beyond the bathroom area I could see all of the contents of the entire home spread out in front of me. It was as if I was sitting in the far corner of a carefully curated field of furniture.

I took off my shoes and got into the bed. Some of the pillows fell on to the floor as I made myself comfortable in the bed. The sheets and the comforter smelled clean. I strived for this smell in my own bed but was much too lazy to be able to achieve it on a regular basis. I pulled the blankets up over my body and looked towards the sky. There were no clouds, just branches and leaves. I could hear a few bird sounds. There was a warm afternoon breeze. I took a deep breath, noticing that I was not having trouble breathing anymore. It would be nice to have a glass of white wine right now. This is the last thought I remember having.

There was a loud scream followed by another loud scream. It sounded like a woman’s scream. There was another scream, which sounded like it was coming from a young girl. I was startled out of my deep sleep. It took me some time to figure out what was going on. When I heard, What are you doing here?, shouted forcefully in my direction- I sat up quickly. I threw the blankets off of me. There was an older lady and a young girl standing at the entrance of the room. There were walls. There was a roof over my head. I stared at the lady who looked like she was ready to attack. Then I realized that I was sleeping in someone else’s room.

Get out of here! What do you think you are doing in my bed! I am calling the police! She kept shouting things like this at me. I was still confused as I put my shoes on while telling her how sorry I was, how confused I was, how I did not understand how any of this was happening. I did not make things any better for myself when I asked her how the roof and ceiling got here all of a sudden. She called me crazy and the young girl started crying. I tried to reassure her that I was not a threat and that I was leaving right away. I am leaving now, I am leaving, Please do not be afraid. This is what I kept repeating as I walked past the lady and the young child.

I walked down the hallway and out the front door. Where did the front door come from? This is what I thought as I walked out. I could feel my heart beating in my stomach as I walked quickly to my car. I wanted to get away before the police arrived. As I was about to get into my green Volvo I heard the lady’s voice, shouting in my direction. I turned around and looked at her. She was standing in front of the house, which now had a front door, walls and a roof. The house was painted white.

Sir! Sir!! Excuse me, but were you here for the open house?

The Prostitute and I

Two blocks from where I live there is a prostitute who spends her afternoons standing on a busy street corner. I noticed her when I first moved into my suburban neighborhood. I thought it was strange that a woman dressed in a tight mini skirt would stand in the same place, every day for an entire afternoon. Every time I drove past that street corner I would check and see if she was there. I was not doing this because I desired this woman and wanted to have a sexual experience with her. No, I was not attracted to her at all. From an objective perspective there was little to be attracted to. I was interested in this prostitute because I thought it was very odd that there would be a prostitute standing on a street corner in the middle of a middle class suburban neighborhood. I had lived in the ghetto of Oakland, California for a long time. Seeing prostitutes there was as familiar to me as seeing bullets flying in the sky. It was a daily occurrence. But in this Los Angeles suburb, she was the first and only prostitute I ever saw. She had my full attention.

A month after my wife and I moved into our new home we bought a German shepherd. I started walking my dog everyday past the street corner where the prostitute stood. Sometimes she would not be there but most of the time she was standing there, waiting. Toyota Priuses, Jettas, Ford mini vans and various other symbols of the middle class on wheels would drive past pretending not to notice that there was a prostitute standing on a middle class street corner. A block away was a school. Across the street was a Starbucks. Was I the only one that found it so strange that there was a prostitute hanging out there? I became obsessed. I started walking my dog twice a day. I would sit on a bench across the street from her and observe. Even my dog knew that something strange was going on across the street.

She would wave at cars with single men in them. Often times these men would look shocked. They were either young men driving there parents car who had yet to experience the sexual transgression of being with a prostitute or they were middle aged men who had been locked up in an office someplace and were utterly startled to notice that a middle aged woman on a street corner was waving at them. Rarely did any of these men stop and pick her up. She looked treacherous and scarred by an unfair life. There was something frightening about her. But occasionally a man would slam on his breaks and make a hand motion for her to get in the car.  She would run up to the passenger side car window, bend down to check the man out and then jump into the car with the fluidity of a gust of wind.

If it was raining out she would be standing on the street corner dressed in a shabby raincoat and holding a cheap umbrella. Her long grayish red strands of hair would stick out of what looked like a hand knitted ski hat with flower patterns. On the days that the sun would be out, her long hair would blow freely in the afternoon breeze created by all the passing middle class cars. She would wear a black min-skirt with some kind of shirt that would almost always reveal her aging stomach. I could see some sort of piercing on her belly button and I also noticed a tattoo that ran down the side of her legs and into the blue high heel shoes that she was always wearing.

After a month of observing the prostitute I decided to confront her. I was so fascinated by the life that she seemed to be living. I made up all kinds of stories about her. Was she a middle class homeowner who had lost her home in the great recession? Did she have a family? What she was doing for work was so outside of the middle class norm that gradually ate away at the souls of almost everyone that I lived around. I have always had a certain fascination with deviants and those who decide to live way outside of the norm, I just never thought I would become fascinated with a prostitute that was working on a street corner two blocks down from where I lived.

The first time that I approached the prostitute I remember having the thought that it was life, not drugs that had worn her out. She did not have that familiar drug abused gauntness in her face that most aging drug addicts display. Her skin and eyes looked hydrated and unravished by any kind of drug addiction. There were no dilated pupils or bags under her eyes, just a sadness that tried to hide the fact that she had fallen upon difficult times. Before I could say anything to her she shouted, “please keep your dog away from me! I am terrified of dogs!” I apologized and told her that my dog did not have a mean bone in her body. “But she is a German shepherd. Those dogs are viscous,” she pleaded. “That is a huge misconception. They are trained to be viscous but naturally they are one of the sweetest breeds of dogs,” I said. She looked at my dog as if she was thinking about what she should do next. She was in a contemplative kind of deliberation. I heard a car horn. She looked up to wave and then looked back down at the dog. “Ok,” she said. “What the hell, but hold on to her tight.”

After the initial cautious greeting, the prostitute and my dog were like close friends. Before I even had a chance to introduce myself, the prostitute was crouching down hugging my dog and enjoying the disgusting privilege of being licked by a dog that is obsessive compulsive about cleaning her own private parts. She hugged my dog and rubbed her face in my dog’s furry neck. It was as if this was the first time in a long time that the prostitute had given or received love. I watched the prostitute and my dog exchange loving gestures in the same way that you may watch a person getting the help that they are in desperate need of. After a few minutes of this the prostitute stood up, looked at me and said, “so what is with the fascination, huh?”

I was surprised and caught off guard. What did she mean by fascination? I was silent and noticed myself stepping away from her. The prostitute then smiled and said, “what took you so long?” “What took me so long?” I replied. “Yeah, I have noticed you sitting over there across the street for more than a month now. Seems like you just sit there and watch me.” How could I be so inept to not think she would notice me sitting on the bench across the street? At first I thought about denying it but then I realized this would be like denying the obvious. Only unstable people do this sort of thing. And even though I had spent the past month obsessing about a prostitute on a street corner- I was not unstable. So I looked her in the eyes and said……….nothing.

“Look honey, you do not have to be shy. Wanting to get off is a natural human impulse. So what, you want to get off with no strings attached. Big deal. I know what it is like to be shy and all, but let me promise you that once you break through your shyness you will feel like you parted the waters of the Dead Sea.” The prostitute said this to me with a promiscuous smile that revealed a need for some dental work. I giggled a bit and to be honest, it took me a second to realize what was going on. The prostitute was thinking that I wanted to hire her for a sexual experience but could not get up the nerve, so I sat on the bench across the street too afraid to approach her! “And honey your dog, well you do not need to bring her for protection. I got all the protection you’ll need in my purse.” Then she laughed.

You know what they say about finding yourself stiff and unable to articulate words when you are in a moment of shock? Well that is what happened to me. Every nerve in my vocal cords wanted to tell her that I was not interested in her in that way but it was as if someone had put a tight sheet of plastic, saran wrap or wax paper over my face and I was desperately trying to break through. You got it all wrong lady, I kept thinking to myself but for some ridiculous reason (the answer of which can probably be found in my childhood), I was unable to talk. It was at that moment that a black Toyota Prius pulled up to the curb. A white balding man in a white collard shirt rolled down the window and said, “it is four o’clock baby.” The prostitute turned towards the man in the car and said, “I’ll be right there.” She then turned to me and said, “look I got to go honey, but come find me tomorrow and I’ll show you what all that shyness has been cheating you out of.” She then bent down and gave my dog another love starved hug and then disappeared into the black Prius.

I stood there on that corner with my dog sitting by my side. I watched the black Prius get smaller and smaller in the distance. I felt like a failure for not having had the courage to tell her that she was all wrong about what she was thinking about me. I did not want the prostitute to think that I wanted her services, because then I would never be able to come observe her again. I really wanted to ask her why she was standing on this particular street corner, day after day, but I was unable to get a single word out. My month long stretch of curiosity had resulted in nothing but shame and embarrassment. I stood on that corner until the sun fell behind the busy Starbucks across the street. My dog did not put up too much of a fuss about standing there with me. It was as if she knew that I needed some time to myself. I stood there on that corner and watched the cars pass by. I imagined what it would be like to be her standing in that very spot. I noticed all the men who were driving in their cars alone as they passed by. I felt the breeze created by the numerous passing cars blowing my hair.

When I finally returned home that evening my wife confronted me and said, “where have you been?” I took the dog off the leash and opened the back door for her to go run around in the yard. I looked at my wife and did not know what to say.