Monday, June 23, 2008

I Want to Live Here Episode 30

Episode 30

I’ve seen enough of Abigail’s blue notepaper to recognize this at a glance. She hadn’t changed her style of complaining either. I held in my hand a curiously similar list of faults that only a maintenance man could fix: slider of window too hard to move, disposal in kitchen too slow to drain, toilet running excessively, sliding closet door keeps “coming off track,” doorbell jammed, etc., etc. Always polite, she signed her notes with an abbreviated “Thnks” as if vowels were unnecessary and the quick initials AS. I laid this on the table and looked among the debris on the floor for more, shuffling the fallen files into order.

What else?
A receipt indicating the return of her initial deposit said September 29, 1976. I flipped to the back of the file where an application was stapled. It was dated March 1, 1976. Her previous address matched Kevin’s on Fifth St.

I tiptoed over to the open door and listened for Barbara’s and Tina’s voice. Then, as quick as I could, I placed the receipt on the drum of the copier, shut the top and hit start. It chugged into use, slow and bright.

I managed to slip what I’d rescued of Abigail’s thick file into the drawer marked “Archive” somewhat near the S’s, and tug the warm copy as it emerged from the Xerox machine before Mr. Eberhard rushed into the office, heading straight for the telephone. His concentration gave me the seconds I needed to pull a fresh folder from the table and appear to be engaged in filing when he looked up and, startled, saw me staring at him. A deer in headlights. I smiled, or thought I did, but was unable to speak. I could feel a tingle of sweat rising from each individual pore. It felt like hot rain. He looked at me kindly.

“You look like you could use some fresh air,” he said. “Hey, Tina,” he called from the door. “Come set up Nora for a walk-through.”

“Got a pen? Make as many notes as you can on what you see. What’s out of order, what needs to be done. Pretend you’re at Arborgate.’
“Do I need keys?” I croaked, wishing I could get him out of the room and rescue Abigail’s work order.
“Just look at the property. Don’t pick up any litter but check which areas are worse than others.” He reached for the phone on the desk and was dialing before I could say more.

I could not seem to move quickly feeling still the withdrawal, pore by pore, of the fright-induced pinpricks. I knew the sensation. It’s exactly how one feels after a near-miss on the road. I must have looked quite calm, making my little show of clearing up, because Mr. Eberhard shooed me out at last without a hint of suspicion.

“Take about an hour,” he said. If I’d had a hat, he’d have handed it to me. “ I’ll drive you to your car on my way to Arborgate later.”

In the outer office Tina handed me a clipboard. “I’ve attached a map of the complex,” she said. “What’s that? A file? Are you looking at a unit?”
“Uh, no. I was just holding it when he came in.”
“I’ll take it,” she said.
“That’s okay,” I said, heading for the door. “It’s empty.”
Burdened now with a folder, clip board, map and legal pad, I walked quickly away from the office burning for a chance to secure the Xeroxed receipt.

Wednesday, June 18, 2008

Summer Fatality

The Vortex of Obsession

Has this ever happened to you?

It started with a simple hour of cause and effect. Because I’m walking in the Susan G. Komen 3Day Walk for the Cure, I took a few minutes to search for the husband of my college roommate, to whom I am dedicating my effort.
Because I could not find him on, I turned to People Search.
Because I found his address so easily, I looked for another friend.
And another…

Because it was so easy I looked for the name that has eluded me and Google these 30 years.
To be google-able means you have to have created something and advertised that fact, or someone has.
It never really surprised me that my quarry, that long-lost flutter of my heart, was, after all these years, still a private person. I remembered him as private, eschewing notoriety of any kind. It was a quality I admired and also envied.

Deductions via Google…

He did not have a business of his own. He had not produced a CD of the music I remember his playing. He had not been the subject of news. Or made news. Or wrote for a newspaper, magazine, television or radio station, taught at a university or college.

His zip code and a quick peek from Google Earth suggested he has not gone the way of the non-profit or the public school.

This took way longer than a lunch hour.

thanks largely to the free bits offered by People Search, essentially, the white pages plus ages and handy possible relatives, I’d uncovered a vaguely random, blessedly short list of facts that included an address and telephone number and the name and age of a wife. And possibly the name of a child possibly named after the wife who was probably named after her father. One of those names. And the knowledge that my old beau’s mother, who had been widowed the year before we met, had remarried but lived nearby. That his brother was also still in New Jersey.

The news elicited a physical response I carried around for days. Something that felt a lot like I'd swalled a bone sideways. Of all the people I’ve thought about over the years, he was the one I just knew would turn up in Paris. Or Dubai. Or Prague. Clearly, all the sexy, interesting people do not leave.

For an additional $9.95 I could uncover legal records, property records, liens, marriages and divorces. Nothing I wanted to know. I’ll never want to know if he has a criminal record or owns a second home in Florida. I want to know what no detective or search engine could ever yield:

Are you happy?
Have you compromised?
Do you love your work? Your life?
Do you have an illness?
What has taught you compassion?
Who did you lose on 9/11?
What do you still love? Music? Botany?
What have you made of your luck?
What toll did your choices take?
And, sure,
Do you ever think of me?

What can it matter now?
Could I use what I thought I knew of you 30 years ago to make a guess at who you are now? Or am I only discovering, in the surprise I feel in uncovering that you never left New Jersey, never had to search for a home, the vast smallness of what I actually knew.

Of course, the crooked bone I swallowed was the knowledge that what I thought I knew of you, what I projected, was, of course, my own desires for myself.

Still, what does remain? What, of the couplet one is at 20, lurks between the lines of the sonnet we are at 50?

Tuesday, June 10, 2008

I Want To Live Here #29

“Why don’t you start back here?” said Tina, a younger, slightly fleshier version of Boss Barbara. “Take off your coat, have a Coke. You can help with the filing, if you don’t mind. Patsy’s showing a unit right now, but I’ll get her to take you around when she gets back. Patsy’s our other assistant manager. As you’ll see, Belle View is quite a bit larger than Arborgate.
Belle View’s file room was the walk-in closet of a small bedroom with a large desk , a long worktable stacked with enough files to keep me busy for months and a large and up-to-date Xerox copy machine.
“Wow,” I said, running my hands over its solid surface. “This one collates, doesn’t it?” I flicked a few switches and saw that it was warmed up. I love office equipment and hoped I could use it.
They must have had a busy month showing units and preparing leases otherwise, I felt sure, this work would have been done. Eberhard didn’t strike me as the kind of boss to let things pile up.

“I guess you’re feeling pretty bad about your tenant dying,” said Tina.
“I’m not sure how I feel,” I said. This was true. Between the sentiments imposed on me by our residents (self pity), Judith’s emotional chiropractics that had left me feeling both heroic and slipshod, and my own natural inclination to take whatever blame was going around, I really didn’t know what I was experiencing. The word had clearly gotten out. Abigail had tried to reach the manager but the manager had not been available.
“Mr. Eberhard says we’ll get answering machines now.” She shrugged. “I guess that’s a good thing. It’s just too bad this is the reason.”
“Well, according to the girl at the answering service, Abigail wasn’t leaving critical messages anyway. Just that she’d called and to please come over. They said she wasn’t upset or frightened.”
“I heard that those kinds of blows to the head don’t feel like anything. I mean, you get an ordinary headache, pass out and die. And it can happen anytime.”
“I didn’t know that.”
“And she was drinking, too? That must have made it worse.”
“Where did you hear she was drinking?” This was something I had not told Barbara, but of course the emergency guys had assumed it. So had I.
Tina, her hands fluttering over a stack of file folders labeled “Expired Leases” shook her head. “I don’t know. Didn’t you tell Barbara all about it?”
I thought back to our conversation on Christmas Eve. Surely I had limited myself to the facts? Memory was a trickster. I may have been cultivating my professional pose, hardening the shell by pretending I was fine. Just fine. I didn’t want anyone coming over to help me. I didn’t want anyone disturbing Judith’s space. Protecting our own perfectly run domain had been my goal that day. In that case, I would have kept the details to myself. But I really didn’t remember.
“I don’t think I told her that. I didn’t know she had been drinking.”
“But wasn’t there a bottle of vodka on the kitchen counter?”
“There you are. You must have told Barbara.”

My task for the next hour could have put a fairy tale to shame. Sorting files is a lot like separating beans. I was to empty the file folders that had been labeled by unit number and store the contents in new folders labeled by leaseholder and today’s date in an archive where they would be kept for three years. The empty unit folders would be placed back in the active file drawers, ready to hold current leases and correspondence from those tenants. As I archived, I was to pull files older than three years and dump them into a trash bag.
And so I worked my way through an hour immersed in the parade of names and dates, I picked up and then dropped a particularly fat file, full of work orders or letters of complaint. It was the letters that caught my attention, or rather, the light blue stationary they were written on. I knew that paper. We had several letters in our own files from the same batch. Just to be sure, I read through the notes in my hand. They were all in Abigail’s weak and spiky handwriting. And signed with her rounded signature.

I guess it's too hot everywhere

So I won't complain about our little heat wave, but be grateful for a pool and a Botanical Garden. The Bot Garden knows its audience and never fails to present plenty of oohs and ahs and a dozen photo ops at every turn.

The image above is one from the Atlanta Botanical Garden's "Sculpture in Motion" exhibit. This lovely installation hangs just inside the Orchid Center."Masdevallia Extravaganza" by Kristina Lucas .

Here is another piece taken with my crackberry.
It's called Hokusai and is by Jeffery Laudenslager. I like getting in glimpses of the ever-changing Atlanta skyline and was able to do this as well.

Wednesday, June 4, 2008

I Want to Live Here #28

December 26, 1976

Walking to the car, I saw Nancy trying to balance a stack of gift boxes and unlock her front door simultaneously.
“Got a match?” I asked, catching a cookie tin before it could hit the sodden welcome mat.
“It’s never going to end,” she wailed. “And they gave us all this crap to move! Can you come over later? We’ve got tons of leftovers.”
“I’ll be back after six,” I said and drove my ’61 Fleetwood chugging up the hill, all gas-guzzling eight-cylinders.
Although the time would come when I could live in Atlanta without a car, in the mid-1970s, unless one was willing to settle and work in a smaller perimeter than I-285, one needed a car. My impulsive purchase of a turquoise land yacht turned out to reflect a trait that can still, 30 years later, undo me. I believed I understood how to buy a car because all my previous cars had been cream puffs. Not new, in fact, all of them had cost under $500. I knew it took talent to get a deal on a used car, and I thought I had that talent. But it had been my father who had chosen my previous cars. Not me. I knew nothing. It was my father who had been a driver in the Army, a chauffeur in New York and an aircraft mechanic in the Army Air Corps before settling into a 30-year career hauling engines in and out of TWA’s fleet of Constellations, DCs, 727s, 747s. Not me.

I had reached the Atlanta Flea Market on Piedmont Avenue and Lindbergh, only to discover it was closed for the holiday. I parked and walked to the door, pulling a notebook from my purse, determined to at least get their hours. A flea market was my kind of place ― cavernous, seemingly infinite and promising everything. I made my notes and scurried back to the car. It had begun to drizzle and was turning cold again.

Ten minutes later I was walking across Piedmont Avenue, toward the Buford Highway. The Fleetwood’s engine simply wouldn’t turn. It appeared as if the battery had died, but I couldn’t be sure. An hour later, standing in the model apartment that served as their office, the two Buford managers couldn’t hide their amazement.

Clearly, they weren’t expecting me. Even more, they couldn’t believe I had walked all the way from Piedmont.
I couldn’t blame them. A mile’s damp walk along a busy highway, had given me a soupy look. I was all pink-faced and frizzy. Out of breath, too.
“You’re supposed to be here tomorrow,” said Barbara, a hard-faced blond with a smoker’s cough and a body that spoke of steady starvation. There was nothing of the camaraderie I’d heard from her two days ago. “Did Judith send you?”
Intimidated by the accusation in her tone, I faltered.
“She–she said I should swing by and get to know the complex a little. I was just going to pick up some floor plans and maybe get a tour? If you’re not too busy?”
Barbara twisted her mouth, as if trying not to say what she really thought.
“You can do that tomorrow, it’s not that big a place.”
“Well,” I said, feebly, “I was heading to Lenox anyway and thought I’d swing by.”
“You were walking to Lenox Square?”
“That’s the problem. I stopped at the flea market, but it was closed. I don’t know what happened, but my car is stalled there. I mean I can’t get it started. So, I thought…”
Here I faltered. They were so suspicious! “I figured I was closer to you than Arborgate and I could call Judith from here…or Tim.”
Dead silence as they thought this through. Can’t say I blamed them. They were thinking Judith had sent me over to surprise them.

“We’re actually quite busy today,” said Tina, the assistant manager, a chinless girl with a Dorothy Hamill wedge as sharp as an ax. Tiny eyes. They glanced at each other and appeared to be communicating in some fashion.
Mr. Eberhard walked through the door then, much to everyone’s surprise. I’d thought he was still in Boston. Clearly, so did his staff. So. Did he do this often?
“Good for you,” he said when we’d told him my reasons for coming in a day early. “We can put you to work, if you really want to. Are you sure you don’t want a day off? You’ve been through a stressful experience.” As he said this, the others took on momentary looks of compassion that passed in seconds.
“I’d like to see this complex,” I said. “I’d like to know how larger properties are different from smaller ones,” I said. What a good girl I am.
“Why don’t you look around, do something in the office for a few hours, then I can drive you to your car,” he said, kindly. “I’m going to Arborgate later, so if it doesn’t start, we can at least get you home.”
This was the kind of treatment I was used to. I agreed happily, turning to Barbara and Tina for what I was sure would be an enjoyable assignment.