“Can you start this Monday?”, the kindly gentleman inquired.
“Sure!” came the reply.
“OK, we’ll start you off at $850 a month,” he concluded with a twinkle in his eye.
“Great — I’ll see you then.”
I left the smoky office of the Credit Bureau of Mountain View with a bounce in my step. Finally, I had the means to leave home — for good this time. An earlier attempt had been made, nearly two years ago, with disastrous consequences. This time, it’s going to be different; I can feel it.
I started this new job as a Credit Reporter, a fancy term for an office job in which I would be pulling financial reports for bill collectors, landlords, and private investigators. My meager compensation would allow only the bare necessities of life. But at least it would distance me from my parents and the strain in our relationship that had developed over the past two years.
I bounded through the front door of our ranch-style house and found Mom in the family room.
“I got the job!”, I said, triumphantly.
“That’s great news, Chipper!”, came the reply. “When do you start?”
“Now you need to find a place to live,” she added, mirthfully.
“I know. I’ll start looking this afternoon.”
Surprisingly, it didn’t take long. It was a narrow room, built over a sloping driveway, with a tiny kitchenette, twin bed, night stand, and round dining table. I would be sharing a bathroom with one other person, who happened to be the landlady’s son. At only $375 a month, it was just right for my budget. But first, I had to agree to abide by the rules of the house. No parties. No smoking. No loud noises after 8:00 pm. No overnight guests. No problem, I thought. I’ll take it.
The landlady, who always wore a nightgown, couldn’t have been more eccentric if she tried. She was quite fond of quoting scripture and the power of divine intervention to cure ailments deemed incurable by modern science. She had explained that there were other tenants, all men, who had either been separated from their employment — or from their wives. She never left the house. None of this mattered to me. I had a place of my own again.
And now it was Monday. April 15, 1985. Tax return day and my first day on the new job. I was ushered into the long, dingy office with cubicles on the right side and a smattering of desks and filing cabinets on the left. My “section” was an enclosure to the left of the small lobby where I had interviewed with the proprietor, named Mr. Faunce. He was a very distinguished-looking older gentleman. He had a way with words and eyes that danced, but he could also be much more, as I would later find out. I met the in-house bill collectors, all women, all tough as nails — except for one, who had started the same day. Her name was Deborah Correia. She was warm, friendly, and about five years my senior. She adopted me as though I was her younger brother, and called me “Toddy.”
Within a week, I had completed my training and had packed my meager belongings into my Racing Green, 1977 Ford Pinto. Waving goodbye to my parents, I made the one mile trip to the rented room above the driveway of the house owned by the eccentric old lady.
The next eight months were tough. I was surviving a bare existence with little food, endless solitude, and the few diversions that money would allow. Going to the movies was a blessing, especially after a hard day at work, hearing bill collectors fight with people in debt, fight with each other, and fight with me. I guess I was an easy target, but man, these were vicious women. When things would get dreadful in the office, Deborah would step in and get in their faces. I was too afraid to do that, fearing bodily damage — or a lawsuit. After these nasty episodes, Deborah would spend time with me trying to pick up the pieces, just as a big sister would do for a little brother. She was uplifting, assertive, and sometimes a little bossy herself, but always felt better when I was with her.
Within a month of moving in, a bigger room became available, and I took it. The “driveway room” was starting to get on my nerves. Sharing a bathroom just wasn’t cutting it. The “bathroom” in the new place consisted of a toilet and a shower. There was only one sink, which resided in the kitchenette on top of the mini fridge. A sliding glass door looked out into the garden. Much better view, I thought to myself. Even better was the arrival of my friend, Alex, who was home from college. He had introduced me to Mary Jane the year before. What a surprise that had been! And now, he came to my little place with a gift of more, enclosed in a small decorative box, bound with Scotch tape. We talked, we smoked, and then he was gone. Silence. Solitude.
Just before the office holiday party that year, I came up with a brilliant plan. “Deb, let’s find a place, together.” She searched my expression for the requisite level of sincerity — and found it. Smiling, she said, “Toddy! I think that’s a great idea, but we can’t sleep in the same room.” Obviously not, I thought. “Oh, no, never! We’ll share a two bedroom apartment and split expenses down the middle.” This arrangement was instantly accepted, and soon we found a place in Mountain View, just a short walk from the office. It was a large apartment complex consisting mostly of four-unit buildings with two apartments below and two above. We were ushered into the lower level unit on the right and took note of the large living room with dining room and kitchen. There was a sliding glass door on the right that led to a patio that ran the length of the living room and dining room. “Is this it? ” Deborah asked quietly. “No, the bedrooms are off the hall beyond the door,” I assured her, after having memorized the floor plan. Relieved, she said, “Let’s take a look!” We were really going to do it, and soon enough I would be out of the weird, little place.
The next year would bring revelry, debauchery, conflict, drama, and much soul-searching for both of us. It was as if we were starring in our very own soap opera, not knowing what plot twists would surface during the next episode.