Thursday, September 23, 2010

Someone Left the Treehouse in the Rain

If you don’t remember the move from separation to singledom, let me remind you that the three-week cleanup of the Treehouse was complicated by a leaking roof.  Perhaps it’s appropriate that on the way from singledom to cohabiting, the leak has returned.

Before going to Orlando to celebrate Dylan’s birthday, I called the landlord’s son to let him know the closet was leaking again.  At that point, it was a small drip, avoidable by scrunching my clothes to the side and putting a bucket down.  After ten days of back and forth, the roof became about as effective as swiss cheese.
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My clothes, shoes, and spare linens have been removed from the closet, where mold grows luxuriantly in the back corner and water trickles from several spots.  The closet fixtures I purchased and installed are now rife with mold.

The kitchen ceiling also leaks from several spots.  The sound of dripping water is so loud, it wakes me at night.  Of course it keeps me up, but that’s not what I mean.  I’m saying I finally manage to drop off despite the wet stench of the place and the frustration of having everything I own piled into half of a tiny studio, and the sound of rain inside the house is loud enough to wake me.
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If you’ll remember, the water damage in the kitchen is not new.  Clearly, the prior tenant experienced similar problems, as the new wall panels and rusted drip pans on the oven can attest.  And their realtor has the nerve to call me and ask what the landlord can do to keep me from moving out.

The house was built in 1925; it needs a new roof, not more handyman patch jobs.  That’s the minimum which needs to happen to make the place livable, and my landlord could pay for it with by selling the Escalade he drives in Miami (he lives in San Bernardino, CA) or the chunk of gold around his wrist.  Meanwhile, I no longer feel safe in my own home.  I’m sleeping with a bat near my bed.  I know that makes no sense – what am I going to do, beat the water to death? – but it helps me get a few fitful hours of rest.

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1200 Wallace Street in Coral Gables, FL, 33134, reeks of mold and festering water damage.  It’s August in Miami, but I’ve opened the windows to let the stench escape.  Since it’s rainy season, the ceiling never stops dripping.  The water went from brown to white, laced with glue from the tar paper the well-meaning, ineffective handyman keeps layering up there.

There’s no Becky.  I can barely stand the conditions here myself, and I’m not about to subject her to them.  We’re getting through this because we know we’ll share a home soon, and we’ll be able to discover each-other all over.

I can’t masturbate, even though I’ve got all the makings of a first-rate prison fantasy.  You know the one, where I’m a guard at a women’s prison?  That’s caged heat, baby.  The dripping water, the smell, it’s like special effects.  When it rains, I can imagine Becky and I getting hot and heavy on the front porch of some tropical hut during a rainstorm.  But there’s no way to reconcile disgust and self-lust, so even that momentary peace is lost to me.

Now I’m run down and feverish just when I need to be packing up.  Ever cleaned your dishes in the bathroom sink, rinsed them in the shower, and dried them in your living room, while running a fever, as roofing glue drips down your neck?  It’s exactly as fun as it sounds.

Mr. Rojas, the keys to your Escalade wouldn’t get me to stay in this dank hole another day.  If you have an ounce of humanity, you will replace the roof before you give the key to the Treehouse to some other poor sap.

Oh, and stop charging the poor woman who just moved in below me rent.  All that water flows downward, you know.

Tuesday, September 21, 2010

Welcome to My Nightmare

I had a disturbing dream about the one we called Anastasia. At least, in the dream her name was Anastasia (or Anastasia’s real name, I should say). When I woke, I realized she looked nothing like Anastasia. Tall and lean, a mix of Latin and black-Cuban, with a crazed mane of almost-dreadlocked hair and bright green-gray eyes. This wasn’t Anastasia, it was Andi. Or rather, Andi as a character called “Marie” in a short story I wrote some years back.

We kissed, this dream version of Andi / Anastasia / Marie and I. Lying side by side on a huge couch, fully clothed, much like the first kiss Andi and I shared on her parent’s couch in 1993. Except in the dream, my heart wasn’t in it.

This wasn’t a what if dream where your significant other doesn’t exist; I was fully aware of Becky the entire time. I felt no heat. This kiss felt wrong, like a violation, but I went through the motions anyway.

The guilt was compounded by waking up curled around my love, my Cleopatra, my Becky.

I moved to the computer but couldn’t write, which is how I usually wrap my mind around problems. This dream couldn’t be more obvious. I have moved on from my marriage, the court date is set, but I still have some unresolved emotions. The end of my marriage still hurts, and I should figure out why. Becky and I have moved quickly, and I need to acknowledge my smidge of doubt (not about her, of course, but myself).

For some reason, I got it in my head that Andi should pick me up and drive me to the court hearing where we will be finally divorced. Maybe we’ll even have breakfast afterward. That way, if there are things to be said, we can. Closure, they call it, if such a thing exists outside of wishful thinking.

I also think the dream is telling on another level; I’m done going through the motions of love. When I look in Becky’s eyes, it’s like drowning in happiness, lust, chocolate - a welcome, joyous flood of sweetness and death. Like writing, it’s those moments when I feel the presence of God in my life and know I’m exactly where I’m supposed to be.

If you lose that feeling, it’s time to move on.

Monday, September 20, 2010

I Love it When a Plan Comes Together

Days were dark. Becky and I wanted to move in. We had the place all picked out, and a landlord willing to cut us the deal of a lifetime. What we didn’t have was first and last month’s rent. My lease was expiring, and all we had were dreams.

To top it off, Dylan’s father didn’t want Dylan to transfer schools. Dylan’s current school was five minutes away from him and DF refused to make the drive. DF said he would agree to the transfer if it was what was best for Dylan, but he never did the research. Miami Shores Elementary is a decent school, but Coral Gables Elementary is top 30 in the state, top 10 in Miami Dade County. Even better, Coral Gables Elementary recently became Coral Gables K-8 Preparatory Academy, a public school teaching grades K-8.

DF didn’t see it as beneficial for Dylan’s education, he saw it as doing a favor for Becky, trying to make her life easier just because she has a new boyfriend. A forty-minute commute was out of the question, never mind that Becky had been making it for two years.

There’s a reason for clich├ęs. In this case, it’s always darkest before the dawn applies.

Cleopatra Pater – a teacher whose opinion DF still respects – spoke with DF. Cleo Pater made it clear that moving to Coral Gables would be a huge advantage for the Monkey. DF agreed to the transfer.

The same day Becky spoke with DF and found out he’d agreed to make the commute, I spoke with our landlord. Carroll agreed that Becky and I could move in with first month’s rent plus whatever we could put toward a deposit of last month’s rent. We’d pay extra each month, until she had her deposit. When Becky called me with the good news about Dylan, I told her my good news about the new place.

Suddenly, Dylan was slated for a much better school and we had enough money to move.

No matter how badly a day begins, it can still end well.

Friday, September 17, 2010

Rude Awakening Two: Someone's Knocking at the Door

There’s a certain pounding on the front door which can only be the police, or someone filled with righteous anger. I do my best to wake at 5am during the week, but not the weekends. It’s Sunday, five in the morning. Becky and I ate a delicious dinner of my famous chicken quesadillas, drank chardonnay, and fell asleep early in front of “Friends” on DVD. Still, there’s no call for this. The pounding is like being shaken awake by parents who overslept, having them yank you out of bed and yell at you to get dressed and brush your teeth because the bus is coming.

Over the pounding, we hear a man yelling.

“Move your car, bro, I gotta get to work.”

I pull on some clothes and open the door to find a man with a shaved head on my stoop. He’s shorter than me but thicker, fit. I think this is Henry, the new neighbor renting the main house. He looks a lot different smoking and drinking on his front step in the evening with a friend than agitated and alone at five am on a Sunday. I thought he was friendly when he introduced himself. Now, he looks mean.

“Huh?” Best I could do at the time, excuse me all over the place.

“Is that your car, bro?”

He points. A car I’ve never seen before is parked against the bumper of his jeep. The woman below me drives a green car much older than this white one, Becky drives Mr. Roboto, a maroon Scion, and I don’t own a car. I shake my head.

“Your girlfriend’s car? Whoever, I got to go.”

“That’s not my car.”

“You don’t know who’s car that is?”

“Sorry, no.”

We discuss our neighbor’s green car, the rudeness of someone who doesn’t live here appropriating our driveway, and speculate and how big of an asshole he / she must be. He eventually accepts that I can't help the situation, and apologizes for disturbing me.

“What the fuck?” Becky says as I close the door.

Sleep is impossible. Every time we start to drift off, thinking of that knock brings us back.

“It that your car, bro?” I say.

“Bro, move your car, bro,” Becky says, “I gotta get to work, bro.” Making fun of the way many native Miamians express themselves doesn’t get us to sleep, but it makes us feel better. We decide to make the most of our early rise and drive all the way to Kendall for a big breakfast at The Original Pancake House.

I should’ve reminded Henry that my “car” is the Schwinn parked at the bottom of the stairs; he’s never seen me ride anything else.

I haven’t mentioned the Schwinn? Well, after my bike got stolen, Stacy and Jim found me another (which turned out to be Andi’s old bike). I used it for a few days, then my boss gave me his on permanent loan. I miss the Rusty Nail, and I always find myself checking out bikes and wondering – is that my old..? But it’s nice to be biking again.

As far as the mystery car, Henry took a dump on the windshield, and we never saw it again.

Well, not really, the post needed an ending. Happy Friday!

Wednesday, September 15, 2010

Roaches Check In. A Lot.

At one point, I thought it would be fun to use my Twitter account to monitor roach activity at the Treehouse. Twitter is supposed to be “the best way to discover what’s new in your world,” so what else is new in my life that I can post about? What page I’m on in the half dozen books I’m reading?

Imagine TweetwithRoach&Silverfish:

“Friday, July 12th: one roach toe up in shower.”

“Saturday, July 13th: one roach toe up in closet.”

“Sunday, July 14th: live roach in living room, killed with Lemon-Scented Raid.”

I could come up with a size rating, 1 for thumbnail-sized baby, 6 for I live here now, too – you got a problem with that? If that wouldn’t get me a hundred thousand followers, nothing would.

One roach visits the Treehouse a day, like a vitamin from hell. Thankfully, the ratio of dead to live is 9 to 1. Still, ew. Fucking, EEEEEEEEEEWWWWWWWW.

Recently, I found two roaches before I left for work, then two more when I got back home. Needless to say, a pity party ensued, woe is me, I’m better than this, is this the best I can do for myself, etc. etc, blah, blah, snooze. The candle on my pity-party cake was next morning’s kitchen kockroach. My only consolation is that these guests didn’t appear at the same time as two-legged guests.

Then, after 5 roaches in 24-hours, nothing. Not a single crawly. Every day I didn’t see one, the anticipation built. After a few weeks, I figured my downstairs neighbor has finally settled in, and the entomological wildlife has once again found its equilibrium.

This morning as I sat at my laptop - dawn hours away, the only light coming from my screen - the feathery touch of a six-legged mambo passed over my bare feet.

Gah. Huhblugh-glugh-huh. Ick.

I capture lizards and spiders and release them outside, but that roach couldn’t die fast enough. If you’ve never been Roached before, let me tell you – like the ghost of a mosquito buzzing in your ear long after you’ve killed it, the memory of that touch stays in your skin and makes your spine shiver all day. My murderous efforts only went unnoticed because Becky sleeps like a coma patient.

Scale of 1-to-6, I give that roach a 7 for sheer repulsion.

Tuesday, September 14, 2010

F. P. & L. is Scandalous

Florida Power and Light requires a deposit to turn on your electricity. On their website, FPL explains that unlike most businesses which are cash upon liking (I paraphrase of course, but any excuse to use the phrase “cash upon liking”), poor old FPL gives their product away for a month before asking for payment. Since they run on a three-week billing cycle, that’s seven weeks of service before they see a dime. If you’re assessed as a high-risk client, they look at the average bill for two months service at your address, then they require you to fork it over.

In our case, that was $400 to have our lights turned on. Remember when I said who gives a shit about my credit rating? Well, this is a fine example of why it’s a good idea to have decent credit. I was wrong, and my words taste bitter.

So wait, aren’t we paying in advance for something we haven’t used? Multi-billion dollar monopoly FPL whines about the equation in reverse, but if I want to store food and not die of heat stroke, I’ve got no choice but to shut up and pay.

I’m sure FPL has been burned. So what? They always manage to turn a profit, even when people go for weeks without power in the wake of various hurricanes. Their rates remain high while they promise that second power plant which will reduce our bills once and for all.

It’s not ironic that the segment of the population least-equipped to pay is the one hardest hit by these deposits, it’s increasingly typical of American culture. Google “Florida Power and Light” with “deposit” and you’ll bring up FPL’s website and a couple thousand complaints about the practice, which is no surprise. However, the backlash in the comments section of these articles and posts is disturbing. Even allowing for trolls, there’s a prevailing sentiment of “you’re a deadbeat who fucked up your credit; quit whining.” Maybe I’m reading too much into these websites. The internets are filled with crazed morons.

Not us, of course.

I’m debt-free. I got in credit card trouble a long while back but I took care of it, and without declaring bankruptcy. I’ve been a renter for eighteen years in three states and I’ve never defaulted on a lease, skipped out on a utility charge, or left a bill unpaid. And apparently, my credit sucks.

FPL is just being cautious (and getting capital for investments, of course). They pay the deposit back if you ask them nicely after twenty-three months of consecutive, timely payment, so why am I whining about being labeled a deadbeat?

Well, if you pay late, they hold the deposit indefinitely. Glory of glories, they also hit you with more deposit fees for being late. Suppose I need to wait for a paycheck to pay my bill because I didn’t have the funds. Even though my service was not actually interrupted, I’ll have to pay an additional “deposit” in the neighborhood of $60-$80 (not to mention a 1.5% late fee) on top of the monthly service bill. That should make it easier to pay.

I was shocked to find out about this practice. So is everyone I’ve told. The question I hear every time is, “Can they do that?” Of course they can, and they are.

It’s not like you can choose the other power company down the street.

Saturday, September 11, 2010

Rent to Own

I’ve been a renter since I left my parents home at the age of nineteen. My Aunt Jeri rented her apartment in Syracuse before moving back to the reservation. She had nothing to show for paying forty years of rent, and she upbraids me for renting from time to time.

When I ask friends who own houses and condos what they pay monthly on their mortgages, it’s always a fraction of my rent. I know I’m making fiscally unsound choices, but try coming up with a 10% deposit on a house, or 30% deposit on a condo (chuckleheads with homes have prevented me from getting one of my own because of their stupid choices; Florida homeowners tried to use condos as income-generating second properties during the housing boom, then defaulted on their loans in droves, so banks require 30% of the selling price to buy a condo; 10% on what a condo costs is feasible, but when I learned banks want 30%, I stopped saving; if I had 30% of what a condo costs, I’d use it for 10% down on a house; now for the end of a sentence interrupted so long ago, you forgot the beginning) on a bookseller’s salary.

There’s freedom in renting. If the air conditioning breaks, you call the landlord and he or she has it fixed. If a hurricane destroys your apartment, you rent another that’s still standing. If the roof leaks… well, never mind.

As a renter, you can bob and weave. I’ve experienced Miami in the peripherals of Kendall, the very heart, and now the Spanish garden that is Coral Gables. I’ve always wanted to know what it feels like to wake up, take a walk, and do yoga on the beach. I haven’t made it to Miami Beach yet, but who knows what could happen down the road?

Renting also comes with a number of perks. You get the voyeuristic, felonious thrill of opening mail for people who aren’t you. You get to play detective with carpet stains. You get to find layers of paint around electrical outlets and speculate on the previous tenant’s design choices.

You also get neighbors living in much closer proximity than with a house, folks with whom you’re not obligated to actually speak. Get into a volume war with every sound system in your complex, because at least your music doesn’t suck. Hack into your neighbor’s wireless internet connection without worrying about the signal strength, and do it guilt-free. Masturbate to the sound of your neighbors fucking and imagine they are gorgeous supermodels because you’ll never have to see them.

Oh, it’s a glamorous life, my friends. But please, home owners, don’t be jealous. After all, you get to fix your own plumbing problems.