Sunday, November 10, 2013

The Wrong Right Thing

When Linda and I got together she had a townhome and I had a house. She liked my house and moved into the city, but we had to deal with her townhome if we ever wanted to have money to spare between us as having two mortgages while not impossible, was painful.

Within a month of the time she moved out, a class action lawsuit began that had to do with her building's campus and homes a few blocks from hers.

The area had once been a landfill and suddenly it was discovered that some of the basements on the far edge of the property had been backfilled with a combination of dirt and garbage. Then, concentrations of radon were found in some of those basements and the game was on even though no one had complained of ill effects to that date. It's what's known as "blue sky lawsuit" in my world, a lawyer's way of padding his retirement accounts on the premise that maybe in the future someone might just, under the right conditions become ill or at least might feel as if they were ill which is nearly the same thing.

In any case, the chance of selling her home for even what she'd paid for it was nullified by these allegations; and though Lin dearly wanted to unload the dead weight, she didn't want to have to pay to make it go away. So we decided to rent in hopes that we could bide our time for a year or two and then sell it on a forgetful or forgiving market.

Linda wanted nothing to do with the business of landlording, so I was put in charge and willingly took the challenge. I placed the ad and within two days was besieged by multiple calls from one applicant, a woman who would change our lives in short order. I agreed to meet her at a McDonalds near condotown as she'd told me that she had no car but a friend was willing to drop her off and pick her up.

She wept when I opened the door on Linda's old homestead, and I should have easily recognized that as a sign of mental instability, but I didn't; and if I continue to remark on what I should have known all along, this tale will never find its end so let's just say I was blind to reality all along.

The woman wept she said because this small, dark, but clean townhome was so b-e-a-u-teeful and the very thought that she could get out of the city and live in a safe neighborhood with her children in a wonderful home and a fine school district...(breathe deep)...was almost more than she could bear. "You see" she told me, "right now I live in a battered woman's shelter; my family is homeless."
Had it been so long since I'd left the ghetto that I was so easily snowed by tears? Yes, I guess so because I ended up renting to the woman and her three kids and I had to champion her cause to make it so.


Linda wanted nothing to do with it. The woman was on section 8, a housing subsidy that paid only pennies over what the actual mortgage payment was. The allowances for utilities were dismal and though in the lease the tenant would be responsible for them, I knew full well if she'd come up short we'd end up eating it.

But I was on my usual high hog, astounded at our good financial fortune (albeit only solidly middle class at that moment), and I saw this as a golden opportunity to "do the right thing"; an opportunity that only falls on one's doorstep once in a great while.

I worked out the money, pledging to pay anything not covered by the state out of my own pocket, and promising my wife that I'd take care of any problems personally.
All was fine for a few months, until the neighborhood association called Linda to complain about children that were wandering about the area, seemingly without adult supervision.


I drove the 25 miles to the home and found one of the kids inside. When she opened the door I damn near fell unconscious, the smell of rotting garbage and what seemed to be human waste was so strong. She let me in and I asked her a few questions, such as the obvious "where's mommy". Mommy had been taken by the policeman two days earlier and no one had thought to investigate whether there were children involved.

Now the girl I was speaking to had to have been 12 or 13, so there was at least some semblance of maturity involved in taking care of her siblings. But they were likely 8 and 6 if I was to guess, and how the mother never screamed bloody murder as she was being led away, demanding the coppers call some relative to watch over her babies is beyond me.
As I discovered, she'd had the county take her kids from her before for something akin to reckless endangerment, and she thought to hide them this time so as to not lose them again.


It seems she'd become lonely and horny, not an unlikely combination for a still breathing human being, and so in spite of the fact that she'd had a restraining order put on all three fathers of her three children, she called one of them to invite him to service her.

Naturally a fight broke out and each room she hid inside had its previously locked door smashed through in the man's attempt to physically change her facial structure. She, according to police, finally ended up in the master closet where the hanger bar just happened to be a steel water pipe; and once she'd bloodied the carpeting with her gentleman caller's body fluids, she ran outside screaming with the still dripping iron pole in her hand.

This didn't set well with the neighbors and they called the cops, but her kids had seen this coming and they ran off to hide, I'm guessing in the local park.

Once the police got there, the fight had re-engaged in the parking lot and I'm guessing they just hauled the offenders off without asking too many questions because here, a couple days later was her 12 year old daughter telling me "mommy's in jail".

I got an eyeful while touring the townhome of course, broken glass, a few wall punctures, every interior door's handle splintered or broken beyond repair. Add to that the 10 black 30 gallon trash bags of garbage and I was starting to think I'd made a little booboo in "doing the right thing."
I called the county and they told me there was nothing they could do beyond pick up the kids; I'd signed a lease within the legal boundaries of the section 8 rule and there was no escaping it unless I could prove deliberate damage to property, or until Joanne (my tenant) had burned the place to the ground. I was stuck with her until the new year, and Linda was not pleased and letting me know daily. I didn't know what the hell to do by that point, so I just waited for the release of the crying tenant so I could hear her story, as if I had any reason to be fair.

It really didn't matter what she told me, I knew she was lying from the moment she opened her mouth. The county had come but gramma had conveniently beat them to the house so there was no way to prove she'd not been there all along; and I wasn't going to press the issue since if nothing happened beyond flashing my name as an accuser in front of my tenant, she might just burn my building down after all.

She was released from the pokey and went back to life as she knew it, and I held my breath, hoping I could hold it until January first 1993 when this Asmodeus would leave my property at last.

A couple more months passed uneventfully until I was called one day to fix the furnace. It was October I think, and had been a pretty mild autumn. The home had a gas fireplace had heat been a real issue, though I shudder to think what might have happened if the woman had turned it on without understanding one needed to also light a match.
When I reached the door I was told the heat had been out for 3 days and they'd just been too busy to call. Again, I didn't read between the lines as 2 months later I would find they'd used the stove for heat in that time, keeping the broiler blazing hot until it burned itself into oblivion; along with most of the electronics and a valve piece that would cost to replace, more than a new range in total.


But after looking at the offending device outdoors where all good townhouse furnaces should be, I knew I couldn't fix it and was about to drive off to a phone to call a professional. Then, mommy dearest came to the door and told me that her daughter Loquisha had missed the bus, and asked if I could take her to school on my way home.

I agreed as I would never let my opinion of a mother affect how I dealt with her children; but the moment I said yes, Joanne screamed at her daughter to get ready and then began to berate her verbally, using me as her audience. I was fine with the stupid, lazy stuff; abusive parents will always encumber their kids with those titles. But then she started to tell me how her child would not bathe, how she'd wear the same underwear for weeks; and I almost wanted to throw my hands over my ears like "hear no evil", or hum some loud nonsensical tune, drowning out her accusations until she'd had the good taste to shuttup.

As it turned out, the moment the girl got near me I knew her mother, as crude and horrid as she was, was telling the truth. I needed to keep my window rolled down as I drove just to not have her stench stop me from breathing altogether. But I couldn't help but wonder how was it that a 12 year old girl had the choice to not bathe or change underwear; and how a 30 some year old mother of three would allow her prodigy to leave her home with an odor that would make passersby's eyes water.

Loquisha was nice enough; chatted all the way to school actually. She seemed quite happy and told me endlessly about her 4 point 0 and her being voted class president and how her teachers were so proud of her that she was allowed to skip classes when she needed to help her mother and on and on as I held my head into the wind.

Later I'd run across report cards that littered the kids bedroom, tossed amongst the stolen clothing with the tags still attached and the vomit and feces stains on the carpeting. She'd never seen a grade beyond "F" and had missed as many days as she'd attended. I only felt sad that she'd already at age 12, become a clone of what was likely her only role model; her mother the grifter that had taken my innocent good faith and driven a stake through its heart.
Joanne notified me on December 6th, my birthday in fact, that she would be leaving our little condo love shack because she'd decided that her family deserved a pet, a kitty or gerbil or some such; and our lease directly prohibited pets of any kind. I laughed my ass off at her weak attempt to quit before I'd fired her; but as for a birthday present, I knew that even her leaving was no bargain and that there would be only hell to pay once she was gone.


I waited until Christmas had gone by before knocking on the door to make arrangements to pick up keys and the like. I thought even the most intolerable, dysfunctional and perhaps even criminal family deserved some sort of holiday respite from the cruelties of life, and so it was on December 29th that I banged on the door while Linda sat in our car in the drive waiting for me to deal with my landlordial responsibilities.

It was a battle ground inside. The place was destroyed and I began to wail in dismay. The moment I opened my mouth the woman began to scream at me, insinuating racism and sexism and just plain lousy landlording. Her mother was there and piled on, the two of them screaming as if I'd set their nappy hair ablaze. All I wanted was for them to get the fuck out and give me the keys, and I ended up facing lawsuit bait had I not stepped back and allowed them to finish their "packing".

It was not pleasant, but even less so when Linda informed me, once at a tavern dinner and miles away from the incident, that a car with three male friends (presumably) of Joanne had pulled up next to my car while Lin waited for me inside it; and these "friends" stood outside their own car and hurled invective about me back and forth, once in a while kind of drop kicking my Blazer's bumper and headlight array for effect. As if there would be some benefit in three men scaring the crap out of a 5'4" woman alone in a locked car.

She'd been afraid to tell me before we were far away and otherwise occupied, and she was right I suppose. Whether I would have come out the victor or not I can't say, but there would have been no way I would have let the bullying of my wife stand unchallenged.

It was January 4th before they were finally out, and while I could have called the police on the 1st to assist me in eviction, it wasn't as if we'd be renting the place right away and there was nothing she could do in an extra day that she hadn't already. I was actually kinda hoping that she'd burn the place to the ground as the rental thing was not well thought out and insurance companies have a whole different idea about subletting and the policies I should have changed and never did.

When I finally got inside alone, it was truly as if a tornado had struck. There was not a screen unripped, not a luan plywood door unsplintered, not a piece of glass unbroken, not a light bulb to be found, not an appliance that would work properly, not one square foot of flooring, either carpet or tile, that wasn't marred, burned through or torn.

We filled and hauled thirty 30 gallon trash bags of junk out of a two bedroom two bath combo living/dining room and kitchen townhouse. I threw away entire wardrobes of brand new children's clothing, boots, jackets, some still on store hangers, most still with price tags. In the kids room, posters had been glued to the walls with airplane glue; removing them also removed the paper from the sheetrock forcing another expense in wall restoration.

The garage was filled with gutted televisions and radios, more beer cans than I've ever seen in one place and another 20 or so bags of trash, this time of the tv dinner foil and KFC box and bone variety.

We documented the entire experience; I have a full photo album of memories with broken glass and urine stained carpet as the stars. And with bated breath we turned in a claim to the county's social services department, hoping to receive some petty compensation for having been trapped by the rules of the State, that we'd not been able to evict the woman without the second coming of Christ as witness.
They kindly informed us that they could do nothing, and that our only recourse was to sue. Imagine suing a homeless woman with three young children. I laughed so hard I nearly reinjured my hernia. So I tried to get the county to at least acknowledge the woman's unfitness as a mother, and if not that please God, her unworthiness as a program participant.


A few weeks later a social worker from the section 8 program called me to inform us that a property owner would be calling soon for references, and hoping that we would speak kindly of their client as she's a battered woman ya know and she has those three kids and all......

It was over 6000.00 in the toilet before we'd finished and the insult to injury was not even getting the deposit back. (She claimed that the heat being off for 3 days in October and the yelling I did at her in December caused her mental anguish and so she didn't owe the deposit.)

I could have taken her to small claims court of course... laugh with me this time as you visualize this middle aged, balding, potbellied white guy complaining about the recklessness of a black woman on a state sponsored program that I'd willingly rented to in order to, as everyone knows, soak the system, while her kids climb all over her whining to go home and watch tv. Call me crazy but I didn't see great odds in doing anything but being seen as some slumlord trying to pry the pennies off a homeless woman’s dead eyes.

Did this experience make me a bigot? Hardly. I'm not that big a fool that I'd see her race as anything but incidental to the story. But it did do something to both Linda and I that will never be righted.

We could have kept the place and taken another shot at renting to people that needed just what we were offering; a stopping place on the way from hell to at least purgatory, a middle ground home with which to get one's act together and make ready to buy one's first house. Affordable housing is in very short supply, and just as most jobs are created by small sole proprietor business, most affordable housing is owned by people just like us; just one building at a time.
I do charity and I care deeply about people and their plights, particularly women and their children that have suffered at the hands of men. But I don't have 6000.00 a year to give away, and I can't ask my wife to contribute a penny to what could very easily be a repeat of 1992.


It taught me there's a limit to my benevolence, and never again will I hold my hand out that far for even the most pathetic of situations. Nor will I vote for anyone that demands myself and my neighbors pony up to subsidize contractors that are willing to build cheap housing only so long as the rest of us pay for the damages. I'm already paying the increased insurance costs.

If anyone wants to know what's turned me from bleeding heart to middle ground conservative, it's long sad tales like this; one atop another for years as the sign on my back that reads sucker never fully fell to the ground until my lifeblood had already been sucked dry.

And I well know that she was not indicative of the homeless; I lived with the homeless, though I'd not claim to be one entirely as my parents would always have taken me in had I asked. But I slept under bridges and ate from dumpsters and warmed myself with cardboard; I know how it works albeit for a short time in my life.

But I'll have to leave it to the "rich" or the gubmint to come up with the cash to support our less fortunate brethren... because the brethren already took everything I had and only badmouthed me for more. I can't make money fast enough to feed me and you too, and while I may feel sorry for that, what is, is..

1 comment:

  1. Gee. What a tale. I thought we were bad off with the damage to our rental property but that's ridiculous.