HALLOWEEN (COMES EARLY)
All apologies for my prolonged absence. My life has been a bit tumultuous the past couple of weeks and I wasn’t able to find the time or sanity to post. The situation in the French Quarter finally imploded and I was forced to flee like Jamie Lee Curtis on the last day of October.
The sad thing is that I had finally settled in and began enjoying French Quarter living after Jake moved out in early July; alas, nothing good lasts forever, especially in this city of extremes and mercurial temperament. Debra had mostly stayed away. Our communication was terse and to the point, but the fragile truce held. I’d been told that the block on Decatur Street I was living on was ‘ground zero’ for the Halloween parade and other activities so I was trying to keep things between the lines at least until then. Little did I know Halloween would come early this year, for, as I returned in late August from a week with my family in Myrtle Beach, I arrived to find the apartment door ajar. Inside was pitch black.
My mind instantly raced with possibilities. A break in? An error by Debra? She had moved back in? I stepped inside only to be startled by a familiar voice. Jake was lying in wait on the lounger just inside the door.
“What the @#$#?!”
He immediately began to explain and try to calm me down. Debra had sent a cryptic text mid-week inquiring when exactly I was returning. Now I knew why. He’s baaaaaaaaaaaaack!
As I slammed my luggage down, Jake sat up and launched into a rambling, frantic, stream of conscious dialogue that would last, well, until the very moment I eventually got him to leave a week later. A week may not sound long, but when you’re being incessantly verbally water-boarded, your nerves can start to fray.
Hey man I’m sorry but I got back from Philly and I took this bike and so I was trying to get to Debra’s and I was going over the bridge and I would have been fine but there was this car and it [garble] so I flipped and had to go back to the hospital and I injured the nerve to this leg so I can’t bear weight or I could end up losing it so Debra said I could stay here because I can’t go out but hey there’s this great party tonight by a local artists and it’s free booze and food and this is the kind of thing you need to be writing about so we should go because I can’t go out but I’ll go if you’re going . . . . For brevity’s sake, just extend this out for 168 hours and spice it up with stories of anal sex, unprotected sex, ‘hey man, can I make some of your coffee’s, requests for rides, promises of compensation for said rides, pleas for pity through countless ailments and misfortunes, advice on how I could lose weight, tweaks to my exercise routine, grumbling about how his sister hadn’t sent money yet, plans for future trips to clubs together, and (my favorite) the story of his friend from Florida whose problem was that he was lazy and expected other people to feed him and house him and take care of him and wouldn’t just get out and do things for himself. Sigh.
I try hard (not always successfully) to not hate anyone and I don’t hate Jake. I certainly didn’t want to live with him and be his social worker/foster parent/best friend. He seems to survive off people’s sympathy, though claims to have a background in construction and swears he played in a band once and scored lots of chicks with his long hair and rock-hard abs. Maybe he was once more productive, but I have my doubts. He was certainly a walking trainwreck. In the time the I knew him he took three bike rides: He borrowed Debra’s bike a couple of days after I moved in and got hit by a car, borrowed my bike that time and somehow blew a tired and bent the derailer, then took or bought for $20 (the story shifted and I was never clear) a bike when he got back in town and flipped it going over a bridge. Things were constantly broken (more on that later), and he was constantly doing something to try my fairly large reserves of patience–I’ve worked with special needs kids and adults with dementia most of my adult career, for heaven’s sake?!
At least, though, when he’d finally set me off he’d at least show remorse and did, at times, adjust his behavior. This time he stayed out of my food and quit smoking in the apartment after I woke up in a rage with inflamed sinuses. (Though he always managed to find the next disaster.) He did truly want to be friends. His social skills weren’t the best and he seemed almost as hungry for human connection as for borrowed food, which gave the whole situation a sad subtext. I didn’t wish him ill. I just didn’t wish him my constant companion.
Debra, though, never once showed the first speck of remorse, contrition, consideration, or concern. She had told me the last time she let him in that it was her place and she’d do what she wanted, despite renting it to me making it my place too. She only addressed Jake’s shenanigans when they spilled over to affect her. Her lack of regard, insight, or responsibility and her unwillingness to even consult me (she left a note in my door telling me he was back!) was childishly infuriating. And indefensible.
A NIGHTMARE ON (DECATUR) STREET
5 a.m. Wednesday I awake to the sound of breaking glass from inside the apartment, looking much like the picture to the left. I jump out of bed and rush out in high alert. “Sorry man. I stood up from the couch and suddenly got feeling back in my foot so I tripped and put my hand through the glass in the [other bedroom] door.” He knocked out four panes of glass and the frame, though there was no blood. He retreated to the bathroom but when he emerged, I glanced at his hands for scrapes and saw none. There was no sign of clean-up in the bathroom. It was just odd and disquieting.
I had slept uneasily up to that point anyhow because, for reasons I’ve never discovered, he kept rattling glass all night. In fact, every night he was up stomping around in his soft cast and sleeping only at odd times, so I’d not slept well since returning Saturday. I’d spent Sunday and Monday hiding out in coffee shops working and the previous afternoon had met with writer Tom Piazza for an interview that was supposed to be posted by now, taking a long bike ride afterwards to calm my nerves. Every time though, as soon as I’d return, Jake would pick up where he left off, often still talking through my closed door when I retreated to the bedroom. With the nighttime break-in or break-out or break-whatever, my nerves were completely shot. Unable to get back to sleep, I packed my computer and fled to Slim Goodies.
Debra had never once spoken about Jake’s return, having simply left a note in my bedroom door saying she’d told Jake he could stay 10 days. Part of me wondered from the start if this wasn’t a passive-aggressive response to me blogging about the first installment of Nightmare on Decatur Street. I had used fake names, and in the note she wrote “Jake” beside his real name just to let me know she had been reading. There was no doubt she knew that I didn’t feel secure or comfortable with him there.
Still, I had tried not to engage her, knowing she wouldn’t listen and that it would only escalate. The last time we broached the subject she called me screaming like a banshee over my cell. Instead, I had tried to deal with Jake, who could at least hold a conversation. My friend was returning for Labor Day Weekend so we had come to what he dubbed ‘a gentleman’s agreement’ that he’d leave by Friday before her arrival. After the broken window, though, I had been furious, telling him he didn’t pay rent and he needed to find a place immediately. He stood his ground and said he was a guest of Debra’s and could stay until she said leave. I told him to tell her about the glass before I did and stormed out.
Later, as I sat cradling a cup of coffee and staring off blankly, I was visibly rattled and slightly trembling. The concerned waiter asked if I were alright, listening without a growing look of incredulity when I unloaded. I’m a semi-regular there, so as word spread of the crazy tale people kept coming over to check on me. I was so wound up I could barely sip my coffee–I didn’t need more anxiety–and was tempted for one of the few times in my life to drink before 8 a.m. Before I could compose my thoughts to contact Debra, though, she texted me asking for a utilities check, saying I owed her late fees as well. She was referring to bills she was supposed to email me before I left for the beach, yet hadn’t mailed it until Monday, the day before they were due, and, well, I’d been a little distracted since then. She could contact me about needing money but not about, oh, letting a homeless person back into the apartment. Again, this morning Jake had already texted her about the glass, but no mention of the situation.
Very carefully and deliberately I summoned all my training in de-escalation and conflict resolution, composing a response text (I’d already learned better than to try to talk) directly but tactfully stating my concerns and requesting a resolution. My phone started blowing up, saying that Jake had nothing to do with the utilities I owed her and that I was trying to shirk my responsibility but if he was going to destroy her apartment then she had to get him out of there. Again, it was only an issue when it affected her and her apartment, but I let this go, instead addressing the fact that she hadn’t given me the adequate notice promised and that we had agreed that I’d pay most of the rent and 2/3 of the utilities while she would pay her portion so she could stay roughly a week a month. She had never stayed, though she did use that as justification for admitting Jake, which was never discussed either time. It wasn’t about the money at this point, though, it was about the principle. She’d followed through with nothing she promised, but when I tried to bring it up she started calling.
At first I didn’t answer but she kept calling back. When I finally answered she was already screaming to the point of strained voice: I would never agree to that and you ARE going to pay me for full utilities and late fees immediately or I’ll have you forcibly removed from my apartment, you are the biggest asshole that I’ve ever met . . . .” Holding the phone away from my ear, I asked her repeatedly to calm down and talk to me like an adult but she hung up, then rang back until I picked up and continued screaming, hanging up when I’d try to respond and then calling back again. Everyone in the diner was mortified, for even off speaking it reverberated throughout the whole joint. This went on until she finally told me she wanted me out of her place and quit calling. As I sat there shaking with rage, the wait staff took turns stopping by to pat me on the back. I had a coupon but when I went to cash out, the waiter saw it wasn’t good until noon. Looking down at me he smiled. “Screw it. I’ll take it today.”
ESCAPE FROM NEW (ORLEANS)
The next few days are a blur. I’d been told to get out with an implied if highly unlikely threat to have me forcibly removed. I could legally fight to stay but had no desire to remain in that combat zone, home for the indigent, and general nuthouse. Jake was back by Thursday when I woke up and spent the day fixing the door frame, though he had no glass. I desperately began searching for safe haven. Jake stayed through Friday and left as promised, though he took a nap right up until the time I asked him to leave, then said he had to take a piss and spent twenty minutes in the bathroom, dragging around until the last possible moment.
I had noticed a large red welt on his face that morning and, before he left, I asked if he’d been hit. No. He said it had opened up when he shaved. Not good. In a major way. “I’m pretty sure we’re going to be good friends once I get out of your hair,” he said before departing. He was still lingering downstairs toying with his wheelchair hours later. He said it was his birthday. Sigh.
Things were calm for the weekend with someone around who knew how to talk me off the ledge, and I frantically continued my housing search. The day that she left, I responded to a Craigslist ad from a high school Physics teacher who sounded reasonable and easy-going. Debra had been sweet as pumpkin pie that first visit, though, so I was starting to doubt my judgement. I rushed over to avoid Debra, who was already showing the apartment for the following month. The place was nice if further Uptown than I wanted but we sat and had a few beers. He needed an immediate roommate as someone had moved out unexpectedly and I was desperate to get out, afraid of some passive-aggressive retribution on or outright theft of my possessions; plus Jake had alluded to multiple keys floating around the French Quarter and I didn’t know if that were true or he was giving himself a cover story should something go missing. I stayed a good hour and he offered me the room. When I told him my story, he was like, “Yeah, you’re dealing with crazy. You need to get out,” agreeing to help me move that night if needed.
I mulled it over on the drive home, calling my friend to talk it over. By the time I made it upstairs my decision was made. I called him back and accepted, then started packing, looking to get out before I had to deal with Debra’s crazy. Sometime after midnight I returned with my third and final load. It was a frantic flight to safety.
My roommate of five hours returned with me on the second trip to help me remove the furniture, but when I returned for the last trip Jake was waiting upstairs and Debra was blowing up my phone (she wanted me out/rent for the upcoming month, depending on which way her random rants were flying). He’d let her know I was leaving and now began trying to play peacemaker again, as he’d been doing since Wednesday. “Dude, this isn’t because of me is it? I’m gone.” I told him it was between me and Debra now, but admonished him for getting her stirred up. She kept trying to call, but I had nothing left to say. I’d leave the key on the way out. She finally texted that she’d called NOPD. As if escaping her house of horrors were a crime.
Talk of the police at least got rid of Jake, but not before Poltergeist struck again. You see, the light outside in the hall mysteriously shuts off at random times, and we had discussed this several times. Jake kept telling me it was because the place was haunted and he had friends who wouldn’t even come into the French Quarter. (The previous morning he’d once again struck and knocked all my toiletries off the shelf in the bathroom, shattering my cologne and toothbrush holder and tearing the toilet paper holder off the wall. Perhaps a ghost tripped him.)
I had purposefully prioritized my three trips, moving the computer, financial documents, and valuable mementos first. I had forgotten, though, that I had stuffed the initial paperwork, including temporary checks, from the Capital One account I’d opened inside a bag full of Mardi Gras beads. Upon returning, I immediately noticed it had been rooted through. Some checks were still there, but I didn’t know how many there were to start with. Before he fled, I confronted him about going through my bag.
“No, dude. I was up here and heard something fall over. I’m telling you, man, this place is haunted.” Well, one more reason to get out.
The next day I changed my account number just in case there’s an ATM in Hell.
THE SIXTH SENSE (OR LACK THEREOF)
And that’s the story of my crazy couple of weeks. It has taken a couple of days to settle in and begin writing again. I was much too distracted to concentrate during the maelstrom, and can only hope I made a better judge of character this time.
Debra had been sweet and accommodating the time I came to view the apartment, but her contempt and impatience began emerging even before I moved in. That first day she had invited me to move in early and even encouraged me to do so–don’t worry about rent for the extra week. When I contacted her, though, returning from Florida with a load of possessions she acted impatient and exasperated. It wasn’t the first yet and she was pulling double shifts at work and getting the place ready and didn’t have the time to deal with me. Okay. Fair. But you offered, so just apologize and say it turns out the early move-in won’t work out. She seemed annoyed all week at having to deal with me moving in, and that Friday when she said she’d be available at 5 p.m. I was packed up and ready to leave, but she said she was free only until 5:30 (which she hadn’t said) and I had to respect her time. I apologized for the miscommunication, but there was no reciprocation. It wasn’t miscommunication. It was my fault. Always. Everything projected outward.
Thus, I had a bad feeling from the start, and then I moved in unaware of the Jake situation and it took two days, if you recall, before I realized that he wasn’t the downstairs neighbor. She just sprung things like a snake in the grass. There was never any compromise, contrition, or consideration of your view-point. It was her way or @$#! you. Again, I don’t wish anyone ill. Maybe someday she’ll wake up and realize her life wouldn’t be so full of conflict and stress if she’d learn the Golden Rule and how to discuss conflict in her grown-up voice. Apparently some people didn’t learn all they need to know in Kindergarten.
Still, this was such a miscalculation that I’m still a little wary of my sixth sense for gauging personalities. I see crazy people. So far, though, this story has a happy ending. Sometimes you don’t realize how stressed you were until you finally relax, and I feel like a weight has been lifted. My new roommate is big on communication and consideration. He loves music, plays guitar, writes a bit, likes to cook, drinks good wine, beer and whiskey but doesn’t drink heavily, enjoys the occasional cigar, and can talk intelligently (and in inside voices) about varied grown-up topics. It’s been fun, as opposed to painful, settling in here and for the first time since moving to town in February I feel at ease and at home. I just pray that this time my Sixth Sense was back on track, for it was under five hours from meet to move in. Hopefully I’m here for a while.
Laissez les bon temps rouler!!!