I came out of my house yesterday with two dogs and a big “For Rent” sign. The dogs, knowing they were on their way to the dog park, streaked to the car and jumped and panted at the backseat door. I opened the door and they leaped in, wild to get going. (Is there anything an urban dog loves more than a dog park?) Then a large blue sedan, the kind that my grandmother would have driven, slanted up behind my car, its hind end jutting into the street, provoking a few quick beeps from other passing cars.
“Excuse me?” the driver called. “Excuse me?”
I was trying to muscle the For Rent sign, which is big, into the not-big trunk of my not-big car, so I turned to the driver and smiled politely and held up one finger.
The sign made it into the trunk and I walked up to the driver’s window, which was rolled down. A blue handicapped sign dangled from her rearview mirror. She was an older woman with a nimbus of gray hair, peering up at me. One hand clutched the wheel and the other held the Classifieds section of the newspaper, carefully folded to the “Apartments for Rent” section, several of which were circled with pencil.
“Are you renting an apartment here?” the woman said, nodding toward my house.
“Not here exactly, but three blocks away. Are you looking for an apartment?”
She nodded vigorously. “Yes. Yes I am.”
“I’m not sure what sort of place you’re looking for,” I said, “but the one I’m renting is huge and pricey.”
“How much is it?”
I told her. She nodded again.
“Thank you,” she said.
I knew that thank you. I knew that nod. I’ve given that thank you and that nod myself, many a time. It’s the nod of someone who has immediately crossed something off her mental list because no matter how much she might want it – the apartment, a trip, the daily special at a fancy restaurant, a year’s tuition at a private college, the dress with the daisies on it – it’s too expensive. Far too expensive.
I looked at the woman. Her eyes betrayed her anxiety. The circled classifieds were smearing under her grip. She didn’t look like someone who would know about Craigslist or the online ads. In her clean sedate sedan she looked like a woman who should be living in a house with a long-paid-off mortgage, filled with belongings gathered over a lifetime. Family photos on the walls. Why was she roaming the streets of Uptown Minneapolis, looking for an apartment? I pictured the long flight of stairs to that big apartment three blocks away. I pictured the bed and couch and dining table and chairs being hauled up those stairs by movers much younger than she. The handicapped sign dangling from her mirror.
“Well, the good thing is that you’re looking at a good time of the year,” I said. “There are so many For Rent signs up all around the neighborhood.”
“I know you’ll find a place that’s just right for you,” I said.
She nodded. I nodded. The dogs behind me leaped and scrabbled at the partially-open window of the backseat of my car, which is trashed, filled with dog hair and food wrappers and cd covers and dust and the detritus of children and dogs and a thousand errands. The older woman put her car in gear and put her blinker on and peered behind her to see if it was safe to pull out. On down the street she went, the ads still clutched in one hand.
Well, that one made me cry.