All God's Creatures
Perils of a Curb Painter >> by Sean Bonniwell
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Copyright © 2012 Uncle Helmet's Music, LLC. All Rights Reserved.
It was 9:00 P.M. But my day had commenced at dawn — distributing flyers portraying a smiling goon with a paint brush in his hand, announcing that "he" would be back to collect a donation for painting your address where dogs could pee on it. By law, the flyer had to be taped to the mailbox. This necessitated dodging cars backing out of driveways, and watchdogs forming in packs. While jumping fences and cutting through hedges in an upper-middle-class neighborhood at the crack of dawn is a feat of marathon proportions, being chased looks decidedly criminal.
It was not uncommon to be stalked by expensive breeds; the rich allow their dogs to range wide in the hope they'll find the neighbor's lawn a more enticing designation for configuring piles of dung, and I was often chased by yelping hounds defending established depositories. Territorial barking alerts the early residential quiet that an "intruder" has been cornered and treed. Mothers peek out from doors, or stare from kitchen windows. A little girl, on her way to school, saw that I was trapped in the fork of a tree — with the curb-painting equipment scattered on the street in front of her house — and said under her breath just loud enough for me to hear as she strolled away, "GOOD."
When all the notification flyers have been distributed, it's time to go back and paint the house number on the curbs, so, by 10:00 A.M., I'm squatting, bending, and spray-painting as fast as I can. (The speed was prompted by a profit motive, but in truth I was revisiting the same locations I had narrowly escaped from earlier). It was back-breaking, leg-aching work, but the real challenge was collecting the "donations," beginning around 6:00 P.M. — when the head of the household was sure to be home. Having just returned from a day at the office, he (and sometimes she) was overjoyed to be interrupted at dinner time and asked to pay for a service that wasn't necessary or authorized, as it was required by no one in particular. After painting curbs for nine hours, facing irate people is no easy task, but I became the essence of polite diplomacy, collecting money in spite of what names I was called, or what they tried to do to escape. I had to pluck and gather fast, because the boss worked only as a "collector," and kept all the donations that were mine! In addition, I had to split my collections with him 50-50. It was capitalism spelled cannibalism. Was this guy a music publisher? Of all the curb-painters working I was the most successful collector, averaging about a hundred bucks a day. Not too bad for providing a service nobody needed.
So, here it was, almost 9:00 P.M. I had just come from the house of two gays. They delayed me for over an hour with their indecision and appraisals, and even drove down their street with the headlights on to assess the visibility of the new curbside address. In the end(so to speak), they gave me three bucks and a pinch on the ass. (I saw it coming, but couldn't elude it.)
The next house featured a very careful Japanese man, who deliberated, considered, and debated principles of free trade as he struggled to arrive at gracious compensation. Forty-five minutes later he gave me a dollar, but did so with so much agonizing reluctance, I gave it back to him. He took it, but remained troubled.
It was late and I was exhausted, but the boss was nowhere in sight and every house I could beat him to meant more money in my pocket: The door was opened by a huge, hairy, naked man, who shoved the flyer in my face and then slammed the door shut! Scribbled on the back of the flyer was a very obscene suggestion — detailing where I could put it! I skipped the next two houses, no lights were on. As I walked up to the dilapidated porch of a rather sinister-looking abode, it occurred to me that this too might be a waste of time. I rang the doorbell, waited, rang again, waited, and was just about to leave when I heard a granny voice say, "Just a minute." I stood there, listened, knocked, waited, and started to leave again: "Just a minute." I hesitated, then walked back up to the door... it was very quiet. Suddenly the door opened and animal noises filled the air! — cat screeching, dog howling, bird calls?? In a heartbeat a clowder of cats bolted about my feet and between my legs! My natural reflex was to cover my head with my arms while leaning to the side on one foot, but I lost my balance and tumbled to the porch in the midst of what can only be described as a terror-stricken stampede! Sprawled out on my back, I looked up in horror as a regiment of dogs descended on me! The howling-yelping pack hurdled over my body after the cats, and right behind and above them a rampage of birds on the wing fled as if from fire!! Macaws, canaries, cockatoos, and one huge, green parrot — a fluttering feathered melee — fleeing their captor's monotonous detention!? Any ex-rock 'n' roller — toppled on his rear with bird droppings on his head — would wonder if there wasn't a better way to make a buck! Still hunkered on the porch, I watched as the departing swarm made their getaway into the night. As I got to my feet, I was satisfied that such a cacophony of creatures was too alien for residential sanity. The open door to the house was now empty of life, but the silence and eerie darkness beyond was robbed of its sinister gloom by the granny voice. It was slightly subdued but still cheery when I heard, "Just a minute..."