"That's a big cricket!" said my five-year-old.
"It's a RAT," said my 10-year-old.
"It sounds like the Shawshank Redemption in there," I said.
"That's a RACCOON," said the man who lives in my attic, turning to me with dark, beady eyes that were alight with the scientific realization that he'd just stumbled upon. "And you know that raccoons are bad-ass motherfuckers. They have these little hands, like real little HANDS, and they just...jump at you without warning! They jump at your neck! And they clutch and bite. They have rabies. Oh, did I say motherfuckers? Fuck! I'm sorry about that."
|Raccoons are real bad, whether you are drunk or stoned or sober as a judge. It doesn't matter! They'll tear you to bits!|
"Whud you just say?" said the 8-year-old. He turned to me with glittering eyes and a wide-as-shit smile. "Did he say the F word?"
"Yeah, lil' what's-yer-name," said the man from the attic, huffing a mouthy breathful of bourbon at us. It was noon. "You. You. The Middle One. You're a real smart lil' shit. OH! I did it again." And he slapped his hand to his mouth and opened his eyes wide like a girl caught with her skirts blown up over a grate.
Why do I have a drunken, perhaps mentally unstable, 63-year-old man living in my attic? Well, he's not there at the moment, to be honest. He left on Saturday evening to go live on a pig farm.
Maybe I ought to back up a bit.
OK. So this fall, our friend wanted to move back east from California and he needed a place to land for a while. We needed a bit of backup childcare, so we agreed to make an arrangement. He'd stay here and work on selling his vast modern art collection, pick up the boys from school, cook the occasional meal, and so on. We'll call him "the Manny." Or Manny for short. We weren't thinking too clearly but, hey, we were willing to give anything a shot. Our long-term marvelous nanny had moved back to England in October and we were eager for an alternate childcare solution that didn't break the bank.
It started out pretty well. Manny proved himself to be an exceptional—nay, a gifted—cook. The man has a natural way with food and it's a true passion of his. He buys fresh food and turns it into genius creations. I think it's a calling that he might have missed thus far. Food was his art. He even dreamed about it.
It troubled me just a little bit that he couldn't remember my three sons' names after a week and that he preferred to refer to them as "the children of the corn." He also wondered whether, instead of "time outs," we ought to try "duct tape and dark closets."
I was horrified, but he grinned like a Lumpen Jack o'lantern.
"Kidding. Aw, I would die for those boys. Die for them."
His jokes were hardly appropriate and he had no linguistic filter, but I pretty much knew that he would, indeed, lay down his life if it came to it. But try explaining that to a local pal who wonders, "Who is that homeless man who shambles your boys to school? Is he some relative or what? Why does he look like crazy Bill Murray in Caddyshack but with long, dank hair? Is he, like, a Vietnam vet?"
Yes, he is, and you do not want to know what he saw while in service.
"I don't wike you," said the five-year-old to him one day, rudely.
"Willya listen to that shit!" he responded. "Lil' sons o' bitches. Man, I do love 'em, though! I really love 'em!"
But he also had other loves. Liquid loves.
When he first arrived he informed us that he no longer drank alcohol and that, when he quit months prior, he “shat his pants regularly, sweated his guts out, and had horrible shakes.” But, he’d be delighted to have a beer just tonight, thanks! One beer turned to two. Two turned to a bottle of wine. A bottle of wine turned to a bottle of vodka. Things started to go down the slippery slope.
One Monday afternoon, I received a phone call from him. He was about four blocks away and claimed that the “food was too heavy to carry home.” He sounded…off. Weird. He said his legs hurt. He was slurring and mumbling. I decided to leave my 10-year-old in charge and drive the few short blocks to acquire him. There he was, sitting by the side of the road, surrounded by deflated shopping bags, looking every inch a demented homeless man. I opened the car door and he started like I had shot him. I beckoned him in. He finally made his shambling way into the car, and, once he was in, I realized he stank of booze.
“Have you been drinking?” I asked.
“Oh no, I been taking some Vitamin B-12!” he said. “It messes you up real bad.”
Then he said: “A lot of these housewives around here got real fat asses. But you got a fine one. Oops, don’t tell your husband I said that.”
Once we arrived back at the house he asked me to unpack the groceries. He lurched around, hurling pork chops hither and thither as he attempted to get them into the pan. All the while he was guffawing and babbling, and the boys kept coming into the kitchen to see what the ruckus was about while they were supposed to be doing their homework.
I had to go and check email. (All this was happening during my workday.) While at my computer, I heard a suspicious “unscrewing and gurgling noise.” Our guest had poured himself a “cockytail,” as he called it, and was now lurching about the house yelling happy obscenities and hurling stuffed animals at the boys. I came in to arrest the chaos and was struck in the eye by a beady-eyed turtle puppet.
The boys got more and more excitable, as boys do. I smelled pork chops grilling. This could not be my childcare situation!
My eldest boy ran up and Manny said, “What’s the fuck is up with this little monkey?” My boy raised his eyebrows at me in a questioning manner that said "Who the fuck have you hired as our nanny, mother?"at which point Manny smacked him atop the head with a flat palm. Gently enough, but enough to register a small ticking time bomb in my brain: This situation must end, and end quickly.
The next thing I knew, my 5-year-old was wailing that Manny had smacked him on the buttocks with a plastic scimitar.
“I did not do that!” Manny protested.
“I saw you do it,” squealed the 8-year-old.
“Tattletale!” said Manny. And he lunged, guffawing and exhaling clouds of alcohol, at the boys, who squealed merrily and escaped. They thought it was a lot of good fun, actually. Fortunately.
I did something I never do on a weekday. I begged my boys to quietly watch television, while I furiously texted my husband.
Next chapter: Manny goes into the city, and vanishes from the radar.
Postscript: The kitchen rodent has now been heard in the second-floor ceiling.