Wednesday, September 3, 2014

My sister Christine and I jointly own a condo that we inherited when our mother died. We rent it out, but that's gotten increasingly difficult. Our first tenant stayed two years. The second stayed one. The third wanted out after four months. Could we accept a month-to-month tenancy? he asked. We'd long since abandoned any hopes of self-respect. NO! we barked. Once he was in, he wasn't ... getting ... out.

Eventually reality smacked us in the face: our condo was horrifying. It was last decorated in 1972 when shag carpeting and earth tones were in vogue. We'd never even tried to find a cool tenant: no, we blanketed Craigslist in search of somebody who'd move in before they had a chance to think.

Since the condo is in L.A., where Christine lives, and I live in New York, I hoped she'd answer our tenant's complaints and upgrade the place. It's not exactly fair, but I'm hardly going to fly in to do a couple of odd jobs. Unfortunately, she wasn't up to the task. Whereas New Yorkers start off fast and ramp up to insanity, Los Angeleans have only one speed: crawl. Christine gets up at 8 a.m. so she can stretch, feed her feral rescue cats, cook a Tofurky breakfast sausage, and post a new petition on Facebook about climate change before driving her Prius to work around 4:45. It's very Joni Mitchell mellow, and it makes me want to shoot myself.

I prod and cajole and cheerlead and eventually she caves. She agrees to some miniature task. And without fail, every time, something goes horribly wrong. I don't get it: she's an adult. She holds down a full-time job. She must have some modicum of common sense, right?

But every other month there's one small step forward accompanied by fifteen steps back.

The tenant says the lock on the sliding glass door is broken. No problem, Christine says. And two months later she calls and says she bought a lock but it didn't fit. So there goes April, there goes our tenant's hopes, and there goes fifty bucks.

Our tenant decides he doesn't like the eight dead, oversized plants the last guy left on the balcony. I convince Christine to hire some random Hispanic dude in front of Home Depot to carry them to the condo dumpster. The first guy to approach her car, though, is seventy years old and has a limp, but she doesn't want to question his fitness and possibly damage his self-esteem. While she's driving him to the condo he admits he can't actually lift anything, so she buys him a sandwich, gives him two hours' pay, and drops him off back to the store.

There goes June, and there goes sixty bucks.

The refrigerator no longer gets cold, the tenant says. No problem, replies Christine. And two months later I hear that:

  1. She bought a Kenmore at Sears, because the place where your parents bought a tufted-vinyl wet bar is the place to go for quality appliances.
  2. While the rest of the kitchen is beige, the new Kenmore is arctic white.
  3. The Kenmore doesn't exactly fit, but you can still get into the kitchen without hurting yourself.
Before I give up once and for all, I try to subtly instruct her in the art of competence. She takes offense. What am I insinuating? Why, she's a strong, capable single woman! She can do as much as any man! She can work a full-time job and work towards preserving the environment and still put on make-up and keep her hair looking nice.

I consider arguing but I'm pretty sure you can't criticize somebody into self-confidence. Instead, I think of another odd job that would give her the chance to redeem herself. The bathroom lamp is a bizarrely ostentatious row of six giant globe bulbs on a chrome strip that looks like a makeup mirror in a Broadway dressing room. I don't care if she buys a flashlight or a kerosene lantern: it's be a major improvement if we could replace it with anything. We just need a handyman, I suggest, and then I back away even from that. We just need a dude, I say. Christine reluctantly agrees, like she'll need eight pounds of tofu and three Sting CDs to properly complete the task.

And the next time I talk to her, it's done. The new lamp isn't terrific -- the style is old and feminine, evoking a brothel during the gold rush -- but at least nobody's going to hang around the door waiting for Cher to come out. I pile her with accolades but she continues to drop odd little facts. Found the electrician through a local newspaper. We were desperate. It was probably a good idea. I bat them away until an errant pitch wallops me in the side.

"It was a little expensive," she admits. "Six hundred dollars."

I think she must be mistaken, but she doesn't correct herself. "Six hundred dollars?" I repeat. "To change a lamp?"

"The electrician quoted seventy-five an hour," she says, "and said it would take two hours."

I nod. That sounds reasonable to me.

"But I didn't know he'd have to bring a supervisor," she says. "And that guy didn't do ANYTHING."


Yet Another Steve said...

Stop, stop, you're making me ignore forty years of reasonable thinking and turn once more to sexist notions!

RomanHans said...

I think it's more of an L.A. thing. New York women don't need handymen: just people to deliver groceries and do their nails.