RichEisbrouch

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About RichEisbrouch

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    writing, research, staying in touch with friends, work and volunteer work, walking our dogs...

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  1. Vic finally gave up in early October, but not the way I thought. He unpacked his boxes, had his power turned back on, and admitted he couldn’t leave. “I like it here. I’ve got a great view. And it’s easy to ride my bike to almost anywhere. Besides, I’ve never wanted to live above the second floor. Not since Towering Inferno.” “That’s been a long time,” I pointed out. He shrugged. “Other people got scared by Jaws.” “How much of that is his mother speaking?” I later asked Sally. “I don’t know,” she admitted. “I don’t think she’d make him stay if he really hated it. But he does need some of her money.” “That’s too bad.” “I’m not sure how much longer I’ll be staying, either,” she went on. “What do you mean?” This was a big surprise. “My daughters want me to move to Las Vegas.” “Could you honestly do that?” She hesitated. “Easier than I could before.” I laughed. “I just can’t picture you in Vegas.” As we spoke, Vic carried his bike down our steps. “Going to Ralph’s,” he said. “Need anything, Sal?” When she said, “No,” he turned to me. After I thanked him, he rode off. “Maybe it’s my imagination,” I told Sally. “But he seems friendlier since his brush with leaving.” “He’s always been kind to me,” she said, then seemed to think for a moment. “If I go, he’ll be the longest tenant living here.” “Not Claire?” “She came right after Vic.” I was still the new kid. “You want to go out for dinner,” I asked. “I think you need something to cheer you up.” “We’ve never done that before,” she replied. “Maybe it’s time to start.” She got Lindsay, and the three of us went to a nearby Chinese place Sally liked. The food was just okay, but she was comfortable. “When’s the last time you were in Vegas?” I asked at some point. Sally needed to think. “Probably Christmas.” “I’ve never been there.” “I thought you drove cross-country,” Lindsay said. That surprised me because we hadn’t really talked much. I guess Sally had mentioned it. “I stayed out of cities,” I told her. “I had too much in my car. Not anything really valuable. My computer. Clothes. But, just then, I couldn’t afford to be robbed.” “Do you feel safer here?” she asked. “In California?” “No... With Mack?” “He doesn’t bother me.” That clearly wasn’t the case with Lindsay. “I wish he’d go away,” she said. What could I tell her? That maybe he would? I didn’t think that would happen. “I’d move to Vegas,” she went on. “I could transfer to UNLV. And everyone there loves Grandma.” Sally laughed. “They have to. They’re my relatives. But my real friends are here.” Unable to deny that, Lindsay opened her fortune cookie then giggled. “What’s it say?” we asked. “Don’t be hasty. Serenity will soon knock on your door.” We all laughed. In early November, Sally assured me she wasn’t going anywhere. “No matter what my daughters say, I’m not going to live forever, and I’m too old to start over. And I can live with a little noise.” “And Mack?” “Having Lindsay around helps. And you.” I was flattered but pointed out I wasn’t around a lot.. “But you’re here every night. Right upstairs. I can depend on that. And you’re quiet.” “If there’s anything I can ever do, just ask,” I promised. She beamed. “You’ve already been wonderful.” I felt like a Boy Scout. Sunday, Donna took Kyle and Gini off for the day, and Lorelle and Harv went to Big Bear, meaning Tara and Trina were also gone. Only Edan played in the courtyard. Lately, Annie had been feuding with Mack, so Edan was forbidden to be near Gini – not that it stopped them. As soon as their parents were out of sight, they ran to each other. That afternoon, though their door was open, Ed and Annie didn’t seem to be around, and I noticed Joni only occasionally peeping through her window. Still, the Caddy drooled oil in the carport, so Mack must have been home. With most of the kids gone, mainly Edan’s soccer ball made noise, ricocheting off walls and windows. I sat at my desk, stupidly watching the courtyard palm slowly sway off plum. I should have been doing anything else. At one point, a woman came to look at an apartment. Just a quick in-out, then she smiled at Joni and left. Evidently not her taste. Donna told me any number of people had checked out the place. Though no one stayed. “Is it always this loud?” one guy had asked me. I’d just come home, it was nearly eight and getting dark, but Kyle and the demon twins had been roping a protesting Gini to the palm. I couldn’t lie, so I’d shrugged. “Fuck it,” he’d said, then crumbled his application and tossed it in a flower bed. I picked up the wad, sure Mack never would. Suddenly, Edan shrieked, and Annie rushed out the door. “I told you to play alone!” she shouted. “But Mommy!” “That, or no Barbies!” A threat no little girl could refuse. “Awful, isn’t it?” Claire had called down from her window. “Be glad we’re not here all day.” She cranked her casements tightly shut. I didn’t know much about Claire, but sitting at my desk, especially in the evening when her lights were on, I could see directly into her living room. Both our sets of blinds stayed open on our room-wide windows, in my case to let in the great light. Like Mack, Claire watched a lot of TV, but mainly news and talk shows. He preferred sports. By Thanksgiving, all the empty apartments had finally been “refurbished” and personally inspected by The Golf Pro and the Prepster. “That should help them,” announced the latter. As he left my apartment – he’d never seen it so wanted to “inspect”– he noticed the Mickey Mouse on Vic’s door. He tried to peel it but barely dented an ear. “It must be epoxy,” he grumbled. “Your painters tried to cover it. But Vic rubbed the latex right off.” “I could tell Mack to touch it up. But who wants to talk to him?” He suddenly looked at me, sharply, as if asking, “Did I really say that out loud?” I smiled, and he gave Mickey one final thrust with his fingernail. Then he retreated. Late New Year’s Day, after being east for two weeks, I came home to discover yet another surprise – a new manager living in apartment 8, one of the empty one-bedrooms. “Name’s Dennis,” he said, smiling in an easy California way. He seemed younger than I was. “What happened?” I asked. “I wasn’t gone long.” “Mack and Joni couldn’t fill the place. The owners need the bucks.” “They get evicted?” “Nah – just canned. They’re still here.” Lucky us. “I work for the owners,” he went on. “Maybe you saw me in the office. I remember you. This time we’re going with someone we know.” “Good luck!” I told him. “Is it really that bad?” I smiled. “How long have you been here?” He checked his watch. “A couple hours.” “And you’ve heard the kids?” “Nah. It’s been quiet. Everyone’s gone.” I smiled again, and again told him, “Good luck.” Still, the kids weren’t his first test. Just before midnight, there was an explosion of music in the courtyard. Then screaming. Rough sex again? No – guys’ voices, one of them Mack’s. But who would he be dumb enough to fight at that hour? By the time I found shoes and got downstairs, it was already a brawl. Part-shouting. Part-fists. Mostly insults. Dennis – a blond light-weight in tank-top and shorts – had taken on drunk, naked cowboy Garth. “YOU LIMP LITTLE PRICK!” Garth taunted. “Put something on!” Donna ordered. “There are kids!” And there were, no matter the hour. The twins stood on the balcony, peering through the rail. Kyle cheered near the palm. Edan and Gini were sitting halfway up the center steps, holding their Barbies high, so they could “see.” Everyone else was there, except the Hungarians. Claire stared out her window. Sally, Lindsay, and Lonnie were at their doors. Harv, Lorelle, and Helen were also on the balcony, and Vic stood right beside me. “Garth!” Donna calmly said. “Stop it!” “TURN DOWN THE STEREO!” Dennis screamed. “SUCK MY STEREO!” Garth returned. “TURN IT DOWN!” “MAKE ME, SHITFUCKER!” “I’LL CALL THE COPS!” “OOOH! I’LL WET MY PANTS!” “You’ll have to put them on first,” Donna said, laughing. She seemed to be having fun. “YOU’RE GOING TO JAIL!” Dennis threatened. “NOW YA GOT ME REAL SCARED!” “TURN IT DOWN!” “Garth,” I tried calmly. He suddenly grinned. “Hey, there, guy! How ya doing?” As if nothing was wrong in the world. “Come on inside,” I coaxed. “It’s late.” ‘I CAN HANDLE THIS!” Dennis yelled at me. Wrong choice. “YOU CAN’T HANDLE YOUR LITTLE WEENIE!” Garth yelled right back. “Donna?” I asked. She grinned. “Nah. Let it go.” “Joni?” I ventured. She shrugged. Dennis foolishly tried to punch Garth, though Lonnie – suddenly lunging from nearby – held him back. “You’ve had one too many beers,” he advised. “Harv?” I asked. The burley carpet-layer waved me away. Though Ed – maybe manfully trying to prove himself, made a move on Garth. He took a punch and Annie stepped in to protect him. Bordeaux began to growl, and I heard sirens. “Did someone call the cops?” Donna asked. “NO!” Dennis shouted at her. “I’M IN CHARGE!” “Should I call?” I asked Garth. “FIRST, GET THE BOYO AN AMBULANCE!” he said. Then he laughed. At that point, he had Dennis by a clump of his now-torn tank top. That seemed unfair, since Dennis had nowhere comparable to grab. Lonnie – and then Ed again – tried to separate the pair. “I’ll phone,” Claire volunteered from above. Donna was laughing, now almost out-of-control. Bordeaux was barking fiercely, and Kyle – as hyped as Garth and Dennis – was practicing Kung Fu and accidentally kicked Mack in the crotch. “JESUS!” Mack yelped. “Go for it, kid,” Vic encouraged. “KYLE!” yelled Joni. “Do it again,” Vic whispered. By then with Lonnie and Ed holding Dennis, Garth had no opponent and quickly wound down. “I need a beer,” he told Donna. She slipped into her apartment. “Turn down the music while you’re there,” I suggested. “Sure thing, Babe,” she replied. “All anyone had to do was ask.” Garth strutted the courtyard like Mighty Joe Young. Harv, Mack, and I probably could have held him, but as long as Dennis was restrained, there seemed no reason. Unfortunately, when Donna came back with the beer, Garth took it, shook it up, popped the top, and hosed Dennis down. “YOU STUPID MORON FUCK!!” the manager screamed, trying to free himself from Lonnie and Ed. Garth grinned like an innocent and offered his hand. “Happy New Year’s, kid,” he tendered. Everyone laughed. And Dennis – dripping, tattered, and half-naked himself – was bright enough to smile. The music was gone. The ogre was tamed. He’d won. They shook hands. “I play tennis, you cretin,” Dennis yowled, clutching his hand. But he was grinning. “Oh... sorry, bud,” Garth mumbled. “Didn’t mean it.” Then he did maybe the only thing he knew of as surrender. He spread his arms, completely exposing his well-worked abs. “Hit me!” he pressed. “I swear I won’t hit ya back.” As Dennis seemed to consider, the rest of us prepared to lunge. “Nah,” Dennis decided. “I’d only hurt myself worse.” Garth laughed. Dennis laughed. And everyone started inside. “Beer, buddy?” Garth asked before I could ease away. “Sure thing.” “Call your friend.” I shrugged, mock helpless. “He’s too far away.” “You’re one lucky man.” I knew exactly what he meant, but there seemed more interest in there than compliment. Still, he plopped his arm around my unprepared shoulder, so he must have intended to be nice. Donna offered him jeans, but he merely draped them around his neck “No hard feelings!” he called as Dennis slipped away. “No feelings at all,” Dennis returned. “Happy New Year!” Claire called from above.
  2. A service call. Uh, multiple service calls. Clones of service calls...
  3. It’s a good thing I spent most of my time indoors, because August was crappily hot. At home, the air conditioner was in my dining room. With the bedroom ceiling fan and a small portable in the hall, if it didn’t pass ninety all day, I could usually cool the place down enough to sleep. Not in August. I finally unrolled my narrow futon from the storage closet where it waited for visiting friends – I’d long replaced the futon with a wider, supportive mattress – and slept beside the dining table. Not that anyone else was doing better. In desperation, Lonnie spent one night on a stringy beach chair by the pool. “That sucked,” he reported. “I had lines all over my chest.” Ed initially taped aluminum foil to his west-facing windows to deflect the sun, then gave up and bought a second air conditioner for his and Annie’s bedroom. “Edan’s sleeping between us,” he griped. “The heat better break soon.” Donna laughed. “He ain’t getting laid till Labor Day.” Of course, the longer days let the kids scream later in the pool. To be fair, they didn’t have much else to do. And every last one of them knew how to swim. “Watch me dive, Daddy!” shouted Kyle. “I can do better!” screeched Edan. “Look at me!” “Bellyflop! Bellyflop!” “Trina! Stay out of the deep end!” “Bordeaux! Out of the water! Now!” “Let her stay, Mommy, please!” pleaded Gini, hugging the dripping white hound. “She’s better than a raft!” Mid-August, Sheila and Wendi – the business women – came home to twin eviction notices taped on their doors. They didn’t even blush. “We stopped paying rent, too,” Sheila cheerily informed us. “Our leases run through September, but we can’t wait.” “We found a great apartment to share.” “Neither of us really wanted a roommate. But anything beats this.” “And there’s central air!” The rest of us had gotten so use to the steady defections, we began to call the place “Merry-Go-Round Palms.” “Do you really think they’ll evict us?” Sheila and Wendi asked. “Probably not,” I predicted. “As long as they know you’re leaving, they’ll just wait you out.” “I’ll change your locks,” volunteered Vic. They let him – making sure they got all the extra keys. But before they moved, something kind of unnerving happened. Sally got robbed. This was huge. I’d always joked about living on a seedy block in a good neighborhood. But I thought it was a safe, seedy block. “It was Mack!” Sally insisted, though the more she explained, the more this seemed like paranoia. It turned out that “A man who looked a lot like one of Mack’s friends” had come to her apartment offering “Discount Window-Washing for Seniors.” “I didn’t want to let him in,” she told us, “but my windows were so dirty. And I thought if I watched him all the time, nothing could go wrong.” “What did he take?” I asked. “All my money!” “How much was that?” “Well, I never keep more than fifty dollars in my purse.” “How did he get it?” Vic wanted to know. “If you were always with him?” “The phone rang. While he was in the bedroom. I went to the kitchen to answer, and that’s when he got into my purse!” “What’s Mack have to do with that?” Claire questioned. “He’s a window-washer! They must all know each other! And I’m sure he was spying somewhere!” “He always is,” seconded Vic. “The man must have signaled,” Sally went on, “then Mack called to distract me. No one was there when I picked up.” “You weren’t hurt?” I said. “I didn’t even know I was robbed. Not till after he left.” “How’d you pay him?” Claire wondered. “In advance. He insisted on that. He said too many people cheated him!” “Seniors?” That seemed hard to believe. “He obviously planned this out,” Vic deduced. “He didn’t want her looking in her purse.” “Did he do a good job with the windows?” Claire inquired. “Enough so I told him to come back! You don’t think he will?” “Would you recognize him?” I asked. “I told you. He looked like one of Mack’s friends.” “Could you be more specific?” “Like a fat Devil!” Claire, Vic, and I had to laugh “How much did he charge?” Claire continued. It seemed she was trying to back Sally off a bit. “One-fifty a window. He claimed it was ‘a Special Retirement Rate.’” “Less than dry-cleaning a blouse,” Claire said laughing. “Even getting robbed, you got a good deal.” When I ran into Mack later in the carport, I casually asked if he’d seen the man in Sally’s apartment. “I wasn’t here,” Mack snapped. “I was taking Kyle to Karate.” “He’s lying,” Sally quickly insisted. “Kyle was in the pool. With all my windows open, don’t you think I could hear?” “You’re sure?” Vic wondered. “My place is closer than yours, and I can’t tell the kids apart.” “My ears are better.” The police came and took a description. “They asked if I’d press charges,” Sally told us, and I said, ‘Of course!’ Why would I waste their time! But you know what the saddest thing is? This building has never been robbed. And it had to happen to me!” As soon as Sheila and Wendi moved, Sally settled one of her great-granddaughters into the studio next to her apartment. “I feel so much better, having Lindsay there,” she told us. “I know you’re all home at night, but Lindsay is here almost every day. She mainly goes to classes in the evening.” “The Irish Virgin,” Vic quickly pronounced, simultaneously showing interest in Lindsay while admitting defeat. “Is she good with Sally?” I asked him. “How would I know? Sally mostly stays inside now. She’s blames Mack for everything.” “Like what?” As far as I knew, nothing else had happened. “Like letting the air out of her tires,” Vic went on. I had to laugh. “They’ve been flat ever since I moved here.” “I know. But now she has me fill them every day.” “Slow leaks?” He nodded. “Which I told her – not that I want to be defending Mack. Jesus!” Vic was losing his own small war with our crude manager. I came home one night to find an extension cord snaked under Vic’s door and plugged into the wall light on our landing. Vic opened his door before I could knock. “Your power out?” I asked. “Nah. Mack padlocked the utility box.” I couldn’t make the connection. “I had my electric shut off in March,” Vic explained. “When I planned to move out. Then things changed.” “You’ve lived without power for six months?” I was amazed. He sloughed this off. “ Not really. I flicked the breaker whenever I needed something. Till Mack caught me.” “Have it turned it back on,” I suggested, sure his mother would pay. “No, it only bothers me when the Dodgers play. Or if the lottery’s high.” Which explained the cord. “Who’s winning?” I asked. He frowned. Clearly not LA. “Let me know if you need anything,” I offered. “I’ll be out of here soon.” Before he closed the door, I saw all the stacked boxes again. And wondered how anyone could live that way. Apartment 8 – on the balcony next to Harv and Lorelle – was quickly taken by Lorelle’s kid brother and his girlfriend. “It’s Jimmy’s first place,” Harv confided. “Just next door, so we can keep watch.” “Aren’t you a bit late?” “What? Oh! You mean living with the girlfriend!” He laughed. “How long have they been together?” “Who’s together? Her parents don’t even know!” He put his finger to his lips. I knew that would prevent babies. Jimmy looked like a lanky farmer. His girlfriend, Kalea, was Hawaiian and tattooed – a large black star graced the side of her neck. I hoped it wasn’t from a cult. As I passed beneath their part of the balcony, odd odors drifted down, a mixture of incense and sweat. And there was late-night screaming. For weeks, I didn’t connect it to them. I thought it was their TV. Then one night, their bedroom window smashed out. “She really lets him have it,” Harv soon apologized. “She hits him?” I was stunned. Harv was non-committal. “It’s more like rough sex. Very rough. We’ve all been there.” No, actually... “She’s smart,” he went on. “All women are. There’s so much they can teach us. And Jimmy’s got a lot to learn.” It’s still abuse, I wanted to say. But I kept my mouth shut. In any case, it didn’t last. After a morning I spotted Jimmy with two black eyes, he moved out. “Back home,” Harv acknowledged. “Where he thinks he’s safe. But he got a taste of this, so who knows?” With no reason to stay, Kalea also left. “It’s the hooker’s ghost,” Vic decided. It was the same apartment Melissa and Silvio had their sex in. “No woman should live in that place.” “Wendi was quiet,” I reminded him. “Wendy was repressed. She lived here a whole year without going near the pool. And all she wore was those business suits.” “She looked great in them.” “Yeah.” I think he was savoring her high heels. “But it wouldn’t have killed her to let us see what was underneath.” Vic’s own repression, maybe triggered by being surrounded by useless kids, seemed to be loosening up. Or else he trusted me enough to talk.
  4. Less than a month later, I discovered the UCLA girls – Annette, Teri, and Veronica – were moving out. “The place is impossible,” Teri told me. “And it keeps getting louder. We thought about staying, now that we’ve finished school, but...” “We graduated! How about that!” Veronica sounded just a bit surprised. “We almost have jobs,” Annette added. “And Mack’s a creep.” “In what way?” I asked Teri. “He’s like something out of Stephen King.” “You’re not being stalked?” I said. That could be serious. “No,” they conceded. “Still,” Annette insisted, “We can afford better.” “And wait till you hear the kids in the pool!” shrieked Veronica. “They keep finding more little friends!” That was unfortunately true. Lately, our pool seem to breed children. All with the same names and haircuts. They might have been clones. “They’ve got antsy dads, too,” Annette went on. “Always leering.” “We don’t have to put up with that.” “You should move out with us!” “Did you say anything to the owners?” I asked. “We tried. They don’t care. They told us, ‘It’s a family building.’” “Yeah – the Manson family!” Before moving out, the girls had a raucous party. As if to prove they could make more noise than four-year-olds. “I can’t hear my TV,” Mack complained. “TURN IT UP!” everyone chorused. Apartment 9 quickly rented to other married friends of Joni and Mack. For people nobody liked, they sure had a lot of pals. “Damn,” said Lonnie. “What?” “I wanted fresh meat.” I grinned. “You sound like Vic. And you’ve no reason to desperate.” Lonnie had been at the UCLA girls farewell party when I stopped by. And he was doing very well.. “They have a kid, too,” Vic soon grouched. “Who?” I had to ask. “The New Invaders.” Sally supplied their names: “Ed and Annie.” “Kid’s name’s Edan,” Vic went on. “Sounds religious.” “He doesn’t get it,” Vic told Sally. “Either did we, at first,” Sally explained. “I foolishly told Annie how nice it was that someone still reads the Bible. She just looked at me strangely. It seems they made up the name – from the first letters of their own.” I started to laugh. “That’s rude,” Sally said. “I was thinking of something else,” I told her. “On our show, we recently had an actor named ‘Marence’ – for his mother ‘Marsha’ and dad ‘Lawrence.’ He’s married to a woman named ‘Michelle,’ and they’ve named their daughter ‘Marchelle.’” “That should stop,” Sally agreed. “But it is kind of cute.” “Better than being named for a state,” I said, backing into the jade as Gini whirled by. “Gini! GINI!!” Joni screamed. “Kyle! Go get her! KYLE!!” The music of home. The new couple – Ed and Annie – seemed nicely ordinary at first, despite their connection to Mack and Joni. Ed was a traveling sales manager, “In videos,” he said, though I hoped not literally. He did resemble a dim porno star. Annie was “Staying at home till Edan’s in school.” Meanwhile, she made money doing “crafts.” “Beware the hot glue gun,” Claire warned. “My sister goes nuts with them. And rubber stamps She can’t mail a letter without covering it with animals.” “Bills, too?” I asked. “Magazine subscriptions!” “Yikes!” Still, there were some cracks in Ed and Annie’s normalcy. When they moved in, they brought a small, almost living Christmas tree, growing in a small garbage can. It was immediately “planted” outside their door. And they soon added a new competitive scream to the courtyard: “Edan! EDAN!” It countered the howls of “GINI! KYLE! TARA! TRINA! BORDEAUX!” Several weeks later, everyone also woke to a surprising, new intrusion: Ed yelling at the same stubbornly locked apartment door Bret had once faced. “Annie! Let me in, goddamnit! I’m your husband!” During the next fifteen minutes – as Ed and Annie fought through their secured screen door – we all learned that Ed had taken a business trip to Las Vegas. And then delayed coming home. We also found he had a slight gambling problem. “We thought you were dead!” Annie howled. “We called everywhere! Hospitals! The Police! The Highway Patrol!” “I would of called...” “If you were dead!” “What could of happened...” “I want you out of here! You’re not coming in! I never want to see you again!” “It was just three days...” “And borrowing money from your mother! When you know all she does is smoke and live on credit cards!” It went on for an hour, ended abruptly, then nothing more was said. Annie simply unlocked the door, Ed went in, and the rest of us started our day. “What was that about?” I soon asked Donna. “I don’t know. I duck Joni’s friends as much as possible.” “You didn’t know them before?” Donna shook her head. “Joni met Annie at a flea market. She was selling homemade jewelry. And she’s trying to get Edan into acting.” “Too bad no one makes horror flicks with four-year-olds.” “Isn’t there something we can do?” Luba asked, a few days later. “Such screeching when I’m trying to think. Right outside my window.” She had the deluxe pool-view, and the kids had expanded their reign to the area between that and the carport. “I try not to call the owners too much,” I advised. “Even my worst son’s worst two-year-old never made sounds like that.” So I tried to help by making a phone call. But I only got the usual recording. Since I’m normally not due in our office till ten, one morning I stopped on the way to see the owners. “What are you doing here?” the Golf Pro demanded. “It’s why we have managers.” I began diplomatically: “Mack has trouble keeping his own kids quiet. He has less luck with the other three.” “He’s not a nanny.” An ungainly image. “It’s you older residents who complain,” the Golf Pro went on, as though I was seventy. “The new ones love Mack.” “Maybe they’re inbred cousins.” He wasn’t amused. So I retrenched. “Are you really going to fill all the apartments with kids?” I asked. “Don’t they usually do more damage?” That left him silent. His Preppy Partner, clearly eavesdropping nearby, busied himself at a computer. “This is our first residential building,” the Golf Pro finally admitted. “Mostly we do commercial. So we’re learning.” “The only bad thing’s the noise,” I assured him. “You guys have been great at maintenance.” It was mostly true, with just a little flattery. In any case, it worked. The Golf Pro looked toward his partner. Who slowly nodded. “We’ll see what we can do,” they promised. “Thanks.” It turned out to be almost nothing. Mack continued to skulk, at least scaring off field mice. But the kid-noise grew so fierce, Luba finally gave notice. At least, she tried. “They say I can’t go!” she fumed one evening. “Is that so? That I signed a lease!” “Did you?” I asked. She sadly nodded. “They’ll just keep your deposit,” I explained. “That’s not fair!” “It could be worse. They could make you pay rent till they find a new tenant – up to the whole year.” “That’s not legal!” “It’s unfortunately how contracts work.” “How come he can leave?” she asked, angrily pointing upstairs to Vic’s apartment What could I say? That he actually couldn’t because his mother wouldn’t let him? “It’s why he’s waiting,” I lied. It wasn’t the answer she wanted. “Do you really want to go?” I went on. I’d seen her at quiet times, relaxing at the pool with some of the other tenants. So I knew she’d made friends. “I need peace,” Luba told me. “I’m not a machine. And something else. Why do I pay as much for two bedrooms as four people and a dog?” I didn’t want to explain free enterprise and wasn’t sure I could. “What you could do,” I offered, “if you’re really serious about leaving, is give notice on the first then don’t pay your rent. And stay till the end of the month. They can’t evict anyone that quickly. Your deposit will cover what you owe. And you won’t lose anything.” “Give notice?” she asked. “Yes.” “Don’t pay rent?” I nodded. “Sneak away?” “Not sneak. You’re doing everything legally, just being late with your rent. That happens all the time.” It took three times through to make her understand, but, finally, she grinned. “I’ll look for a new place tomorrow!” As she gave notice, Helen – the nurse – grabbed her old apartment. “Who cares about pool noise? I’ll do what Sally does – let the air conditioner drown it out. I just want to be upstairs, where I can leave windows open.” August first, Luba moved out, and Helen’s four sturdy sons reappeared and quickly shifted everything she owned across the courtyard and up a flight. That same afternoon, without any kind of warning, Gianpaolo materialized – mainly carrying a sailor’s duffle and a sleeping bag. He slipped noiselessly into Helen’s old place. “They didn’t even paint,” Sally mentioned. “We did for the Russian and the nurse,” mumbled Mack. “They getting stingy,” jabbed Vic. Gianpaolo spoke no English. He was maybe thirty, a bit stout, and drove a white stretch limo with “Hot Mama” plates. Presumably for a living. “Mack’s mob connection,” Vic cracked – one of the few times I saw him smile that summer. Mainly, he was in mourning. “It’s so different this year.” “With all the problems?” I asked. He wouldn’t elaborate. “There’s no one to watch,” Claire interpreted. Vic slunk away, but Claire was right. This summer, there were no pretty women at the pool.
  5. With Sally and Mack, the problems started quietly and never let up. We all knew she didn’t trust him. But I didn’t realize how much he scared her. “He’s always asking for things,” she told me. “The kind of easy things you do for any neighbor. Like could I watch Gini for a minute? Have I seen the dog? Do I have change for the washer? But it frightens me just to talk with him.” “Why?” She had no rational answer. “Where’s Joni through this?” I asked. “Taking Kyle to auditions. Or classes.” “I wondered if he went to school.” “Not that kind of class. Singing. Acting. That Chinese thing.” “Tae Kwon Do?” She shrugged. “May as well be.” “I thought Donna watched Gini,” I said. “Sometimes,” Sally conceded. “When she’s around. She watches the twins, too. She’s great with kids. Mack supposedly works.” “He doesn’t?” “How can he wash windows if Joni has the car? And you never see him do anything around here.” “He changes light bulbs,” I joked. “Yes! Aren’t they awful!” She laughed. The courtyard had maybe a dozen lights, set low in the flower beds. Before Mack came, they were all white. Now, as each burned out, he replaced it with a different color. “Looks like a whorehouse,” Vic scoffed. I trusted his experience. “Sometimes one of Mack’s friends picks him up,” Sally went on. “They go off, but I wouldn’t guess where.” “He shaved the other day. Maybe he’s looking for work.” “Not the kind you think! He’s playing a prison guard on TV!” Why wasn’t I surprised? “We’re surrounded by actors!” Sally finished. She didn’t seem pleased. The next time I saw Donna – Garth had flown back to Arizona after three lust-filled days – I asked if there was any way she could help Sally. “Garth really liked you guys!” she said instead. “Can’t wait to see you again.” “Great!” I wondered if I sounded convincing. “He said we should all go to Hawaii!” Right. Garth. The guy I was currently seeing. Sand. From Here To Eternity without me. “Now what’s your problem with Sally?” Donna suddenly asked. I snapped to reality and explained. “I never liked Mack,” she admitted. “I put up with him ‘cause of Joni. And to protect the kids.” “Would he hurt them?” “I doubt it – but who wants to take a chance?” “Could you watch out for Sally?” She hesitated. “I’m tired of being a den mother. And Sally can take care of herself.” “Just asking.” She thought again. “Yeah, well, if it were anyone but you...” She stopped. “Tell you what, I won’t babysit for her. But I’ll let you know if things get bad.” “That’s all I need.” Though what would I do then?
  6. Vic cracked first. “Gave notice this morning,” he told me. When I got home from work, he was sitting on our landing, I think waiting for me. “Couldn’t you ignore them?” I asked. “Don’t wanna.” “It’s that bad?” “It’s more than the noise. It’s Mack. He’s bad news.” “What about the ‘Eviction Bonus?’” I joked. “I never thought you’d give that up.” Obviously, this was important, because for a moment he considered. “It’s not worth it,” he finally said. “Where will you go?” He shrugged. “I’m not leaving tomorrow – I just gave notice.” “Be careful they don’t rent your apartment,” I warned. “To friends of Joni and Mack.” He didn’t laugh. “Do me a favor?” he asked instead. “Sure.” “I busted my lock. I was changing it, so Mack couldn’t get in. Something snapped.” “I don’t know much about locks,” I started. “But I’ll give you a lift to the hardware store.” I figured his bike must be trapped in his apartment. “No,” he said. “I need to go out your window. The front. If I edge along the overhang, I can climb into my living room.” “The overhang?” “Yeah.” “Will it hold?” “It better.” We went down to inspect. The overhang was maybe fifteen feet long, angled, and several feet wide. It was Spanish-Tudor looking, with open beams and cedar shingles. Spanning from Sally’s door at one end to Sheila’s on the other, it also covered the entry to the staircase Vic and I shared. “Looks solid,” I said. “It is. I’ve been on it.” We went back upstairs. I shifted my desk and raised the blinds. After taking out the screen, I watched Vic squeeze through the narrow window. “A bit tight,” I kidded. He ignored me and edged around the open casement. Then he side-stepped to his apartment. His nearest window was unfortunately jammed, so he shuffled further. “Got a screwdriver?” he soon hissed. I found one and passed it out. “If I get my fingers in, I can force the crank.” “Don’t fall,” I cautioned. He shuffled back to the window and yanked hard but couldn’t get it open. “Shit!” “You might have to call Mack,” I said. “He can fuck me before that happens.” I’d never seen Vic that angry, and it was a little scary. Fortunately, it was almost nine and dark out, and – so far – it seemed no one had seen us. Still, Vic wasn’t getting anywhere, so I slipped onto the overhang to see if I could help. It felt springy and steeper than I would have thought. But it wasn’t going anywhere. At the nearest window, I patiently wiggled the screwdriver between the casement and the frame until it gave. Then Vic took over. Coaxing his fingers inside, he steadily widened the space enough to push in the screen. Once he wormed his hand to the crank, the window opened, and he practically dove onto his rug. “Thanks,” he said, coming up grinning. “Meet you at the door.” I worked my way back to my apartment, quickly replaced the screen and lowered the blinds so it seemed nothing had happened. When I rejoined Vic, he was dissecting his lock. “One damn cog!” he said. He quickly reversed it and reinstalled his lock. Everything was fine. “Nice work,” I said. “Easy stuff. I used to build planes.” “See you around.” “I owe ya, buddy. Now I gotta pack.” “You’re really leaving then?” “I never change my mind.” “You might reconsider...” “Nah. Like I said, it’s not worth it.” The next day, almost everything he owned was in boxes. Where it stayed for maybe eight months. “I found a great place,” he told me within a week. “But my mother won’t let me move.” I laughed. “You’re forty-years-old. What’s she have to do with it?” He wouldn’t explain “It’s his disability,” Sally later said. “I don’t understand it all, but it has to do with the monthly payments from his union and the government being too little, and his family helping him live. But only if he stays out of trouble.” “Trouble? He seems harmless...” “If you’re not a woman,” Claire reminded us. Sally waved that away. “Irene Heldigger – the old owner – is a friend of his mother’s,” she went on. “That’s why Vic lives here.” “But the Heldiggers sold the building.” “His mother must want him to stay.” Vic certainly didn’t go anywhere, despite his plans. Though every day, his feud with Mack grew a bit more intense. Mack would just stop what he was doing and glare at Vic whenever the two met. Vic soon avoided Mack as much as possible, hiding in our stairwell till he was sure the other man was gone, then speedily peddling away. “Does he know he’s nuts?” Joni asked me about Vic. “They should lock him away from people.” “He pretty much does that himself.” “As you his friend?” “Not really. We share the landing.” “Well, you should be here during the day. He scares the kids! Calls them ‘little people!’ Like in: ‘Okay, little people, listen up! Big people live here! Big people who work hard to pay our rents! So shuuuut up!’” “The kids can get noisy,” I allowed. “I’ve heard them myself.” I didn’t tell her that I thought what Vic said was pretty funny. “They’re kids!,” she insisted. “Doin’ what they should!” “That doesn’t mean we want to live with it.” I was friendlier with Joni than with Mack and could normally tell her things that were wasted on her husband. But this time, I wasn’t getting through. “If you want to move...” she began. “I’m fine,” I said, smiling. “I mainly sleep here. How often do you see me around?” She shrugged. Maybe she didn’t care. “Kind of gutless,” Claire told me when I repeated the story. “I don’t like causing problems.” “You should move somewhere better. I’ll bet you can afford it.” “And you?” I said, laughing it off. “I told you, I’m lazy. And probably as busy as you are.” “The stupid thing is,” I added, “I like the building. It’s home.” She thought for a moment. “I know what you mean. I don’t want to leave, either.” Donna – Elvis’ former bodyguard – had no trouble with the noise. “I love kids and always hate seeing them grow up.” I didn’t see Donna a lot, but when I did, she always had news. “Kyle nearly got a movie!” she shouted one evening. “How about that!” “What happened?” “It’s one of those Karate Kid spin-offs. They tested him six times – with all different actors. They’d test one, then look at Kyle. Test another, then give Kyle another scene. For a weekend, he was definitely cast – Mack and Joni were planning a trip to Maui. Then the producers saw this blonde kid.” “Joni wouldn’t bleach Kyle’s hair?” Donna laughed. “She tried that once. It looked real fake.” “When’s that stopped Hollywood?” We both laughed. “Kyle must be disappointed,” I went on. “Losing the job.” “He’s strong,” she told me. “Spoiled, but really okay. I just wish Joni and Mack wouldn’t get him so excited.” “Does Gini act, too?” “No. They tried. She panics.” “She’s still young.” “It doesn’t matter. Poor Gini! Kyle brings in the dough, so he gets everything. She just gets dumped on.” “I didn’t realized there was a favorite. Maybe she’ll be better for it.” “Is that today’s crock-of-shit theory?” Donna asked, grinning. Over the next few weeks, I tried to watch the kids more closely. It was true: Kyle always had new toys. Mack and Joni steadily took him places. Gini seemed to share whatever the twins had. “See those?” Harv bragged one Sunday. “What?” I’d slept out the night before and was mainly coming home for clean clothes. “The twins’ new skates.” I could hear grinding in the courtyard. “Are they old enough?” “Oh, sure. With helmets. Knee-pads. Elbow pads. Wrist-braces, natch.” “They’ll look like gladiators.” “It’s their birthday!” “Congratulations!” “Four! Can you believe that? Can’t wait till they’re grown! Gonna be beauts.” Kyle had new skates the next evening, though Gini still ran barefoot – the only peasant in a land of roller kings. “Gotta do something about that,” Donna insisted. “Do Mack and Joni mind?” “Nah, they let me treat Gini. I’d do it more, but I got my own kids to spoil.” “Kids? You’re joking! Where?” “Vegas. In their twenties. A son and a daughter.” “You’re not old enough!” She grinned. “I’m seeing a guy in his twenties, too.” “That I believe!” “You’ll probably meet him soon.” “I’d better!” The following month – April – when I got home late one Friday night, music was jamming out Donna’s door. “Party!” she hollered. “Come on in!” I was beat and had an early meeting scheduled. Still, I figured for two minutes, I could be polite. “Beer?” Donna offered. I took one. “This is Garth.” We shook hands. “Now I have to find a doctor,” I joked, gently retrieving what was left of my fingers. “I use these for a living.” “Sorry, bud.” Garth’s voice was deeper than my dad’s. He was a cowboy – I could tell from the scars. And I could see most of them, Garth being somewhat underdressed. He wore cut-offs, frayed to the pockets, unbuttoned, and nearly unzipped. A small gold-and-diamond horseshoe bounced on his chest. He drained a beer. “We’ve been partying since noon!” “He’s been in the pool!” “Cold! Really snarkles your privates!” He and Donna laughed. “Sit!” he ordered. I cleared a chair. “What do you do with them hands?” he asked. I quickly explained. “My boss’s a writer, too! We should get you together!” I re-explained that I didn’t have quite that experience. “Either does he! He owns a ranch! Writes rodeo flicks no one buys!” Donna found this very funny. “Another beer?” Garth asked. I gestured with the nearly-full one I had. “You got two paws!” If he arrived at noon, assuming – probably falsely – he’d been sober, and allowing time for the inevitable hard-wrought sex – why else does a stereotype exist? – I gave him five minutes before he passed out. Two hours later, we were still talking. An exhausting conversation: race tracks, stunt flying, car engines. My strong subjects. “I gotta go,” I finally said. “Got an early call.” “We’re grilling steaks tomorrow night! Bring your girl!” I nicely apologized that I’d have to work late. “We’ll wait!” Too numb to fake another excuse, I mumbled, “Phone you around five.” “You didn’t promise?” the guy I was seeing said when I told him. He wanted to see a new Italian movie. “Who remembers what I said? I’d had four beers.” “That’s not much.” “When’s the last time you saw me drink?” He laughed. “Might be worth going. Just to see you compete.” When I called Donna at five, there was no answer. And no machine. “We’ve got to stop by,” I told my friend, and he only agreed because the Italian movie was playing nearby. This time, Garth was slightly better dressed – full jeans, though still flapping at the fly. “You‘re early!” he shouted, even before I parked my car. “I tried to call. It just kept ringing.” He shook the cell phone lying by the pool. “Dammit!” He tossed it in the water. “Garth!” Donna yelped. “Buy you ‘nother one, Sweetie.” “You just bought that.” He stripped off and dove. “Wasn’t gonna do that again,” he said, grinning as he hit the surface. Of course, now the phone definitely didn’t work, though Garth – still bare-assed – fiddled with it for a while before tossing it in the trash. As he casually pulled on jeans, he handed my friend a beer. “Let’s skip the movie,” he decided. Garth grilled steaks. “Cajun style!” though he was from Arizona. “Met Donna on the circuit there!” “Arizona?” my friend asked. “You know it?” “I went to college there.” “Where?” “Flagstaff.” “Great little town! ” Garth pronounced. “Great gals!” “Yeah, it was fun.” “No shit!” Donna laughed. Garth was playfully all over her – of course, he was all over me, too: he was just a big, friendly guy. We all got drunk. Ate. Told stories. Garth eventually put on more clothes. When the temperature dropped, I went for a sweater. “We could go inside,” Donna suggested. “Nah!” resisted Garth. “Look at those stars.” He identified constellations I could barely see. “Where’d you learn that?” I asked. “Useful thing to pick up.” “For cattle drives?” He shook his head. “To impress les mademoiselles.” My friend was hypnotized. “Damn cowboy-poets!” he whispered, when Garth was momentarily out of sight. “I’m always a sucker.” “I could learn to ride.” Like it would have mattered. Still, when we were all beyond coherence, my friend wanted to go home. “We can’t drive now,” I warned him. “You don’t understand,” he explained. “I can’t be around this kind of guy for long. You won’t like what I do.” I realized there was a kind of compliment in there, so I called a cab and took him home. “Thanks,” he told me the next morning, adding, “You were perfect last night.” I had the good sense to keep quiet. “Certain guys just get to me,” he confessed. “If you and Donna hadn’t been there, and Garth is as loose as I think, he and I might’ve fucked each other crazy.” I knew that. “So I owe you something.” We settled on dinner. It was a good dinner.
  7. Our first newest neighbors took Apartment 5 – the two-bedroom. Apparently, the building owners – quickly learning from their bout with Younger Brother and the band – felt it again wise to offer half the higher rent to get “experienced managers.” That was the phrase used in their latest letter. “I hate seeing these letters on our doors,” Sally told us. “I’m always sure the next one will evict us.” “We’re under lease,” Vic reminded her. “Though not if they pay us off.” That rainbow promise still seemed to please him. “You earnestly wait for that to happen,” I tried to joke, hoping to distract Sally. “It’s gonna,” he predicted. “That’s what I mean,” Sally went on. “And I don’t want to move.” “It won’t be that bad,” Vic assured her. But he hadn’t lived in the same place for thirty years. “I wonder who puts up these letters?” I asked. “They’re always so early.” “Better to seem omnipotent,” counseled Vic. In any case, we tore them up and moved on. The new managers – Joni and Mack – along with their “experience,” brought two kids. “Am I gonna wish the band was back?” Claire wondered, maybe the first time she heard the shrill four- and seven-year-olds. It was a Saturday morning, and we were both headed out. “How do you feel about dogs?” Vic asked, hauling his bike down the steps behind us. “Shep’s bad enough,” Claire said. “Who’s Shep?” I asked. “Her latest boyfriend,” Vic cracked. Claire ignored him. “He’s the four-legged pest who lives next door.” Claire shared a landing with the Hungarian women. “I never knew his name,” I admitted. “That’s dumb,” Vic pointed out. “He’s not even a Shepherd.” “They’re not German,” I volleyed, and Sally – who’d come to her screen door – at least laughed. “Shep’s not his real name,” Claire allowed. “After three years, I don’t even know their first names. Just what’s on their mailbox.” “Kasner/Szabo,” read Vic. “Which one’s which?” No one knew. “They’re hard to talk with,” Sally acknowledged. I’d failed, too. And Vic. “I just call the dog ‘Shep,’” Claire finished up. “Why?” Vic had to push. Claire resisted, but Sally and I were also curious. “After The Three Stooges,” Claire said, laughing. “He stinks up the stairway, and I want to poke out his eyes.” We all laughed. Then Claire went toward the parking lot, and Sally went back inside. “Actually, it’s a cat,” Vic told me, as the two of us headed towards the street. “It pees on her doormat.” I considered. “Doesn’t ‘cat’ smell stronger than ‘dog’?” He stared at me like I was the pervert. “A cat,” he said, flatly. “Which one?” “Who cares? I’d like to murder them all.” Our new managers and their dervish spawn took some getting used to. The seven-year-old was a shag-haired, sit-com-cute boy named Kyle. The screeching four-year-old was Gini. “Her full name’s ‘Virginia,’” her mother, Joni, volunteered. “That’s where she was conceived.” Their dog, an albino coyote, was called Bordeaux. Conception unknown. The husband, Mack, looked like Old Elvis, though hairy and tattooed. He must have worn a shirt for their job interview, but we haven’t seen much of it since. His official profession’s “Window Cleaner.” On their mailbox – and on magnetic signs sometimes attached to the doors of their aged Caddy – it read: “Anderson’s Awning and Window Cleaning.” We had no idea who “Anderson” was. Their last name was “Turner.” As they moved in, they asked Vic – whose last name coincidently was also “Turner”– if they were related. Had he said “Yes,” – and if he’d had any – they might have hit him for money. They soon hit everyone else. Two weeks after they arrived, Joni’s sister – “Aunt Donna” – took Apartment 10. “I’m not her sister,” Donna immediately corrected. “We met twenty-years ago when I was guarding Elvis. She was a groupie.” “Elvis?” I asked quietly, not meaning to upset someone’s fantasy. “Yeah.” Donna grinned. “Don’t you see something familiar about Tommy?” “Who’s Tommy?” “Sorry. Mack.” Was she telling me my new apartment manager was the former King? This was more fun than a “Barry” sighting. “I see some kind of resemblance.” “There was more before he got fat.” (Elvis or Mack?) “That’s why Jean married him.” “Jean?” “Joni.” So we weren’t dealing with the actual King. Just his body-guard, a former groupie, and a stocky look-alike. “Peek inside the Caddy someday,” Donna went on. “On the dashboard, there’s a brass plaque – pretty scratched up by now. It starts: ‘Made expressly for...’” “You’re kidding!” “His car.” Its plates were personalized “Elvis.” “Wanna go look?” She was ready to lead. I stalled. The car was so bedraggled, who knew what I’d catch? Besides, Mack was the kind who made pigs squeal. “He was great, you know,” Donna told me, and it took a moment to realize she was praising Elvis not Mack. “Nothing like what you hear. He’d be in his suite with us, playing Yatzee – it was his favorite game – and throwing water balloons off the balcony. Then he’d go on stage and was like this different person. Someone we didn’t know.” For six years, Donna was one of His Vegas security people. “I was at his last birthday,”she said. “It’s all so sad now.” Donna was once, “Sixty-five pounds lighter – hard to believe the damage I’ve done to myself ” Jean was now Joni and Tommy Mack because – in addition to gaining half-rent as managers – while simultaneously juggling Kyle’s sporadic acting income (that was the ninja-child’s profession) – they were also collecting welfare. “Kyle’s an actor?” I asked Donna. “He started doing commercials in diapers.” I wondered if a kid that cute would turn into his father. Sally immediately mistrusted Mack, though she felt less anxious about Joni. “After all, she is a mother.” So was Madame Defarge, I thought. “Mack frightens me,” Luba – the Russian seamstress – seconded. “More than anyone in Kiev.” “He’s glares at me,” Vic complained. “Whenever I look out my window.” “And the way he ‘undresses’ the girls!” said Claire. “He’s not even sly about it.” She smiled awkwardly at Vic. “Maybe they won’t last,” Sally sighed. “Maybe their dog will eat them,” echoed Vic. As if the Turner tykes weren’t bad enough, they were quickly joined by a pair of Village Of The Damned towheads when their parents rented Apartment 7. Lonnie couldn’t find a roommate. “It’s never been like this,” he explained. “I’ve got lots of friends.” “Members of The Reptile League?” I joked. “Nah. Yuck doesn’t bother them. One of my buddies keeps toads.” I flinched. “But all the guys now look at my place and go, ‘Don’t you have more furniture?’” he went on. “Like that’s important!” With Dale gone, Lonnie mainly owned a bed, a couch, a TV, and some milk crates. “Have you advertised?” I asked. “I thought about it. But part of me feels I’m past roommates – except those you can sleep with.” He grinned then adjusted himself, in case I missed his point. Lonnie’s “roommate solution” finally involved his moving – alone – into the one-bedroom Apartment 14 after Eric and Sue finished their house. “Should we give them a party?” Sally wondered. “They’ve been here for years.” “And they have always been quiet,” seconded Claire. That was her highest praise. “How much would it cost?” asked Vic. That killed that plan as fast as it scotched sending Lisa and Dale a group wedding present. “It’s not like we were invited to the party,” Claire pointed out. “They eloped,” I said. “Couldn’t afford more.” “To Death Valley?” “They thought it would be a hoot.” “At least, they didn’t take the baby.” Apartment 7's new tenants – the blond twins’ parents – were also friends of Joni and Mack. “That’s how we saw the place,” they said. “Mack’s getting a voting block,” Vic groused, as though he were planning a rent strike. Harv and Lorelle drove matching jeeps, painted flat-grey. “Got ‘em at the Postal auction,” Harv boasted. Lorelle was a Police Academy cadet. Harv laid carpet for her dad. “We shouldn’t really be living here,” he told me. “I make fifty thou per – off the books, natch. But the twins really like Gini. They have the same... what do you call ‘em?... kid doctor.” “Pediatrician.” I supplied. “That’s it. I’m stupid with big words.” But he was adept with small ones. He was always talkative, always friendly, and – once home from work – rarely wore a shirt. He looked like Mack’s genial brother, with more symmetrical tattoos. “Know what I did today?” he soon asked – we were throwing out garbage. “Applied as a school bus driver! They make sixty-thou per – can you believe that! And only work forty-hour weeks!” “Good benefits, too,” I said. He nodded. “But we don’t need them. That’s why Lorelle’s becoming a pig.” Almost reflexively, he glanced around – a tic I hadn’t seen since Gabe and Dorothy left. “Don’t let her hear that!” A week later, Harv glumly admitted he hadn’t gotten the job. “There were 12,000 applicants! And some had experience!” “Can you try again?” “What’s the point?” A big problem with our courtyard, especially since the “replanting,” was sound – there was nothing to break it up. The building was mainly stucco, with wide, picture windows. When you cranked out their flanking casements, the glass quickly channeled noise inside. Shortly after he and Lorelle moved in, I had to drag Harv up to my apartment, to prove his TV was louder in my living room than in his. “It’s not your fault,” I explained. “The courtyard has strange acoustics.” “They suck,” he evaluated professionally. But he did promise to be careful. “Still... you know kids.” We had little choice but to learn. Mack had partly lured his friends to our building by hawking the dead-end street as “the perfect place to play!” Even safer, he claimed, was the largely enclosed courtyard. “My daughters played there, too,” Sally admitted. “They didn’t have Click Trikes then,” Helen – the nurse – replied. “My sons threatened to kill me if I bought them for my grandkids.” Kyle and Gini and Trina and Tara – Harv and Lorelle’s blonde twins – spent almost all day circling their clattering bikes. Going ‘round and ‘round and ‘round and ‘round. Making their own quadrasound dub of The Shining. “I hate this!” Claire stormed. “They’re ruining my life!” “Some stretch,” Vic muttered. “We gotta do something! Complain!” she insisted. “What else do you do?” Vic snapped He possibly refused just not to agree with Claire. They’d been sniping again. And lately, I’d noticed, he was bumping his bike down our steps even earlier than usual. “Does he have a job?” Sheila – the saleswoman who lived just below him – asked. “I hear him pacing all the time.” “He’s retired,” was the nicest thing I could say. “Where does he go every day?” I questioned Sally, not really expecting she’d know. She was almost always home, and her sun-bleached Fiat sat out front on nearly-flat tires. “I saw him in the mall once,” she told me. “Eating popcorn and watching girls.” “Big surprise.” The two of us laughed. “But can he do that all day?” “It’s harmless,” she pointed out. “At least they can see his hands.” “Sally!” We laughed again. “What did the owners say about the noise?” I later asked Claire. She made a gargoyle face. “I never get past their machine. Though I’ve left polite messages every day. They must think I’m the nut.” Fortunately, by the time I got home, the kids were usually asleep. Even weekends, when I had a rare hour free, there was no reason to stay in my apartment. And if the kids didn’t wake me, our resident crows might. A huge family of them had made the ivy-covered, chain link fence near our pool into a motel. Sally and Vic left messages for the owners, too. “But we’re probably dismissed as ‘the old lady and the bum,’” Vic said. Luba, trying to sew quietly in her spare bedroom, also got no response. “How often have you’ve tried?” I asked. “Several times. I don’t count. Nothing changes.” “We were all kids once,” Helen gently reminded us. Perspective helps, though not when you’re trying to relax, and space aliens are sacking your courtyard. Going ‘round and ‘round and ‘round and ‘round. The longer people protested, the longer nothing happened. So things only got worse.
  8. While Bret and Lola were fighting, something as strange was happening across the courtyard – the New York women were having their own dirty little war. Lisa – the one with the baby – wanted to marry Dale – the mechanic who shared a place with Lonnie. All through the randy summer – and despite, it appeared, her roommates’ raunchy objections – Lisa and Dale had managed to stay together. “He’s the guy I want to be with,” I heard her tell Teri, possibly hoping for more sympathy from the UCLA senior than she was getting from her own, less-formally-educated roommates. That was the Sunday after Thanksgiving. It had still been warm enough for them to be sunning by the pool, while Lisa’s son, Morgan, happily explored on his safety leash. I was checking a soft tire in the carport. “Go for it,” Teri advised. “Everyone says I can do better,” Lisa sighed Teri shifted in her chair, possibly moving her cleavage further from Vic’s sight. “What do you want?” she asked. Lisa seemed to think. “Would you marry him?” Teri hesitated. “You can’t go by me – I’m twisted – my parents have lots of money. Even if all my plans work out, I’ll probably never come close to earning what my dad does – he’s a cinematographer. But the guy I marry better.” “We’ve never been rich,” Lisa allowed. Though neither she, nor I – and maybe not Teri – knew just how much a cinematographer made. “It changes things,” Teri admitted. “But Dale already makes as much as my father,” Lisa said. “And he’s only twenty-four.” “Will you work?” Teri asked. “I want more kids – and it’s hard enough keeping a job with Morgan. But I will if I have to.” “Then marry Dale. He’s a great guy.” Lisa’s roommates felt differently. “Why did we move three-thousand miles?” Jackie yelled. “So you could marry Scott all over again?” “He’s not Scott!” “He looks like Scott! Talks like Scott! Bet he even...” “Just stop! Just fucking stop!” “Then why ask me?” It was suddenly quiet. This time I was in the courtyard, oiling my new bike – a used twelve-speed I’d bought, foolishly thinking I’d ever have time to ride. After a moment, Lisa went on. “I’d just like to hear one of you say one thing nice about Dale,” she almost pleaded “He fills out his shorts,” Jackie teased. “Great thing to tell her!” Kim blasted. “That’s what always gets her in trouble.” “Right!” Lisa shouted. “Like I fall in love every day!” “Not in love...” “Jackie!” Shannon hollered. “I do not!” Lisa insisted. “When you got pregnant, you weren’t even sure it was Scott!” Jackie went on. “That’s why he wouldn’t marry you!” “Did he tell you that?” “No, I made it up,” Jackie sassed. “When did he tell you!” “I don’t know!” Jackie was suddenly vague. “Before we left!” “Did you sleep with him?” Lisa suddenly accused. “Liar!” “Liar,” Lisa mimicked. “I never slept with Scott!” Jackie yelled. “But I might be the only one of our friends who didn’t!” “I know that!” Lisa shrieked, then went abruptly quiet. “Who else?” she asked, now softly. “You know!” “No, I really don’t!” “Not me! “Then who!” “You know!” “All right.” This time Lisa backed off. “I just had to be sure.” “It doesn’t matter,” Shannon said calmly – she was often the peacemaker. “After all, she’s not marrying Scott. She marrying dipstick Dale.” Sometimes the peacemaker. “Stop calling him that!” Lisa howled. “It’s what he’ll do all his life!” “He’s a specialist. He fixes Porsches!” “Which he can’t even afford to buy!” “He could always build one from parts,” Jackie taunted. “Stop it!” Lisa begged. “If you can’t take it now, then how you gonna take it in ten years? When he’s not cute? When he’s still slow? And still not making enough money. It’s not cheap to live in California.” In answer, Lisa slammed out of their apartment, past me and up the stairs to Dale’s place. “Nice!” Jackie told Shannon. “Now we gotta watch the kid!” But Jackie had her own problems – maybe part of the reason she was tense. She wanted to move in with Chris, the band’s drummer. “King Sleeze,” Kim called him. “I didn’t say I wanted to marry him,” Jackie tossed back. “Though we’d have hot-looking kids.” She hesitated, then seemed to explain. “He’s just more fun than anyone I know.” “When he’s high,” Kim poked. “He’s not always high.” “That’s what I’m saying.” “You’re a fine one to talk.” “I’m not defending myself – this isn’t about me. You come down on Lisa, then chase a musician who can’t even read music.” To that, Jackie had no reply. Kim wasn’t blameless, either – she also wanted out. But not to be with anyone special. “Don’t you miss the East?” she asked me one night. We were in the laundry room, waiting for our driers to stop. “A bit,” I admitted. “What do you like best here?” she went on. I grinned. “The weather.” She laughed. “Everyone says that. Then they run out of reasons.” “I like seeing foreign movies before they’re five years old,” I said. That didn’t impress her. She preferred Hollywood films. “Next reason,” she asked. “Restaurants. There are so many kinds.” “So?” “That’s a lot to someone who hates to cook.” “What else?” “The mix of people. Where I come from’s mostly white.” “I’ll give you that. Growing up, the only different people I saw were on TV.” “But you still want to go back?” “I’d go home right now if I thought my car would make it.” She drove an old Ford that still had New York plates. “What do you miss?” I asked. She laughed again. “Everything. Knowing places. Knowing people. Fitting in. Okay, maybe my life won’t be as interesting. And maybe – if I stay a few more years – LA won’t always feel like Star Trek. But what if I’m wrong?” I thought about it. “I was at a party the other night,” I told her. “For work. There were lots of guys. Network types. Future producers. I was amazed how much attention the girls I see every day in the office were getting.” She considered this. “Probably married guys.” We laughed. “I know what you’re saying though,” she admitted. “It’s a huge decision.” Shannon – the fourth roommate – wouldn’t have considered leaving. “I can’t believe you were in movies!” she told Sally one afternoon. “That must’ve been so great!” Sally nodded. Quietly, but proud. “It’s why I came here,” Shannon went on. “Not to act. I’m terrible at that – can’t stand people staring at me. I was in a play once in high school – a musical. I only had a tiny part. I mostly sang. But I had one little line: ‘Oh, no, sir, not me!’ I about squeaked! Every night!” Sally laughed. “You couldn’t have been that bad.” “I was horrible!” “What do you want to do?” Sally asked. “That’s the problem. I don’t really know. But I love the movie business! I work in this producer’s office. I started as a temp, but as soon as they saw me at the computer, they stole me from the agency. All around me, people know exactly where they’re headed. And what they need to do to get there. I’m just happy being paid.” “You don’t have to make up your mind yet,” Sally told her. “I started dancing when I was four – before I even knew what dancing really was. But I never thought, ‘This is all I’m going to do.’ I haven’t danced for years now, but I’ve done so many other things.” “I don’t know what I’ll do, either,” I told Shannon. I’d been listening. “I might have used up twenty-eight years of good luck getting my present job. I may never be that lucky again. But what I’m doing now isn’t what I’ll stay with all my life. It’s just a start.” “Everything’s so weird,” Shannon confessed. “Kim even wants me to go home with her. Soon, I won’t have Jackie and Lisa – all of them around. And I’m not sure I’m ready to live here alone.” “I came out here by myself – on a bus, in 1935,” Sally encouraged. “Knowing no one, and with almost no money. You already have a job in a producer’s office. Things can only get better.” “You’ll be okay,” I assured her. “You think?” Her test came sooner than anyone expected. The same January weekend Bret and Lola moved, the New York girls split up. Lisa and her baby found a new place with Dale. Dale made sure Kim’s car would safely drive east. Jackie followed the band – which was headed to Seattle. “Good times there,” Younger Brother promised when the van stopped to pick Jackie up. Shannon found a friend from work who needed a roommate. “I won’t miss them,” Claire said, watching each of them leave. I felt differently. It was kind of sad. They’d been my family for a year “I wonder if the pool will ever be clean again,” she went on. “Something no one’s told me?” I tried to joke. She managed to smile sarcastically. “She’s jerking you off,” Vic said. It seems he’d been lurking. “Nothing’s wrong with any of those girls – ’cept maybe the creeps they sleep with.” “I’m sure you’ll miss them,” Claire baited. Surprisingly, Vic grinned. “That depends who moves in.” There were suddenly lots of openings. As Bret, Lola, the New Yorkers, and Dale left, the Kansas couple found their long-sought house. “Enormous!” Eric exclaimed. “Three thousand square feet!” “Four bedrooms! A fireplace!” “A bank default! Terrific deal!” “We wanted a pool,” Sue admitted. “But maybe next time.” “Lots to do. So much to repair. We’ll stay here another month while we paint. And tear up carpets. Re-do floors.” “We can’t put so much into the place, we won’t get it back. But if we do most of the work ourselves...” “Not electric!” Eric insisted. “I don’t do electric!” They laughed. It was clearly a personal joke. “Something to do with codes?” I asked, trying to rejoin the conversation. “No,” he said, grinning. “Don’t ever tell anyone, but I nearly burned this place down. Just trying to fix a switch one night.” “This was before you moved in,” Sue assured me. “That makes me feel safe.” This time, we all laughed. Their euphoria was spreading. During the next month, Sally, Claire, Vic, and I saw a seemingly endless album of pictures of Eric and Sue’s new house. “Before,” looked pretty good. “After,” was terrific. “Definitely worth the wait,” we admired. “Isn’t that linoleum great?” “Did you see what Sue did in the den?” “Don’t you love the bathrooms?” “You have to come over,” they insisted, though we could never all get coordinated. Still, even before their moving truck was loaded, we had nearer things to distract us – three new sets of neighbors. None pleased Vic.
  9. Bret lost his first job within a month. Not as apartment manager – his full-time job. When the new owners described him as a “chef,” it was another small lie. He was actually a short-order cook. Lola’s “in advertising” more precisely translated to “working for a sign company.” “The problem with people,” Bret told me – soon after his, apparently latest, “lay-off” – “is they’re real selfish. Always thinking of themselves. Never thinking what I might need.” “What happened?” I asked politely. “Systems! They’re invented to help us! Then people just turn around and screw them up!” He seemed upset. It was only nice to listen. “Like we have menus for a reason,” he stormed on. “If something’s not on it, there’s probably a cause.” “Makes sense.” “And the smart-assed reply, ‘Well, you made it yesterday,’ only pisses me off. Yesterday, I had what I needed. Today, I don’t.” “Does this happen a lot?” “Every damn place I work.” “Couldn’t the waiters ask you first? Before making promises?” “Now you’re the kind of guy I wanna work with! Someone who thinks! Problem with most waiters is they gotta be loved.” “Not where I eat.” We laughed about that. “Yeah, well, would you be a waiter?” he asked. “Half of them are waiting for something better to come along.” It seemed unfortunately true. Bret laughed again, then went on. “You know, you can open a restaurant and grab any five dickbrains to work the tables. But you can’t do that with a chef. I went to school! I cooked nights to go to school! To get good at what I do! Now they’ve got my resume so loused up, I can’t even get jobs worse than what I had when I was in college.” As we talked, he only got tenser. “You should take a break,” I suggested. “That’s what Lola says – but she has a job, not a career. She claims she’d have one if we quit moving around. But everywhere we’ve lived, there’s only so many places I can work. That’s why we came here.” “Lots of restaurants nearby.” “Yeah!” He suddenly frowned. “But all one business! And everyone talks!” “What do you want to do?” I asked. He didn’t need to think: “Open my own place. Fire the hell outta anyone who doesn’t agree with me.” He grinned. “That takes money,” I said. “Tell me about it.” “Therapy’s cheaper.” I was joking. But he was suddenly furious. “That’s the kinda talk that makes me crazy!” he shouted. “I know what I’m doing! You don’t know what the fuck you’re talking about! Probably never cooked a whole meal in your life!” I’d made pretty fair pancakes that morning but wasn’t about to mention it. “Bret! Bret! I was kidding! Really!” He paced the courtyard. We’d been sitting on the steps near his apartment. After a minute, he didn’t seem any calmer. But at least he’d stopped screaming. “God!” he almost moaned. “I can’t believe this is happening again! Lola’ll kill me!” “She doesn’t know?” “I couldn’t call her at work! She’s gonna come home thinking everything’s fine. Then ream me again!” “How soon can you find work?” I asked. “At shitty places? Just by walking in – there’s always listings. The worst thing’s explaining why I’ve just been dumped. But that happens everywhere – it’s why there’s always jobs.” “I didn’t realize it was so high pressure.” He laughed “Oh, yeah! I should take it easy – become an air traffic controller.” Lola didn’t kill him that night, though we all heard the battle. After what Bret said that afternoon, I guessed the accusations were typical. Still, everyone liked both of them because – for the most part – they were dependably easy-going. Their cat, however, only had enemies. Slash was Jimmy Cagney with no sense of humor. Scrappy. Fierce. His midnight orgies pierced our thin walls so viciously even Claire had to complain. “I don’t mean to cause trouble,” she told Bret, gently hedging in case Lola suddenly kicked the boy out. “After all, I love cats.” Bret had been trying to fix a screen-door. “You can’t really call what I do ‘maintenance,’” he’d admitted. He smiled at Claire, shirt open, looking game. “But my cat – Daisy – is fixed,” Claire purred on. “And declawed. Plus, I always keep her inside.” “We tried keeping Slash indoors,” Bret admitted. “He hates it.” “I can imagine. No man likes being caged.” If Claire could have shimmied, she would have. “He sliced the shower curtain,” Bret went on. “Shredded Lola’s favorite rug. Once he even turned on the stove – and melted peanut butter in the cabinet two shelves above.” “Peanut butter can melt?” Claire asked. It came out a sigh. “That’s why we let him run loose.” “Well...” Claire couldn’t back down completely. “He’s wakes me up at night.” Would she have minded if it had been Bret? “I’ll do my best,” he promised. “At least, after dark.” Which meant during the day, Slash roamed free. Flinging himself at birds. Trouncing lilies. Even confined, his shrieks had Melissa’s siren power. And when Bret and Lola fought – which they did increasingly – horny Slash howled like a battered child. On ordinary nights, when he slipped from his apartment-prison, often at 2 AM, Bret gave chase – shoeless, mainly in shorts, waving a flashlight and leash. Hissing noiselessly as possible, “Slash! Slash! Here, guy! Come to daddy!” Sometimes the cat came home. More often, Bret cut his foot. “Aw, Fuck!!” Like Slash’s adventures, Bret and Lola’s fights always started small then boomed. They fought over jobs – Bret quickly lost several more. Over money – clearly related to Bret’s being unemployed. And sex. “I love you! I love you! I LOVE you!” he bellowed one night. Evidently not enough to please Lola, who ran next door, locking herself in with the UCLA girls. Bret stood in the courtyard, in pajama bottoms, in the midnight drizzle, howling, “Lola! Lola!” “Stella!” Lola finally relented, and the rest of us went back to sleep – for seconds. In the confusion, Slash had worked his latest escape and soon found company. He and his companion spent the night lustily. “I’m gonna murder that thing,” Vic muttered. “Gonna catch it, drive to Malibu, and feed it to the sharks!” On his bike? Less than a month after their last fight – in late January and without notice, Bret and Lola moved. “I’ve got a job in San Diego,” Lola told me happily as she loaded her car. She quietly added, “This time he’ll have to adjust.” “A good job?” “Oh, yeah – a small ad agency. I’ve been trying to break in for years. It’s one reason we moved here.” “I hope it works out.” “It will. And if it turns out Bret’s just my first husband...” She shrugged, seeming almost amused. “Well, at least, he’s good in bed.” When I saw him, I wished Bret luck. “Thanks, man, I need it! She nearly left me here.” I sympathized. “Gotta stay cool. Gotta be cool. Long hike to sixty-five.” “I wish I could help.” “Yeah, I suck at giving advice, too.” We shook hands, biker-style. Then he leashed Slash into Lola’s back seat, pulled on a shirt and helmet, and gunned his cycle. The family moved south. Vic mourned Lola for weeks. Claire merely pouted. Slash – for all anyone cared – could have gone to hell.
  10. Bret and Lola – the new manager and his not quite wife – “We lied a little” – moved into Apartment 10, a downstairs one-bedroom. The owners apparently no longer wanted to waste a two-bedroom apartment on hired help. “Gotta pay for those lilies,” Claire joked. Bret was slightly overbuilt and rode a dinged Suzuki. Lola drove a proper four-door Honda, but something in her walk lured Vic’s leers back to the courtyard. “The girls stopped swimming anyway,” he sulked. “We’re only paying three-hundred,” Bret confided to me one Saturday afternoon. “For a five-fifty place. Does that seem fair?” What could I tell him? That Gabe and Dottie had lived rent-free, or Younger Brother had wheedled half-off on a much larger apartment? “Better than paying all,” I said. “We had a real problem getting a place,” he explained. “We have this cat.” He somehow made it sound like bragging. “Is that a problem?” “You better believe it! Our last landlord claimed Slash was The Feline From Hell!” “Slash?” “Yeah! No goofy plush toy for me. He looks like a young panther. Lola wanted to bob his balls, but you bet I fought.” “She wasn’t fixing you.” “You got that straight!” And I swear he stroked his crotch. Lola and Bret had been together since college and eventually planned to marry. “Got to grow up first,” Bret said, and I doubt he was talking about Lola. “Cute guy,” I heard Claire tell Sally one evening, and it made me see Claire slightly differently. She’d always seemed too antiseptic for sex. Still, she wasn’t close to Vic’s reflection – I couldn’t picture her writhing behind shuttered windows. Though the first Sunday Bret disassembled his bike – shirtless and in cut-offs – Claire slowly hand-washed her car, something I’d never seen her do. Finished, it still needed washing. And she needed toweling down. Bret good-naturedly worked around her growing puddles. Claire was pretty, especially wet. The hitch was always her precision. That afternoon, she muted that, swaying to her car’s radio while ruining its paint. Bret either truly loved his bike or adored Lola because he never lost focus. Early the next month, the band’s newly fumigated apartment rented to Luba, a Russian seamstress. “One bedroom is where I sleep,” she explained. “One is where I work.” Her accent made easy-listening hard, but once I separated the syllables, I could interpret. Sally only pretended. “Have you been here long?” I asked Luba, carefully using helping verbs. “I just moved here.” “To this country?” “No! Here! Here!” She pointed forcefully at her front door. “Not really polite,” Sally later confided. I shrugged. “Maybe I wasn’t being clear.” It turned out Luba had been in this country for several years, though – without subtitles – I couldn’t divine the exact number. She got citizenship through her husband, an Air Force sergeant. “Dead,” she told me. “I’m sorry to hear that.” “Why? You didn’t know him.” Did I really want to know her? The one-bedroom above Bret and Lola also rented – briefly. One bedroom turned out to be where Melissa both slept and worked. I was drowsily reading after midnight Melissa’s first week when suddenly there were screams. Murderous screams! Rape screams! Yanking on shoes, I lunged down the stairs and stood panting in the courtyard, wondering how best to help. I wasn’t alone. Beside me – watching lights flicker on Melissa’s bedroom curtains – were Vic, Bret, Lonnie, Dale, Eric, and a man I didn’t know – “Barry?” King Arthur never assembled a more chivalrous crew. “Should we call the police?” Bret asked. “They take forever,” Lonnie said. “He could kill her!” Dale warned. “Break down the door!” urged Vic. “I have keys,” Bret remembered. “Let’s go!” I said. “He could have a gun!” Dale considered. “There are seven of us,” Eric said. “There were thousands at Normandy!” Vic returned. But we were fearless. We started up the steps, practically in lock-step. Doing Good. “Wait!” From the courtyard shadows below, a man we didn’t know – “Barry?” – called sharply.. “Maybe this isn’t what we think.” He pointed at the window. “Listen!” Inside: “Yes!” (Scream!) “Yes!” (Scream!) “Yes!” (Scream!) “You’re soooo good, Silvio!” Silvio? (Scream!) “Soooo good!” (Scream!) We scraggled back down the stairs – except for Vic, who angled for a better view. “We should still call the police,” Bret said. “We should get a cut!” insisted Lonnie. “Shut up!” Claire screeched from her window – though fortunately not at us. Then we heard pounding on the wall that separated her bedroom from Melissa’s. When Claire again appeared, she belted: “That’s moving out in the morning!” The screams – and now that we listened more intently, Silvio’s groans – never stopped. “Do something!” Claire barked at Bret, her interest in him seemingly cold. The college women had joined our party. The New Yorkers, too. They were all so hastily dressed that Vic nearly tripped, rushing down the stairs. Bret and Lonnie were typically shirtless, though at least Lonnie hadn’t brought his snake. Eric’s wife, Sue, and Lola stood in their respective doorways. Sally cautiously held open her screen. Luba was no doubt huddled in one of her bedrooms, conjuring visits of pogroms past. The Hungarians were probably readying their hound. Finally, “Barry?” assaulted the balcony and walloped on Melissa’s door. “SHUT! THE!! FUCK!!! UP!!!!” By the time his echo ceased, so had Melissa and Silvio. We waited. Nothing. Silence. Quiet laughter, below. Then – from above – one small groan. “Very nice,” Lola announced – before going inside. Light applause from the girls, then they disappeared. “She’s out tomorrow,” Claire instructed. “I’ll call the owners!” Bret promised, obedient. “It takes a lot to evict people,” Vic cautioned – sounding just a little hopeful. “There are ways.” This came from “Barry.” But before I could look at him clearly, he was gone. Compared to the rest of us, he’d seemed overdressed – jacket, tie, slacks, pin-striped shirt. Did the coat hide a shoulder holster? Nah. My imagination. The next day, Melissa packed out. “A huge truck came this morning,” Vic reported, probably one of many times that day. “Five movers. Tons of furniture – all shiny and black. They were out in an hour.” “Her stay is a new Guinness record,” Lonnie cracked. “I didn’t even have to tell her,” Bret added. “Curious neighbors are so bad for business,” giggled Veronica, one of the UCLA girls. “I wonder how much she charged?” asked Vic. Surprisingly, “Barry” was also gone, though no one realized it till the end of the month. When his rent didn’t appear – the usual new fifties slipped under the manager’s door – Bret used his passkeys to see if something might be wrong. “Door could be wired,” Vic cautioned. It wasn’t – and the apartment was empty. The refrigerator was off and open. The stove seemed unused. Not even mold grew on the shower doors. “Cool!” crowed Dale, the mechanic. “Ghostbusters!” “But I could see lights from my living room,” Sally advised us. “Every night.” “Like clockwork?” Vic inquired. Sally nodded “Maybe a timer.” “Who’d keep a place he’d never use?” Jackie, one of the New Yorkers, wondered. “As a mail drop?” “Did he ever get mail?” Everyone looked at Vic. “Why would I know?” he said, defensively. “Could he have slipped his things out at night?” Lisa, also from New York, asked. Again, we turned to Vic. “You think I never sleep?” he barked. “Now if ‘Barry’ was a lady...” Teri joked. “Fuck Off!!” Vic growled, then clumped loudly up our stairs, redundantly slamming his door. “Hope you’re next,” Bret called softly. “He’s not so bad,” Sally quickly defended. “Maybe to you,” Bret allowed. “Every time I look at his window, he gives me the finger.” Lonnie smirked. “Funny,” I told Bret, “Vic says the same thing about you.” Apartment 4 – the remaining studio – soon rented to Sheila, a software saleswoman. The following week Melissa’s temporary residence went to Wendi, a manager in Sheila’s company. “We’re so happy to find a quiet building,” they told Bret. “Pretty ladies, always welcome,” he laughed. On that, Vic agreed. Not long after, “Barry’s” apartment was also leased – to Helen, a sturdy, middle-aged nurse. Four huge men moved her in. “My sons,” she said proudly “She must have started when she was ten,” Sally ventured. “Says the great-grandma!” Claire teased. Sally smiled tolerantly at Claire, flatly stating, “My daughters did that to me.” “Full House,” Bret beamed, sliding the “Vacancy” plaque off the invasive sign the owners had cemented on the front lawn. He almost strutted, as though he’d rented the apartments by himself. And maybe he had. As usual, I’d been at busy at work.
  11. For most of the summer, Claire urged Sally to complain about the noise. “You’ve been here longest,” she said. “They’ll listen to you.” “I doubt it,” Sally replied “Why?” I asked. The three of us were standing near the mailboxes. “The new owners want to tear out my garden,” Sally said. “What!” Claire was outraged. “When did they say this?” I asked. “No one told me,” Sally whispered. “I overheard.” “Who?” Claire demanded. Sally tried to calm her. “Well, you know they fired the gardeners...” “No!” “That’s too bad,” I said. Not that I could have identified the men – three interchangeable old guys who watered and swept on a schedule known only to themselves. “Last week,” Sally went on. “That’s why everything’s so dry.” I hadn’t noticed. Claire roared on: “The gardeners have been here longer than I have!” “Twenty-eight years,” Sally confirmed. “Why are they taking out your garden?” I asked. “Who can say?” Sally answered as she tenderly detached a leaf from a nearby bush. “My daughter Laurie – the one who died – used to love jade. It always reminds me of her.” “I’ll call the owners,” I assured her. “Maybe they don’t realize...” Claire threatened to move out. “What would that help?” Sally asked. “Besides, I’d miss you.” That served as a temporary patch. “We could start a petition,” I suggested. “Those cretins can’t write their names!” Claire insisted, and I wondered if she meant all the “kids” or just the guys? “Maybe if you wore a bikini when you asked,” I joked. She smiled at me like I was crap, too. “I’m serious,” I pushed on. “I’ll bet everyone would sign. They’d do it for Sally.” “That’s very nice,” Sally said. “And maybe they’ll legalize pot,” Claire scoffed. But everyone did sign. Even though the band had more immediate problems. “They kicked us out!” Younger Brother howled, while fingering my petition. Had Claire scored? “And we made this place rock!” he protested. “They don’t have one damn reason to can me!” I could think of several. “We’ll fight!” he tore on, grabbing the nearest paper – the back of a Chinese menu. “I’ll start a petition, too!” I traded him signatures, knowing his list would never see the owners. It might not survive dinner. The next morning, I called the real estate company from work, explaining how we all felt about Sally’s garden. “Too late,” I was told. “Got the contract on my desk.” “For what?” “Sprinkler system – goes in tomorrow. New paint next week. Flowers and grass – deep six that stinking rain forest. Get some decent tenants.” What did that make me? “You can’t save any of Sally’s jade?” I coaxed. “Her daughters planted it. One of them died.” “There’s no connection!” “No...” “So!” The man had limited soul. “It would just be nice,” I reasoned. “Sally’s lived there for over thirty years, and she’s nearly eighty. She won’t be here forever.” “I’m not a betting man.” “How about just the center bed?” I bargained. This was an area maybe seven-by-twenty feet, surrounding the courtyard palm. “Looks like Pirate Cove.” “How about the sides?” Each bed was maybe two foot-by-forty. “Puttin’ in lilies.” “What about the space in front of Sally’s apartment?” Maybe two-by-fifteen. “When she’s gone, you can tear it out.” For a moment, he said nothing. Then: “Lemme put you on hold.” Was I getting through? Or did he just have to use the john? Ten minutes later, he said: “OK. The bed in front of Number One. But not if the roots snarl the sprinklers!” When I told Sally, she seemed pleased. “Magic!” Claire said. “Now disappear the kids!” When did I become Wyatt Earp? “Actually, the band’s moving,” I lightly mentioned to Claire, momentarily stunning her. “How did you do that?” “I didn’t,” I had to admit. “They screwed themselves.” She laughed. “As horny as they are, that’s one thing I wouldn’t have put money on.” Still, early the next morning, our tiny victory seemed to vanish as the courtyard was savaged – three-hundred square feet of jade was mulched, and the wisteria was wrenched from the railings. Sally’s memories were stupidly destroyed, but at least she didn’t have to watch – she spent the day shopping with a granddaughter. Well after dark, she slipped home, going straight inside. Either she didn’t hear or refused to answer my knocks. The following day, sprinklers arrived and then the painters. Our warm cream stucco turned to pale gingivitis pink, and brash aqua slathered the brown, weathered trim. The orange apartment doors were also painted – not a bad choice – but to pool-bottom turquoise. Except for Sally’s narrow strip of jade, there were lilies and sod. We’d become Miami Vice. The new owners surveyed this trendy Eden as the band loaded its van – their recent phone number newly blocked in purloined pink. “What you think?” the preppier partner asked me. His buddy – who looked like a failed golf pro – stood nearby. “Neat,” I said diplomatically. “We’ll have a new manager tomorrow. Nice young guy and his wife. He’s a chef. She’s in advertising.” The golf pro merely nodded. Possibly he’d chosen Younger Brother. “Looks suburban,” Claire pronounced after the boy financiers left – in twin green Range Rovers. “Bring on those Stepford wives.” Vic felt differently: “It’s sorta 90s,” he admitted, not tipping whether this was good or bad. The Kansas couple: “Definitely raises the value.” The UCLA girls: “As long as there aren’t slugs.” The New Yorkers: “Cheerful!” Yuck and Lonnie slithered approvingly. Sally finally came out and looked around. It was evening, but she wore dark glasses. “It could be worse,” she quietly decided. “At least, they seem to care about the building.” “‘Nothing gold can stay,’” I quoted. She nodded, though maybe not understanding. As I’m not sure I did.
  12. Romantically, Kevin – the band’s bass player – began the summer games by making the first pass at Teri, from UCLA. He’s Black Irish. She’s Tuesday Weld. This was stuff soaps were made on. One afternoon, several weeks after they’d been seeing each other, I caught her whistling at him from the pool. It was mid-June, the water was warmer, but Teri was merely sunbathing in something shy of a bikini. Kev quickly joined her, soon there was a splash, and he was shivering – fully dressed – near the deep end. “Didn’t think you’d do it,” she said laughing. He grinned as only a guy who’s done something goofy for sex can. “Hope I didn’t ruin my boots.” As she kissed their inlaid toes, I moved on. Soon after – maybe challenged by Kevin – Dale, the mechanic, went after Lisa, the possibly unwed mom. “There actually is a father,” Dale told me, while flopped on the ground changing the oil in my car. “Well, of course, there is, dimwit!” he corrected, comically hitting himself on the forehead. “What I mean is they almost got married.” “The guy back out?” I asked. “Nah, Lisa wasn’t sure he was really the dad. She was afraid – if the kid didn’t look enough like the dude – he’d beat the crap out of her.” “Sweet people.” “New York. What can I say?” Next, Younger Brother, our fearless manager – “He’s older, but I’m more responsible” he said of his elder sibling – asked out Kim, the second New York girl. “She won’t be a secretary all her life,” he argued. “Like I won’t always manage this stupid place.” We were in the pool area, and I was helping him assemble a gas grill. “Can you believe they didn’t even have chairs?” he went on. “First thing I said – even before taking this job – is you gotta get somethin’ to sit on near the pool. Can’t expect us to lie on the cement.” He suddenly yelped, slicing his finger. “Are you okay?” I asked. “Oh, yeah. Do it all the time.” He sucked the blood while forcing a bolt into place. “Of course, I was goofin’. I woulda grabbed the job and fuck the chairs. We needed a place bad – got screwed outta our last one.” I didn’t want to know. “So the lease wasn’t in our name,” he told me anyway. “We always paid the rent. And what’s it matter how many guys you got sleepin’ in one room? ‘Long as no one complains.” Somehow the barbecue lit. “Now Kim’s kinda weird,” he went on. “Always needin’ to check with her roomies before doin’ anythin’. But man, she goes down smooth.” “Where are you playing?” I asked, trying to upgrade the conversation, if only to grunge. “Bar off Sunset. Too close to Crack Alley, but it beats doing birthday parties. Shit you gotta play.” “I’ll try and come.” “Cool! I’d give you passes, but, hey, we need the bucks.” Lonnie, the accountant, was next, quickly dating, in succession: Annette – the second UCLA girl, Shannon – the third New Yorker, and Veronica – the last girl from UCLA. “I’ve got nothing against them,” he reported cheerfully. “‘Specially Veronica. They’re all great, and I told ‘em that. I just gotta keep looking.” “For what?” I asked. We were sitting on the balcony rail. Yuck coiled curiously toward me. “Love,” Lonnie lamented. “It’s really tough! You know that guy in San Francisco? The one who use to go to class naked? That’s weird – too weird for me. I’ll do it on an empty beach or in a private pool. But that guy – I swear, he hung it out there just to meet the right girl.” I laughed. “You don’t seem to have that problem.” “But I do. I can’t find one I want to marry. They all keep falling in love.” I had to laugh again. “Well, where do you meet them?” he asked. “Women good enough to take home ‘n’ face the family?” That made me stop. “I guess I’ve never been that serious,” I admitted, without telling him who I hadn’t been serious about. “Maybe, because – well, teaching – every time even my watchband broke was a financial crisis.” He waved this away. “I’ll always have money – that’s no problem. But I gotta find someone who really wants me. Even if I’m... well... useless.” I didn’t understand. “Why would that happen?” I asked. “Who knows? Car wreck. Earthquake. Gotta plan ahead.” Up to that point, things were relatively clean. One guy. One girl. Heavy messing around. Then Less Responsible Older Brother proved his reputation by sleeping with Teri – while she was still seeing Kevin. “It’s cool,” Older Brother insisted. “Kev doesn’t care.” He grinned. “Well, I mean, he does, but he doesn’t, and he doesn’t know what to do about it.” I tried to sort this out: “You’re sleeping with Teri as a favor?” “Sleeping? Who’s even lying down?” That really cracked him up. “But Kevin wants things to end?” I asked. “Kev never knows what he wants – that’s what gets him girls!” I kind of knew that from watching. It was an art I never mastered, no matter what the sex. “What about Teri?” I continued. “How does she feel?” “What’s it matter?” He seemed exasperated with me. “Two weeks, and everything’ll change.” That seemed cynical, but he called it exactly right. As soon as the pool finally heated, the passion play moved outdoors. Lounge chairs became houses. Tables, pantries. The grill burned brightly every night. For sport, the guys scaled the cinder block wall around the pool, swung to the carport, and cannonballed off the roof. Then they mounted the pool gazebo – higher and further away – and flung themselves at the shallow end. Guys climbed, girls screamed, the baby cried, water sloshed, and burgers, beers, and who knew what else were passed, along with the summer. Coming home late, I’d see bodies squirming against the aqua light from the pool. I was never sure whose or in what combination. And there were fights – whole apartments bashing each other. Screaming! Accusations! Flying things! And Music! Boom boxes. Speakers hanging out windows. The band jammed after midnight gigs – and they were pretty good. There was dancing. Wriggling. Endless water. Sally hid. “I haven’t seen you for weeks,” I finally told her. “Thank god for air conditioning.” “Has it been that hot? At work, I’m always inside.” “It’s not the heat! But with the machine on, I can’t hear anything. The kids can do what they like.” Claire was less forgiving: “They should all be evicted.” “Four apartments?” I said. “The owners wouldn’t do that.” “Neutered, then.” “What about the girls?” Vic asked, ready to discipline. At least, Claire’s apartment was away from the pool. She didn’t get nearly the noise Sally, Vic and I did. So on nights when the kids partied late, I took Sally’s escape – closed my windows and turned the air conditioner on high. Vic was probably in permanent orgasm. He’d often ride off just after sunrise for supplies – bouncing his heavy Schwinn down our steps well before I left for work “I don’t trust bike locks,” he’d told me earlier, as though someone coveted his rusty one-speed. He’d be back before breakfast, then would squat in his toasty apartment, hypnotized and munching hot dogs. The girls knew he was there. They’d sometimes wave. Once I saw Jackie flash him, less than accidentally. “I like the blonde ones best,” he confessed to me one night. (“Tell me about the rabbits, George.”) The Hungarian women and the Kansas couple were best shielded, living on the building’s “quiet” side and furthest from the pool. Ironically, two-of-the-three empty apartments were also on that side. A sign out front continually advertised Vacancies, but if anyone sensible inquired, they probably ran. All summer, the Kansas couple continued their house quest, making several low-end bids and always seeming disappointed when they were refused. Still, even more than a house, they craved a deal. “Time’s our buddy,” Eric – the husband – told me. “The seller’s market keeps getting worse.” “You should buy, too,” his wife counseled. “Get something to rent. You don’t have to live there.” I couldn’t picture myself as a slumlord. Increasingly, the Hungarian women stayed inside. Chris – the band’s drummer – once tried to talk with the younger woman when she came out of the laundry room just as he leaped from the pool. He wore tiny, drenched Speedos. She halted. Involuntarily. “Come on in!” he sang. “Water’s wonderful!” She stared. “I... I...” At that moment, her roommate appeared, trailing the beast. It barked. Chris growled in fun. The women slipped away. “Damn!” he mourned, as though he’d been even close. Then he grabbed the fence, vaulted to the roof, and – bleating like Tarzan – cannonballed home. “Barry” was sighted once. During a full moon. I swam, too, in my rare moments free. Or when it was so hot when I finally crawled home that the pool was faster than a shower. The kids were always friendly, and if I’d been interested, I might have thought about asking Kim or Shannon out. They seemed the most intelligent. But it would have felt too much like dating students. Besides, watching the horny, nearly naked guys was way more fun. In the pool, I mostly dove, gliding underwater to the opposite end, reversing, then climbing out and diving again. Strange objects floated by – baby toys and other unfathomables. Or they moved gently beneath the surface. At work, I slowly circled a guy a few years older than I was, a writer, far better established. He claimed I could organize anything, praised me relentlessly, except where it mattered. Through the new friends I was making, I met several other guys. One loved a man he couldn’t afford to support. Another left the following message one Sunday, when I’d been unexpectedly dragged in to work so couldn’t return his – evidently several – calls: “I spent the afternoon worried you were dead and the evening hoping you were.” All around me, hormones free-based, and I spent the most cloistered summer of my life.
  13. Sometime in March – around the ides – we all woke one Saturday to find envelopes taped to our doors. They were also taped to the doors of the three empty apartments, so at first I figured it was just another hit by the local rug shampooing company. Nope: the building had been sold. Our new owners were Fantasy Realty, perhaps not the best name even for Southern California. Our rents would stay the same if we signed new one-year leases (enclosed). Utilities remained as they were: gas and water paid; electric and cable on us. I’d skipped cable. I worked in television but had little need to watch it in multiples of fifty. There was also no indication that anyone was about to tear the place down. One year lease? I would have signed up for five. I wasn’t going anywhere. “Don’t you want a house?” the Kansas couple asked. Their names were Sue and Eric. “In California? I’d rather buy a bridge in Brooklyn.” They wanted a house – partly to raise kids and partly for the tax write-off. They possibly wanted kids for a write-off, too. They were both only children, and were – again possibly – in for a big surprise. But I could read topographical charts. I’d survived undergrad geology. “The Los Angeles Basin,” reports cited, “is like a fractured porcelain bowl.” And you didn’t need maps to realize the area was one of nature’s on-going projects – the mountains all had points. So I didn’t plan to wipe out my anticipated savings – the main reason I’d come west – by owning a house built on a weak foundation. It would never stand. I’d learned that from Harry Belafonte. “What ya think?” Gabe asked. I was still in the courtyard, reading my letter. “You know this was coming?” I answered. “No, sir.” “It seems all right.” He crossed his arms tightly across his chest. “I hate it. So does my wife.” “Why?” “No one inspected the place. No one even looked at it. Sounds like they’re more interested in the land.” “What about the leases?” “It takes time getting plans approved. Probably want to be sure of their income.” “That doesn’t sound good.” “Suck-o,” Vic suddenly announced behind us. “Morning,” I told him. Gabe scratched his nose. “They bought the place next door, too,” Vic said. “They all got little white envelopes.” “And the same lease?” Gabe asked. “Do you think I opened them?” Gabe didn’t comment. “I talked with the manager,” Vic went on, defensively. “What’d she say?” “Nothing – you know she hates me.” That was to Gabe. To me, he explained: “She thinks I killed her cat.” He laughed. “I was riding my bike. Damned thing dodged in front of me, then ran under a moving car.” “I’ll talk with her...” Gabe began. “Won’t get nuttin’,” Vic cut off. “She gets pissed if I even ride through her parking lot.” Gabe later admitted that he’d gotten as little information as Vic had predicted. “Still, if they’re planning to tear down two buildings, we have at least a year.” Which didn’t explain why – a month later – Gabe and his wife moved out. “I told you we’ve been getting free rent,” he said as I helped load their borrowed truck. “The new owners want to cut that in half.” “You couldn’t bargain with them?” “We did! At first, they only offered two-fifty a month. For all we do!” I wasn’t sure what “all” involved. There were weekly gardeners and a pool guy. The city picked up the garbage. For emergencies, we called plumbers or electricians. “Where are you moving to?” I asked. “Closer to work,” Gabe said. “That’ll be nice – not so long a drive. And we’re getting free rent and the apartment is slicker – white walls. I’m so sick of knotty pine.” “Are we getting a new manager?” “Who knows?” He shrugged. “And who cares! We’ve been here for eight years, and the stinkin’ Heldigger brothers can’t even say goodbye!” His wife just looked at him. She’d been carrying boxes to the truck. “What!” he shot at her. “We’ll never see them again!” “Guess you’ll never see me again, either,” I said. Gabe smiled. “Well, take care. And get married,” he advised. “Nice guy like you should have kids.” I told him I’d think about it. But it wasn’t my priority. Sally waved as Gabe and Dorothy’s truck left. Vic had vanished. Lonnie, the accountant, stood on the balcony, shirtless – his normal state – Yuck the boa around his neck. “The new owners asked if I’d like to manage again,” Sally quietly confided. “But I’m too old.” “I’m sure if you wanted to...” “No, they’ll find someone else.” She looked at me. “Don’t even think about it!” I warned. “Good. It’s all so crazy now. People aren’t people anymore.” “Do you think I can get my apartment painted?” Claire soon wondered. “It hasn’t been, all the time I’ve lived here.” “Mine just was,” I confessed. “That’s so typical. They paint when people move out. Great incentive.” “I’ll miss Gabe,” Teri, the prettiest UCLA girl, told me. “He was always so nice.” “And sexy,” added her roommate Annette, almost reflexively shrugging off Teri’s look. “What if we have to move?” I asked. “We only have another year of school...” “...if we don’t mess up... “And if we have to find a new place... so what?” “You’ll break Vic’s heart.” They both grinned. Before the week had passed, four guys – all in their early twenties and all pretty good-looking – moved into Gabe and Dorothy’s old apartment. That gave the girls something to smile about. Two of the guys were brothers, the younger one our new manager. The unrelated pair were their bass guitarist and drummer. “They better not practice here,” Claire threatened, as the band members pulled instruments from their van. On its side read: “PARTY! Rock! Jazz! Disco! Rap!” A phone number was freshly painted out. And it was a party – in one small building, we had nine unmarried guys and eleven single women. OK: Sally was a great-grandmother, Claire no doubt preferred mature men, and the Hungarians might be otherwise engaged. And Vic seemed unmatable, I worked all the time, “Barry” was possibly a spy. That still left six bucks and seven potential brides. You didn’t even have to imagine the possibilities. You could just watch. But before this Rubic’s Cube spun, LA dissolved in riots. “Are you all right!” my slightly-panicked mother asked on the phone. “I live in the ‘burbs, Mom.” “Then you’re okay!” “I’m as far from danger as Ted Kennedy is from being president.” “Are you’re sure?” “About which?” My father was on one of the extensions. “You’re being overly-caviler about this.” “Dad, it’s horrible,” I said. “Buildings have been burned, and people everywhere are furious. But I’m fine. I live too far away.” “But it’s awful.” “Yes... terrible.” “And it could happen anywhere.” I couldn’t deny that. Still, once I assured them I was safe, my parents relaxed. After all, I’d been an adult for years.
  14. Of the nine buildings on the block, this was the one with four empty apartments – now three. “We haven’t run ads ‘cause of the cheap Heldigger brothers,” Gabe said. “They want to sell the place so badly, they forget it looks better with people in it.” Vic had different thoughts. “Nah, the fewer stiffs they’re stuck with, the less they have to pay off.” Sally said she couldn’t imagine what Mrs. Heldigger was thinking. “Though she is somewhat older than I am.” “No one’s older than Sally,” Vic commented, though not being rude. “Vic’s lousy with ages,” Gabe returned. “Sally’s just as old as she says.” “Which is?” Gabe hesitated, maybe calculating. “Well, she was eighteen when she moved here.” “In 1957?” That seemed wrong. “In 1935 – when she came to do movies. Did she tell you about that?” “Yes.” “Did she tell you who asked her out?” We were standing in the courtyard, and Gabe carefully glanced in the direction of Sally’s apartment. Everyone in the building seemed to have a range of cautious looks before gossiping. I guess retaliation was too quick. When Gabe looked at my blank expression, he must have realized Sally had said nothing about dating. “I shouldn’t really tell you this,” he said. “Because she was married at the time.” “I won’t say anything. Who do I know?” Why was I interested? As we spoke, Gabe nodded silently towards Vic’s slightly open window, and I glanced that way. Behind his tight blinds, had something moved? “I only have three friends in California,” I assured Gabe. “Sally’s secret is safe.” Still, he hesitated. Evidently, this was hot. Finally, almost noiselessly, he mouthed, “Dick Powell.” Then, slightly louder, “Or William Powell – I can never remember which. The one who played the detective.” I wanted to laugh. “That could be either.” “I’ll have to ask Sally again. It’s easy getting her to talk.” Not to mention Gabe. “Anyway, nothing happened,” he went on. “It was just for lunch, and only at the commissary. That’s what they called the studio cafeteria, so it couldn’t have been very fancy.” I nodded. As encouragement? What more did I need to know? “But Frank – Sally’s husband,” Gabe continued, “also worked at the studio. And she was afraid he’d find out.” “What was his job?” For a moment, Gabe tried to remember. Then he laughed. “I can’t recall. He might’ve been a carpenter.” “Sally was a dancer. I can see where they might’ve met.” Gabe resumed his story. “Anyway, Sally was worried that Frank would find out she had lunch with one of the Powell brothers. In those days, it was bad enough for married women to be dancing in movies, no matter how good the money was. But you could never go out with a man who wasn’t your husband.” “Even for a public lunch?” “My mother had a friend,” Gabe explained, “whose marriage broke up over something that silly. This was later – during Korea – but nothing had changed. And my mother never stopped telling the story.” “It obviously made an impression.” “No joke.” Though I wondered how much of Gabe’s story about Sally could be true. And how much I’d remember. Would I soon be thinking Gabe’s mother’s friend ruined her marriage because she once had lunch in a studio snack bar with Dick or William Powell. Or maybe Eleanor in drag? “How do you find out these things?” a guy I’d occasionally dated once asked. We were in bed, in college, analyzing friends. “People like to talk.” “Maybe to you,” he said. “Maybe.” After I left Gabe, I thought about something else Sally had told me. Speaking of her “older” friend Mrs. Heldigger, she’d commented: “She always spoiled those two boys. I told her for years she’d regret it, but now she’s too sick to remember.” Sally had seemed slightly disappointed. “What do you think’ll happen to the building?” I’d asked. “It doesn’t matter,” she’d sighed. “The plumbing’s bad anyway.” If the place came down, it would inconvenience nearly two-dozen people. Besides Sally in Apartment 1, me in 2, Vic in 3, and Gabe and his wife in 6, they were: Four college-age women from Buffalo – one with a baby – crammed in the two bedrooms of Apartment 5. Two also-college-age guys in Apartment 7: Lonnie, who studied accounting, and Dale, a mechanic. Three more college-age-women in Apartment 9 – the place was a dorm. In Apartment 11 lived a “mystery man” – quite an achievement considering his curious neighbors. Claire lived in Apartment 12. She was a business exec in her late thirties. In Apartment 13 were two Hungarian women of different ages. Mother/daughter? Aunt/niece? No one seemed to know. Finally, in Apartment 14 was a couple from Kansas. Maybe my age. Like Claire, they were also in business. Apartments 4, 8, and 10 were empty. By the end of a few weeks, I’d met everyone. “Ever been to Buffalo?” one of the girls in apartment 5 – Shannon – asked me. Someone must have told her I was from the East. “No. Am I missing something?” “Winter lasts six months, and summer’s miserable,” she said, laughing. Then she went on. “When I was six, I announced to my parents that I was moving to California. I’d never been here and had only seen it on TV. But I started saving my money and was ready to go when I finished high school. It took another year for me to convince my friends.” They were: Jackie, Kim, and Lisa – the last the (unwed?) mother. They were all thin, pretty, and with various shades of hair. Each had some kind of low-paying job. “So what?” Jackie joked. “We’ll all marry billionaires.” In Apartment 7, Lonnie and Dale weren’t millionaires. They were from LA but couldn’t have been more different. Lonnie was a tight, toned athlete who spent at least an hour a day oiled by the pool – often accompanied by his pet boa, Yuck. Dale was taller, thinner, and had dark, shaggy hair that nearly covered his eyes. But he was always smiling. “Great day!” he’d exclaim, even if it were – rarely – cloudy. He’d catch me in the morning, often less-than-awake. “Hi,” I’d manage. “See Cops last night?” Somehow, I’d shake my head. “Some action!” And he’d zip away. But you couldn’t dislike the guy. Whenever you needed anything, he’d volunteer. Sometimes, he did things you hadn’t thought to ask. “I hosed down your car,” he said. “Hope you don’t mind.” “Looking for a hand-out?” I joked. “Oh, no. No!” I’d hurt his feelings “I thought you were short on rent,” I apologized. “No way!” He laughed. “I was washing my car, and yours looked like shit. You really ought to paint it.” In Apartment 9, all three women were also from LA and all went to UCLA. Teri, the prettiest, was also the most friendly. “You have to ignore certain people around here,” she warned me, pleasantly, early on. “They’ve never learned manners.” “I can’t imagine who you mean,” I said, smiling. Teri grinned and shrugged. “Though you’re a guy. It might be easier.” “Vic giving you trouble?” I asked. “He wouldn’t know how.” I believed that. “The first month, he kept staring at me,” she went on. “Especially in the pool. He never swims but always watches from his window. Finally, he came down – carrying a towel and wearing cut-offs and a T-shirt that barely covered his hairy belly. ‘Gonna come in?’ I asked. ‘Too cold,’ he mumbled. And it was only September! ‘Come on!’ I joked. ‘Race you across the pool!’ I wasn’t being mean. I was just tired of being spied on. Well, he was sitting on the ground, leaning back against the fence. His towel folded neatly in his lap, but you could tell he couldn’t get up without embarrassing himself.” “The joys of manhood.” “I swam... dove... sunned... all the time talking with him. I was wearing a two-piece – ordinary, but it showed me off. Finally, he couldn’t take it anymore and skunked back to his apartment. Holding the towel in front of him all the way!” I laughed. “I wish I’d seen that.” “It was hysterical. Now he won’t even look straight at me.” “Does he bother your roommates?” “Just from a distance. The stupid thing is, Annette thinks he’s cute. She likes older guys and would go out with him if he asked.” Teri’s third roommate was Veronica. All had independent career plans, not involving marrying money. “Flirting with the bitch?” Vic soon asked me. He’d clearly seen me talking with Teri. “She’ll take off your balls,” he warned. “Clean. Won’t even leave hair.” “More graphic than I needed,” I replied. “I’ve been married,” he assured me. “You just don’t know.” In Apartment 11, the mystery man’s mailbox had no name. Gabe said he paid his rent in cash. And if he owned a car, it never came near the building. “You don’t know his name?” I asked Gabe, after he’d told me the rest. “‘Barry.’ We think.” “First or last?” He shrugged. “Could be either.” “He’s selling drugs,” Vic insisted. “It’s not that bad,” Gabe countered. “He’s friends with one of the Heldigger brothers. That’s how he got the place.” “Drugs. Absolutely.” Vic was always sure. Claire had been living in Apartment 12 for nine years. At least, that’s what Sally thought. Gabe swore he and his wife had moved in first, but Claire couldn’t remember. And she didn’t like to be reminded she was living there at all. “I’ll tell you one thing,” she said. “Whatever it is, it’s been too long.” “You don’t like the place?” She hesitated. “Ynyaah.” I couldn’t interpret. “Where would you rather be?” I asked. “That’s the problem. I won’t invest in a house or a condo. I don’t trust earthquakes. And most of the time, I’m cash poor because of my stocks. I moved here temporarily then lazily stayed.” In Apartment 13, Gabe reported the two Hungarian women shared a double bed. “That’s all I saw,” he said, “when I was patching their ceiling.” “I’m sure their couch opens up,” said Sally. “Nope. I tried,” Gabe added. “And it’s real uncomfortable. Even to sit on.” I wondered if Gabe tested everyone’s furniture. The younger Hungarian woman – another college student? – was maybe twenty, and the other as proportionately older as whichever story you favored. They had a large, mixed breed dog, which they walked in tandem every night, and they were rarely seen outside without it. Considering their neighbors’ suspicions, who could blame them? Sally and Gabe also disagreed about the business couple in Apartment 14. Sally thought they were saving for a house. Gabe said a baby. “Probably both,” Vic grumbled. “They’re just the kind.” “What’s that mean?” I asked. “You know. Breeders. Conservatives from Kansas.” “Houses are nice,” Sally offered. “Till you get divorced,” Vic spat. He also decided the couple wasn’t fertile. “Otherwise, they’d have kids by now. Hell, they’ve been trying for years. And the way she walks! It’s gotta be hormones.” “It’s the heels,” I pointed out. “She’s relatively short and wears three-inch stilettos to compensate. Without them, her husband’s almost a foot taller.” “It’s not that,” Vic stonewalled. “Heels like that are for fantasies.” Of all the tenants, Sally had been there longest, followed – or tied – by Claire and Gabe and his wife. Then Vic and the Hungarians. The accountant and the mechanic. The Kansas couple. The three girls from UCLA. “Barry.” And the Buffalo gals and their baby. It took maybe a month to gather all this. Mainly, by not asking.
  15. Jake's adventures continue in this funny book about the small Los Angeles apartment building he lives in. It's full of hot, young people who spend a lot of time nearly naked around the pool. But they're often bonkers.