Sunday, May 11, 2008

The rabbit and the coyote

I'm almost finished with the move. I have a few small things left in the old apartment and the initial cleaning to do before the lady comes tomorrow to do the final cleaning. I'm about half tempted to forego steam cleaning the carpets, but I've already scheduled it. The guy came and hauled away the trash and asked me if I'd be interested in having dinner with him. His name is Jack. Isn't that just too cute? I said I wasn't available and thanked him for asking. He gave me his card and asked me to spread the word about his services to all my friends. I'm not sure if he meant his hauling business or the offer of dinner.

I talked to Nel for a little while because I wanted to tell her I was moving. She already knew. The landlady told her a week ago. I'm surprised the landlady waited so long. Right after I parked the car I saw Mike from next door and wanted to tell him I was moving. He already knew. The landlady told him. What's worse is he seemed a little uncomfortable with the conversation when he told me he had already heard and I mentioned the landlady. As soon as I said her name he got this look in his eye like a rabbit cornered in a sheer-sided canyon by a coyote. I told him where I moved and invited him and Michelle and Hannah to come visit any time.

At Nel's, Michael, the guy who used to live in her apartment when she lived in mine, was on his knees on the floor in front of a mass of DVD players and VCRs covered in cables and connectors. He knew I was moving, too. The landlady again. I gave Nel the phone number, the same one I had there but Nel didn't use it since the door was so close, being right across the hall and all, and the new address and made plans to celebrate her birthday over here. She apologized for forgetting my birthday; it was understandable since her brother died that weekend. I didn't expect her to remember and I told her so. We'll celebrate both our birthdays on her birthday in July. I don't want to lose track of her just because I'm not across the hall any more.

Someone banged on the front door. It was the guy who was going to haul away the trash. I went down and opened the front door to let him and his son in and who should come out into the hall with her work apron on hanging onto Pastor's collar but the landlady. She left a client on the table because she said Pastor had to go out. I asked Nathan, the guy's son, to close the gate and the landlady let go of Pastor's collar. He sniffed Nathan and then ran out into the yard when Jack drove up and came through the gate. Satisfied they smelled all right, Pastor went back into the house right past the landlady who was still on the porch and asking Jack and Nathan questions. "I guess he didn't have to go after all," the landlady said. No, Pastor didn't have to go but she had to find out what was going on, leaving a client on the table in the middle of his massage.

I followed Jack and Nathan back up the stairs and showed them what needed to go and they began carting the stuff down the stairs. I went back to talk to Nel and Michael as soon as they left. I told them how the landlady came outside with her working apron on and Michael just smiled. "Yeah, she has to be in control all the time. She's like the Gestapo." Nel just smiled and nodded. "That's why I moved out."

"Up until recently," I said, "she was good to me, but since Marius moved in, not so much."

"She's nice to you as long as she's in control, but the minute she feels like you're in control she turns on you." That's what happened. When I pulled in and focused on work and my other activities and didn't spend so much time chatting and drinking wine with the landlady she became very different. "She used to bring food when I had been off her radar for a few days just to ask questions and find out what was going on."

"I just keep to myself," Nel said.

"I did, too, but she didn't like it." I told them about how she ambushes me in the hall, on the front porch, even at the front gate. "She used to do the same thing to me," Michael said.

"That's why I like living in this apartment," Nel said. "I have the back entrance. It's harder for her to catch me."

"And she was always cornering me in the laundry room."

I shook my head. "I couldn't get time in the laundry room. She was always in there. I started going to the laundromat. It's easier, even though part of my rent is for the use of the laundry room."

"I had to tell her I needed a certain day." Nel leaned forward. "I couldn't get it either until I just told her that Sunday was my day."

A little while later, after comparing experiences, Nel and Michael left to go to the store to pick up an RF modulator because her new DVD player wasn't compatible with her 2-year-old TV. I went back to clearing out more stuff and then went back to the apartment with some boxes and a computer tower Nathan had been kind enough to put in my car. I called the landlady when I got home to let her know I'd be in and out this weekend. She had left two messages for me on Friday, the second angrier and longer than the first, to let me know she must be kept in the loop on my comings and goings. When the phone was finally hooked up at almost 5 p.m. I called her and told her the phone was just hooked up and I got her messages. "But your phone was on," she said. "I left messages."

"Yes, and I got your messages. That's why I'm calling. But the guy from Qwest just left. He had to configure my modem and turn the service on here and at the switching station."

"I left messages."

"Yes, the phone number is the same but it was off over there and has just been turned on over here; that's why I'm calling."

I explained the changes to the original schedule and let her know my plans, as per her demands in her messages, and then gratefully hung up after telling her I had to be here for a couple of deliveries and would probably just grab something to eat, since I hadn't eaten all day, and get some rest.

"You will pay for the extra days. I already have someone coming to look at the place but I want to make sure it's good before I let her come. You know how anal retentive I am." (Yeah, I have noticed it a bit.) "You go eat and relax and you tell me when you're going to be here. Keep me in the loop."

That's the way to keep her happy and off your back, keep her in the loop.

I am somewhat naive about some people. I trust them if they're nice. I believe them when they do things that seem unselfish and open. I don't question their motives until something happens, and I never know what the trigger is. It's like old dynamite that sweats pure nitroglycerin; dangerous if moved or shaken the wrong way. One false step and KABOOM!

I knew about the landlady going into Nel's apartment to close her windows when she wasn't home. Nel's windows are on the west side of the house and they look out onto the side of the house next door where the college-age guys with the revolving door girlfriends used to live. The landlady would have had to go outside and between the houses to check to see if Nel's windows were open or closed, something I already knew she did on my side of the house because she called me several times in the middle of the night or before dawn to tell me to close them. I like fresh air coming into the house but she doesn't like it because she has to turn the heat up higher, or that's what she said. It's not true. There is no working thermostat on the second floor, not one that is connected to the boiler in the basement. There are two thermostats connected to that: the one in her apartment and the one right next to the boiler in the basement. She has total control of the heat. Nel said she spent her first winter wearing her coat and extra layers of clothing because the landlady controlled the heat and none of it made it upstairs. That's when the landlady gave her a space heater that she keeps on all the time right next to her feet when she's in the living room and in the bedroom at night. It didn't cost the landlady anything because the tenants pay for their own electricity. I can't imagine what it would have been like if she included the electric in the rent.

There were other revelations. Michael said she always kept track of how long he was in the shower and I remember a conversation just after I moved in when the landlady told me that Michael liked long showers and when his son lived there he took a 30-minute shower once or twice. She always complained that Nel was using too much water, a shower in the morning and a bath at night and running the washer all day Sunday, which wasn't quite true. Nel usually had the laundry done in about 3-4 hours. She goes through a lot of work uniforms and towels. And the list went on, most of them similar to my experiences, like with the trash. Nel said she was paranoid about the trash because the landlady went through it when she threw it out and commented on how many beer cartons there were and how much more or less trash she threw out each week. Michael said she did the same thing to him. So it wasn't just my imagination.

I still have to go over there today to finish up and get out the rest of my things even though I'm half tempted to just leave them. I don't want any more gossip to go flying around the neighborhood, and it would because it already has since she has notified five other neighbors that I'm moving and they mentioned it to me when they wished me well. I'm glad to be living in a cottage with no close neighbors and not because I don't like people either. I am tired of gossiping landladies who have nothing better to do with their time than go through someone else's trash and count how much water they use when they flush the toilet or take a bath or shower. I know what kind of gossip will fly because I heard it about all the neighbors when I moved in over there three years ago. Nel's stuck over there because she can't afford anything else, but the landlady told me she is going to raise her rent so much she'll have to move. Now that she has another tenant lined up for my old apartment Nel will be all alone, isolated. The new tenant has no idea what she's getting into, but I'm sure she'll find out if she steps outside of the landlady's loop, just like Michael and Nel and I found out.

It's won't do any good to let the new tenant know because she probably wouldn't listen to us anyway. We're strangers and the landlady has such a friendly demeanor. She seems like someone who would be a good friend, someone you can trust, someone who will listen to your troubles and offer cakes and sympathy. Like so many other people who must have control in a relationship, the minute the power is balanced or even a little skewed to your side, the controls clamp down and the friendly demeanor vanishes. With a smile on their faces and solicitous words on their tongues, people like that will trash your reputation and do their best to run you out of their sphere of influence while they try to make you believe they have your best interests at heart. It might now show up so clearly at first. There will be little barbs and digs and subtle comments they'll laugh off or assure you sounded differently than what they meant, but eventually they drop all courtesy and smiles and plunge the knife directly into your back. They might even offer an olive branch when you have something they want or would benefit them, but as soon as they find out they have it or can't have it, the axe they wanted to bury will be buried in your head.

It's hard to spot these people because of their chameleon-like camouflage and their seeming friendliness and innocence, but if you're careful and you listen to people who have known them a while, or better yet listen to how they talk about people they once called friends, the signs are obvious. The only options at that point are to hunker down and protect yourself or get away from them as quickly as possible, cutting all ties, because if you're even remotely connected or on the fringe they will send out subtle messages couched in friendly and helpful words to make sure you know they're still aware of you and still watching. It's a sign they're still threatened and when threatened these people are dangerous like coyotes cornering a rabbit against a sheer box canyon wall, and they won't hesitate to strike. You can count on that.

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