8 Coffee, Tea, or Me?

First thing most mornings, Hans Knopupik checked his phone for messages. This was his way of rationalizing to himself that he started work early, though nobody really cared because as a free-lancer he worked from home. Home was a one bedroom condo on the first residential floor at the POPS. He also imagined that because it faced west toward the city, he was somehow keeping in touch with it. In fact, all he could see was Prospect Ave., up it and down it, and a few older buildings across the street.chapter-8-coffee-tea-or-me

If he ever felt the need of a grander, or a lake view, he took an elevator ride upstairs to the solarium. The lowering sun beat into his own unit windows so hard on sunny, late afternoons that he had to close his shades just to be able to see a screen. Weather permitting or to escape the brightness, he took himself and whatever device out onto the community terrace facing the lake, where the building cast deep shadows. He met a few more of the residents than he might have done working alone day after day inside his unit. That nice lady, Mrs. James, took an interest in him and chatted him up.

When he’d first moved into the condo Hans had a partner, Peter, but their arrangement hadn’t lasted very long. It was a small space to share, even with a lover, and there had been a lot of fights; silly fights, about the placement of shampoo in the shower, and really big fights, about commitment and seeing other guys. So Peter had recently flung himself out of Hans’ life and home and went off, in other directions. At least, he taunted Hans that he would. But it was a relief to Hans that he no longer had to share his space, not with Peter anyway. He hoped that his next relationship would be in a two bedroom, two bathroom unit. ‘2 BR/2 BA’, as he read in real estate ads.

Returning from an afternoon coffee break one particularly beckoning early spring day, he went out onto the terrace and saw Mrs. James dumping out the contents of a voluminous workbasket on a picnic table. Above the heaps of yarn, she beckoned him over.

“Can’t possibly do this in my place. I get too much help from my cat.”

“My mother used to have me help her to unwind skeins of yarn. I held out my arms, like this.” Hans demonstrated, stretching out each arm with fingers together vertically and thumbs up. “She taught me to slightly rock my arms up and down. It was mesmerizing, watching the colors fly by, as she wound the yarn.”

“I will certainly keep this in mind, Hans, if I ever need your services with that. Using the back of a chair to hold a skein is not nearly as satisfactory nor as sociable, either.”

“I’ll help you right now, if you like. Beats staring at my screen and thinking of something to write.” Mrs. James obliged and draped a skein across his extended hands.

Hans Knopupik, newly single freelance journalist, nominee for association treasurer

Hans Knopupik, newly single freelance journalist, nominee for association treasurer

“Speaking of services, I seem to recall you saying that you’d graduated from business school. I suppose you must have studied accounting? I confess I have a reason for asking.”

“You have a good memory!  Accounting wasn’t my major but I did do some. Now I’m a freelance writer, mostly in financials, markets, development, that sort of area.”

“You know I’m recently elected association secretary. Our  treasurer has moved away and I wonder if you might consider running. You have the credentials. It might not take so much extra time out of your schedule. I’ll nominate you, if you have no objections.”

Even though he attended most of the association meetings, he was a bit surprised to find himself in consideration for a director position. At first, he thought that because he was known to be working from home, she and others might think that he had extra time on his hands. He was thin-skinned about this. She sensed his hesitation.

“There are times when the work piles up a bit but there is some flexibility as to when it needs to be done. As you are used to the discipline required for self-employment, I was wondering if it might suit you. With some deadlines, of course, and some fixed dates, would you be able to take on the responsibility?”

He was trying to remember what those responsibilities were: annual budgets, for certain, setting condo fees, special assessments for building repairs. He hadn’t looked at his condo docs much since he’d moved in. He vaguely remembered seeing them in a box stuffed way in the back of his walk-in closet. He was pretty sure Peter wouldn’t have taken them when he’d moved stuff out, those least of all.

“Maybe not the most popular office, Mrs. James, taking people’s money.”

“True but you get to share the blame with the other two directors on our board. We’ve farmed out some of the work but we need someone familiar with reading statements. Somebody who can easily explain the gist of the money situation to other members.”

“I suppose I could do that well enough, Mrs. James. Like many self-employed people, I work long hours. I’ve learned to pace myself with breaks during the day, like this one.” Freed from yarn duties, he raised his cup as if for a toast to liberation.

“Is that from the coffee house down by the lake, what’s it called again?”

“The Lake Espresso. I often walk down there. It’s a good stretch-out and you can find lots of conversation, if you want it. Gervase goes there. I’ve seen him dog-walking, or dog-sitting, I guess you’d have to call it, while he sits outside with the ‘doggie de jour.'”

“After my morning coffee, I usually switch to tea. Old habits die hard, isn’t that right?” Mrs. James laughed.”My grandmother loathed tea, couldn’t stand the taste of it. My grandfather, who was our family tea-granny, was known for his attempts to fool her whenever he got the chance, pouring her a cup of tea instead of coffee. My poor grandma. He especially delighted in doing this in public where she, as a proper lady, couldn’t spit out that first deceitful sip.”

“Your grandfather sounds like a character.” Hans could only imagine the delight awarded the successful practical joker. He hadn’t been in the room when they handed out the genes for fooling others. “You’re right about habits though, Mrs. James, good ones and bad. Might be worth doing something new after all, being the treasurer.”

“May I take that as a yes?”

“Yes, I’ll give it a go.”