The Big Pants (part four)
Yet the call hadn’t been, as the armchair psychologist would have it, a cry for help. He was asking Debbie to advise him on a decision. What you would want with anything that might have consequences you hadn’t thought of—
Fresh eyes. If his sister had told him, “Never mind ibuprofen. I’ve got something better…”
Paul Messerman, sharing Perry’s bench and busy with his Chromebook, took the smile as an invitation.
“Hey, you okay for a while?”
Perry turned up the palm of a hand. “Listen, if you’ve got stuff to do…”
No, he could’ve gone either direction. Debbie had started coming by daily. Jason had not come…and this was easier all around. At the end of a month, Deb had told him about Toby Messerman. She was emailing back and forth with Gerda.
“You have to look at their website. They have so much stuff. And you won’t need to fly…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 on price. A five hundred pounder’s before-and-afters should give great publicity value. He felt cynical about this…what was seven days? But he would be the soul of loyalty if they succeeded; delighted, if at length dropping three hundred pounds by the Messerman Method, to let Toby and Gerda use his image.
“Luisa, you said…”
Jackie froze, and Luisa, without much to go on, smiled and gave a prompting nod.
“You said you live in a camper.”
“Well, we do. It’s funny.”
She was going to explain this, how it was funny, but Jackie rushed on. “But, I mean…I’m sorry…it’s kind of expensive, this place. Isn’t it?”
Luisa meant, yes, it is expensive; but no, don’t be so anxious. The question did not offend her. No, she told Jackie, she had paid the full price. She had used her own money. If the Messermans gave discounts to needy cases—they might—Luisa had not asked, and couldn’t say.
They were all gone from picking vegetables to gathering eggs. The chickens roamed too under wire mesh, with a coop for roosting, a generous yard, and 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, like any of us, unfulfilled, unchallenged, bored, stressed by the conflict between her ancestral urges and her 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 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 from the first, when she’d 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… This boot camp crap is just an exercise.”
“But,” Jackie said.
“But I signed up for it? Fuck that.”
The lights were out. The Messermans, opposed to every sort of interference with nature, did not flank their compound with security lighting. Yet the dormitory was not pitch… Jackie remarked on this. Luisa had expected it. Now and again, to keep from being fined, or, disastrously, having their home impounded, Leon would 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, after a second abortive tack, on 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’ll never fall asleep. I wish I could at least check my mail.”
“Oh, shut up,” someone else said.
Luisa then told her thoughts over to herself. She was waiting to give Jackie the rest of her answer…about the funny ways of circumstance. Her job was full-time, and permanent, for what that meant. Her daughter 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.
The Big Pants
(2017, Stephanie Foster)