Tuesday 24 August 2021

The Savvy Woman’s Guide to Living an Idiot-Proof Life


by Lisa Fox

Seagram’s Calypso Cooler – blue as drain cleaner but much smoother



I won’t pretend I know it all. Hell, I won’t pretend I know half of whatever ‘it’ is.

But when you’re forty, twice divorced, and the highlight of your weekend is devouring a bowl of Rocky Road while sitting on a lumpy couch as you watch reruns of ‘80s sitcoms with your half-blind cat, you start thinking about things.

Stupid things, really.

Thanksgiving dinner with my first set of in-laws, when I left the bag of giblets intact because my brilliant husband chided me for trying to read the cooking instructions on the outside of the bird. ‘What kind of moron reads the directions?’

Booking my honeymoon with my second husband to the Caribbean island of Grenada, instead of Granada, Spain, because he insisted they were the same. (Vowels, they matter).

All that money wasted on supplemental rental car insurance.

Warrantees bought when I didn’t need them and dismissed when I did. God forbid a DVD scratched, but my flatscreen TV? (Spoiler alert: They break).

That time I found Husband #1 bonking the Starbucks barista in the backseat of my Honda, after I’d spotted it parked in the lot of the abandoned Piggly Wiggly, fearing he’d broken down or was carjacked or worse. (It was worse).

Or when Husband #2 went to buy milk on a Saturday night in December, returning a week later with a face full of tattoos and a snake named Jeffrey draped over his shoulders.

Square pegs never fit into round holes, no matter how hard you push them. You can twist them, turn them, whittle down the edges with a knife. Nothing’s gonna give except you, sore and breathless and bitter, surrounded by shards of the person you thought you were.

You’ll lose your edge.

Any fool can tell you that.

I’m not an authority on life, or love, or happiness. But I’m a woman who’s waded halfway through a sea of bullshit before recognizing its stench. I’ve spent years on cruise control, often forgetting that I still need to drive the damn car.

I’ve faceplanted too many times, swooning over the wrong man.

I’ve let the right one slip away.

I won’t tell you how it works out for me in the end. But I will say, it gets better. Once you commit to idiot-proofing your life.

Standard disclaimer: This is not intended to be a self-help guide. It’s just my story. Are you ready?

1.        An ‘I told you so’ tells a lot. So does its absence.

Back from my morning run, I’d arrived home to a red tag on my door.

No Entry.

No laptop. No shower. No makeup.

I was going to miss the biggest ZOOM presentation of my career.

I cornered Jasper, the new building superintendent, as he was leaving old Mrs. Miller’s apartment. He’d picked the worst possible time to spray my place for roaches.

As if I had roaches.


Jasper was around my age and lacked that grandfatherly confidence I’d come to expect from building management.

‘Don’t you warn people before shutting them out of their homes?’

A blush, redder than my ‘No Entry’ door tag, crept across his cheeks. He opened his mouth, closed it, and opened it, swift as a ventriloquist dummy.

‘Well?’ I asked, arms crossed and foot tapping.

‘You didn’t get the email?’

‘What email?’ I glared as he pulled out his cell phone. ‘I’m SavvyWoman@alottamail.com.’

He shook his head. ‘I have MrsStacyWalters@alottamail.com.’

Frustration and panic tangoed in my gut. ‘I changed my email address after my divorce. You should have it on your list. I—'


Realization struck, a power surge to the brain. I’d neglected to update my tenant records.

‘You didn’t get my email,” he said. “It’s okay.’

Okay? I felt my chest tighten. This mistake could cost me my client.

‘I’m the fix-it guy, Savvy Woman, and you need to get on with your day. Guess I’d better fix it, huh?’

Jasper smiled with periwinkle eyes, his gaze a calm sea unfettered by my raging chaos. I exhaled. There was a softness about him, at odds with his roughened workman’s hands.

He emerged from my apartment, blouses and bras grasped awkwardly in his right hand, my laptop in his left. Clad in goggles, fumigation mask, and a white paper suit, he could have passed for an alien looting a Victoria’s Secret.

2.      Broom closets often hold greater treasures than you realize. So do people.

‘Why are you being so nice?’ I asked Jasper as we stood outside my apartment.


He removed his goggles and mask (human, once again), and, avoiding my eyes, sheepishly passed me my clothing and undergarments. He glanced up as our hands brushed briefly, the touch feather light. 


‘What’s wrong with nice?’


‘Nothing. Nothing at all. It’s just—' I felt my face flush. The heat, the adrenaline, likely residual from my run. ‘I really appreciate you going back for my things.’ Talking with my hands, I stopped myself mid-gesture, realizing the motion set my bra flailing about. ‘It’s just not going to happen. My conference call is in less than an hour, and apparently, I’m homeless now.’


I bit my lip to punish its quivering. All that hard work, for nothing.


Jasper reached toward me, then pulled back. He straightened, swallowed hard, and let his hand rest on my shoulder. His palm was as warm as a sun-soaked beach blanket, soft, yet coarse (without the scratchiness of sand).


I sighed.

‘We’ll get this done,’ he said. ‘I know just the place.’


Jasper brought me to a broom closet in the building’s basement.

It had been a broom closet at one point, but now it was more like Jasper’s secret lair. Bleaches and buckets and mops and the tools of his trade all resided here, but there was so much more within these four cramped walls.


An antique rolltop writing desk sat along one wall; a small computer monitor rested on the restored wood. There was Wi-Fi (with a strong signal), a fully stocked mini-fridge, a shelf-full of books (everything from Shakespeare to Stephen King), a guitar resting against the cinderblock, and a vintage 1980s skateboard tucked under the desk. 


And an AED/Defibrillator on the wall. Just in case.


Thanks to Jasper, it looked like I wouldn’t have that heart attack, after all.

I’d settled on a red blouse with matching bra (not that anyone would know except me)—a power color to give me the confidence to kick ass—and after a few more trips inside the hot zone, Jasper had located my hairbrush, my coral lipstick, and the chicken-scratched speaker’s notes I’d left scattered on the kitchen table.


Everything I needed to wow my client.


‘I’m sorry it’s not as nice as your home office,’ Jasper said as he’d settled me into the space. ‘But it’s something.’


It was more than something.


As I had primped upstairs in the lobby restroom, Jasper had rearranged the closet so I’d have just the right backdrop in my camera background (how he’d swapped out those paint cans for modern art sculptures and vases with fresh flowers, and so quickly, I’d never know). He connected my laptop to the monitor, neatly stacked my notes, set me up with a notepad and pen, and left a bottle of water with a large glass of ice.


On a coaster, too.


Who was this guy, anyway?


3.      Daftness isn’t foolproof. But it’s fixable.

I didn’t mean to snoop. Really, I didn’t. But I’d finished my presentation (nailed it, by the way…the clients even complemented the eclectic background in my ‘office’). The non-existent roaches were still gasping their last in my poisoned apartment, and Jasper was nowhere to be found.


I didn’t have anyplace else to go, and that rolltop desk, it was just so fascinating! I couldn’t resist those smoothed crevices, feeling the old wood whisper its stories. Who had owned the desk before? Where had Jasper found it? I was convinced he had rescued it from a junkyard somewhere, intent on restoring it.


My skin tingled as I envisioned him running sandpaper over the desktop, buffing down the rough edges, applying thick coats of varnish until the wood shone like new. Better than new.

He’d wipe his brow with the back of his hand, taking a moment to admire his craftsmanship…


I opened the drawer and peeked inside.


·         Mrs. Miller’s weekly grocery list. What could Jasper be doing with that?


·         A prescription for Xanax. Ah, well, who isn’t taking Xanax these days?


·         A receipt for a child support payment. Oh.    


I jumped as the doorknob rattled, catching my sleeve in the drawer as I slammed it shut. Fabric trapped and drawer inexplicably locked, I found myself tethered to the desk.


‘How did it go?’ Jasper smiled, an empty wineglass in one hand and a tropical wine cooler in the other. ‘Best I could do on short notice. Mrs. Miller in 6A ran out of cat food and was worried about Fluffy.’


He retrieved another coaster and set the glass down. Twisting the cap off the bottle, he poured the drink—blue, like drain cleaner, but fancy in a crystal goblet.


‘Celebration time. I’m sure you did great,’ he said. ‘What is it you do again? Advertising, right?’


‘Marketing,’ I said, subtly trying to extricate my sleeve without appearing like I was spasming. ‘Marketing research.’


I tugged.


‘We help…’ tug… ‘clients to better understand…’ tug … ‘their customers.’


‘That sounds interesting—'




Now free, my hand jerked upward, knocking the wine cooler all over the desk. I bolted up, grabbing a roll of paper towels from the supply rack. My notes took the brunt of the spill, my laptop spared, and I scrambled to soak up any residual from the desk itself.


A piece of my sleeve hung from the drawer, taunting like a matador’s cape. Jasper’s eyes widened.


‘Jasper, I’m so sorry! I didn’t mean—'


‘—to snoop around?’


‘No, no, I wasn’t snooping! The desk… the drawer…’


‘Closing a drawer is pretty foolproof. Maybe not for you.’


‘I’m truly sorry.’ Hanging my head, my eyes fixated on my grubby running shoes. I really was a hot mess.


‘But it’s only fair,’ he said. ‘After all, I did go through your drawers, the contents of which are far more interesting than anything I’ve got here.’


I glanced up. A hint of a smile played at Jasper’s lips and in his eyes.


‘I don’t know what I would have done without your help,’ I said.   


‘Ah, but you’re special. I don’t invite just anyone into my secret hideout.’


Resting my hand on the smooth desktop, I realized Jasper was a rare find. Until this moment, I’d allowed him to exist in the background, like some painted wall or shiny floor. I knew nothing about the guy who unclogged the sink, other than he was good with a plunger. And I wanted to know more.


‘Have dinner with me?’ I reached for his hand. I didn’t stop myself.


He grinned with a face full of mischief, and perhaps something more.

‘Are you sure? I thought you went for the idiot type. After all, I’ve seen your ex with his, er, snake.’ He shuddered.


I shook my head. ‘I’ve committed to living an idiot-proof life.’


Jasper raised his eyebrows.


‘But I’m still working on idiot-proofing me,’ I said.


            News flash: I was the idiot all along.

Bad choices, clueless oversights. It was mostly me, not them.

Idiot-proofing is a lot like waterproofing—it forms an impervious barrier to prevent the idiocy from getting inside and from seeping out. Use the right technique and idiots will stop leaching into your life. You’ll safeguard yourself when the havoc of your own foolishness threatens to flood. 

I’ve learned a lot from my building superintendent.

But I won’t tell you how our story ends.

If you’re living an idiot-proof life, I don’t need to.

About the author 

Lisa Fox is a pharmaceutical market researcher by day and fiction writer by night. She thrives in the chaos of everyday suburban life, residing in New Jersey (USA) with her husband, two sons, and their couch-dwelling golden retriever.

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