Clean-cut, personable, honest young man who loves children, to look after 6 year old boy and 4 year old girl. Living-in required. Days off to be negotiated. Must be on call whenever needed. References requested. Call before 4 p.m. 227-555-3376. Ask for Mrs. Wexler.
I was looking through the classified ads of the local newspaper when I discovered the ad. I had just been let go from my job at the local stationery store, due to habitual tardiness, and I did not even have the necessary funds to cover this month's rent on my shabby apartment. I needed a job badly, and I had few qualifications. I had been unable to attend college, as I had to spend so much time at home, safeguarding my five younger siblings, when our parents were off on one of their frequent drunken binges.
But I had done a good job, and the kids were safely off, and out on their own. But I, myself, had little to offer to a business corporation. So the ad seemed just ideal for me. I did love children. And I certainly would be glad to live-in, as I was momentarily going to be evicted from the rathole in which I now resided.
But 'References.' Aye. There's the rub. I had no references. I had never been employed as a child-care worker, and the stationery-store owner would only write that I had been late all the time. But I didn't think stationery store work was the kind of references she required. I supposed that I could always ask one of my sisters or brothers to tell her what a good big brother I had been. but they were family, and that would not be the assessment of a dispassionate previous employer. I wanted that job. Badly. Would it hurt to call? I decided to give it a try, and with trembling fingers, I dialed 227-555-3376. A lady answered. "Hello," she said.
"Hhhelllo," I stammered. "Is this Mrs. Wexler?"
"Yes. This is she."
"I'm calling in regard to your classified ad in the Twimble Gazette. Someone to take care of a little boy and a little girl. I would be interested."
"Very good," she said. "Do you have references?"
The dreaded question.
"No. I'm afraid that I've been working in another field. Retail. And I'm not at all happy in retail. But I do love children, and I did help raise my five younger sisters and brothers, when my parents were away, which was frequently. I know that they will vouch for my character, if you care to ask them."
"I see," she said. "Well, you sound like a very honest young man. At least we can meet, and see where it leads."
"Fine," I said. My heart was dancing. At least she was willing to interview me. I had a chance.
"Can you come right over? I'd like to get all this decided immediately."
"Yes, of course. Where do you live?"
I knew where Sycamore Street was. It was only a short walk from the Number 5 Bus. I would just grab a Number 5. "I'll be right over," I said, (I hoped I was not sounding too anxious.) "but I don't have a car. I'll be taking the bus, so give me a few extra minutes."
"Fine. Now, tell me your name."
"Bob," I answered. "Bob Melis."
"Fine, Bob, I'll be waiting for you, Ciao."
"Ciao," I answered, but she had already hung up the phone. I went into the bathroom to wash up and comb my hair, and then I dashed down to the Number 5 Bus Stop. I was lucky. The bus came within five minutes.
As I walked down Sycamore Street, admiring all the lovely, upper-middle class, suburban houses, with their wide front lawns, I smelled Lilacs blooming in everyone's yard. I could get used to living on Sycamore Street.
And here it was. Number 337. A two-story Old New-England type cottage, with bay windows and exquisite lattice-work. What a nice life-style. I walked up the long path from the sidewalk to the front porch and stood before a great oaken door with a large brass knocker, but I rang the bell.
A young woman answered. She had long blond hair, and was dressed in an attractive business suit. She looked so familiar to me. But the name 'Mrs. Wexler' didn't ring a bell.
"Bob?" she asked.
Yes," I answered. "Are you Mrs. Wexler?"
"I am. Come in." She led me into the parlor. We spent a few minutes talking about my childhood, and how I had taken care of my little brothers and sisters. She seemed pleased with me. "I'm considering taking you on, Bob," she told me. But first, you have to be very sure that you want the position. I'm away from home, traveling a good deal, because of my job, so I would be depending completely on you for the care of the household. Are you sure you really want to be a Nanny?" she asked me.
I hadn't thought of it like that. The word 'Nanny' threw me a little. I liked taking care of children, yes. But did I want to be a career 'Nanny'? Wasn't that usually a lady's job? I paused for a moment, thinking, but she continued.
"In addition to caring for the children, you would be expected to keep the house clean, and do the laundry, and the shopping and the cooking."
So in addition to being a Nanny, I was to be a Maid, Housekeeper, whatever. I wondered what I was getting myself into.
"May I ask what the job pays?" I asked. I had no intention of being a domestic worker for minimum wage.
"For the right person, I'm willing to go as high as $1000.00 a week. How does that sound?
I almost swallowed my tongue. That was twice what I had been making at the stationery store. "It sounds fine," I said. "......for a start." Was I being too bold now?
"If it works out, and we are all satisfied, we would consider raising your salary periodically. Don't let that be a concern."
"Your ad said that this was a live-in job. That I would be required to live here. Where would I live?"
She led me up the stairs to a door at the end of the hall, past two doors that were the children's rooms. She opened the door. It was a large homey bedroom. The walls were covered in wallpaper with a beautiful floral pattern, and there was a large double bed with a carved maple headboard. This was luxury that I was not used to. I walked to the window and peeked through the white lacey curtains, and could see the large back yard with the two tall maple trees, and beyond to all the other back yards, with peach trees, and apple trees, and pear trees. This was a step up from the shabby apartment from which I was momentarily to be evicted.
And then we heard the compressed-air hiss of a bus braking in front of the house. The children were home from school. The little boy, she told me, was in first grade, and the little girl was in pre-kindergarten. We walked down the stairway, as we heard the children talking and laughing, running from the bus up onto the front porch. Mrs. Wexler opened the door, and the children rushed in.
We all went back into the parlor, and Mrs. Wexler introduced me to the children.
"Warren, this is Bob. Nancy, this is Bob. Say hello."
The children said hello to me, and I to them, and Warren even shook my hand. He was a six-year-old gentleman.
"There is a possibility that Bob is going to be your new Nanny."
"Goody," said Nancy.
"What happened to Elizabeth?" asked Warren.
"We will not mention Elizabeth again, Warren. Do you understand me?"
"Yes," said Warren, hanging his head. Apparently he had been happy with Elizabeth who was presumably the last Nanny, but his mother had not been.
"You'll meet my husband, Eric, tomorrow. He generally works until after ten every evening, but tonight he'll be working through the night and coming home in the morning. He designs aerospace parts and has to be sure the night shift is working properly before he leaves, but there's a new part coming on-line tonight and he has to be there."
"Fine," I said.
"Children. Would you like Bob to be your new Nanny?"
"Could we play football in the front yard?" asked Warren.
"I don't see why not," I said. I was not a football player, but I thought I could hold my own against a six-year-old.
"Would you jump rope with me?" asked Nancy.
"Of course, I would, Nancy. I love jumping rope. And we can bounce a rubber ball and play 'A My Name Is Alice' on the front porch."
"Goody," screamed Nancy.
They were really adorable children. I could easily learn to love them.
"So what about it, kids? Do you want Bob to be your new Nanny?"
"Yes," said Warren.
"Yesyesyes," said Nancy, jumping up and down in excitement.
"And what about you, Bob? Are you ready for all this?"
"Completely," I said.
"How soon could you start?"
"Today? I could run downtown and collect my things."
"That would be just perfect. If you could get back before six o'clock, I wouldn't have to call the sitter. I have to leave for the television studio at seven p.m."
That was where I had seen her. She was on the nightly news. She was Ronnie Ranger of CPPW, the global news network. She was a foreign correspondent. I had seen her doing spots from London, from Paris, from Cairo. No wonder she needed a good Nanny to take care of her children."
"I'm going for the bus right now," I said. "I promise I'll be back with all my things before six."
"Great," she said. Before I left, she asked me to fill out a few papers, and she got my social security number. She was not one of those sly fox household employers out to cheat the Nanny out of Social Security. I wondered if I dared press for medical coverage, but perhaps not yet. I felt I was in good hands here, and left the house with a happy heart.
I was back with my few paltry possessions within two hours, and within a short time I had put everything into the dresser drawers and the closet of my beautiful flowery, lacey, new bedroom. I felt I had finally found a home.
Ronnie (she told me to call her Ronnie) had prepared a light dinner for herself and the children and also for me. I did the dishes, as she got ready to go to the television studio. Before she left, she showed me all around the house. We went down to the basement to look at the washer and the dryer. She showed me where the linen closet was, and where all the dishes and silverware were kept. She familiarized me with the children's bedrooms, and their routines.
Little Warren had baseball player pictures cut from magazines scotch-taped on all his walls. And Nancy had drawings she had done in pre-kindergarten of houses, and churches with steeples, and skinny people with large heads taped all over her own walls.
We put Nancy to bed right after dinner, and I was instructed that Warren could sit with me in the living room and watch quiz shows on television until 8 p.m., at which time I was to put him to sleep. Ronnie told me that she would be back from the studio, sometime around 3 a.m.
She asked me if I was all right, and I said "yes," and she left for the television studio. Little Warren was a very smart first grader. As we were watching the quiz show he called out many answers, and they were absolutely right. And neither the contestants nor I had known the correct answers. At eight o'clock, I took him up to his room, and helped him brush his teeth, and put on his jammies, and get into bed. I kissed him on his dear little forehead, before I turned off the light and closed his bedroom door.
I was tired myself. It had been a life-altering day, so I retired to my pretty bedroom and put on my own pajamas, and turned out the lights and went to sleep.
The next morning, as I was sleepily stumbling down the hall to brush my teeth, I heard a commotion behind the closed door of the master bedroom. There were the loud voices of a man and woman, fighting. Ronnie and Eric.
"Tell me that again," yelled Eric.
"I hired a new Nanny. His name is Bob."
"What? Are you insane?" screamed Eric. "Whoever heard of a male Nanny?"
"I just thought it would be a good idea?" said Ronnie, fairly calmly.
"And why did you think that?"
Now Ronnie raised her voice and yelled angrily. "Because you've fucked every single female Nanny we've ever had."
"Well, I have to fuck something. You don't get home until god knows what hour." They were both at shouting pitch now.
"Have you ever heard of marriage vows? Have you ever heard the word 'adultery'?" Screamed Ronnie.
"Then be home once in a while."
"I can't. My job is my job. And I'm going places. But I would like to keep our marriage together. I really don't want to divorce you."
"Thank you, I suppose," he replied.
"And I know you're much too busy with work to run around town chasing women. It's just been so convenient for you up to now to have a young Nanny in the end bedroom. But now we will have Bob, and the children like him very much, so can we please end this discussion now, and get on with our lives?"
"Hah!" he exclaimed. But he had no more to say. I was trembling in the hallway. I had overheard this terrible argument concerning my presence in the household, and it was obvious that the head of the house, Eric, did not want me there at all. And just when I had been beginning to feel so secure. I went into the bathroom and brushed my teeth, and washed up. Then I got dressed, and went out to face the music.
The music was downstairs in the kitchen. Ronnie was waiting to instruct me what to prepare for the family breakfast. Juice, bacon, eggs, cereal, toast, coffee (but milk for Warren and Nancy.) She had already gotten the children up and dressing for school. From now on, that would be my job.
I still had not met Eric. I was facing that moment with fear in my heart.
The children, dressed for school, came into the kitchen, and as I was putting the bacon on the table, Eric came in. He was fairly tall, with a muscular build and wavy black hair, which set off his green eyes. He looked as if he attended the gym on a regular basis. He was terribly attractive. I could see why Ronnie wanted to hold onto her marriage, despite his infidelities. Ronnie was pretty, but Eric was spectacular looking. The only thing was he was not happy to see me in his kitchen. He had a nasty scowl on his face.
"Eric. I want you to meet, Bob, our new Nanny. And Bob. This is Eric, my husband."
"Pleased to meet you," I said stretching out my hand. Eric gave it a perfunctory shake and said "Yeah." Then we sat down to breakfast. The children did all the talking. I just kept nodding, and saying 'yes,' and 'wonderful.' It was a difficult meal.
After breakfast, the bus came and the children left for school. I did the dishes, and Ronnie got me started with the household chores, while Eric went upstairs to nap for a few hours before going back to the aerospace plant.
I began to get into a daily routine. After school each day, I would walk the children to the park, and play with them. I would throw a football at Warren, which he would catch, and he would throw it back at me, over my head. I was always scrambling for it. It was exhausting. I did enjoy jumping rope with Nancy, and found I was quite good at that.
Ronnie was very sweet to me, but Eric never said a word to me. He could hardly bring himself to look at me. I tried to always be in bed by ten o'clock, when he got home from work. That way I would only have to face his cold silence across the breakfast table.
One morning a strange thing happened, when I was at the sink, washing the dishes, Eric came up behind me and pinched my bottom. I jumped. I was surprised. I turned around and looked at him, and while sneering, he winked at me.
I was disturbed by this and told Ronnie. I didn't want to get fired like Elizabeth, and all the other lady Nannies who had gotten fired, but Ronnie just laughed at me. Not that I attributed anything sexual to it. I knew he was just baiting me. But I wanted everything to be out in the open.
"Oh, he was just teasing you. That's all. I wouldn't worry about it. You can be sure my husband was not coming on to you. Eric is aggressively heterosexual. Much too aggressively, actually."
He never pinched me again. He just continued his relentless campaign of silence whenever I was around. It was obvious he had contempt for me. He was a captain of industry and I was a Nanny. Real men were not Nannies.
Then suddenly one morning, the silence broke. He asked me a question.
"So, Bob. Tell me a little about yourself. Do you have a girlfriend?"
I knew that snide tone. I had heard it before from others. He was making fun of me. It had happened to me in school, when the boys would repeat something I had said, in a high effeminate pitch, embarrassing me.
I'm sorry. That was the way I talked. I could not help the way I talked. But it had been devastating. And now, Eric, the master of the house, was acting like a grown-up high school boy, and making me feel less than masculine and therefore inferior. I wanted to cry. I had been chewing some toast, but my throat got so dry that I couldn't swallow it. I had to take a sip of orange juice to get it down. As I was doing this, I was planning what to say. I was planning to lie. I was not going to admit to him that I didn't have a girlfriend.
"Yes," I said, flashing a bright smile at him. "My girlfriend, Marie. She's working in Washington now, so we don't get to see each other very often, but we're saving our money, and as soon as we have a little nest egg, we're planning to get married."
"Good for you," said Eric, obviously knowing I was lying through my teeth.
"Yes. We're in love."
"But she's in Washington. You must get a little lonely now and then. Maybe you have another girl friend?" He was baiting me.
"No. I believe in being faithful," I declared, knowing that he had not been. Maybe it was a little bit of a dig.
"Bob, here, is a man of high character," Eric said to Ronnie. Then he turned to me. "I do hope we'll get a chance to meet Marie very soon. When is she coming up from Washington?"
"I don't know," I answered. "She's very busy."
Eric smirked at me, and I lowered my eyes and finished my scrambled eggs. After that there was no more conversation.
About a week later, at breakfast again, I asked, "Does anyone want any more toast?"
"Does anyone want any more toast?" Eric repeated in a high-pitched effeminate voice. He was making fun of me, just the way all the bullies in my high school used to. I hated that place. I was so glad to get out of there. I felt my face flushing with embarrassment, and I turned away. Then I took the juice container and put it back in the refrigerator, pretending as if I hadn't noticed the mockery.
After that there was only silence. For months. Eric never spoke to me, and I never spoke to Eric.
But the children were such darlings. I had such fun playing with them, and teaching little Nancy the alphabet, and Ronnie was very sweet to me. I missed her when she left for the studio each evening.
Then one morning at breakfast, she was all aglow. "They're sending me to do a CPPW special on women in Nairobi," she exclaimed triumphantly. I'll be investigating the lives of women over there, and be broadcasting nightly. I'll be gone for two weeks. This is my biggest assignment yet. I'm so excited."
"Two weeks?" asked Eric, less excited.
"Yes," she affirmed.
"And what are we supposed to do?" he asked.
"What you always do when I'm away. And besides you have Bob here to do everything around the house. So there should be no problems."
"When are you leaving?" he asked.
""We have a whole crew flying out Wednesday morning," she answered.
"Congratulations, Ronnie," I said.
"Thank you, Bob," she said. "At least someone is happy for me."
Two days later, Ronnie left for the airport shortly after I had put the kids on the school bus. I hated to see her go. She was my only adult friend in the house. I had the children, of course, who were fond of me, but I also had Eric who refused even to look at me.
Well. It was not so bad. I only had to see him at breakfast. After that he left for the aerospace plant, and I did my daily duties. And I made very sure to be in bed with the door closed before he returned home around ten each evening. He even worked on weekends, which turned out to be very good for me.