Updated: Mar 14, 2019
Housesitting is a way to try on a life. A way to see how other people live. A way to ask yourself, “Do I want this? Could I have this?” Housesitting appeals to both the snoop and the dreamer in me. And I’ve always loved the movie “Housesitter.” Goldie Hawn is perfectly endearing in snug Levi’s as a con artist casting her spell over the little New England town so she can live in the house of her dreams. Poor Steve Martin ends up along for the ride, agreeing to Goldie’s charade but wanting to tell his friends and family the truth: that he and Goldie aren’t really in love. Until one day, they are. And so the story ends with the two of them playfully running through the house he built—not knowing until that last scene that she was the woman he’d built it for.
The second time I hung out with L was a housesit. He was going to be out of town for the final day of his housesit, and since he’d just fixed up my bike for me, I agreed to finish up the housesit and dogsit for him. We met each other at the house after work so he could go over the keys and dog’s food. I’d come from yoga. He was wearing work pants with padded knees and a faded T-shirt that said “bike ‘til you barf.” He’d picked up a huge burrito that he offered to split with me. We sat at the small kitchen table piled with mail and dog medicine. L cut the burrito in half, put it on two plates, and opened two beers as we sat down. “How was your day?” he asked and smiled. The whole scene was oddly comfortable. The messy table, the shared take-out, our yoga and work clothes… I remember thinking, “Yeah, I could do this. I don’t know why this feels easy, but it does.”
The second time he took me to a housesit—exactly seventh months after the day we met—was our first date. But I wasn’t sure if it was a date when we set it up. It was the first time we planned to hang out without trading favors. No bike repair or doling out dog food. Just us. But if it was a date, I wanted to be ready. I’d brought two Reese’s heart-shaped chocolates I’d gotten for 30 cents after Valentine’s Day. I would see how things went. If it was a date, I would give him a heart. If it wasn’t, I would keep them in my purse and he would never know.
First we went to a cozy pizza restaurant and split a bottle of red and a pizza. I looked around two (?) three (?) hours later—after he told me I looked lovely and before he paid—to a nearly empty restaurant. When the waiter left us to think about dessert, I slowly pulled the hearts from my purse. “Or, have you ever had these? We could have these at the house?”
And so we housesat—literally. We sat on a Persian rug in front of the fire next to a large, calm Australian Shepherd. L sat cross legged. I stretched my legs out and leaned back on my hands and looked around the house. “Look at all this space. Look what some people have,” gesturing to large entry area. “A place to show off your hardwood floors,” he joked. We laughed, and spent another two hours talking about what kind of dogs we’d be, how much space a person really needs, and—finally—eating the hearts. I’d known the moment he picked me up, when he’d gotten out of his car to hug me, that it was a date.
The third time we housesat—our third date—was the first time we cooked together. The house was rich with things, memories, and potential. I gushed over records from Beatles and Zeppelin to Jack White and Odesza. L gave me a tour of the three stories before he took me out back past the sunroom and the Japanese maple to the fancy shed he’d built. Inside, he opened a door in the floor to a cellar he’d dug out that held vintage Champagne and a gun. He showed me the ship captain’s ladder he’d made of Purpleheart wood that didn’t have any fasteners. Smooth and seamless. Perfect in its craft and simplicity.
When we went back inside, we discovered vintage old-fashioned glasses. L told me he made a good Manhattan so I asked what I could do while he made the drinks. “Brown the meat.” He answered. I was surprised. In the past, when guys offered to make me dinner (Or were L and I making dinner together? I wasn’t sure) they’d shooed me out of the kitchen so they could be in charge—in complete control while I watched them make sure everything was perfect. Or at least they handled raw meat. But it was different with L. Everything was different, and wonderful. Shared and easy. Friendly and fun. Honest and real. So I said to myself, “Of course I can brown meat. I do this all the time at home. Get it together, KJ. Chop garlic and put meat in a pan.” And so I did. I also sliced bread and fat rolls of mozzarella. Then we ate big green olives stuffed with garlic and L handed me a drink with not one but three Luxardo cherries. Things were getting serious. And finally, mid-Manhattans, heady with anticipation, just before the pasta boiled over as “Song for Zula” played, we kissed for the first time.
I don’t know how many times L and I will housesit. But between his dozens of housesits stretching from Ballard to Carkeek Park, I think it will be a lot. I wonder if we’ll watch the Japanese maple turn aflame, bare, and then red again. I wonder if we’ll ever have a house of our own. Our own shelf of records and cabinet of vintage barware. Sheds and ladders. Doors in the floor filled with Champagne. I wonder if he’ll build the house and I’ll cover it in my throw pillow addiction. I wonder if we’ll admire our spacious wood floors or bump into each other and giggle like we do in my cramped kitchen.
I wonder if all our years of “building our houses”—him hauling out his sailboat and varnishing the wood, and me hanging paper lanterns and lighting candles—we weren’t just building them for ourselves, but for each other.