What is story? It's easy to get too compartmentalized with regards to story, like saying that books and movies are different from journalism and different from what happens when you come home from work and tell your spouse about your day. These are all stories, my friends, and the best and most interesting stories are ones in which unexpected things happen.
I housesit a lot, which suits me because I don't mind getting paid to read and work at someone else's house. Yes, there's more to it than that like watering plants, walking dogs, and the like, but it's just a lifestyle change for a temporary amount of time. I used to say that it was easy money.
Because things happen when I housesit, and I guess looking back, weird things have always happened to me while housesitting. There was the time that the fire alarm beeped due to low battery which freaked out the little dogs resulting in one pooping all over the bed and the other running through it. Yeah, that was fun. And then there was the time when I took the trash out on a summer night and the door locked behind me so I had to traverse barefoot around the woods to get through the back door which I knew I had left unlocked. And then there was the snowy night when at 9pm someone was repeatedly ringing the doorbell. In the past, however, these have been just funny stories that I share around a campfire.
But why do we read books? And what's the difference in reading a book around the campfire as opposed to telling stories around the campfire?
I'm currently housesitting for Hairy Houdini. Yes, this dog waits until I'm not home to find the one place in the fence where he can somehow sneak through. On day one of my stay, the neighbor called because he'd gotten out so I had done as much fence repair as I could. Aside from pooping in the house, the rest of the stay has gone on uneventfully. Yesterday I was home all day, had a bit of a book-hangover as I'd stayed up until about 1am finishing Rebecca by Daphne du Maurier, and I started The Road by Cormac McCarthy after writing a few articles and grading for my online class. I thought the most unpleasant the day got was when I stepped in one of the yard's land mines, but then the next door neighbor got home and told me about Hairy Houdini getting out. After some conversation, I discerned that he's still been getting out, but she's been putting him back in the yard. We both mended the fence after some trouble-shooting, and then I went to dinner. In the hour and a half I was gone, Houdini got out of the yard 4 times. Yeah, um, I've since placed a long two-by-four in that gap so that he doesn't keep jumping that corner of the fence. We'll see if it works.
But this isn't nearly as interesting of a story as two weeks ago when I was housesitting for a different family and the neighbors called the cops on me. Evidently dogs don't like when the fire alarm beeps due to low battery. I've already mentioned what ensued a few years ago when it happened, but this time I awoke to find the dogs sleeping outside without even entertaining the thought of going inside for breakfast. I only had a little bit of time before church started, so I ran outside, found a latter that was, of course, covered in spiderwebs and since it's early still, the spiders were moving along nicely on those webs killing and eating moths, etc. Gross. So I found a broom, brushed them off, carried the ladder inside the house aaaaaaaand it wasn't tall enough. Of course. So I took the ladder back outside (the spiderwebs were all re-built by mid afternoon), and tried to think of another option that didn't involve calling the homeowner's brother at 7:30 in the morning. Then I remembered that there was a sliding ladder alongside the other side of the house. I evicted the spiders again, and then realized that the ladder was too long to weed through the narrow hallways of the house to get to the master bedroom. Ta-da: I removed the window screen and led it through the window. This is when the neighbors called the police, because it's not natural for a stranger in a polka-dotted dress to be leading a ladder through a window at 7:45 on Sunday morning. After a dangerous climb and replacing a battery that was so far out of my reach that I couldn't even look at it as I did it, I accomplished the goal, replaced the screen and the ladder, and rushed off to be late for church, passing the police cars on my way out of the neighborhood. It wasn't until later that I realized that 1) I could have called the fire department to change it for me, or 2) that there was a curtained screen door around the corner in the master bedroom, so I could have gone through the screen door instead of removing the window screen. Oh, well.
Maybe I've told these stories too many times by now, but isn't that indicative of a good story? The details, now, have been gone over so many times that I won't forget them. It's told in the traditions of The Iliad or The Odyssey, verbal and with memory, not altogether different from written versions of those same stories. And here these housesitting stories are now written down, too.
Kristen Kauffman, housesitter
Average duties: walking and feeding dogs, watering plants, running out garbage barrels, checking the mail, and doing the dishes and the laundry at end of stay.
Additional duties: Washing floors and furniture that have been pooped or barfed on, picking up pieces of lamps that have been chewed, mending fences, fixing fire alarms, fixing windows, transporting animals from neighbor's house down the block back to home, calling the Humane Society, receiving calls from Animal Control and the Police Department, and escorting uninvited crazy neighbors from inside the house.
Will charge extra for: items been chewed beyond repair such as phone cords and shoes.