. . . Her hand was cool despite the August heat and unexpectedly firm. ”Christopher Conroy,” I said. ”Have you lived here long?”
“Nearly two years. My boyfriend and I bought the house when he got his new job. I love it here.”
“These building have certainly got something,” I said covering my disappointment at the discovery of a boyfriend.
“Oh, yes,” she said, “they have. Once you get to know the people here you will find they have got something too.” She picked up her bag. ”If there is anything you want or need to know, I’m on the parlour floor.”
My mind was scrambling desperately for some topic to continue the conversation, but all I could think of was the junk in the basement. ”When is the garbage collected?”
“You must put it out every Tuesday and Friday night. They collect early in the morning.” She was walking away.
“Do they take large junk?”
“Usually. As long as they can lift it.” She started up the steps. Nice legs; cat like haunches.
“Is recycling separate?”
“Yes. You should have two blue containers.”
“Where do I get them?”
“Margaret will have some.” She was nearing the top step and would soon disappear.
“Margaret?” I wanted her to talk some more.
“Green Street Hardware. Next block.” She indicated across the street. ”I must go.”
Then she was gone through the glass door into her hallway – to her lair to shower and change and prepare supper for her man. Funny she did not say we. She did not say we are on the parlour floor; she said I’m on the parlour floor. I wondered why was I feeling short of breath.
That evening, while waiting for my Alfredo, I called Carl Esposito. He agreed to start on the second floor the next day. I did not mention the other floors and he did not ask. It was Thursday evening; I had owned the house four days and clearly was still on the steep part of the learning curve. The purchase was a mess because I had not done my homework. The hiring of contractors was only half successful. When will I ever learn? Life continually hammers home the same lessons, and I continue to place the same trust, assume the same levels of competence, and blunder on blindly in the anticipation that my fellow man is in empathy with my wishes. In this latest scenario he was in empathy a little under half the time, not bad I suppose, but a large enough error to stimulate me into changing my ways. I was still awaiting a reply from Bill Sullivan, my lawyer, in regard to the sitting tenants; although it was difficult to imagine why I bothered because Bill inevitably side stepped such issues in the hope that the protagonists would resolve the matter before he was forced to start the tedious practice of law.
“Something new,” declared Larry placing a bowl of something red, brown, and yellow with larger bits of green before me.
I peered in, sniffed, and eyed him distrustfully. ”What is it? I am becoming used to living on your Alfredo. Don’t confuse me now.”
“You said that.”
“It’s Louisiana vegetable chilli with meat.”
“Mostly vegetarian. It has a lot of vegetables. Eat, tell me what you think.”
“Nah. Yellow, or wild rice. Nobody eats brown rice anymore.”
“Except for toasts. Break out the Jaegermeister, let’s toast your latest creation and my luck. Particularly my luck as it is in the greatest need.” We added his Louisiana Chilli and my luck to peace, love and brown rice and, because there was so much to cover, toasted them all twice; no point in taking chances.
The next morning I found Carl Esposito and two younger men diligently working in the front room of the second floor. Despite their presence the apartment had a quiet, chapel, aura of God fearing industriousness. There was the odd shuffling of a ladder, positioning of drop cloths, the gentle rasping of sand paper, a cough, a murmur . . . but little was said, and work was in no way interrupted as I walked about the apartment, occasionally gazing through the windows. When they did speak Carl’s helpers were diffident toward him, as if he held power over them; perhaps they were his sons.
“Is there anything you need Carl? Besides the keys that is?” I said.
He lifted his head to look at me, his eyes warm and satisfied. ”No. We got all we need.” I was in the way, so I left.
There was no sign of Toni One, for which I was grateful. Another day’s absence would provide ammunition for the battle to come. However Giorgio Cancinni of Brooklyn Kitchens and Bathrooms did show up. He was a tall man I guessed to be in his mid-thirties wearing a sport jacket and tie, grey pants, and shiny black shoes. He was contrite. ”I’m sorry Mr. Conroy,” he declared earnestly, “I been having some trouble with the family. My son got shot at school.”
“My son got shot.”
“Yeh, they have guns at school. Kids round here all carrying guns. Crazy. Anyway my boy got shot so I had to go see to him and the police.” He was a troubled man.
“Is he bad?”
“No, he’s going to be okay. Just got it through the leg. No damage to the bones. I don’t know about tendons though. He might walk funny.”
“What on earth is happening that kids have guns?”
“Beats me, Mr. Conroy, why anyone carries a gun. No use pretending you aren’t going to use it, and if you do use it, your life will be completely changed. Takes a very intelligent person to use a gun wisely, and there aren’t too many of them around here.”
He was right; I began to think he was a very intelligent man himself. We went up to the third floor kitchen to assess the damage. Examining the gapping hole where the old sink had been Giorgio said, “Whoever made this mess wasn’t too bright.”
“No,” I said, “I don’t think he was. Anyway he’s gone now.”
“Do you know what you want me to do?” He asked.
“Yes,” I said, feeling competently armed with the knowledge I’d gained from Jimmy Artowski. ”I want a sink and cabinet fitted here under the window, with a decent mixer tap. This wall repaired. An eighteen inch stove fitted over there with an extractor fan, and the floor repaired, levelled, and covered with matching, flexible, vinyl.”
“You could fit a twenty inch stove in that space.”
“There seems little point in spending more than necessary,” I replied.
“A twenty inch will cost very little more than an eighteen, and the extractors come in standard sizes. An eighteen inch would look rather silly there, and they really are a nuisance to clean. I really think you’d do better not to penny pinch there.” I gave up.
“Could you give me an idea of time and cost?” I said.
“There is two, possibly three, days work here. I work for $150 a day. Do you want me to buy the cabinet and stove?” I nodded. ”Well I’ll allow half a day for the shopping and two days for the work. Repairing that wall is on me. If I’d been here it would never have happened.”
“If school teachers had any control in their institutions it would never had happened.”
“No one in authority is prepared to take responsibility nowadays. If there’s one thing our wonderful legal system has done it’s to produce a society of irresponsible administrators. Now what good is that?”
“None,” I agreed.” Absolutely none.”
Giorgio left with the promise of doing the shopping, and possibly starting some of the work tomorrow.
The Village Voice is not the kind of newspaper I would normally buy. The one copy I browsed through contained what appeared to be unsupported, and somewhat raucous, articles that poured scorn on anyone or anything considered vaguely successful in the capitalist sense. Its advertisers were cafés and bars with names like Mama’s Bosom, and My Left Buttock featuring previously unheard of singers and poets, and new age outlets for health food, candles, oils, idols, and chimes to ward off the evils of modern society. Under Professional Services there were far more holistic healers, massage services, cleansers – spiritual and of the colon variety – and tarot readers than there were painters or handymen or computer consultants. My interest though, lay in the classifieds, because even though they contained a wealth of suggestions for alternative lifestyles and sexual deviousness, it was the only place to find accommodation for my part of town.
“It’s the obvious choice for your needs,” Bill Sullivan told me when I contacted him over the matter of tenancies. ”Put your ads in the Voice, make your tenants sign standard boiler-plate apartment lease forms, available at any decent stationers, and always get a credit check before you hand over any keys. Apart from that chase them up with a phone call if the rent doesn’t arrive on the first of the month, make a late charge if it arrives after the fifth, and send a notice to quit if it doesn’t arrive by the tenth.” It was sound advice. I wish I’d taken it.
By Friday afternoon I ceased to refer to Toni as Toni One on the deepening conviction that Toni Two did not exist, that he was probably nothing more than a figment of Toni’s powerful imagination, and, as neither of them had shown up for work for the last three days, they both might as well not exist.
On the other hand Carl Esposito and his boys – one I learned was his real son, the other adopted – had done such a nice job in the second floor apartment that I asked him take over the work on the parlour floor. Carl was circumspect. ”I don’t like picking up another man’s work,” he said.
“It would have been your work if Toni hadn’t made such elaborate promises,” I countered.
“You’d have to get all his stuff out of here, I’m not gonna touch another man’s stuff.” I agreed, and stowed Toni’s ladder and tools in the basement with the other junk. Somewhere along the line I was going to have to face the junk problem.
With the exception of the lower ground floor all the apartments were either undergoing, or scheduled to be undergoing, renovation. All could be completed well before the end of the month. I felt safe in advertising for prospective tenants, which was daunting; the beginning of an anxious time. Having allowed Frankie to raise my offer to $510,000, including his agent, plus the legal expenses, I now needed a 90% occupancy rate, just to break even – a tall order. Maybe it was too tall.
On the advice that came over the phone from an unusually squeaky voice belonging to an apparently experienced, and certainly helpful female, in the classified department of the Village Voice, I decided to hold an open house. Saturday seemed the best day. After a lengthy discussion the squeaky lady and I created an ad that read as follows –
Clinton Hill. Aptmts for rent in Brnstne M’sn. High ceilings, P’r M’rrs, f’plces, h’dwd fl’rs. Gas inc. R’dctd av’ble Sept 1. $800 -$1,100. Owner, no fees, no pets. Open Sat’day 9am.
Including the address it occupied five lines in a column and cost $28. 50. It was a bargain.