Factotum: A lackey, person who does a variety of jobs, a servant.
Today’s word reminded me of when I first moved to Oklahoma and I was looking for a job. I knew I didn’t want to teach high school anymore (largely because our community doesn’t pay high school teachers enough to keep a goldfish alive) but I wasn’t sure what I wanted to do. So lo and behold, one day on Craigslist (I know, I know, that's like looking for a job in Serial Killer Monthly but I couldn't help myself) I found an ad for cleaning and care of small dogs.
Hey, I thought, I love animals...perhaps dog grooming is just the career change I'm looking for.
Then I met the woman who posted the ad and I thought “Hey, it’s Miss Havisham!”
Because not only did this poor pumpkin LOOK like the crazy old lady from Great Expectations, she was every bit as nutty. I mean, no, she wasn’t wandering around in her wedding dress plotting revenge but she was definitely a few degrees right of center.
A situation not helped by the fact that she left two very important words out of the job description: “up after.” The job involved cleaning UP AFTER small dogs. 15 small Yorkies, Chihuahuas, and Bichon Frises that roamed freely in this old office building that Miss Havisham had inherited from her mom.
“Well, kind of inherited” she said when we met at a local coffee shop for what I thought was going to be a job interview. “Except my mother isn’t dead. But she has Alzheimer’s so the building is basically mine. And I also own the building behind it, the old jail. That’s where I live, in the old jail. It’s so interesting!”
“It sounds lovely,” I said sarcastically.
But she didn’t hear me because she was busy telling me about the cancer that she’s pretty sure she’s had for ten years or so that she’s managed to keep in check with Vitamin C—then she interrupted herself and said “Wow, are you dressed nicely to clean up after dogs!”
Which is when I expressed my own confusion about those two rather critical words “up after.”
“Well, cleaning the building,” she explained. “I inherited it” she reminded me and launched into the whole story again. “Anyway, the city lets me sell my dogs out of it, isn’t that nice?”
It would have been nice if it had been a PET STORE but it wasn’t. It was an office building and these little dogs run around there all day and night.
How do I know about the inside of the building?
Because I am a complete sucker for slightly broken people who are in clear need of help and when I told Miss Havisham I wasn’t interested in a POOP SCOOPING CAREER, she actually started to cry.
“I just don’t know what to do,” she said. “I need help with these dogs!”
And somehow—probably to stop her tears AND to check on the physical condition of the dogs in question and IN SPITE OF THE FACT THAT I WAS WEARING MY GOOD SUEDE BOOTS—I heard myself agreeing to at least help her THAT day. And we went down to the office building and I spent 2 hours shuffling around trying to clean up while keeping my boots feces free.
(It is interesting to note that, when I was relating the story to Opie, this was the exact moment when he began surreptitiously looking around to see how many puppies I had snuck home.)
On the bright side, the place didn’t smell nearly as bad as I was imagining (though it didn’t smell GOOD) and the dogs were super cute and obviously happy and reasonably well cared for (why wouldn’t they be happy, they had the run of the whole building, the gated courtyard behind it, and, of course, the old jail!)
On a not so bright side, at some point Miss Havisham wandered away and the “helping” became a solo endeavor and when I went out into the courtyard to find her, the door locked behind me…and all the gates and doors out of the little courtyard were also locked so I was basically trapped between the building and the old jail.
And, because I'd been watching too much American Horror Story at the time, I immediately began imagining some rubbersuit wearing freak jumping out of the bushes with murder on his mind...I even had a plan in case that happened: I was going to dial 911 on my phone (let's be honest, I had 9 and 1 already dialed), then throw it over the fence and scream my location over and over...and just pray the 911 operator understood "Behind the old jail!" as a location.
Luckily, Miss Havisham shuffled out a few moments later and said “Ohh was that locked?” And I managed to escape with my life.
And yes, fellow animal lovers, I have made several surreptitious trips back to check on the condition of the dogs and have placed a few discreet phone calls to animal control…
But thus ended my career as a factotum.