Monday, June 29, 2009

Better Red than Fred! (Part II)

If you'll recall, last post, we left our heroes just as they were about to enter the House of Not Ill Enough Repute. (Obviously, if it had been ill enough, we would've known.) I should take a moment to describe our heroes:

James (not his real name): The aforementioned former Marine (I once made the mistake of calling him an "ex-Marine", before being informed that there are no "ex-Marines," only "former Marines;" I believe this is a term of respect acknowledging the hard work and sacrifice required to attain such a lofty and enviable position, much like "former President" or "former boyfriend of Scarlett Johansson.") James worked the night shift at the hospital, so we only saw each other in passing a few evenings a week, when my hockey schedule coincided with his work.

Bert (not his real name): A friend of James', a generally OK guy whose body never quite grew to the size for which his head was intended, giving him the appearance of an upside-down Weeble. His most notable qualities, from my perspective, were that he was a very good soccer player and usually paid his bills on time, with one notable exception. (Ooo, look! Foreshadowing!)

Me (not my real name): Young, dashing, incredibly virile, with rippling muscles, a flashy car, and large stick with which to beat off the scores of beautiful women who rushed to my side in tight throngs. (Again, that's "STick" and "thRongs," for the benefit of those who may be listening to the book-on-tape version of this.)

OK, so I'm taking a little poetic license be totally, completely honest, Bert's head was not THAT big.

Our lease started in mid-August, giving us a two-week overlap with our previous apartment, which was good because the new apartment hadn't been cleaned since the early 1800's...and the house was built in the 1950's. It's a testament to just how disgusting it was that three bachelors considered it mildly untidy. We gave it a good brooming, subdued or signed treaties with the larger bacteria, and settled in.

The tenants in the upstairs unit of this two-family house moved out at the end of August. I met one of them briefly on a sunny Saturday, as he backed a pickup truck packed with 55-gallon drums down the driveway and up to the basement window. Seemed like a good opportunity to get the inside poop on our new digs.

"Hey, I'm Mike."

"'Sup, Mike. Ryan." We shook hands.

"So, what's Fred like?" I asked innocently.

"He's a dick," responded Ryan. He said it so matter-of-factly, the way you might say "He's a mammal," that it didn't sink in at first. By the time it did, he had fed a hose through the basement window to someone inside, then cranked up the worn-looking pump sitting atop the barrels.

"So, uh...he gave you some trouble, did he?" I asked lamely.

Ryan snorted. "Our refrigerator stopped working in April. He stopped by once, ate some of the food out of it, and hasn't done anything about it since.

"He came by one time and didn't like our garbage can on the front porch, so his way of telling us to move it was to empty it out on our stairs." Ryan nodded toward the barrels. "That's why my dad drove up from Connecticut today so we could pump all the oil that we paid for out of the furnace. I'm not leaving that (expletive)sucker a (bleeping) thing."

What was that? Clue #5? Who's keeping track at this point?

I'd already lived in enough apartments (translation: one or more) to know that the most valuable thing that I have written to date is a detailed Statement of Condition. After being charged $5 a bulb for lights that hadn't had bulbs when we moved in, I learned to be nitpicky. Having seen the do-it-yourself lawyerese in the lease, I thought it particularly important in this case to pick nits to the nth degree. Every window crack, every peeling paint chip, every loose floorboard was recorded on that page in tiny script, along with a few more damages which didn't exist yet, but which I thought we ran some risk of causing. (That's a tip, kids, write it down.) The apartment's condition could best be described as "crap"; but it was a lot of space for not too much money, so who's to argue over a few spots on the carpet?

You may have noticed that Fred has not yet made an appearance in this account. He did the same with the apartment. After the first week, in which he replaced the garbage disposal and assured us that he would be replacing the carpet, I can clearly remember the number of times our dear slumlord paid us a visit, and the times he didn't:

- He DIDN'T when a persistent smell of gas filled the kitchen, and later the entire downstairs, for a few days straight. He assured us that it was just the normal function of the gas stove. Interestingly, the gas company thought it somewhat less normal, and suggested that we step outside until a representative could arrive to check things out. Turned out to be nothing more than a pilot in need of relighting, but it was nice to know that Fred cared.

- He DID...eventually...when the tile in our only shower started to disintegrate. His initial solution was for us to tape Saran Wrap over the hole for a week until he could get there. When he did show up, he tore out a large section of tile around the hole, left it in the tub, and disappeared for another week. When he returned to retile it, he left another heap of broken tile and grout in the tub. Not surprisingly, "Cleaning charges" were not included on his bill...but I'm getting ahead of myself. Did I mention this was our only shower? Yes?

- He DIDN'T come to visit when the kitchen sink broke. It's worth noting that on his own Statement of Condition, he had this item: "The kitchen sink faucet is loose but functions correctly." Not surprisingly, after a few months "loose" became "impossible to shut off." We closed the valve under the counter, put in a call to Fred, and resigned ourselves to using the bathroom sink for our kitchen needs for a few days.

And then a few more days.

And then yet more days.

Do you know how vital a working sink is to the creation of mac 'n' cheese? (I repeat: three bachelors.)

- He DID come to fix the sink when the first of the month came and went without a rent check. ("But, Fred, we thought you were coming out to fix the sink, so we just left the check here for you.") When he did, he found the check taped to the cabinet directly over the sink, and we found ourselves with a new faucet.

- He DIDN'T come to visit when he re-rented the unit upstairs. I am inclined to think that he never even met the people he rented to prior to their moving in. If he did, all I can say is that he is as discerning a landlord as he is an honest one. Russ was a twitchy, slightly-too-friendly sort, the kind of guy who you were pretty sure was walking to work because of one too many vehicular manslaughter charges. He did try to be neighborly by popping downstairs to borrow things, as neighbors do, but instead of borrowing an egg or a cup of sugar, Russ was always looking to borrow a cup of weed. Apparently, the local Store 24 was all out. His wife was a rail-thin chain-smoker who will be credited in the movie of my life as "Domestic Abuse Victim #1." The only thing in their apartment louder than their beloved "Journey's Greatest Hits (Vols. 1 and 2)" CD was their dog, a yippy little puntable that barked at anything that moved, up to and including individual air molecules.

If that was the best Fred could do for tenants, I would've expected him to BEG us to stay. Of course, I'd also have expected him to come out for the flood.

Next post: The one time when a cardboard box definitely would not have been better...and the reason we lost all of ours.

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