Thursday, February 28, 2008

I Want to Live Here 15

In my townhouse, I opened Mom’s Christmas box and found, as promised, a collection of tablecloths and matching napkins she’d picked up at the parish thrift store in Florida. All the women down there are unloading their 1940s trousseaus: I will be the happy recipient of years of carefully preserved linens. But I will use them and wash them and probably never iron them. I will wear them out.

I own a TEAC reel-to-reel tape recorder that I’d insisted upon purchasing while I was still in college training to be a disc jockey, a vocation I never pursued. Why? I don’t know. Once I left upstate New York and was back on Long Island, my father packed up the house and my mother and fled to Florida. Even though Uncle Dave assured him he would get a better price on the house if he waited another year, he would not. It took Nixon longer to leave the White House then it did my father to get out of Long Island.

Instead of getting the FCC license I needed, or at least a receptionist job in a radio station, I took a job for a magazine publisher in New York where, if I applied myself, I might learn how to type well enough to work for the Ladies Home Journal or Parade. I rented a basement apartment in Queens and for a few months bustled back and forth across the Queensboro Bridge tucked into a back seat of an express bus.

One night, I arrived home, tired and disenchanted, to find my diploma stuffed into the mail slot of my dark one-bedroom. It was the last time I cried. I had not taken to the typewriter; the other secretaries were high school graduates from Staten Island who wanted to marry their Italian boyfriends, and there was no one I could be friends with. Except my boss, who was young and had a degree from St. John’s. But he also had a wife and baby and I’d turned down an invitation to sleep with him.

Then my landlord kicked me out, wanting the apartment for his son. When I lost my job and started collecting unemployment insurance, I moved to Atlanta. But I still didn’t know how to make a life or what to say to people when they ask what my goals are. What are goals? I have none. I have nothing but the knowledge that a woman needing my help died because I could not give it to her.

But that’s not true, is it? I have an unopened basket of treats and a box from home. And so I did something I have not done since I was a very little girl. I counted my blessings. I have a nice boss and a cool apartment that’s beginning to fill up with the kind of odd things I like. And I have a large doobie from the Bakers who could have been friends and would have been friends if they weren’t moving to Seattle in less than a week. I’m getting closer, wasn’t I?

Now I lit the joint and floated through a charming haze of early Fleetwood Mac (Bare Trees) and sweet smoke. One thing pot does for me that I really appreciate is that it kills my appetite and gives me energy to dance and do housekeeping so, instead of eating everything in Mr. Eberhard’s gift basket, I hung new curtains and ironed cloth napkins. When the tape ended I watched TV until midnight and fell asleep knowing that when I woke up, my living room would be cosier than the day before. And my little townhouse would feel a little closer to home.

I Want to Live Here 14

Still, he exuded death to me. Henry Lowe smelled of it and he looked it with his mottled white skin and trembling fingers. Then he did what no one else had done. He looked at me with concern, so much that I remembered why I deserved such a look. And he asked me how I was. “It’s a terrible thing you had to find that lady,” he said. “A terrible thing.”
I tried to shrug off his concern. Not because I didn’t appreciate it or feel it. But because I didn’t know what to do with his concern. To do so would mean feeling and feelings frighten me. They are like bullies or aggressive people who always get their own way.
Mr. Eberhard’s gift basket was better than Mr. Lowe’s words because I could tear into it and eat it and the sweet chocolate and the savory olives would take me away from the image of Abigail and her slightly dirty fingers gripping the telephone. I hadn’t told anyone, not one person what the woman at our answering service had told me when I finally checked in: Abigail had been calling the Arborgate office yesterday afternoon. She had been calling me. She had, said the service operator, called me five times. But I had been out on the complex for hours and when Mr. Eberhard and George Truesdale passed through on their business and Patty whatshername, who didn’t even fill out an application much less leave a deposit, had finally left, I locked up quick and went home, never checking the service until this morning.
So Richard Lowe’s condolences just made me uncomfortable. So what if I had found her. Someone had to. My secret was that I could have saved her but did not. I brushed off his words, but bits of them clung to me, like cobwebs. No, I said, I could not join him and Mrs. Mason for dinner later. I was busy. I had things to do.
Of course, I had very little that couldn’t wait. But I’d been looking forward to my lonely Christmas Eve. I was, despite my guilt, which could have been soothed by the elderly tenants, savoring the idea of myself as an eccentric and I was going to persist in it.

Wednesday, February 27, 2008

I Want to Live Here 13

I enjoyed my walk home through a nearly empty Arborgate. The strange weather in Atlanta, one day sunny and cold, the next all warm rain, continues to delight me. Delight? Such an unfamiliar word coming from my mouth, but that’s exactly how I felt bopping down Biscayne Drive to the keyhole-shaped swimming pool where my little row of townhouses began. Because Mr. Eberhard’s gift basket was so heavy, I should have unwrapped it in the office ,and put everything into my tote bag. But the basket, a Longaberger, was too Little Women to leave behind. It made me think of Chapter One of that wonderful old book. Not the first breakfast, when they trudged through the snow to the Hummels (how did Meg keep the coffee hot?), but the Christmas tea that Laurie’s grandfather provided. The richer meal. Tonight, instead of the short ribs and rice that were my speciality and which I had intended to cook for myself, I would nibble from the boxes and cans I carried.

And then I would open my presents. But first I would plug in the silly Christmas lights the Bakers had given me and sort myself out. Then I would open the wine and see what there was and finally I would open the box from Mommy and Daddy.

I had reached the bottom of the drive when Mr. Invalid, (123-G) greeted me. He was stooping near the pool, staring into the murky water. I hoped he wasn’t going to try and fish out all the dead magnolia leaves. It wasn’t worth it. It wasn’t his job.

“Hello, young lady and a Merry Christmas to you,” he said. I think he may have seen me coming and waited here. “What have you got there?” he asked. When I told him, he sighed. “I have something for you, too,” he said and promised to bring it to me.
I thanked him, but I didn’t mean it. I didn’t want a gift from him. His name is not really Invalid, but it suits him as he is ill and in-valid. He is Richard Henry Lowe and he used to own this apartment complex. It was his bad luck and bad management that put the place into foreclosure. I would have thought he’d have moved away, wouldn’t you? But he never has. Instead, he convinced Judith, who lives across the hall from him, to take over bits and pieces of the management until she had taken it all over, convincing Trust Company Bank that the complex was worth restoring. Buckhead, even as far south as Biscayne Drive, was a desirable place to live, even in these depressing, or recessionary times. The smart money buys here and lives here.

Tuesday, February 19, 2008

I Want to Live Here 12

A glance at the chiming clock next to the door told me that no matter how I felt, the day was still young and quittin’ time was a good two hours away. So I suppressed the harassed look on my face, slapped a tight smile in its place and opened up.
“You the manager?” said a disembodied voice from behind a forest of green and red cellophane. I could see two straining hands clutching a basket filled with gourmet goodies, a rousing sausage and what appeared to be a bottle of wine that I hoped would not be Matteus. You bet I was the manager.
“Come in,” I said, opening the door as wide as it would go.
He staggered to the coffee table and waited as I cleared it of Arborgate brochures.
“Phew,” he said. “Someone’s wishing you a very Merry Christmas.”
Left alone I poked cautiously for a gift card. It could be from one of Judith’s admirers in which case, I’d have to drag it over to her apartment lest I rip into it. It’s not that I don’t get enough to eat, but the thought of someone caring about me to this extent was suddenly of overwhelming importance. It was as if the experience of finding and dealing with a deceased tenant had suddenly turned into something I would actually have to process emotionally. A scary thought I was happy to dismiss the second I found the festive gift card with my name on it.
“Happy Holidays with thanks for your excellent efforts. We’re very impressed with your tact and sensitivity.” – Kenneth Eberhard and the team at Community Concepts
Well, I’ll be damned. I’d impressed my new boss.
I’d also learned that I had a new boss. While I knew that Arborgate was a foreclosed property, owned and managed by Trust Company Bank (who had hired long-time resident, Judith Spinnaker to act as resident manager), and I knew that Ken was looking at it with an eye to enlarging his Atlanta holdings, Judith had not told me the deal was closed. Well, it didn’t seem to matter. What mattered was that I had been given a rare opportunity to shine. I was sorry for Abigail, but the ambitious part of me could not help being grateful. Tacky?
And I was hungry and pining just a little for some Christmas cheer in my own under-furnished townhouse. The basket, which I decided to carry home and unwrap before the Christmas lights I’d stuffed in a jug wine bottle and plugged in, looked to be holding an extensive selection of acquired tastes: smoked salmon, caviar, “savory” salami and buttery biscuits.
In a flush of competency, I picked up the phone and dialed the office at Mr. Eberhard's Buford Highway complex, “Belle Vue on Buford.”
“Barbara?” I said, when the smoked-filled voice of the resident manager barked her greeting. “It’s Nora at Arborgate.”
“You got it?”
“Did you order me this? That is so sweet of you.”
“Yeah, well, Mr. Eberhard thought you might need something extra. Beats a poinsettia, don’t it?”
“I'll say. I wasn’t expecting anything. I didn’t know the deal had gone through yet.”
“Oh, he’s not one to stall when he wants a thing.”

I'll bet. Mr. Eberhard is relatively young, like mid-30s, but he was a real grownup. Of course, I'm too inexperienced to view bosses as equals. To me they were like parents only more so.
“Is he there? I’d like to thank him for thinking of me.”
“Hell no, he’s up north with his family. I’ll tell you called, hear? You can close up early if you want. Where’s Judith?”
“Some place called Big Canoe,” I said. “On a date.”
“Lives high, does she?”
“Does she?”
“It’s a pretty fancy place. Listen, you take care and be sure to enjoy your Christmas. I don’t think you’ll get much business tomorrow but you can never tell. The holidays are actually a good time to rent an apartment.”
“Okay, I’ll be here! Merry Christmas!”
I put in an hour updating the list of shoppers that had passed through the office throughout the week. The names scrawled earlier than yesterday seemed liked they’d been there since Thanksgiving. Which of these possible could I convert to applicants and then to residents? The woman named Patty, the girl who had walked me all over the complex only yesterday, seemed the most promising. In the morning, I would give her a call.

Monday, February 18, 2008

Rain at Last

Late yesterday afternoon, we were treated to some fine and dramatic weather. Less fortunate neighbors to the west suffered actual tornados; In Atlanta, we simply waited through the warnings and watched as much-needed rain added an inch or two. Are we still in drought? You bet, but every little bit helps, especially in winter when chilly temperatures may make us forget we're still too dry!

Sunday, February 17, 2008

Is This A Poem?

Author, teacher of writing and my friend, Val Vogrin sent me this poem quite a while ago. Not sure I answered her question, "Is this a poem?" but I did save it, folded into one of my all-to-many little journal/sketchbooks. Recently, I've been cleaning out, tidying, restructuring my studio/writing hole and found it. I offer it to you all:


What time is it when a poet sits on your fence?
Time to build a taller fence.

How many poets does it take to screw in a light bulb?
One hand, a thousand ideas, darkness.

Knock-knock, you say.
Who's there? I reply.
A poet.
A poet, who?
Doesn't matter, I'll die anonymous.

Why did the poet cross the road?
For a drink, for love.
No, really.
To catch her hat, skidding
Across the asphalt, orange velvet ribbon flying.
That's it?
That's it.

Why is the poet afraid of seven?
Because seven eight nine.

What do the dreams of poets contain?
Windows, falling out of.
Mother, arguments with.
Metaphors, for flight.
Words, like cats' claws.

I like this poem more every time I read it. I like how the familiar riddles are played with (cat-like) and how they set us up for the index list in the last stanza. It's an inside joke for sure, but then, being a poet and lover of language and word games is sort of an inside joke, too.

Val doesn't have a blog (wish she did) or a Website, but she does have a lovely novel called Shebang published by The University of Mississippi Press.

Thursday, February 14, 2008

I Want to Live Here 11

This was turning into one hell of a Christmas Eve.
Clearly, Susan had not heard Mrs. Mason’s remarks and was too caught up in the missing keys mystery to talk about vodka consumption.
“Did you take her keys?” she demanded in a tone that made me flinch with guilt. I couldn’t honestly remember if I’d taken her keys. I hadn’t, in fact. I don’t think anyone had. Quickly, I flipped through a mental file of images from the night before: cops? EMTs? Stephen? No one appeared to be taking anything from the apartment that wasn’t attached to Abigail’s body.
“Maybe the police took her identification and keys,” said Mrs. Mason, when it was obvious my mouth wasn’t working along with my brain.
“That’s ridiculous,” Susan snapped. Her anger seemed to bring me to my senses.
“Look,” I said. “Why don’t we go to the office and get the spare key for you? I don’t know what to say about her car, but until someone comes forward or we find out she left it at the airport, I don’t know what to say.”
“But I still have to pick out an outfit,” said Susan.
“I thought you’d decided on her uniform,” I said.
“You think?”
“Yes,” I said, picking up the plastic drycleaner bag in which hung the natty uniform. “It will be fine.”

We left Mrs. Mason at the curb giving me eye signals to call her later. I nodded and guided Susan across Biscayne Drive, led her to the office and unlocked the door. How quickly could I hand her Abigail’s spare key and send her home? The afternoon was fading fast and I wanted to crawl home to my own little townhouse and open a bottle of wine. I needed food and quiet if I wanted to avoid the headache I could feel creeping my way. The events of the last day were starting to catch up on me.
Fortunately, Abigail’s spare was hanging where it was supposed to: in the lockbox in Judith’s office. Too many residents changed their locks or added deadbolts without letting us know, but Abigail was not one of them. I handed it to Susan with a smile that didn’t quite reach my eyes.
“I’m here tomorrow,” I said. “I’ll be working until 3 p.m. if you decide to come by and want some help. I’m pretty sure I won’t be showing any apartments on Christmas Day.”
She nodded. The fight gone out of her.
I had just gone back to Judith’s office to secure the lockbox, when the door bell rang.

Problematic Valentines

Does the bird know it will fly in the morning?
Does the sky know it will rest?
Will the woman in love know and let the
arrow pierce
and will the quivering stop?
The war end?
If your muscles rest along their bones,
If your smile outlives its fright,
Oh, yes.

Friday, February 8, 2008

I Want to Live Here 10

The author is experiencing a little time/energy management trouble.

Nora, our intrepid assistant manager and the Arborgate neighbors: Mrs. Mason, Stephen and Nancy will return.
As for the staff. I realize they have been mentioned but not yet seen on the page. You must meet:

  • Tim, the scrappy, perennially angry maintenance man (no one told him to marry his prom date!);

  • Judith, the 30-something manager. She's given Nora her first chance in Atlanta, but will she stand behind her when the eager assistant starts turning over rocks and unlocking the wrong drawers? Or will she hook her perfectly manicured hands to Mr. Eberhard's star?

  • Mr. Eberhard, the man with the plan. He owns one apartment complex in Atlanta and is just about to buy Arborgate. Does that mean advancement or another round of job shopping for Nora?

  • and Barbara, Chris and Pat, the gals at his other complex way out on Buford Highway. Which one of them will be Property Manager of Mr. E's growing empire?

  • the dead woman's ex-husband, Kevin

And just who was that potential tenant who took up so much of Nora's time she missed Abigail's final phone call?

Why, there's even a little jaunt to Midtown, which, in 1976, was no place for a straight girl!

Winter in Atlanta is Brief

Winter in Atlanta is brief enough. It's February 8 and already the temps have begun their climb to a balmy 60 degrees. In the early morning, it's down in the 30s but we who walk do not care. We know that by lunch, the coat can be left in the office and a quick trip in the car comes with an open window. There's a smell of damp summer camp in the air. No, nothing has begun to bloom. Those early buds, the Japanese magnolias are yawning and the Lenten roses are still tight as virgins, but it's only a matter of weeks.

Knuckle Update

To update the knuckle is to update myself. Helping my mother, with whom I have always had the hardest, tightest, most resistent of relationships with has changed me utterly. Changed my, as a former shrink would say, paradigm. Helping her has made me love her.

I am exhausted by the insurance runaround. Worried about the money. Scared stiff that I'll end up in worse circumstances (with no daughters or daughter-in-law, or son) how can I not be. But comforted when, on a bad day, it is my sister who plants her ass in the doctor's office (taking time from the time she took to drive down from St. Louis and, with her S.O., clean the house of old food and beanie babies) and argue for the physical therapy prescription. (How why this isn't going more smoothly has to do with contracted services filling out forms in ways that others don't want them filled out or sending nurse's notes that other nurses, in bad moods that day, don't want to deal with...stupid human tricks). ohgodwherewasi?

It felt so good that Janeann was dealing with them for one day. And then guilty that she was doing my job and hers. and how grateful I am that she can do the house stuff that I could never do.

And how grateful that Deborah is there with soup and gentle nagging (did you drink water today? how much water did you drink today?).

And what a strange balloon of peace there is to feel love instead of that old resentment. Love is melting.