14 May 2008

The House on Harmony

I found a place to live. A little green house on Harmony Street. (I hadn't noticed the double meaning until I googled "green house" and most of the images were glass houses.)

In my private universe, this is an unquestionably beautiful thing -- having "green" and "harmony" associated with the place where I live and dream and make things. In my universe such omens portend unequivocal peace and joy.

But I know in "the real world" it's just silly to believe pretty coincidences mean anything.

And it is inside that knowing that doubt and fear and second-guessing arise. What should I be paying attention to instead of (or in addition to) the things that naturally catch my attention?

On the day the landlord and I met to look around the place, I noticed there was no refrigerator in the kitchen. "Uh oh. No refrigerator. That settles that--I can't rent a place that doesn't have a frig."

"Well, I don't usually provide a refrigerator for tenants but I have one in another unit you could use."

Problem solved in the little green house on Harmony street.

On the day I moved in, the landlord was in the kitchen--spray-painting the refrigerator. Was that one of those things that should have had meaning to me? How would an adept social anthropologist have interpreted the occurrence of a landlord with a spray can and a refrigerator? I saw it as more Crescent City quirkiness and thought "I love New Orleans!"

By the end of the day, there was no doubt about it: the refrigerator wasn't working. Except as a safe and nurturing space for fledgling newborn creatures. I left the landlord a voicemail.

A few hours later, my CD player, my piano and the lamps all went off at the same time. Even though the ceiling fans and the microwave still worked.

"Uh oh," I thought. "Is the real world colliding with my rose-colored outlook?" Should seeing the spray can have warned me the lights were going out?

When I returned from work the next day the landlord and a guy who looked like what we called "poor white trash" where I come from were sprawled across my kitchen floor working on the refrigerator. A rusty mini-frig was parked on two big cinder blocks against the opposite wall. Apparently something they called a "starter" was broken and the landlord would buy a new one the next day. "I feel kinda funny 'cause I don't usually provide refrigerators for my tenants," he added. "But I told you I would so I guess I have to."

"Uh huh," I said. I said nothing about the other problem, the power coming off and on.

The next day, I left work for a few hours to meet the gas&electric company at my apartment to switch the utilities into my name. The technician was a swarthy, uncommunicative little guy who barely responded to my questions about the intermittent electric power until he reached the other side of the house and opened the breaker box. "Here's why your power's going off and on," he practically shouted, holding a copper and glass thing under my nose.

Now he spoke in a clear audible voice, obviously warming to his work. I didn't understand much of what he said beyond "no connection" and "breaker" and "needs replacing." I left the landlord a voicemail.

He was audibly annoyed when he returned my call later that day. "What?!!" he yelled in the phone. "The electric was fine before you moved in. What's going on?!"

"I don't know, M____. I'm just telling you what the guy said."

"OK. OK. We'll take care of it but I've done all I can with the refrigerator." The line went abruptly silent between us.

"What are you saying?"

"I've done all I can do. I kept my word and put a refrigerator in. Not my fault if it doesn't work."

"Oh... " I said. "I'm really disappointed..."

"Well, I kept my word," he repeated.

"M____ ..." I was exasperated. "Don't talk crazy. You haven't kept your word. Installing a broken refrigerator is not 'keeping your word' and you know it."

"Don't you remember me saying that I don't provide refrigerators for my tenants?"

"Yes, I remember. And do you remember me saying I wouldn't rent a place that didn't have a refrigerator? Did you really think I'd be ok with a non-functioning refrigerator?"

"Yeah, yeah..... But do you remember me saying I don't provide refrigerators?....."

Never a good sign when the conversation turns circular on ya..... I let it go. The next day, I explored craigslist. I didn't want to do it, but I was willing to move again after less than a week in residence. And I found some groovy possibilities (including a house in the Marigny with two female artists looking for a third creative soul).

But by the time I got home last night, my landlord had come to Jesus and found a replacement refrigerator. He left a voicemail indicating he's okay with me paying my half of the cost of the refrigerator over time.

I don't intend to purchase 1/2 a refrigerator but I don't have to tell him that yet. I called and left him a "Thanks so much.... I'm happy" voice mail. A couple of days of harmony can't hurt.


  1. I would definitely slow-play him on that refrigerator. That's a strange deal. Good luck with it, though!

  2. 5 cents a month... with a sweet note of appreciation for allowing you to pay slowly over time. Personally, I'd get a perverse kick out of sending him a nickel every month for the rest of my life, just to remind him of his generosity.

  3. I don't know whether to laugh or cry. There are awkward conversations and levels of pettiness that I would do anything in the world to avoid, like when I go out to dinner with a bunch of people, then there's drama when the bill comes -- someone doesn't want to tip the waiter, or someone wants to do a lot of advanced math to figure out who owes what. This situation you described might have been one of those that I would have avoided, and I'm glad you stayed with it, and kept bringing him back to what he *agreed* to. Half a refrigerator? That's funny! What do you do at the end of the lease -- take a chainsaw to it, slice your portion and walk out with it ...?
    On the other hand, what great opportunities might lie ahead to practice patience, forgiveness and lovingkindness ...

  4. I know a guy with a chainsaw, let me know if you need to borrow it!

  5. i'm of the 'nothing means anything' school. same time, i was gratified instantly when i learned your new home is on harmony street; i'm musical, i've written a piece called 'playground at harmony school.' so there's my own meaning applied. i'm not sure it matters what we pay attention to, as long as we're paying attention. if really paying attention, one can notice his intention behind that attention; maybe catch himself paying more attention to the drugs he's taking than to his intention to continue productively in this life. that sorta thing. love you!

  6. Refrigerators are really cheap here in the Lou., that is a used one. When we first moved in our house I had one of those 5'6" round shouldered, 1950's models. It had a freezer in the top center about 1' square. We spray painted it black over the natural white after taping patterns ala. Steve and some nice bamboo white over Sumi-e style. After a few years the handle broke and I hooked a bungee cord on the back that wrapped around and held the door tight in place. We replaced it when one of Amy's friends was "updating" their kitchen. It still worked fine! Painting a frig is great fun. Landlords seldom are.
    later - griley


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