From what they tell me, most non-writers think writers spend their days sitting in a calm, quiet room where they twiddle their pen when they aren’t tapping on their keyboard or staring thoughtfully into distant corners.
My reality isn’t that calm or quiet. In fact, instead of writing the Great American Novel, I spend most of my time dealing with the blown fuses, nonfunctioning furnace and real-life stories of the other inhabitants of the 101-year-old office building in which I try to write.
The other renters of the Hallmark Building include Dani, owner of Black Sheep Salon; Matt, Christopher, Igor and their team of other artists at TigerLily Tattoo; and Katie, owner of Hollywood Lux Boutique, the downstairs shop that specializes in antique, used and vintage household items. Ron, the mild-mannered landlord, can usually be found a few blocks down the street at The Hobby Smith (“Your Source for Model Trains”), which he also owns.
Over the years, the Hallmark has housed everything from a jewelry store and insurance office to a medical marijuana distribution center and a one-room office where a woman sold baby portraits over the phone.
Anyway, one day last month, coffee cup in hand, I took the few steps from my office to Black Sheep across the hall so Dani could do her magic on my hair. When I walked in, Dani was sitting in the hair dryer chair, typing into her phone.
“Just a minute,” she said. “I have a long email to write and want to get it just right.”
I nodded, set my coffee cup on the counter and took a minute to look out the window with its view of the power station, also known as Poo Corner because that’s where dog owners takes their dogs to poop. After donning a black wrap, I took a seat in front of the mirror.
One thing I like about Dani’s salon, in addition to our talks about the latest events in the building, is that it’s a one-chair salon, which means when I get my hair done, Dani and I have the space to ourselves.
“I had to be careful,” Dani said that day, after setting down her phone and walking over to me.
Turns out, the email she was so carefully crafting was not only going to her mother-in-law, a ticklish-enough business, but addressed the topic of childcare. Dani is a multi-tasking mother with two jobs and a part-time nanny. She and her husband recently bought a discount grocery store, just about the time she gave birth to their daughter Sloane, now seven months old.
“I had to get the details and the tone of voice right,” Dani explained, while checking out my hair.
Even for non-writers, life involves writing, a search for the right word, a subtle touch or gentle approach. Over the next few minutes, Dani explained how her mother-in-law would offer to help with childcare, only to cancel at the last minute.
“Undependable childcare is worse than no childcare at all,” I said, remembering the days.
A month later, I was once again sitting inside Black Sheep when Dani said, “My nanny quit.”
“What!?” I said, giving Dani a poke.
When Dani was pregnant she’d planned months ahead to make sure she had a nanny. She eventually found a 48-year-old woman, with grown children of her own, who lived in nearby Vancouver, Washington. Things started out okay, but, as Dani explained while cutting my hair, the woman eventually revealed she was afraid of Portland and didn’t like Dani’s two dogs. Then the nanny’s excuses began. Her phone calls started with “I have a doctor’s appointment” and “I don’t feel well” and led up to “I’m getting migraines and can’t sleep” and “I have an appointment with a neurologist” before culminating with “I think I have a brain tumor.”
“Brain tumor?!” I shouted.
Dani and I looked at each other for a minute before bursting into laughter.
“She must have felt bad quitting, to come up with that,” I said.
“Yes,” Dani said. “She felt horrible. She felt like she let us down and she loves us.”
Still, it was funny, so we laughed even more. At which point Dani said
“There’s another story,” Dani said. “Do you want to hear it?”
Just the other day, Dani said, the nanny asked her “Do you want my 20-year-old daughter to fill in until she moves to Italy?”
“Italy?!” I asked.
We laughed even harder about the bizarre nature of her trying to find dependable daycare. At that very moment, Dani then said, the ex-nanny’s daughter was “sitting in my living room watching TV while pretending she’s taking care of my child.”
So much for reasonable childcare. So much for the Hallmark being a place where I get away from everything in order to write. The next morning I checked my email and found that Dani had send me a link to a YouTube video called “It’s Not a Tumor.” https://youtu.be/Tb5IZ8Mni3I