Hand-written notes were the preferred means of communication at the Bunkhouse. Cell phones remained a somewhat privileged commodity, ipads and ipods didn’t exist yet, and the only laptop belonged to some techie guy down the hall. Biff and I stood in line at the local library a handful of times waiting to send some emails, but for the most part, technology referred to the pay phone in the lobby. Damn thing never quit ringing, and with no answering service, passing residents usually took a message and posted it on the appropriate door. Most of the missed-call notices came from Nervous Jo, the resident coordinator who could never remember who lived where, and consistently left notes on the wrong door—always good for a laugh. Biff and I came home one day to a note stating, “Barry needs you to call him back, something about a bounced check.”
I became dependent on her notes. I relied on them like cartoons in the Sunday paper or Oprah. Adrenaline rushed through my body as I walked down that long puke green hallway with the black stains in the matted carpet, but the rectangular piece of colored paper hanging on my door kept me going. What’ll it be this time?
“Obviously you need to wash your shower curtain,” it declared, “in washer, hot water, detergent and bleach.” I scratched my head and marched directly to the bathroom to see for myself—yup, dirty all right (and dirty it stayed). The next note perplexed us to no end. “The plumber fixed your sink last week!” it railed. “You’ll have to live with it as is!” Plumber? What plumber? What’s wrong with the sink? Another wrong door for Jo. The notes began piling up, and reluctant to throw them away, Biff and I took to posting them on our wall, a trend that unfortunately grew in popularity.
I felt bad for Jo. The woman appeared to be on the verge of a mental breakdown, and there we were, young, stupid kids mocking her with our new wall decorations. I think she even commented once, or maybe she didn’t, I honestly can’t remember. Nonetheless, it was an awkward moment—one that still haunts me. Jo had stopped by one evening (I forget why) but I remember she stuck around to chat. Nervous Jo was like that. If you caught her on a good day, she’d talk your ear off for thirty minutes either complaining about another Bunkhouse tenant or revealing that she found a dead rat in one of the mattresses. Catch Jo on a bad day and she’s calling the Park Ranger on you for burning incense in your room. Biff and I were engaged in one of our many Scrabble showdowns when Jo arrived. She stood in our living room/bedroom/kitchen gossiping or complaining about something or another in that shaky voice of hers. I was too busy maintaining eye contact to hear what she had to say. Her weathered-face and blue-gray eyes watched me. Hold on to them. Don’t let them stray. Don’t look away or nod or cough or glance at the vile green carpet. Hold on to them. Don’t let her see what’s directly in front of her.
Through foggy recollection, I envision Jo glancing at the notes, giving a quick chuckle and apologizing for the one about the plumber. I see it happening with growing clarity, replaying over and over in my head until I’m convinced that’s exactly how it happened. When I step back, I’m not so sure. Funny how the mind works. I remember the panicked feeling, the fear of hurting her, of causing someone pain. I remember dreading the moment I’d have to confront those notes dangling above my head, but I can’t accurately recall the endgame. Maybe nothing happened. Maybe nothing was said and that’s why I can’t remember. Either way, my apologies to Jo.