The Perpetual Three-Dot Column
The Perpetual Three-Dot Column
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by Jesse Walker

Wednesday, January 08, 2003
WORK MEMOIRS: The strangest job I ever had was when I helped move a clandestine dog farm. I'm being deliberately sensationalist when I call it a "dog farm" -- that makes it sound like some sinister poodle-milking operation. A woman was simply raising a bunch of dogs, to sell as pets. As for the "clandestine" part ... well, we'll get to that later.

My friend Josh and I were recruited by the dog-raiser's son's girlfriend, with whom we worked at an Ann Arbor bookstore. The job paid $8/hour, she told us, all tax-free. That sounded good. So the next morning, we got up early and drove into the countryside, where we were given our instructions: dismantle these fences and load them into the truck; help corral the dogs into another truck; bring it all to the new location; then do the same for the dog-raiser's personal property. It should, we were told, take about three hours, tops.

Along the way, Josh filled me in on the backstory. The dog-raiser (I'll call her Mary) had no license for her breeding business and not much income. She had actually been evicted about six months before, but kept coming up with excuses not to leave or pay the rent she owed. She'd even told her landlord, quite falsely, that her son had died, and that she'd find the money once she was finished mourning. Today was her final deadline to leave before the landlord called the cops.

It was around this time that I started to wonder if she'd actually pay us for our help.

Much of our work, I soon discovered, consisted of sitting in the truck a safe distance from Mary's new house while she scouted around to make sure no one would see us at work. Turns out she hadn't told her new landlord about her business, and that she didn't want any of her neighbors noticing it either -- especially anyone who might tell the zoning authorities. A couple hours later, we finally set about re-erecting the fences and avoiding the hounds. The dogs' new home was located by a lake at the bottom of a hill, just low enough that no one could spot it from the road.

Were we done? No, not yet: we still had to move Mary's personal effects. Upon returning to her old house, we discovered that the landlord and his son had started this job for us, tossing armloads of her property into a sloppy pile in the yard: knick-knacks, food, CDs without cases, soiled paperbacks, silverware. Mary sat in the middle of the heap, crying, and Josh and I nervously began to load her stuff into the truck.

At some point during all this, it became clear that this was going to take much more than the promised three hours, forcing me to find a substitute on the fly for my afternoon show at the college radio station. It was a good thing I did: we wound up working a full 11 hours, 10 of which I was eventually paid for. A few years later, after I'd left Ann Arbor, I heard that Mary had been locked away in either a jail or a mental ward -- my informant wasn't sure which.

I came home, weary and emotionally drained, to find the place in an uproar. It involved a lot of bad craziness among some of the odder people who liked to hang out at our house -- rumors, panic attacks, even allegations of paranormal activity -- and it ended with my girlfriend and me breaking up in the wee hours of the next day: January 8, 1993.

So. What were you doing 10 years ago today?

posted by Jesse 10:55 AM
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