Earlier last week, my friend posted on Facebook that she needed a cat sitter for the weekend. She worded it as a “limited time offer. I repeat: A whole weekend of kitten time with the cutest cat in the world and then you get to give her back. WOW! Order right now! P.S. This is dead serious. Help me.”
She sounded like me if I was trying to give away a tarantula: “It has six more legs than you could ever want! And look at those pincers! Available until someone takes it from of me and drops a textbook on it. P.S. SOS.”
Anyhow, I had no serious plans for the weekend and honestly got excited at the prospect of an Instagram photo shoot with a cat. How many likes could I garner? So I replied that I could cat sit.
The point is, I wasn’t doing this for money. However, you would think there would be some sort of compensation. One does not drive across town multiple times to feed a cat and “could you sit with it for a few hours? I don’t want him to get lonely.”
Me: Can I have your wifi password?
Friend: “Thank you so much for doing this. You really don’t know how much this means. Now my boyfriend and I can go on a weekend getaway. I’m gonna cover your froyo next time we hang out.”
Come again? That’s what I’m getting for doing this? And you’re telling me your cat doesn’t like getting its belly rubbed?
Friend: “When are you free next week to get froyo?”
Me: I’m not free. Literally, this is not a free service. And I’m actually busy working overtime because it sounds like I’m not getting paid this weekend. And I don’t know if I want to hang out with a cheapskate like you. I’m not asking for an Andrew Jackson; even $5 would be sufficient compared to acting like eleven ounces of frozen yogurt balances the scales.
Friend: “Great! I’ll leave the key under the mat!”
Ironically, that weekend, between cat-sitting visits, I had another appointment to tutor my friend’s aunt. A while before, my friend introduced me to his aunt and then followed up that his aunt was getting her masters and needed help in a statistics class. Would I be interested in helping her? She would pay me $100.
My mind jumped to where I could spend the $100: Groceries for the week. New running shoes. Doctor’s visit co-pays!
Me: “Sure, I’d love to! Give her my email.”
His aunt asked where I would like to meet. She offered to come to me, but I insisted, since she was paying me $100, I would come to her house. I also set aside four hours in my afternoon to ensure she got all the help she needed.
When I showed up, she gave me a tour of her house and an oral history of her schnauzers. We then sat at her kitchen table where I asked if she had anything she specifically wanted to go over. She didn’t; she just wanted a broad refresher lesson in statistics.
Me: “Okay, I think I have a few examples like that.”
Aunt: “Perfect! I’m glad you’re prepared.”
Every few moments, the aunt interrupted me to frown at her dogs. “I’m sorry, they keep distracting me,” she said. “They’re not usually like this.”
Meanwhile, the dogs were just sitting on the kitchen floor looking at us. They weren’t even trying to lick me. What pests.
Around the two hour mark, I was running out of material. “Is there anything else you want to go over?” I asked. “Do you have data we could work with?”
Aunt: “I think you’ve given me a good overview. I’ll definitely have to go over this later. Oh, before you leave, you have to see my Caribbean pictures!”
The one and only time I had seen my friend’s aunt before this tutoring session, she had been preparing to go on a Caribbean cruise with her family. I now sat in her kitchen thumbing through photos on her phone as she hovered over my shoulder. I politely commented on how green the palm trees were and “How many nights was the cruise?” Afterward, I began to pack up my notes. I left a packet of example exercises on the table for her use later.
Aunt: “Well, thank you so much. I really appreciate you coming over.”
She moved to her foyer where I imagined she was looking for her purse to write me a check.
“No problem,” I said, delaying when I saw she stood there empty-handed. “I hope it was helpful.”
She smiled. I fake smiled. The dogs looked at us.
Me: “They’re so cute.”
My friend’s aunt shrugged. “Ah, they just like attention. But if you like dog-sitting, you’re welcome to take care of them next time we go away?”
Me: “Sure! If I’m around.” And you don’t pay me in froyo.
We returned to smiling.
Oh my God, I wasn’t getting paid.
Me: “Well, you have a lovely house.” *counts to three (you still have time to pay me…)* “Well, it was nice seeing you.”
I opened the door.
Aunt: “Thanks again!”
I walked out to my car in a poverty-induced stupor. Did she think my services were charity? That I just gave up my afternoon for free to tutor a practical stranger? That we were friends so this was written off? That I cared about her Caribbean vacation (that she can obviously afford because she doesn’t pay her tutors)?
HELL NO. I bought three margaritas last night on the assumption that I was being paid $100 today!
Admittedly, $100 for what turned out to be a two-hour session seemed steep. But $50? Something? I even paid tolls to come out to her house!
Should I have said something? “Hi, I thought we agreed this was a paid session”? “I know you’re my friend’s aunt, but”? Then I thought of my friends’ babysitting horror stories. One time my friend was about to leave, so she told the parents they forgot to pay her. They replied, “We have the money in our hand; we thought we were still talking.”
I sit in my car in front of her house and pull up our email exchange looking for the $100 promise. Shoot, it’s not there. But it’s in the text from my friend!
“She says she’ll give you $100.”
Suddenly I hear the front door open. My friend’s aunt is in her yard waving me down. I roll down my window.
Aunt: “Did you forget this?” She holds up the practice problems I left.
Me: “No, I left those for you.” Did you forget to pay me?
Aunt: “You’re so sweet! Have a great afternoon!”
And the door closes. And I have wasted two hours for free. And I still have to pay tolls to get home. This isn’t even tax-exempt. She could have at least offered me froyo.