Ever had the feeling that all the pieces are coming together — but none of them fit? Like maybe some wiseacre at the factory mixed together a bunch of different puzzles as a prank?
Yeah, me too.
While he was chatting with Michael and Alan and Kalypso and me, I got a call from Xy. She sounded a little panicked. There were police at the house across the street, and she wasn’t sure what was going on, and could I please come home ASAP?
I didn’t rush home, but I didn’t linger either. I finished the interview and took off on my bike. When I got there, I discovered a series of signs posted on our front porch, obviously in Xy’s handwriting.
The signs said:
Maria Santana, landlord of 216/218 Salcedo is unfair!!
Do not rent 216/218 Salcedo
Landlord overcharges & is mean
It’s not nice to overcharge people
& provide them with no electricity
Shame on you landlord
There were no cops across the street, just a U-Haul truck and a bunch of personal possessions on the sidewalk. I had some idea what was going on, but before I could speak to anyone, Bull rolled up. Bull is a big guy with a big handlebar moustache, one of the plumbers on Coleman’s crew.
A brief digression is in order: Ever since we had our house replumbed a few weeks ago, we’ve had a problem with hot water coming out the cold taps. Now I’ve lived in New Orleans long enough to know you don’t get truly cold water in the summer, but that’s not what I’m talking about here. I mean scalding, steaming hot water. It runs hot for a couple minutes, then chills down to a reasonable temperature. It’s weird brushing your teeth with hot water, and the sensation of the toilet bowl filling up with hot water is especially strange. Coleman has told me that it’s just a matter of heat transfer, that the cold pipes are picking up heat from the hot pipes downstairs, and that it can all be fixed by wrapping them in some insulation.
So that’s why he sent Bull and the crew over. I took Bull in and showed him the pipes in question. He was right mystified. He said, and I’m not making this up, “Bull don’t understand this.” It seemed the heat transfer theory wasn’t borne out by his actual observations. Heat seemed to be radiating from the water heater much further back up the incoming pipe than one would expect, and that’s how hot water was getting into the cold pipes. “Plumbing ain’t supposed to work like that.”
I left Bull to it and made my way upstairs at last. Xy was in the kitchen, talking on the phone about drama at school, and cradling a tiny orange kitten on her shoulder. What the hell was going on here?
I had to wait until she got off the phone to find out. As I’ve mentioned before, the tenants in the rental property across the street have been living without electricity for weeks. I guess they stopped paying rent, and I can’t blame them. The lack of electricity was entirely the fault of the property owner. Now it seems the owner was evicting the tenants and keeping their deposit to boot. That’s why the cops had been there: to serve the eviction notice.
Another digression: I called numerous city and state offices over the last few days, trying to find out what the legal definition of habitability might be. According to Carla Parker, one of my City Council rep’s legal aides, neither electricity nor hot water are required to meet the legal definition of habitability. As we like to say down here in Louisiana, “Welcome to the Third World.” Only that joke’s less funny to me every day.
Xy was up in arms about the whole situation. We liked those tenants: Damien, Nora and Ovi. They’re good, decent people. As for Maria (the landlady) we’d heard many bad stories about her over the years, from the previous owner of our home, and from our old next door neighbor. Now we were seeing for ourselves what a bitch she could be.
When Maria saw the signs she wasn’t pleased. Xy confronted her on the street and excoriated her in Spanish and English.
Maria took a picture of the signs, I suppose to make us think she might sue for libel or slander or defamation or somesuch, but I don’t think she’d have a case. (Anybody have a contrary opinion?) Then she drove away in her nice shiny Lexus.
I commiserated with Damien, who was now trying to unload some of his possessions in an impromptu yard sale. Then I noticed new tenants already moving in. Maria must have lined them up a while ago. To welcome them to the neighborhood I helped carry some of the bigger pieces upstairs. It’s only furnishings at this point: They aren’t actually moving in until the electricity is on. Good strategy.
Then Walter showed up.
Walter is an odds-job who lives in the neighborhood. He’d approached Xy a few days ago about cutting down the dead tree next to our house, but she deferred the price negotiations to me. This was my first encounter with Walter. He makes quite an impression. For one thing, he’s quite striking, visually, being about 6′ 4″ or so and nothing but bones and muscle. For another thing, he’s got a rural Louisiana accent that is almost impenetrable to my Midwestern ears. And then there’s his whole approach to life, which is refreshingly different. “Pay me whatever you think is fair. If you don’t have any money that’s OK too. We’ve just got to trust in the Lord.”
And that brings us to Milo, the orange kitten. Walter found Milo a short time ago and gave him to Damien. Now that Damien was moving, somehow Milo seems to have gotten transferred to us. Not that we mind. He’s excruciatingly cute.
(Did you know that most calico cats are female and most orange cats are male? I didn’t.)
Just to make everything even more weird, Walter then hurt himself and asked Xy for some alcohol. She brought him a shot of whiskey. No, no, he wanted rubbing alcohol. But he graciously accepted the whiskey.
Somewhere during all the drama the plumbers left. We still have hot water coming out the cold tap. Oh well. It’s hard to be mad about anything when you have a cute kitten that needs lots of TLC.
And the signs? They’re staying up for now, at least until it rains or we get sued. I think Maria may have a hard time renting the other three units in her fourplex.
Oh, I almost forgot to mention, I also posted Damien’s side of the story.