Wednesday, March 26, 2008

I Want To Live Here 19

A fresh poinsettia plant sat just outside the office door. It was for me. Mr. Invalid had tucked a tiny Christmas card into the folds of green foil that held the pot. I suppose Judith would have found the gift charming or perhaps a token of what was due to her as chatelaine. I found myself touched almost to tears. Then guilty. Should I bring something over to him? Should I have sent out cards?
“Oh, we’re getting-" said Patty, tripping over the carpet behind me.
“Getting what?” I asked, placing the plant on the piano, realizing as I did that with the exception of some Christmas cards sent by tenants with their December checks, it was the only bit of decoration we had. Next year, I’ll order a wreath and a small tree. Maybe one of those Norfolk pines that comes in a little pot. I could keep it alive on my patio and bring it to the office every December – every year it would be a little bigger. Every year I would know more and I would be gracious.
“Oh, nothing,” she said, rummaging in her purse for the money order and a Mont Blanc fountain pen, which she flourished in my direction. “The application? I won’t take long, I bet you’re ready to quit for the day.”
As the day had barely got started, I wondered what she meant, but I was happy to take her money, her no-doubt flawless credentials and usher her out of my sight. Until move-in day.
“I hope you’re flexible about the move-in,” I said. “I’m not going to pressure Susan or any of Abigail’s family to empty that apartment until they have to.”
She pursed her lips and smirked. “Not a problem,” she said and within minutes was gone leaving an air of Shalimar I’d carry with me throughout what would turn out to be a very long day.

Tuesday, March 18, 2008

I Want to Live Here 18

And so we were in. Susan seems to need me and that’s fine. In her shoes I wouldn’t know what to do first and probably attempt to do everything. But what is everything? Have I checked on Abigail’s January rent? I’m almost certain she hasn’t paid yet, but as I promised Susan, there was a deposit check.
“Don’t feel like you have to send the movers tomorrow,” I said, jerking my arm from Patty’s pinch.
“If you’ll help me,” she said, “you can take whatever you want. I just really wanted to visit today. She was supposed to come over for Christmas.”
“Are you sure? I can help you and Tim probably can too, but, well, just don’t be in a rush.”
“I want to be in a rush. I want it done.”
As we talked, inching through the living and dining room, Patty hovered near the stereo cabinet picking up and putting down the framed photos and souvenirs that sat collecting dust. She moved quietly, as if realizing how inappropriate it was that was there, yet unwilling to call attention to herself by leaving.
“Will you take her pictures and small things today?” I asked Susan.
“Just her jewelry. Not that there’s much, but Kevin gave her some pretty antiques.”
From the credenza, where more pictures and a photo album rested, she picked up the framed snapshot of Abigail laughing with a girlfriend. Behind them boats were docked in cosy rows.
“She seemed to like the Cape,” I said. “There’s a lot of New England pictures around.”
Susan nodded. “I don’t know who this girl is,” she said. “Probably someone she worked with.”
“It’s too bad whoever took it didn’t get out of his own way,” I said, pointing to the photographer’s long shadow.
She sighed and replaced it, wiping at the surface with a tissue.
“Does that woman really want to rent immediately?” she whispered, looking back for Patty, who we could hear creeping up the stairs.
I shrugged. “Let’s go up, she doesn’t need to be in Abigail’s room without you.”
But Patty was already descending the narrow stairs, her high-heeled boots heavy on the carpet.

Later, on the short walk to her car, Susan recruited me to arrange for the return of the rented furniture as soon as I had a free day. I agreed to throw away the perishables in the refrigerator and the half-used toiletries and cosmetics in both bathrooms and to clean all the rooms so that the deposit Abigail paid two months ago would be returned. It wouldn’t be too difficult; she hadn’t been here long enough to even scuff the paint. In exchange for these chores I was welcome to whatever kitchen items and small appliances I wanted. She also offered me a deal on Abigail’s stereo and record collection.
“Help yourself to the clothes, too,” she said. “You girls are the same size.” At the door, she paused. “If there’s a family here who might like the other furniture, let me know. Or maybe we can take it to the flea market?” She then sighed mightily and in that sound revealed herself as the much put upon eldest sister. There was beneath her sorrow a long-felt, seldom hidden irritation. I felt sorry for Abigail. Even in death, she was pissing off her family.
Susan established herself in the driver’s seat of a gas-guzzling Buick, seatbelt securely strapped. She had herself well in hand now. She would take charge, as I suspect she always had. “I'll take her photo albums and scrapbooks when I come back. Oh, you’ll figure it out.” She turned the car in a tight U and gunned it up the hill to Peachtree Street.
Yes, I knew. I also knew that the “we” was going to be me. But Susan was right. I could figure this out. The trick was to make it worth my while otherwise I would just be another little sister used to taking orders. Tim had a truck and, come to think of it, a little girl who would probably love the miniature desk and painted bed. It was easy. I’d cleaned out enough empty apartments by now to know what was trash and what was worth saving. But would I know how to find the trail that would lead me back a year to Abigail’s secret life?

Monday, March 17, 2008

Meanwhile, Back at Buttermilk Bottom

What tornado? Here in Buttermilk Bottom, blossoms and windows were spared.

The Atlanta Tornado did a lot of damage to downtown's Centennial Park, CNN, Georgia World Congress Center, the Equitable Building, Ga-Pacific, Peachtree Plaza (Westin) and a lot of smaller buildings, billboards and the cars parked beneath them, but a few blocks over on Piedmont and International, we could only watch and duck as debris flew past.

Did I really doze through the whole thing?

Heading down Forsyth St. I notice that the older buildings (Rialto and Healey) seem to have sustained now damage. Just lucky?

When the cable went off abruptly at around 9:20 p.m., just as the chubby woman on What Not to Wear was due to reveal her new look, I shrugged and picked up my copy of Donna Leon's Blood From a Stone. Would have loved to fall asleep but the sirens were nonstop.

A look out the window (facing north) revealed nothing more interesting than bumper to bumper traffic on the connector south. "Must be an accident." What a dope.
At 11:30 a friend called to check on me. "Why, what's going on?"
Meanwhile, across the hall my south-facing neighbors are freaking because they can see what's going on in Cabbagetown (razing loftominiums) and the trash on that side is flying high as Dorothy's house (and her little dog too).
Here are some more pictures I took the next day when, along with dozens of other downtowners and displaced tourists, I wandered the streets pointing up.

Surely this Omni visitor should put a little something on. He's facing Marietta Street while I and a few dozen others face the hotel cameras and cell phones at the ready. Thanks for the laugh, pal. Hope you made the Georgia game!

Centennial Olympic Park near the Omni/CNN Center. This is near the ring fountains we like to photograph and show off. Centennial Park, 12 years after the Olympics is a pleasant spot, though still raw with new trees. Maybe in 20 years it will offer some shade along with its bricks and quick cut through to the Aquarium and Coke museum. Maybe....

I guess what everyone who experiences a tornado comes to know is how oddly random the things are. As you can see here, the azaleas, mere yards away are just fine.

Wednesday, March 12, 2008

I Want to Live Here 17


Here was a quandary. I wanted the money order Patty was all but waving under my nose, but the idea of escorting this stranger through this scene of a disrupted life went against my grain. Curiously, a grain I didn’t know I had because, frankly, I’d go through Abigail’s rooms in a heartbeat if I were alone. But the difference is I’d go through to look for her, the woman who had called me for help. The neighbor who had died all alone. Patty just wanted to supplant her.

“You know, I just don’t feel right,” I said, turning to go. “I can certainly call you the minute her family clears out her things.”
She pouted at this and would have argued, I’m sure, but didn’t have to. Susan was back at the townhouse and standing at the front door fumbling, once again, with the key I had given her.
“Hello,” I said, trying to usher Patty out the Baker front door and away.
“Merry Christmas!” cried Patty. When I looked at her reproachfully, she ignored me, thrusting her hand out toward Susan’s. “Oh, I’m so sorry,” she said, her look showed real contrition. “I heard about your poor sister and I just want to say I am so sorry. I’m just here looking at this nice place next door. Are you going to live here? We would be neighbors. I’m Patty Appleton. If you’re not moving in, I’d sure love to look at this place because I just think an end unit is really the best, don’t you?”
And then she hugged her!
Holy crap, I thought. My usefulness ended there.
Susan’s genetically driven good manners kicked in, as I’m sure Patty had counted on.
“Would you like to come in?” she asked.
“Oh, would it be too much trouble? Thanks!” She turned to me and winked broadly. I could do nothing but follow.

Monday, March 10, 2008

I Want to Live Here 16

Christmas morning did not exactly dawn. It may have been averaging 60-degrees for a month, but in Atlanta, when the weather changes, it changes. I woke to cold soupy drizzle that promised nothing but muddy shoes and frizzy hair.
It seemed idiotic to open the office, and I have to admit I took my time getting there, choosing to open my sister, Carolyn’s present first. She sent me a sweater in a scratchy goldenrod wool that would look perfect with my black herringbone gauchos. With black boots and a black Danskin turtleneck leotard I arrived at the model/office looking as if I could run the whole place.
To my surprise I actually showed three apartments before noon, one of them to a woman who had been here on the 23rd. She arrived with the application all filled out. “Did I give you this?” I asked, looking it over for the initials I’d begun marking on all of my applications.
“You sure did,” she said, reminding me that I’d showed her the three-bedroom flat by the pool. “Did your boss get to Big Canoe all right?” she asked reminding me that she had been there when Judith and her soon-to-be-ex-husband, Michael were loading their cars: hers with new clothes for a weekend in the mountains and his with presents and toys. Their little boy, Nick, looked anxiously between them.
“Yeah, I’m sure she has. I haven’t spoken to her since she left.” I took the money order Patty held out to me, thinking as I did so that I would be finding something in her application to reject. I wasn’t sure what. I wasn’t even sure why; I just knew I didn’t like her. The rule was to take all deposits and then, if you knew you didn’t want the person living on the property, find ways to kill the rental before a lease had been signed. Judith says there’s always something otherwise you wouldn’t have a bad feeling in the first place. It’s more in my nature to kill or abort a potential deal before taking the deposit, but Judith says it’s the deposits the bank wants to see, not the applications. In the list of rental priorities, my job is to secure deposits first.
“You will discover yourself here eventually,” she promised. “The people you find yourself renting to will represent parts of yourself. As you begin to fill the complex with your choices, it will become you.” I know she was trying to imbue me with ambition and power, but frankly, the idea of seeing aspects of my very unformed and random personality scared the hell out of me. Still, over the weeks, I’d rented to a lawyer, a university professor (assistant professor), a Jewish grandmother and a graphics designer at an ad agency, and, of course, Abigail, an airline stewardess. I’d tried to rent to a pair of Orly orphans, but their trustees cancelled the deposit checks. The Orly orphans, so named by Judith, because their wealthy parents had been on board an ill-fated art-buying expedition to Paris in 1961, had made a deep impression on me. Two girls about my age who were so well-tended they seemed much younger and hopelessly na├»ve. They had bland scrubbed faces, hair pulled back in plastic bands, identical beige dresses and attitudes of shy politeness. I thought I could convince them of anything, but the very next day a man identifying himself as their trustee told us who they were and where they would be living. It wasn’t on Biscayne Drive.
Patty wanted the Baker’s townhouse. “But you haven’t seen it,” I said.
“I’ve seen the townhouses here,” she said. “I was taken to a party here a few months ago. That’s how I heard about Arborgate.”
“I can show it to you now if you’d like,” I said. “The couple who live there are away for Christmas. But it’s a mess,” I warned her.
The Baker place was indeed a wreck and Patty’s enthusiasm visibly dampened.
“You’ll paint, of course,” she said. I nodded.
“I don’t suppose there’s an end unit available?”
“Not really,” I said.
“What does that mean?”
“Well, there will be one available next month. The tenant die---passed away recently and her family should be clearing it out soon, but it is paid up through January.” This was a lie. Abigail had not paid her rent but she had given me a month’s deposit and this could be used.
“Great!” she said, then looked guilty. “I’m sorry. I sound like I’m ready to jump in her grave.”
“It’s ok, I’m from New York. We read obituaries and real estate ads.”
“So can I see it?”