Instructions for the New Personal Assistant

As Nathan Pensky’s assistant, you’ll need to know how to deal with raccoons, ghosts, and “sex parties.” But don’t worry, this guide is quite comprehensive.


1. I like a peanut butter cup the moment I wake up. I’m not joking about that. The moment I feel myself coming out of sleep, I’ll open my mouth instinctively and expect a peanut butter cup. I get up at 6:30 a.m., 7.40 a.m., 8:13 a.m., and 8:22 a.m.

2. My dog, Betty, she likes you to scratch right behind her ear. Pretty often. Ten, twelve times a day, I’d say. I shaved the spot to make it easier for you. Actually I got it wrong the first time, so there are two shaved spots. The real one is the one closest to her left ear.

3. Please make sure all the mirrors are polished to a high sheen. I don’t care about the rest of the house or how clean it is.

4. There’s this bit of wallpaper in my bedroom that flaps, and sometimes I get frightened by it. If that happens, I’ll need you to grab a broom or a chair and try and corner me and get me under some blankets or something. I usually start running around, but I don’t get far.

5. Shoes are optional. Whatever. Just mind the rugs, as in don’t walk on them ever.

6. I get very handsy when I’ve been drinking. Push me away.

7. Can we agree that music created after 1930 – and I mean the fact of it – doesn’t have any place among civilized people? You can use the hi-fi, but please. I’m not gonna say it but once.


8. You can eat whatever is in the kitchen, as long as it’s food.

9. Seriously don’t step on the rugs. I don’t care if the dog messes there. I DO NOT want your feet there, okay? Do not step on the rugs.

10. I may need you to rub sunblock on my body sometimes. Are you comfortable with the human form? I guess that’s a separate question. But you can wear a blindfold while you do it if you don’t want to look at me. I wouldn’t want to look at me. I’d rub it on myself, but my hands get really dry. Your hands won’t get dry, don’t worry. But if they do, you can just pee on them, which is what I do when my hands get dry. My doctor told me to do that. It’s not weird! Anyway, there are a lot of instructions for the rubbing on of sunblock, but we’ll go more into that later.

11. You probably won’t have to worry about serving much food, but if you do, surprise me by drizzling some honey on whatever I ask for.

12. I’m fairly certain that there’s a ghost living in the cupboard above the stove. You should try to make friends with him if you can, because he hates me. The only advice I can give you for getting on his good side is don’t splash him with vegetable oil. I tried that once and relations between us took a definite turn for the worse.

13. I do a movie screening every third Friday. I’ve been working my way through the National Film registry for the past ten years. Next week is Desperately Seeking Susan. I’ll invite some friends over for drinks, and you’re welcome to stay for the festivities. In fact, I’d prefer it, because my friends are all fairly heavy smokers and there are a lot of them, so we’ll need someone to empty the ashtrays. The evening usually segues organically into a sex party, depending on what film it is. I donít know, do people say that? Sex party? Itís not as tawdry as it sounds, if that’s what you’re thinking. But I must confess the words ìsex partyî describe what happens pretty accurately. You’re welcome to stay, but keep away from Hans. He’s very clingy and has no sense of right and wrong. One time I found him hidden naked in the skylight above the living room. It was almost twenty degrees outside that time of year. I don’t know what he was thinking. He was like a little blueberry when I brought him inside. He wouldn’t stop crying for the longest time. I don’t know how many hot toddies I had to feed him. He said he had been waiting for Barry, who was my previous assistant. I don’t think Barry had even said two words to him, but that’s Hans. He’s an intellectual.

14. I don’t have any kind of locks on the doors or security alarm or anything, but I keep a sword propped against the side of the front door. I don’t know what kind of sword it is. I just think alarms are such a coward’s way out. One has to give the home intruders a fighting chance, doesn’t one?

15. I’m a very skilled manicurist, and I love practicing. So whenever you want a buff, just ask and I’ll likely oblige. I have a thing about hangnails, though. Can’t tolerate them. If I see one, we may have to perform surgery.

16. There’s supposed to be asbestos, so I just wear a lead apron whenever I watch television. You’re welcome to do the same, though I only have the one.


17. The thing about the neighbors is, they think I’m in a wheelchair because the homeowners’ association wanted me to get rid of the huge ramp outside the front door. And of course, I didn’t want to do that. Why would I? So much easier than stairs! So whenever someone from the neighborhood comes over – like, say, if I accidentally ding their cars with my crossbow and they want to get my insurance information, or like that one time when the Halperns couldnít find their son and for some reason thought Iíd know where he was – well, I wheel myself around and pretend I’m a person of the “handicapped persuasion,” as they say. Anyway, I’m not very careful about it, and the neighbors catch me walking around all the time. So whenever I do happen to remember, I really play it up, moan a little and whatnot. Don’t be alarmed by it. I’m fine. It’s just for that Morgendorfer lady’s benefit, with her clipboard.

18. Oh, Betty likes to hump the coatrack. The one there in the foyer. I’ve gotten used to it, so I don’t even notice any more. But she’s quite loud.

19. I take three sugars, five creams, and a peppermint candy in my coffee.

20. When it’s raining, I like to make fondue. Cheese, of course. But I lost the sticks a long time ago, so I usually just dangle the bread on the fire with dental floss. Of course, I’m really horrible with knots. How are you with knots?

21. Just so you know, I’m really racist. But only toward cowboys. I had a bad experience once in a steak house.

22. My bathrobe is my bathrobe, and I’ll be in it most of the time and I know it stinks, but what can I say? I just don’t want to wash it or ever take it off, ever. I’m just horrified by the thought of it. But that’s what that smell is.

23. I enjoy puzzles. Do you enjoy puzzles? We’ll need to do quite a lot of puzzles.

24. You’ll need to set all the clocks twice daily. Otherwise they all start chiming at different times, and I’ll think time has lost all meaning.


25. Feel free to use the shooting range, for whatever. I don’t own any guns, but I’ll sometimes go out there and throw fruit at this huge raccoon that lives under the target. I call him Roscoe, but you don’t have to call him that. He’s never responded to it, though he fairly well hates getting fruit thrown at him so that may be why he never comes when I call him by his name.

26. When the garbage man comes, all the dogs bark. And I have to hide myself in the attic behind my grandmother’s chiffonier. It’s the only thing that calms me. I was attacked by a dog, a Shih-Tzu, as a child. I was fifteen. It sat on my foot, and I was so frightened I choked on the pistachio nut I was eating. The dog wouldn’t stop barking, so I couldn’t dislodge the obstruction. It was horrible.

27. My personal schedule goes on a lunar calendar, obviously, so try and consult the book on my bedside when scheduling your days off.

28. I’m allergic to most soaps and perfumes, so don’t wash or wear any kind of scent, please. There’s enough talcum powder around here for both of us.

29. Smoking is allowed. But if you use my opium pipe, please put it back where you found it when you’re done.

30. Don’t be alarmed by the way my hip pops like that. It’s always been that way. The doctors don’t have any explanation for it. That, or the acrid sulfur smell afterward. I’ve gotten used to it, and you will too.


31. My mailman, Henry, and I are not on speaking terms, so please don’t let him in if he asks. If you want to know, I owe him some money. But I see no reason why I should be getting quite so much Publisher’s Clearing House mail. He’s just being vindictive. The Publisher’s Clearing House mail goes in the basement, but you’ll probably have to use the dumb waiter, because there are missing stairs in that stairwell. You can get across if you’re not carrying anything, but you have to use the rope to brace yourself, kind of like rappelling.

32. You’ll be paid every week on Friday. I use the old typewriter to fill out the checks, and it needs daily oiling as it’s very old. I detest pens of any kind. And I wouldn’t know a computer if it bit me. Anyway, I pay $400 a day, because the way I see it, I’m not getting any younger, and I can’t afford to lose any more good help. I’ll provide medical and dental and all that, yes. But I want receipts for everything! And I want you to oil the other typewriter, too. The one I don’t use to fill out your checks. It’s a back-up, but you never know. Sometimes I like to write letters to my friends. And of course, they’re dictated, so you’ll only be helping yourself.

33. You can steal, if you must, but don’t make it obvious. And don’t take anything that has to be carried over the rugs, obviously, because you’re not allowed to walk on those, ever.

Illustrations by Brad Jonas

Nathan Pensky is a writer and editor living in rural Pennsylvania. Follow him on Twitter.