Friday, May 16, 2008

At ground level

I've got the itch, not the kind that requires antibiotics or steroid creams, but the itch to dig my fingers deep into the soil and plant things. There's a railroad tie planter out front with lots of open space and the rain-washed scent of lilac that delicately wrapped me yesterday as I took out the garbage made me yearn for more color and scents to greet me all year long. Think there can't be scents in the winter? There are, especially when melting snow releases the clean scent of pines and evergreens in the weak but warming sunlight. A year of scents is something to work for and maintain.

Although I've given up the heights, here at ground level I have gained the earth and the opportunity to play in the dirt. I had a little container garden and a couple of spider plants but only the container garden gave me any hint of scent. I may even go over to Rick's Nursery and pick out a rose bush or two, maybe something in a climber, to go with the herbs and flowers I'll plant to draw butterflies, bees and hummingbirds. I miss the hummingbirds that weren't supposed to live up at the cabin but swarmed around the feeder when I put it out. I may have to fight off raccoons again, but nothing comes without a price.

I feel as though being close to the earth is grounding me, giving me back that innate sense of season and weather that I gained at the cabin. This isn't the cabin with it's seclusion and profusion of wildlife and trees, but it's close. It's peaceful here despite the faint sounds of traffic and children as though I'm on an island in the midst of a river, separate but still connected by a slender bridge of sound.

As someone recently suggested, I'm going to venture over to the ARC and maybe to Goodwill to see if I can find a box planter and some containers to put on the deck. I might even run across a little table and chairs for the deck, with or without an umbrella, and a charcoal grill. I still have the seeds and peat pots I brought with me from the cabin and now it's time to put them to good use. Dad must have granted me just a little of his green abilities because even in the rarefied atmosphere of the sun room seeds sprouted for me and grew. I can't use the spider plants as examples since it's nearly impossible to kill them.

Each morning I eagerly open the blinds and the windows and breathe deeply of the dewy scent of lilac and I have even caught sight of an insect or flash of fur as the nocturnal wildlife heads for cover when dawn faintly blushes through the trees. There is such a wealth of beauty in even the smallest glimpse of life and, despite my fatal allergy, I look forward to the sound of busy bees dusted with golden pollen dipping and zigzagging along a bed of flowers . I found a picture of a dragonfly covered in dew that I made into wallpaper to remind me of the gem-bright and breathtaking beauty of the simplest creature caught in a moment of rest.

That is all. Disperse.

Wednesday, May 14, 2008

New digs and old craters

The only computer time I've had over the past few days is on the work computer. I haven't had a lot of time to write anything, and my work load is piling up. I'm still getting settled and it will take a while before I get all the boxes unpacked, but I have made a considerable dent, and a big pile of broken down boxes stuffed into a bigger box that will go to the recycling dumpster down the block.

When I moved in on Friday I suddenly realized I didn't have a mail box. I know this place had to have one and I found it after much searching, all the way down at the sidewalk hidden in a bunch of forsythia bushes. It's pink. I don't particularly care for the color, but at least it's big enough to hold most of my mail and a few of the packages that arrive here most days. I received an email this afternoon that one package sent at the beginning of May was returned as undeliverable because the forwarding address had expired, which is strange since the forwarding address hadn't gone into effect yet. I suspect that someone sent the package back since the mail dwindled sharply the last few days I lived at the other apartment and was probably part of the general unpleasantness, an unpleasantness that followed me here and knocked on my front door. I have since decided that it's not worth the effort or the energy to continue to meet that particularly unpleasantness head on and have since installed a call rejection feature on my phone and input that particular number. I'll have to dig up the cell phone and put that number into the system, too. I can't avoid the unpleasantness coming to the door but I can, and will, ask it to leave or file harassment charges, something I am reluctant to do. I want to put all unpleasantness from that quarter behind me.

In the meantime, I am getting used to a different schedule and layout. The bathroom has a low flow toilet that is absolutely wonderful and I am embarrassingly pleased at being able to get into the shower every morning and relax. It's also nice not to have to wear a coat in the house and to open the windows and let the breeze blow through laden with the fragrant scent of lilac and rain. I'm still trying to figure out where to put the washer (it's a portable) so that it doesn't interfere with everything else, but I'm getting there. The quiet is a balm to my ragged nerves and I feel myself unwinding and the tension leaving my body with every passing moment. I still hear the traffic in the streets and the kids when they're getting out of school, but they are faint sounds and not obnoxious in the least. It's so quiet most of the time that I didn't hear the UPS guy knock on the door this morning. I did have my noise canceling ear phones in at the time and was focusing on typing dictations at the time, so that may be part of it, but it's also a matter of this house being soundproofed. I find I'm even more productive here and there are fewer distractions. I like that.

There is still a lot of work to do but I'm looking forward to it. Some of my friends have called and asked about a house warming, so that is something else to put on the schedule, along with the last two issues of the ham club newsletter and personal appearances filling my summer calendar and stretching into the fall. I feel almost as relaxed and hopeful as I did when I lived in the cabin, and a whole lot less stressed.

There have been other things to keep me busy as well, like helping Carol find information on grants and companies to install wind turbines and passive solar heating in her house and condo. I found a wonderful site that offers tours all over Ohio, some of which include lunch, to see what is being done and has been done with alternative energy sources. I almost envy her since she will be putting into reality what I've been dreaming about for quite some time. It's fun and I get to share a little of what I've learned over the past few years. I only wish I could do that here, but I don't think the landlord would approve me altering the cottage -- at least not yet -- but I can still dream. I even saw the latest in composting toilets for the modern home, but I can't say I'm ready for that yet. I like the low flow toilet and not having to flush 2 or 3x just to get a little bit of paper to go down, and I am enjoying the low flow shower head, too. With a garbage disposal and an energy efficient dishwasher, I feel more in control of things.

One thing I have learned with this whole experience is that it is best not to bottle up anger and frustration or it will explode at the worst possible time. I am convinced the crater in Arizona was not caused by a meteor or comet as some scientists believe, but by a dinosaur that had taken so much crap and bottled up so much anger and frustration that it finally exploded, taking most of the local dinosaur population with it and sending a plume of dust and ash and debris into the atmosphere that blotted out the sun and created the ice age. I would prefer that not happen to me. I would hate to damage the Rocky Mountains or put a crater in the middle of Colorado any time soon. Anger is a good thing, in moderation, and it is even better when it hasn't been pressurized over time.

That is all. Disperse.

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.