Life has not always been tea parties with white Jacquard napkins from Belgium. (I’m referring to my previous post.) For instance, I used to live two doors down from a drug addict. This was no ordinary addict, for he had been (one assumed he was no longer) a classics professor at a local university. Even though we neighbors observed a litany of strange behavior, such as washing his dishes on the front porch and starting his car with a long screwdriver jabbed into the spot where the ignition key had once gone, he could still draw upon his impressive vocabulary and deliver phrases with the impact of a master thespian.
There were ten small apartments in two courtyards built in advance of the Panama-California Exposition of 1915, which had been acquired by a young man with an entrepreneurial spirit, but sorely lacking in business acumen. In need of an apartment, I stopped by when I saw a “For Rent” sign in the front yard. The landlord was there and happy to show me a unit, which he promised was identical to the one coming available at the end of the month, but which he couldn’t show me that day. I would be sharing the place with my best friend who came back to see it with me, and after we agreed, I wrote Devon the landlord a check for $900 as a deposit. In return, all I got was silence.
To be fair, Devon returned two phone calls that month, one of which was to say that we were going to be “the final threads woven into a beautiful tapestry of the Elm Court community.” I tend to become enthralled by descriptive sentences delivered so beautifully, but in this case my enthrallment skewed my perception skills. The second call of the month was a lie, saying that the apartment would be available on the first, as promised, and to make our plans accordingly. I forwarded the mail, arranged for the utilities and updated information with my employer. My roommate was to handle the move itself, and I left for work thinking I would have a new home that evening. Instead, I received a call in late afternoon to meet him at a hotel because the current occupant had not yet moved out.
I should add that this was during December, and each week we were given some excuse as to why the occupant had not moved, so we were technically homeless until the shyster Devon arranged for our temporary housing down the street. We finally moved into Elm Court on Valentine’s weekend, but not into the promised unit. While all but two of the ten units had been renovated in 1990s fashion, our unit, somewhat discounted in price, had had seemingly little done to it since 1915. The newest appliance was a 1950s General Electric refrigerator, which had been placed in what was once a kitchen entrance from the hallway. Energy efficiency hadn’t been a consideration when that thing was built. Cranked to its highest setting, ice-cream was still a cold sweet soup, and we had about two days to drink milk regardless of the expiration date.
Elm Court in the nineties. The front door straight on belonged to our problem neighbor until he was moved out under the cover of darkness.
Our courtyard of five units underwent a quick turnover that spring. The only unit to have its same occupant was the one we’d been promised. That’s where Bentley the drug fiend lived. Evidently, he was supposed to have been evicted and his apartment returned to immaculate condition in time for that December 1st move-in appointment. Devon had mishandled something—probably the entire eviction process—Bentley had refused to leave, and we had no choice but to accept the run-down consolation prize since Devon held us to our lease. Knowing what I know now, I would have fought to get our deposit back and run as far away from that con-man as I could get, but we didn’t know our rights, we were in a hurry to get moved in somewhere, and we were too tired to start searching again. Besides, we met a fabulous neighbor who remains a dear friend to this day. No! Not Bentley the dramatic drug fiend.
In April, most of our bath towels and washcloths were stolen. The apartment complex boasted a community laundry room, which I’ve come to realize was nothing to boast about. The good part was that they were not coin operated, which meant that you could separate your laundry without going broke. Whenever we washed clothes, most of us were good about setting timers and staying aware so that other people didn’t have to wait, but there was a sign posted over the machines that said a tenant had the right to remove laundry from the machines if they had finished their cycle and the owners had not yet come to claim them. The sign, however, did not say that the laundry could be removed to another tenant’s apartment!
I was using one dryer and another tenant was using the other. When I returned to get my towels, both dryers were empty and the doors were left swinging. I suspected where my good towels had gone since you’d have to be a thief or on drugs to not realize you’d taken someone else’s washing. I had to pass by Bentley’s apartment, which was between our place and the laundry room. I’d had no luck convincing him in December that perhaps he had received my Christmas packages by mistake since I’d forwarded our mail to his address. There were always noises coming from his unit, and I knew to have a confrontation about towels would likely bring about a good shanking so I went inside and fumed.
Since there were other notes posted over the machines from time to time, I thought the best course of action was to post a message saying that my towels had been taken and to please return them. The note went ignored for a month, but one evening I noticed a response in green ink:
“To whom it may concern, One should note that quite often laundry is indiscernible by color and texture, and perhaps a domestic, unaware of nuances and textile variations inadvertently mistook one load for another. Before assigning culpability or intent, one should make an honest attempt to learn the reasons why his laundry has gone missing. I genuinely hope you never accept the opportunity to serve on a jury.”
As I stated earlier, I can become enthralled by marvelous sentences—and for a drug addict these were marvelous sentences. However, this paragraph only riled me up. I got out my pen and wrote: “For all the time you have taken to write this, you could have gathered up all the laundry you now realize isn’t yours and delivered it back to its rightful owner!”
Within the hour, a rather haggard person who looked much older than his years, stood on my porch holding a well-worn grocery bag. “Sorry about that,” he said. “We just realized we picked up the wrong load.”
“Thank you,” I replied. “And be sure to tell Bentley that I’ve been waiting for over a month.”
I never spoke to Bentley again and certainly not after seeing him chase Devon down the street with that long screwdriver he used for starting his car. While Bentley was away overnight, Devon had rented a truck, hired some men and had moved Bentley out of the apartment without warning. We were told that Bentley was moving, which was apparently news to Bentley who must’ve wondered if he was tripping when he stepped out of his car and saw a crew of people overhauling an empty apartment.
Our morning coffee was interrupted by shouting in the distance. The volume increased and Devon sprinted by the window. Coming up behind him, we could hear someone with very good diction bellowing with all the strength of a diaphragm trained for stagecraft, “You had no right! You had no right to touch my things! My priceless things! My objet d’art!” As he disappeared out of sight, that was the last we ever saw of Bentley.
© 2017 by Patrick Brown
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