When I got the job in Miami, the Yellow Truck Sweatshop Employer, who shall go unnamed, flew me to Miami for a few days a month before I was supposed to start working so I could find a place to live. That day, I found a cute, cute duplex in Coconut Grove. A little stucco house with wood floors and a porch and arched doorways and a built-in bookcase. It was to die for. Expensive, but hey I was rolling in the dough now.
I also got my drivers' license in about two seconds because Florida allows you to make appointments at the DMV. I was the only person who seemed to have figured this out, because when I got there, there was nobody at the "appointments" counter and a huge line at the other counters.
Driver licensing is the one public service that Florida does well. Getting license tags and getting the car inspected were nightmares. My first year, I got to the car inspection place, which closed at 5 during the week, not that I could have gotten there even if it stayed open until 7, or 8, or 9 because I would still have been at work, on Saturday morning at 7:30 in anticipation of the 8:00 a.m. opening. There was already a long line around the block. When they opened the gate, we moved into four lanes. After I had been waiting 40 minutes, someone drove from the outside, around those of us waiting, and to the front of the line.
NO ONE DID ANYTHING!
Another car decided to try the same trick. I thought, "Not on my watch, buddy," so I honked and did the Latin America finger wave, which is when you move your index finger from side to side. That means, "No way in heck are you doing this and if you do, there will be severe repercussions."
It worked. Spurred by my example, the other drivers showed a bit of cojones and honked as well. The breakaway car had to slink to the back of the line. That had probably never happened to him before, as line cutting is an enormous problem in Miami. They would even cut in line at communion at church, which come on - you're not going to miss communion and it's not like church will end any faster if you cut, unless you're like me and leave right after communion because you cannot stand to hear one more awful song from the "Gather" hymnal.
Back to the landlord. He seemed like a decent guy, although it's pretty clear from some of my other rental decisions that I am completely incapable of judging landlord character. I told him if he would buy the paint, I would re-paint the living room. He dropped off the paint and the brushes. I asked where the dropcloths and the tape were.
Oh no me preocupe, he told me. Don' worry 'bout it.
I didn't understand how he could be so cavalier about his own property. I bought tape and dropcloths because although I do only a half-assed job on things like washing dishes - clean enough not to give anyone food poisoning is my mantra - I am a kick-ass painter. Dishes can be re-washed. Painting is a different story.
He did jump to my aid when I called him to announce there were rats in the kitchen. Or rat. I didn't know how many. At least one - it was eating my bread (through the wrapper). Then I saw it scurry under the stove one night. In a completely instinctive reaction, I jumped onto a chair. When you see that scene in a movie, do not laugh. It is what rational people do in response to seeing a nasty, disease-laden, eats the noses off babies rat.
He came over the next day with a mousetrap and the advice to get a cat or a snake. Because snakes eat rats, you know, and wouldn't it be nice to have a snake roaming the house?
The trap didn't work. I put cheese in it and the rat stole the cheese. I read that I should use peanut butter instead. I tried that - the peanut butter was untouched, but the bananas were nibbled upon.
I bought poison, something the landlord had been unwilling to do. Cheap? Ignorant? Who knows.
I saw the poison level (the box was in the kitchen) decreasing a little bit each day, but saw no dead rats. A few days into it, I came home to find a stoned rat in the poison box.
He had been eating the poison and was happy, happy, happy. I tried to sweep him out of the house, thinking to take advantage of his drunken slowness, but he still scrambled under the stove.
The next night, the same thing, only this time the rat had the nerve to wave at me.
Then I didn't see him again, but a few days later, I smelled a whiff of something nasty. That whiff became a horrible odor.
The rat(s) had climbed underneath my floor to die. And to decompose. Thank you, humid Miami climate, for carrying that stink into my house for two weeks.
I checked into getting cats. I went to the adoption fair that the crazy cat ladies were running at the bookstore. I picked two cats, but could not take them home until my house had been inspected by the crazy cat lady.
"Vere vill ze kitties eat?" she demanded.
"In the bathroom."
"Zey cannot eat in ze bazroom!"
"Um, in the kitchen?" I said weakly. It's not like she would be coming back to inspect once the cats arrived.
She seemed satisfied with that answer.
"Vere vill ze kitties sleep?" she continued.
I shrugged. "Wherever they want, I suppose." Had she never observed a cat in action? If someone can tell me the secret of keeping a cat from going where you do not want it to go, please share this information with me. Primo and I have two cats who have taken over the kitchen. Over the house. I have surrendered and now use a cutting board (stored in the cupboard) for preparing all food because I do not want my food to touch the counter where the cats have trod using the same feet they use in their litter box.
"Vy do you vant ze kitties?"
"Because I have rats," I told her.
She staggered and put her hand to her chest. (OK, not really.) "You cannot haf ze kitties if you haf ze rats!" she exclaimed, horrified.
"Why not?" I muttered. "I have to work for a living. Why shouldn't my cats?"
Somehow, I passed. I don't know if the cats could have killed any rats, but perhaps their constant killing and eating everything but the heads of the cute bright green geckos that lived on my blinds served as a warning to the others. The heads and tails would disappear on Saturday mornings when I would put on my glasses and clean the house. The rest of the week, I just didn't look. Plus I usually didn't get home from work until like midnight and who cares if she has a clean house at midnight. Have I mentioned I hated my job at the place that rhymes with "Sider?"
I don't think the rats were scared of the cats (whose names I have forgotten - shame on me - I had to give one of them away when I moved to Cedar Rapids - the other was killed by a car and more about that later when I talk about my really clueless neighbor), but perhaps their mere presence was a deterrent. Yes, there was the gecko killing, but it's easy to pick on something smaller than you. The rats were almost as big as the cats and it's not like my cats were hungry or anything because during the day while I was at work, they hung out with my neighbor Mousson (not the bad neighbor - Mousson was really nice), who, along with her teenage son, Rudolph, fed the cats on demand. Cats need to be a little bit hungry to be truly effective hunters.
Back to the landlord. His responsiveness kicked into super low gear when I discovered that the roof was leaking and that the plaster above my sofa was getting soggy. I called him every day for five days, telling him that there was a leak and it was damaging his ceilings. On Sunday, I awoke to see that the plaster was sagging about an inch. It was going to fall.
I pulled as much furniture out of the living room as possible and covered the sofa with an old sheet. A regular sheet. I didn't have many old sheets in the sense of "used up and replaced by new sheets" because I had been in grad school for two years, then a year unemployed, then two years of Peace Corps, then another year unemployed, all of which meant that I had only the sheets that I had had for years.
But a sheet is easier to replace than a sofa, so there you go, just as the Good Towels are easier to replace than the basement carpet when the sewer drain backs up, which it has done every summer since Primo and I bought our house. Primo freaks out that I am bringing the Good Towels downstairs to blot the water ("blot" being used in the sense of "try to sop up the five gallons of water that are now inhabiting our new basement carpet") but I point out that the carpet cost $1,000 to install and yeah, the insurance paid for it but still do we want to go through that hassle again and towels are not that expensive at TJMaxx and you can even get stuff that's not made in China, which is a quality I seek as I am not a fan of slave/prison labor.
I called my landlord again and left the message that the ceiling was about to fall and he might want to arrange for the repair.
Then I went to a movie. When I returned, the plaster had indeed fallen - a chunk about 3' x 8.' I pulled my trash can in from the street and began tossing the plaster into it.
Do you know how heavy wet plaster is?
It is very, very heavy. And a trash can full of it is very, very, very heavy, even when you are dragging it back out to the curb rather than carrying it. I could hardly walk the next day at work. Who knew my glutes needed so much work? I should have left it for the landlord to clean, but I didn't want wet plaster soaking through to my sofa. And he probably wouldn't have done it.
Why he just hadn't fixed the leaky roof in the first place I do not know. Wait. I do. I was in Miami a few years ago with my former boyfriend (the one who gave me the belt sander, which I still love) and we drove past my old place. Only it was gone. It had been replaced by some crappy new construction. My place had been built in the '40s. It was solid, good construction - wood, stucco, tile. The corners were square. The materials were high quality. It had character.
It had been replaced by a McCondo. So sad.
I was going to talk about my bad neighbors, but I'll do that next time.