Subterranean house-sitting blues

At the end of Chuck Palahniuk's "Survivor" our hero, after committing countless acts of terrorism and ruining the Super Bowl, has taken refuge aboard manufactured homes fastened to the backs of long-haul trucks.

He comments on his feelings of displacement as he tours his new "homes" as they are pulled down interstates at 75 mph.

I can relate.

I am a professional house sitter. I spend long stretches of the summer taking refuge in other people's homes. I am at once the husband, wife and caretaker of animals wrapped in one cheap package.

In fact, I am writing this in the front room of a beautiful new home above Talent. "Jig Saw Puzzle" by the Rolling Stones charges out of a Bose stereo, filling the room all the way to its incredibly high ceilings. A spectacular view of the valley greets me each morning as I grind my coffee in a stainless steel Cuisinart coffee maker.

It's a far cry from my normal existence, where my roomie and I scratch out a living while sharing an attic apartment above an Ashland children's shop. It's hot and small, but we manage, and for the most part I like it there.

But then I get these furtive tastes of luxury and wonder why I didn't choose a different path in life. Perhaps a Goldman Sachs exec, spending my days throwing around other people's cash and reaping the reward when bailout time comes. Greed, according to Gordon Gekko, is not only good, but it works.

One day, I tell myself, lying in a spacious guest bed, a loving cat curled up in the crook of my arm, I will have these things. Hopefully soon.

The secret to being an effective house sitter is simple: Don't break anything and don't kill the animals.

I recently broke one of those rules.

Calm down. The kitties are fine.

No, about a year ago I was guarding the home of my boss when one night I thought it would be a good idea to leave the couch late in the night to grab a cup of water.

The dog slept peacefully near the television as I stepped over her on the way to the kitchen. I was conscious not to wake her so I tiptoed.

Too bad I forgot that I had opened the glass doors of the entertainment center earlier in the evening to watch a movie.

I remember thinking, "Don't worry, doggy, I won't wake you," immediately before my knee hit the door, sending it crashing into place and shattering it into 4 million pieces.

Animals are funny. They know when you screw up. The dog came out of her slumber and shot a accusatory glance at me as if to say, "Oh man, I can't believe you just did that. So what now, hoss?"

The good thing was the door was made of breakaway glass, so I didn't cut a major artery in my leg and bleed out slowly on my boss' living room floor. Unfortunately, breakaway glass lives up to its name and reduces itself to tiny little shards upon impact, making them difficult to see and nearly impossible to remove from a thick rug.

I did my best to clean it up, thoughts of my boss' wife running a chunk of glass in her foot racing through my mind. Would it be best to resign before he got to work on Monday, I thought.

He was cool about the whole thing, but still, there is nothing worse than screwing up other people's stuff.

On this particular mission, I have become Dr. Conrad. One of the kitties, Oliver, is a diabetic and needs insulin shots two times a day to remain healthy.

I give myself credit for earning the house master's trust enough that he believes I can keep his cat alive through medicine. However, it is a bit of a liability for me, as I had never given an injection before last week.

Luckily, Oliver is the most chilled out cat in America. At first I was hesitant before nicking him in the scruff of his neck with the needle. At one point, though, he seemed to question my manhood with his judgmental cat eyes.

"Come on, be a man about it. I can take what you dish out," he seemed to say.

(One of the side effects of house sitting in remote areas alone is that I have taken to engaging in long, complex dialogues with animals. I know what they think and I'm sure they can read my mind.)

Now, I am able to jack him up with insulin almost without thinking.

My house-sitting career is an extension of my time in the Rogue Valley. I hardly ever stay in one place for any length of time, and when I do I always feel like a visitor. Most times, I never bother to unpack when I take residence in a new place. I know I'll be leaving soon anyway.

Hopefully, someday I won't feel like a character out of a Thomas Pynchon novel, but for now it works for me.

Anyway, if you are heading out of town soon and need someone to water your lilies, feed your kitty or perform an emergency appendectomy on your horse, you know how to find me.

Reach reporter Chris Conrad at 776-4471 or e-mail

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