THIS TIME IT WORKED This time I did not get lost. This time she did not eat all the bananas we had bought for breakfast. This time she spoke in whole sentences. This time she did not use the word "neat". She had actually read a book, and she met me at the car and did not make me see her to the door by going across a field in which an unseen dog was howling wildly. This time on my vacation I had no trouble with the baby-sitter. This time it worked.
I know it's a little thing, but vacations turn on little things. All of a sudden, for instance, the weather means very much and you sit by the radio at night and early in the morning, listening to the latest flight of fantasy from the weather service. All of a sudden, restaurants mean very much. You sort of put your toe into them, sneaking up to the door to see the menu posted there, sizing up the interior, the look of the waitress and all the other intangibles that go into either waving everyone out of the car of shaking your head for them to stay seated.
Anyway, with me it's baby-sitters. Under the best of circumstances, I don't like them. I want nothing to do with them, something my wife does not understand. She does not understand what it is like for a grown man to call the house of a teen-age girl. She does not understand that her father could answer the phone, responding to you as if you are some creep hanging around the playground despite the fact that you have declared yourself at the outset. There is always a "look" to a father's voice that makes me wonder about how I come across on the phone.
There is the chance, of course, that a sister or roommate or friend will answer the phone. Then what you get is 15 minutes of uninterrupted giggles and lots of "just a sec." I have "just a secked," it seems, for hours. The worst, though, is calling university dormitories here is Washington where students live in Dickensian conditions, 18 or 19 to a room, and all are named Mary. If you call of the one who baby-sits, you will get both the giggle routine and the Mary-who? routine, which in its own way is worse than the giggles.
Now all this, you will grant me, is no fun. But the worst is yet to come. The worst is picking them up at the dorm or their house ("don't worry about the dog") and trying to look proper to their parents or blase to the roommates who you know - you just know - are sizing you up in that creepy roommate way. Then you get into the car and you find out that she has nothing to say -nothing. She tells you where she is from, what her major is and that is it. Nothing more. She has read nothing her entire life, never looks at a newspaper and thinks Washington is "neal."
All this is nothing, though, for what comes next. What comes next is known as the ride home. It is late. You are tired. You pull onto the campus. There are lots of cars ahead of you. Kids are out in front of their dorms. The cars pull up one by one. Everyone is smooching - kissing like they are going off to war. Smack! Smack! Young passion is running rampant. You pull up. All eyes are on you. The eyes do not know you are simply taking the baby-sitter home. The eyes expect some action. You feel humbled. You feel like getting out of the care to explain - "Listen, fellas, in my day . . ."
I have learned to live with all this. I even did not panic when we returned home one evening to find our house smelling like a saloon, kids running out every door like rats off a ship. I found one in the backyard, trying to climb the fence and I found another about half an hour later when I went to lock up. He was 14 years old or so and he was hiding under the back porch, scared to death, his eyes bright with fear. I was properly stern, telling him it was time to go.
With that, I went to bed. But then I remembered what I was like when I was 14. I remembered the night I baby-sat with a girl named, I think, Ellen Gold, whom I used to love, and how we found dirty pictures in the man's bureau and how we were sitting on the couch, looking at the pictures in absolute wonder - "You can do that!" -when we heard footsteps down the hall. Ellen shouted orders and I remember winding up in the shower, the pictures laying at my feet. It was only then that I thought that sooner or later these people would want to shower and I would have to come up with some sort of explanation. Fortunately, though, the footsteps were not theirs.
You remember that when you're 14 you'll do anything, and you get out of bed and search the house. I went through each room, opening every closet, poking my hands in among the clothes, peered under beds and behind doors. Nothing. Still, I would not be surprised some day to find a skeleton of a 14-year-old someplace in the house, here things happen.
All this is why I loathe having to hassle with baby-sitters under the best of circumstances. But vacation is not the best of circumstances. You have no references, no word on what to expect. You wind up getting lost on backroads named after someone's uncle, passing anonymous intersections marked only by four stop signs, driving through the night wondering if you'll ever make the restaurant, find the house, see civilization again. That is one of the reasons we went out just once this time. We got the list from the bulletin board and we called someone named Sarah. She said, yes, she could sit. She gave my wife the directions. I went off in the car, my wife joking about how I might never come back. She remembers everything. I found the house, Sarah was waiting. No father to face. She started to talk. Whole sentences, English, The next morning, the bananas were still there. This time it worked.