I have been thinking about Rod, the man for whom I was house and
dog sitting the past few weeks. How the external glamour
of his life doesn't convey how empty his life really is.
This is a man who lives in Venice Beach, in a beautiful and affordable
home that he bought twenty years ago. Before movies stars
like Julia Roberts, Mira Sorvino and Owen Wilson—to name but
a few—moved into the area.
He used to direct rock videos and now travels on a regular basis
to places like Tahiti, Cancun and Indonesia to shoot for international
scuba magazines and leads photo classes and expeditions.
My sister was in love with him on paper. Well, the idea of him.
The reality of some essential aspects of his life showed
a very different kind of guy. And one who is hardly
appealing for friendship or romance.
The signs were all there. They always are, if we pay attention.
There are no spices in his kitchen.
No personal mail.
And a single personal call in five weeks.
He knows and trusts none of his neighbors and could only think
of two people who live two hours away to help with his dog in an
emergency: a couple he met scuba diving who live in San Clemente.
I have puzzled over this. How could his life be so emotionally
barren in the midst of such riches? I got my answer when
he came home on Sunday.
I got to the airport early to meet his plane and brought the dog
as a surprise. Airport security made me use paid parking. We
waited for an hour and a half. He was thrilled to see the dog,
gave me a perfunctory hello and chastised me for not waiting with
the car in some place he had loosely mentioned so that I would
not have to pay to park. I said I hadn't been clear about where
that was and that I was happy to pay for the parking.
He yelled at the ticket attendants on the way out because several
were standing around, probably during a shift change or break.
He criticized my driving on the way home. Although he had told
me not to give Angie a bath in his absence, he said she was
dirty. I agreed and added that she had had a very good
time at the dog park the day before, running and playing with the
other dogs. That it had been a special treat.
When we got to his place, he found some lint or something along
the edge of the wall and clearly was inspecting my handiwork.
I offered to make dinner out of what I had in the refrigerator.
He accepted and then said the pasta I made was too dry.
I was determined not to lose my cool so I went for a walk to get
coffee. When I got back, he asked if I wanted to see the slide
show of some of the images he had just shot in Indonesia. This
seemed like an improvement over our previous interactions so I
said, yes. He watched over my shoulder.
Then he went back to working in his office, so I watched some television
while sorting through papers. As he was walking through
the room, he said, why do you have the lights on if you are watching
And on and on and on. The only commentary he had was negative or
critical. It was unnerving.
The most telling moment that night was when he said he was tired
and ready to go to bed. He called to Angie who was happily
snuggled in her kennel under the stairs. She did not want
to come out. He got down on the floor and tried to cajole
her but she seemed content where she was. So he pulled her
by the ears against her will and made her come and sleep with him
in the study.
I know a woman who loves any stray dog much more than she loves
of 50+ years. That must feel pretty cruddy for him.)
next morning, after I got back from my morning walk, I found
him scrubbing the kitchen counters. The same counters
scrubbed the day before. And this, despite the fact that
he had a professional housekeeping team coming in a few days.
He said, “I gotta tell you, Joan, this is not my idea
I apologized and said that I guessed that people had different
styles of doing things and that while I may not be the world's
best housekeeper, I had taken excellent care of his dog.
On the way to the airport, we somehow found up talking about
women. I know he thinks women aren't interested in him because
he is short and middle aged and not rich. But that is so
clearly not the reason. And though I tend to be a fixer,
I resisted my tendency to want to help him solve the mess of
his life and the unhappiness in which he lives.
I reminded myself that no matter what human element I tried to
infuse into our interactions, it had been a business arrangement.
He had lent me the house in which I could write, in exchange
of his dog and tending to the mail. It had been a mutually
beneficial arrangement and it had also been substantial work
on my end.
But of course, there is no reason for business transactions to
be without soul. As he dropped me off at the airport, I
felt sad that he was so narrow and that his narrowness translated
into mean. I also felt sad that thank you did not seem
his literal or emotional vocabulary.
Intuitive that I am, I have had to work hard the past few
days not to absorb his negativity and to somatize it somewhere
in my body.
What a sad story. Some people are so good at making friends,
and others are so
good at losing them. I'd love to hear his take on his return
(that's the dean talking).)
Wed Feb 22, 2006