The Big Pants: part four
Paul Messerman, sharing Perry’s bench and busy with his Chromebook, seemed to take the smile as an invitation.
“Hey, Perry, you okay for a while?”
“Listen, if you got stuff to do…” Perry turned up the palm of one hand.
No, he could’ve gone either direction. Debbie had started coming by daily. Jason had not come once…and this was easier, no doubt, on both of them. At the end of the month, she’d told him about Toby Messerman. She’d been emailing back and forth with Gerda.
“You have to look at their website. They have so much good stuff. And you don’t have to fly, Perry…it’s a few miles from Sonoma.”
Yeah, life…it’s all stuff, Perry told himself. The Messermans had bagged a big one. They were charitable. Out of a five hundred pounder’s before and afters, they would get great publicity value. He felt cynical about it—what was seven days? But he would be the soul of loyalty if they succeeded; happy, at length having dropped three hundred pounds by the Messerman Method, to let them “use his image”.
“Luisa, you said…”
Jackie froze here, and Luisa, without much to go on for answering, smiled instead and gave a prompting nod.
“You said you lived in a camper.”
“Well, we do. It’s funny.”
She’d been going to explain this, how it was funny, but Jackie had then rushed on. “But, I mean…I’m sorry…it’s kind of expensive, this place, I mean, isn’t it?”
Luisa meant, yes, it is expensive; but no, don’t be so anxious. The question had not offended her. No, she told Jackie, she had paid the full price. She’d used her own money. If the Messermans gave discounts to needy cases—they might—Luisa had not asked, and didn’t know.
They’d all gone from picking vegetables to gathering eggs. The chickens also roamed under wire mesh. They had a coop in which to roost, a generous yard, unmown “mixed herbaceous groundcover” in which to forage for insects.
“Healthy chickens…healthy meat and eggs. More than that. You may laugh, if I tell you that a chicken has an intelligence, and that, she, being like any of us, unfulfilled, unchallenged, bored, stressed by the conflict between her ancestral urges and her daily imprisoning limitations…our chicken’s gut will digest poorly, her hormonal state chemically will be one of crisis. This will not feed us well.”
Toby also had told them they would find the work peaceful, inside the Faraday cage, and that it was—unpressured humans interacting with quiet-minded chickens, both species content and purpose-oriented—a beautiful thing.
“Eggs,” he’d said, holding one up. “And very small portions of meat. Never red.”
Yes, it was a beautiful thing. Toby Messerman was a genius; Luisa had known it when she’d first heard him on the radio.
There was a woman named Belinda, who complained. She called their quarters a barracks. “If they’d asked another thousand or so, for a private room…they have private rooms.” And having distracted herself, sharing this, Belinda then finished: “This boot camp stuff is just an exercise.”
“But,” Jackie said. The lights were out. The Messermans, opposed to every sort of interference with nature, did not flank their compound with security lighting. The dormitory was not pitch dark. Jackie remarked on this; Luisa had expected it. Now and again, to keep from being fined—or, disastrously, their home impounded—Leon had to move their camper well outside the city.
In an uncertain voice, Jackie probed on, tackling Belinda’s finances as she had Luisa’s. “I guess…maybe…if you could afford a private room…”
No one spoke. “But Gerda said it’s important for us to have our routines shaken up…” Jackie mumbled something further, having taken this second abortive tack, about snacking habits. Belinda continued single-minded.
“They locked up our phones! We’re only allowed to make calls from the office! I mean, you don’t call that boot camp? I’m never going to sleep. I wish I could at least check my mail.”
“Oh, shut up,” someone else said.
Luisa then told her thoughts over to herself. She’d been waiting to give Jackie the rest of her answer…about the funny ways of circumstance. Her own job was full-time—and permanent, for what that meant. Her daughter sometimes also, as a casual, worked at Pacifica Terrace. Because of the children, Manuela could not be on call at all times, and got from her supervisor a number of sly put-downs, to make her feel bad for not taking midnights and holidays.
“Don’t accept it,” Luisa told her daughter.
Even Leon would come on as a housekeeper, when it was not the wildfire season. There was always cleaning to be done in a nursing home.
Leon got insurance for those times he was cutting brush; the rest of the time, he could not—the children and her daughter needing added to her own…and that was a lot of money taken from her paycheck. Luisa got a little above seventeen hundred a month, take-home, and tried to put, of this, at least four hundred into savings.
(2017, Stephanie Foster)