For a few weeks last year I had a job as a nanny for a rich family in Chicago.
My friend was a nanny and did babysitting work at hotels and this one family asked her to become their nanny but she couldn't so she asked if I wanted the job.
I said yes.
I'd worked with kids before.
I used to work at a daycare.
I was the "nap assistant."
That meant I watched a room with 10 to 20 kids in it—supposed to be napping—while the teachers got lunch and had meetings.
The kids were between the ages of three and six.
I helped them get their cots arranged and then I watched over them, maintaining order.
Maintaining order meant reading them books, whispering their names from across the room and motioning for them to stop talking and go to sleep, preparing the snacktime food, talking to kids about things to keep them from doing something else that would wake kids up, reading the same book over again, denying attempts by girls to become their boyfriends, sitting by potential loud/misbehaving kids as a source of discouragement, agreeing to play soccer or other sports at recess, agreeing to play legos after naptime, agreeing to sit next to someone at snacktime, and helping outside at recess and doing anything else until the end of the day when parents came.
This one Chinese kid named Hardy always came up to me at naptime, with a ring of dry snot in his nostril.
He'd pinch his genitals and look sideways and say something like, "I like fruit punch and tacos."
Hardy was really cool.
He always behaved.
I think he only got upset one time (because he missed his mom) and cried a little bit and then was embarrassed about it.
Other than that, Hardy was cool.
Whenever I asked him why he didn't do something he was supposed to do, he'd say, "Want to know something—" then he'd make shit up to keep me from talking.
Some of Hardy's jokes were pretty good too.
Most of his material involved "wieners," but I could sense he was expanding.
There were a lot of kids.
There was this girl named Ariel.
She made me promise to be her boyfriend "before maria"—if I decided to have a girlfriend.
I said, "I'll pick you as my girlfriend first if I decide to have one."
There was a very tiny girl named Aruj and she always slept the entire nap time.
Every day she slept the whole time.
And every time she woke up she'd either cry or shake her finger at me and say, "Vutt is so funny, mister."
I had to carry her a lot.
Felt like I had her in one arm a lot and would just forget about her.
Other things I did were—
I cut up apples.
I drew a lot of Spiderman masks.
I did legos.
I tied shoes.
I supervised games of tag and often dominated them at recess. (Having longer legs and arms.)
I talked about dinosaurs.
I explained why you couldn't act a certain way to another kid because of how you had to respect other people.
I addressed questions on the day a bird flew into the recess door and lay there bleeding and dying on the sidewalk by the fire exit, while we all watched.
I addressed questions about superheros and things about their powers that didn't make sense to them.
I just made shit up a lot of the time, because kids believe anything you tell them as long as you don't laugh while saying it.
I watched butterflies hatch for a science experiment.
I helped trace kids so they could draw themselves on large pieces of paper and hang them up for Parent Night.
I made paper airplanes.
I went to museums.
I held hands.
I pushed up to four people on swings at the same time.
I made seven dollars an hour, which seemed like a lot.
When kids actually slept during nap time, I read books myself.
I read a book about World War Two and a death march and how when one prisoner in the march, like, did something wrong or fell down, a guy from the Japanese military swung his sword down into the prisoner's head and the sword went from the top of the prisoner's skull, all the way down into his neck.
Sometimes instead of reading I just drew pictures on pieces of construction paper lying around and then gave them to whoever wanted them when everyone woke up.
Every day at the job I felt angry and annoyed and then at the end the kids all said bye to me at the same time and/or tried to hug my leg to keep me from leaving and I felt dumb for getting mad.
No actually I was still mad.
It was summer and I was living in a studio apartment near Little Italy.
At night when it was too hot to sleep I'd shadowbox until I sweated a lot and felt tired enough to sleep.
The mirrored sliding door to my closet had streaks of sweat all over it, from months and months.
Or I had this old soccer ball that I would kick against the wall by the Christopher Columbus statue across the street.
I got thin and hardened.
I was ready for things no one had even heard of.
Ready for things that would never happen.
It was a very calm summer of realizing I didn't want anything, and there were good reasons.
The nanny job paid thirteen dollars an hour, cash.
I only got the job because my friend told the family about my daycare work and she also made up some shit about how long she'd known me.
The family invited me to dinner.
Their apartment was in the downtown area of Chicago and overlooked the lake.
Their apartment had people working in the office area on the main floor.
It had electronic keycard access.
So fucking awesome it made me lose hope in everything.
The parents were from Ohio.
The husband said common political shit about needing to stop immigration, hating Barack Obama, and he also made jokes that centered on homosexuality as the funny part.
The wife was from Ohio too and she was really nice.
Their daughter's name was Juliana and she was overweight.
At dinner, the mom said, "So basically, the job is just picking her up from school and doing her homework with her and playing with her until I get back from doing my campaign work. She's a little brat but she can be good."
"Yeah she's a little something," the husband said. "You like football man? You a Bears fan I guess? Probably a Bears fan yeah?"
I ate some of the lamb they made.
I had a brief vision of me and the wife, sitting naked in a field, with our hands on the back of a lamb, me and the wife looking at each other.
"I don't like football," I said.
"What do you like," the husband said.
"I like boxing."
He said, "No one watches boxing anymore."
The mom continued, "And um, she can bathe herself." She laughed and put some hair behind her ear. "Please, don't bathe my child. Also, you don't have to clean the apartment or anything."
"I can do that if you want," I said.
Both parents looked at me.
They thought I meant, "I can bathe your child if you want" but I was referring to cleaning the apartment.
"Cleaning the apartment," I said.
They seemed upset.
The mom said, "Why don't you and Juliana play in her room for a little bit."
I said, "Ok. Dinner was good. Thank you."
"Spank you," the husband said, looking off somewhere, before getting up.
Juliana and I went to her room and we played with a huge dollhouse.
I was given a doll.
I was told what to do.
I did what I was told.
The dollhouse was big and we played an extremely vague game with the dolls that involved a lot of walking around and not understanding what was going on.
It was fun though.
Then at one point Juliana smiled and said, "What about this" and she made her doll shit and then eat it, saying something like, "Chup chup chup"—laughing.
"I don't know," I said, laughing.
Then she was laughing hard, almost without sound, her eyes watering.
"Chup chup chup." She made the doll shit again and then eat it and then she rolled her eyes all around and said, "Mm mm, I love it."
I was laughing.
I said, "Man."
Then the game with the dolls transitioned into making the dolls jump off the roof of the dollhouse and hit the carpet and die.
The mom told me it'd be a regular thing with regular pay but it turned out only me being on call for whenever they wanted to leave the apartment.
Which turned out to be barely at all.
It was bullshit.
Almost two months, a day or two each week.
Like, seven visits total.
Picking Juliana up from school was weird because it was a bunch of middle-aged women waiting for their children and then me, a big dumbass with a shaved-head, looking tired.
On the walks home from school, Juliana would tell me about her classmates and about toys she wanted.
I would ask her questions about the toys.
Like, "Why do you want that toy."
Or, "Why is it good that the toy does that."
When she finally noticed it was a regular thing I did, she stopped explaining anything and would just say, "Stahopp, I'm trying to tell you."
At home I helped her with homework.
It was easy.
I knew all the answers immediately.
We traced letters and colored pictures at the dinner table, overlooking the entire skyline of the city and the lake.
All of Chicago opened up, even the factories along the outside, the traintracks, highways, Chicago River, Sears Tower, State Street, everything.
I'd look out into the skyline and feel good feelings, even though there was nothing to feel good about.
"I handed out invitations for my birthday party today at school and i didn't give one to stupid Larry," she said, tracing over her vocabulary words.
She bit a grilled cheese sandwich I'd made her.
She said, "I hate Larry, he's so gross."
"Why is Larry gross," I said, putting my legs up on another kitchen chair.
"He always has boogers in his nose and he pinches everyone. He's stupid. Larry is so stupid."
"So he's not coming to your birthday party," I said, checking over a packet of homework her teacher had returned graded. "I see a lot of stickers here, good job."
"Um, yeah thanks," she said, still trying to stay mad.
"No he's not coming because he's retarded."
"Larry is retarded."
"Yeah I hate him. Charmene is coming and I told her to buy me a Littlest Pet Shop toy. It's a squirrel named Rodney and I don't have him yet but I want him."
"Rodney is a squirrel."
"Yeah he's insane."
"Wait is Rodney a person coming to your birthday party or a squirrel."
"Stah-opp, Rodney is the squirrel. My mom said you can come too if you want."
"I can come to your birthday party. Thanks. I can probably make it."
"Yeah, we're getting pizza and cake."
I leaned forward and said, "You're going to have pizza and cake there—" then I made a fist and punched upward into the air and yelled, "—yes."
"What is 'Littlest Pet Shop,'" I said.
"Here, let's go play."
She closed her book and put it in a folder and put three more stickers on the folder.
Then we went to her room.
She took out a plastic case.
She opened the case and inside there were a lot of small plastic animals.
I looked at a picture of her and her dad in a frame by her bed.
It scared me.
Turned my shit to stone.
No I'm lying, I didn't react much at all.
Juliana got on her knees and sat on her heels, dividing the toys.
I got to be a rhino and I made up a voice for it that Juliana really liked.
She kept laughing.
Which meant I had to keep doing it.
In the few times I visited, we played Littlest Pet Shop, dolls, "camera woman" (where I acted like a cameraman filming her doing the news), cards, and legos.
We colored in coloring books, painted, looked at toys on the internet and ate together.
Sometimes the dad would be there, sleeping in his room because he worked at night.
Sometimes he'd wake up and come out of his room to the kitchen, where I'd be cooking a grilled cheese and quizzing Juliana in math.
It felt weird.
Working for the family added to my general feeling that everyone I encountered (for good reason) didn't like me.
It was ok.
Juliana and I went on walks.
I took her to a playground once and we kept putting snow on the slide and then sliding down the slide really fast.
At night, Juliana would be in bed and I'd just sit at the dinner table and look out the windows—from the twentieth floor—out at the entire city.
The last time I ever worked for them, I took Juliana to the Chicago Field Museum.
We saw an exhibit called "Underground."
The exhibit was enlarged displays of insects and things that lived underground.
Juliana held my hand the whole time and we walked through a "shrink ray" which was just an optical illusion where you go into this room and can watch yourself on the screen, shrinking in order to go "underground."
"Are we really shrinking," she said, looking at me.
"Yeah we're really shrinking."
"No we're not," she said.
"It felt like I was shrinking," I said, looking at my hands.
"Me too," she said.
We walked through a dark tunnel into the exhibit.
There were field trips, little kids with a few teachers/moms.
There were kids in wheelchairs.
"How old are you," Juliana said.
We were looking at a diagram of dirt from the Midwest.
"Are you married," she said.
"Do you have kids."
"You don't have any kids," she said.
"No wait, yeah. I had a kid and then I lost him after he walked through a shrink ray and wouldn't hold my hand."
"No you didn't," she said. "Do you have a girlfriend."
"Shrink ray," I said.
We looked at a diagram of how other things become dirt and then that dirt makes other things.
We walked through a tunnel of dirt, where it was supposed to be like we were in the root system of a tree.
We stopped and stood by a display of huge plastic parts meant to look like a burrow and some kind of insect that was motorized with an opening and closing jaw.
Then a hissing sound happened.
A big spider came out from behind a tree-root.
Its fangs were motorized and they squealed back and forth.
"Scary," Juliana said.
I looked at the fangs of the motorized spider and realized that after this day, there would be another one.