Wednesday, March 25, 2009

Money Pit

The Johnson-Buys clan is once again on the move like the suburban nomads we are.

It's hard to believe it was just last March that I rescued Kirsten from her well-paying job and killer-location apartment in Chicago and whisked her off to the safety and comfort of my Ferndale Manor.

It's hard to believe it was just last July that we had enough of the Ferndale Manor and got ourselves set up in a cleaner, larger pad within walking distance from downtown Royal Oak. I know some of my friends look down their noses at such a character-less, gentrified town like Royal Oak, preferring the vandalism, violence, decay and all-around dysfunction of Detroit city proper, but Ima have to confess I don't get it. I like safety and order. And in any case, I have a kid to keep alive. So Royal Oak it is.

The place was a big step up for us. On the dead end of a quiet little street. We took a lot of walks in those early days. Claire chased birds and rabbits. The house seemed like a small paradise.

We weren't alarmed the day we signed our lease and Sam the landlord gazed out the window at the vacant lot next door and said, "You know, there's a slight chance they might start construction on a new apartment complex there this year. But they say that every year. Probably won't happen...."

We weren't alarmed when the refrigerator failed to keep our food cool or frozen the first week. Especially since Sam was Johnny-on-the-spot about it and had a new one installed a week after our complaints. (This is Sam's first time landlording and he is so responsive and accommodating it's like he's trying to win some kind of prize.)

We weren't alarmed when the garbage disposal exploded, beyond the general shock of the noise and wet mess, but we did feel a little bad that Sam had to make a second repair within as many months of us being in the house.

We still weren't alarmed when the tree branch the size of our house split off and crashed, missing my Jeep by inches. Okay, we actually were alarmed, but not in any way that it seemed significant. Mostly, we just felt bad that Sam had to foot the bill for tree removal, and wondered how he could possibly be turning a profit on us at this point. Did I mention that Sam is the nicest, most attentive landlord either of us have ever had? Seriously, World's Greatest. We felt for him.

As the months went on, we weren't that alarmed when the toilet leaked, or the kitchen sink went bust again. We weren't alarmed because Sam was always there, that night or the next day, fixing everything without as much as a grumble. (While visiting once he even spotted what he saw was a problem with the handles in the shower and tried to make a quick fix - big mistake. This turned into a whole afternoon's project in itself.) But no, we weren't alarmed. We just made a joke out of it, "This will be the month that we don't have to call Sam. I just know it!"

We weren't alarmed, but we were a little put out, when the drain in the basement backed up, oozing black sewage into the laundry room, forcing us to spend the night elsewhere to avoid getting poisoned by the fumes while Sam called in a plumber to snake the drain.

We actually were alarmed, as well as annoyed, when the basement flooded the morning after our Christmas party. It was an unseasonably warm day that got up almost 60 degrees, melting nearly all of the snow that had accumulated for months, and causing some kind of overflow in our drain system. Yes, we were sad for Sam, who had to pay big for this, but also exhausted by the work of hauling all of our belongings from room to room in the basement so many times. "So many times?" you ask. Yes, so many times, because the flooding happened again, and then again. Once Sam thought the problem was licked, and the floors had sufficiently dried, he had the carpets professionally cleaned - twice, since the first time didn't take - to get rid of what was a now daily mold stench in our house reminiscent of cat piss.

We were definitely annoyed at the fact that whenever we opened the door of our own home we now flinched from the whiff of whatever mildew madness was happening in the basement. But we adapted, learned to live with the smell, and mostly felt bad for Sam.

How can I put this? We were... not furious, but full of consternation when the construction crews arrived at the first sign of warm weather. We were sad not for Sam but for ourselves when the constant sounds of sawing, beeping and booming began waking us up before our alarms did. We were maddened by the effects of drilling noises that go on for hours and seemed to be boring into our very minds. Nay, into our very souls. We were flat-out depressed the first time we looked out the kitchen window and saw not trees, not sky, but a massive mound of soil.

But none of this diminished our love and loyalty for Sam, the World's Greatest Landlord. In fact, when the toilet wouldn't stop running, we took it upon ourselves to buy the parts and make the repair ourselves. To give him his first month without having to fix something that had broken in our house. That was the theory anyway, and we were so proud of ourselves when, after about four hours of wet, pinched and frustrating plumbing work, we had successfully repaired our own toilet. What happened next might sound like fiction, but I shit you not: within ten minutes of our celebration, the kitchen sink suddenly started shooting water all over the place (this was in no way related to the toilet plumbing). You want to know something funny? Before Sam could arrive the next day to fix the kitchen sink, another leak had begun in the bathroom (also unrelated to the toilet). Hoping to make Sam feel better, when he arrived to make the joint repairs we proudly pointed out the money and work we had saved him by fixing the toilet ourselves. "Hmmm," he mumbled, making his best effort to seem pleased. But Sam's eyes had gone vacant. The sad, inescapable truth none of us dared say was that the house was clearly fucking with us. It was a living, evil thing that now openly mocked our efforts. The message was clear: we fix one thing, it'll break two.

Well, the flooding kept happening. Other things broke. The constant smell of cat-piss-feet-and-ass returned. We stopped inviting people over for dinner. The laughter stopped. Claire began having nightmares that the house was trying to eat her. How could I bring myself to tell her that it actually was?

So that's how Sam pulled me aside during one of his now-routine repair visits a few weeks ago and gave me the news: he was breaking the lease. He was going to gut the basement and then try to short-sell the house. I wanted to tell him that he might consider getting an exorcism, if not ritualistically burning the place to the ground. But I said nothing and shook his hand instead. "Sam," I said. "You're still the World's Greatest Landlord."


Marie Lasferatu said...

That is a terribly unfortunate way. I'm sorry.

christopher said...

i think if i break the yanni cd you left in the van, it will bring good luck to your new residency.

christopher said...

shit, and the enya...i wish i was joking.

Matt Johnson said...

You really should think about pitching your life story for a movie or a sitcom. You have the funniest stuff happen.

Tara said...

OMG. I had no idea.
As a landlord myself, I laughed until I cried.

Nicholas Gregory said...

ejoyed the story, but was sorry to be reading it. happy for your new digs.