Turns out, the way Bob got involved was his attorney’s secretary, Carla at Herring & Sutch L.P., called and asked if he wanted to volunteer for a worthy cause.
Caught off guard, he said, “Sure, why not?”
And could he bring a few workers with him? At which request he finally had the presence of mind to ask, “What’s this for, exactly?”
“You can do a good deed by helping us help others,” Carla said cheerfully. “The organization is called Season of Sharing in September.”
“So it’s three months from now?”
“Actually, no. It’s next weekend.”
“But you said September.”
“I know, that’s something of an anomaly, but it’s in mid June. I think they did that on purpose. Anyway, we joined last year and we’ve worked on three houses so far. Our core group meets at a bar in the SOMA and we came up with this great idea to offer our labor for free. You know, volunteers. Sort of like one big happy family. We just need a leader and a means of finding the beneficiaries. That’s where Season of Sharing comes in. They work with churches and senior centers to find and assign the needy with a contractor and a team. September supplies the materials from donations. We thought of you when they asked for a team leader.”
For whatever reason, the proposal struck Bob the right way and he agreed to be the contractor slash team leader. Next morning at a job site, he asked his crew of six if any would like to join him. It would be for two days, Saturday and Sunday, and they would not get paid.
Like a faithful yet dubious sidekick, only Leon said yes. Reluctantly.
The property was on Winding Way, a nice neighborhood perched on the southern edge of San Francisco with views of the East Bay. On a clear day you could see downtown and the Pyramid. Neighbors kept up their property. These people didn’t.
“That’s gotta be the place,” Leon said as they rounded a bend and the most unsightly building on the block stabbed them with its gross vulgarity. The front yard was unkempt and had gone to seed. The lawn had not been mown in years, trees overhung the drive and were left to branch and die off which made it impossible for Bob’s truck to get in the otherwise spacious driveway. It did appear the lowest hanging branches had been trimmed so that a private car might slide into the garage without scraping the paint.
Bob parked several doors away because the closest street spaces were already taken.
A handful of people milled out front trampling the lawn, some with to-go coffee containers steaming in their hands. One approached waving a cigarette, said hello, I’m Carla, you must be Bob. A brief introduction followed in which Carla shook hands with Bob and Leon who were the only ones wearing paint spattered work clothes. She explained it was she who talked to him on the phone and was coordinator for the day, Bob would be the leader of all the work crews.
“We have plenty of supplies donated by a big box store. Paint, ladders, drop cloths. That sort of thing.” Carla inhaled long and hard. Exhaling, she pointed at a round pink bandage on her left arm and said, “Nicotine patch. Trying to quit. I call it the trans-dermal railway.”
She suggested they go inside and led the way up three steps. As they approached the open front door, they heard “Arf, arf, arf.”
Ever vigilant of the unpredictable nature of an unknown canine, Bob asked, “Where’s the dog?”
“There isn’t one,” Carla chuckled and added, “Dog died 30 years ago. That’s a parrot, Pirate the Parrot.”
Pirate sat on a wood perch in the living room and barked again. His droppings more than covered the newspapers spread at the base of his stand.
“He eats mangos from the tree out back.” Carla retraced her steps to the front porch, crushed her cigarette underfoot, picked the butt up and carried it with her to find a suitable disposal site.
A woman sat on a lounge chair in front of a television in one corner of the living room. Carla waved, said “High Misses Spicer,” and walked on. The TV was silent and there was no picture. Sotto voice, Carla told Bob, “That’s Shelly Spicer. It’s her house. She won the church lottery, so she has the benefit of our services this weekend.”
The woman never turned her head, but said, “How long ya goin’ be? I cain’t watch muh tee vee judge shows.”
“Electric’s off while Ronnie replaces some wires in the basement,” Carla told Bob with an all encompassing arm gesture.
Shelly sat in the living room chair expectant. The television was turned at a 30 degree angle to give workers access to the rain ruined wall behind it.
“You realize that means the roof leaks?” Bob said. “Anything we do will be destroyed next winter.”
“I’ve been assured the roof was replaced last month. Shelly won that too.”
Equally sotto voice, Bob said, “You don’t think these lotteries are rigged, do you?”
Bob recently went with his wife to price a new television. The 80 inch flat screen in front of which Mrs. Spicer sat was the latest, biggest and most expensive of any brand.
Carla said, “I don’t know. She won the television too, but from a different church.”
Bob turned to Carla. “You said the electricity is off while someone’s working on it. Anyone pull a permit?”