Is There a Doctor in the House?

In 1976, I received a telephone call in reply to a work-wanted ad I’d placed in the Fresno Bee. In the ad, I had stated I was one heck of a gardener and cook, and would gladly come to the rescue of anyone needing same. The man on the line, one Doctor
So-and-So, said he and his wife were about to finish remodeling their house and wanted to put in a new landscape. I paid them a visit. There was a lot of work to do. We shook hands on one hundred twenty-five dollars a week, a sum the doctor said I would receive in cash every Friday.

From the moment we met, I knew the doctor was a slime-ball, and that he and his wife were somewhat less than in love. I helped put in their new landscape and clean up their remodeling mess. Every Friday, the good doctor weaseled up to me, handed me a plain white envelope, and said, “Here are your dollars.” He took great pleasure in uttering those words. He thought he owned me.

He also thought he owned his wife. It’s possible, of course, she had allowed herself to be owned, and that the only thing she really cared about was having plenty of money to spend. Whatever the case may have been, when I was still needed inside the house to clean up the remodeling debris and to scrape paint from the windows with a razor blade, I noticed a stack of Playboy magazines beside the bed in the couple’s newly enlarged master suite. Suite was the doctor’s word, not mine. To me, the place looked like a crass, oversized bedroom with disco overtones.

Seeing those magazines on the doctor’s night stand further confirmed my opinion of him. Call me old-fashioned, but I don’t think a woman should have to see pornography piled up at her husband’s bedside, even if he says the articles are fascinating, and even if he is a wealthy gynecologist who owns a cream-colored Mercedes-Benz.

I worked there for several weeks. The grounds were large. Beyond the new official landscape, there were a couple of acres of grass to mow, fence posts to paint, bushes and trees to trim, and an occasional pile of brush to burn. I was raking leaves near the house one hot morning when the wife emerged from the garage, armed with a suspicious looking envelope. Without preamble, she said, “These are your walking papers.” Before I could reply, she added that the envelope contained my pay for the days I had worked that week, plus whatever I had coming for that morning. She handed me the envelope and turned to go.

When I asked her for an explanation, she replied in a rambling, sheepish paragraph that although they were happy with my work, she and her husband had decided it was time for “someone else” to take over the gardening duties. About this time, just as if we were in a television show, a man in his seventies happened to walk around the corner of the house. He was surprised to find us there. He was holding a broom. It was the woman’s father, come to replace me now that I had whipped things into shape.

The doctor’s wife was thoroughly embarrassed. It probably wasn’t necessary, but I felt sorry for her. I had been hired by her husband and had always been paid by him, but now he was having her do the dirty work of letting me go.

Her father disappeared behind the house. Since someone needed to say something, I said the first logical thing that came to my mind: “I’m sorry your husband made you do this instead of facing me himself.”

Just then, the man in question walked out of the garage and found us standing there. This confused him, because he obviously thought he had waited long enough for me to be gone. I looked him directly in the eye, at the same time memorizing his pale, corrupt form. Then I thanked his wife for my pay, and walked away.

A year or so later, I heard the doctor had been implicated in an embezzling scheme, and that he had left his wife and fled the country. I assume he took his magazines with him, but one never knows.

September 30, 2005

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