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Tuesday, June 20, 2006


Years ago my apartment building was maintained and operated by a middle-aged couple named Pat and Mike. They puttered around the building greeting everyone by name and offering warm smiles, and managed the remarkable feat of respecting your privacy while also being genuinely interested in your welfare. They hosted yard sales for all the residents, lovingly resurfaced all the wooden banisters and vintage fixtures, and made everyone in the building feel like a valued community member. When the fifth day of the month came along and you had forgotten to pay the rent, they'd drop by and remind you that it was due. And on the day they left, the residents threw them a going away party.

One night back in those days Soapy and I returned to my apartment complex after a night of Saturday drinking. Soapy drank me under the table, matching my every Guinness with an RC Cola of his own. As we approached the back door we noticed a handful of nickels and dimes scattered on the ground; and once inside, we saw a set of keys, some quarters and a five dollar bill on the floor of the stairwell. Soapy, significantly quicker on the draw than me, froze in mid-stoop as he was about to pluck the bill up off the floor and pointed at it. The bill was smeared with red liquid. Closer examination confirmed it was fresh blood. Immediately transforming into Encyclopedia Brown and The Great Brain, the two of us starting looking for clues.

Clearly some foul play had occurred. No one would drop that much money (and their keys) without noticing, but there didn't appear to be anyone in the vicinity. Scoping out the area, we found a large streak of blood low on the wall heading downstairs toward the basement. We followed the trail and found another large patch of blood on the underside of the stairwell... A strange place to smear your body fluids and further evidence that something pretty weird was going on. We did a quick survey of the laundry room, the only open door I knew about down there. Every time I looked behind a corner or opened a washer or dryer I half-expected to see a crumpled dead body before me. But we found nothing more of note.

At this point I phoned Pat. It was late, but this was too scary not to wake her up. She padded down the stairs in her slippers and bathrobe a few minutes later. We showed her the blood stains and described where we found the keys and the change. Looking at the key ring, she picked it up by the one that appeared to match our mail keys and headed for the front lobby. Cool as a cucumber, she checked the key against each mailbox, until at last it turned and opened one of them... Number 304.

Outside the third floor apartment we couldn't hear anything or see any light coming from the crack under the door. Pat knocked and then again more loudly. There was no response. Sensing my next move, she said, "No, we can't just let ourselves in. We have to call the police if it comes to that." She told us that 304 was occupied by a single woman who had recently left a bad relationship. My mind flooded with images of some sort of violent abduction that resulted in a bloody struggle and strewn money. It quickly became the only conclusion that made any sense.

Downstairs again, we decided to do a thorough sweep of the area before calling the cops. Soapy and I were checking the laundry room again when we heard Pat cry, "You guys! Come here!" Standing at the half-open sliding door to the utility room, Pat looked terrified. We rushed to the opening and saw what she had just discovered: A pair of clothed human legs sticking out from a huge pile of wadded up clear plastic. Soapy immediately strode forward to check out the scene. I stood next to Pat, repressing a sudden feeling of queasiness.

Soapy motioned us over. The legs were still attached to a body. The body was still breathing. The body was bleeding a bit from the head, and smelled heavily of booze. A different picture of what happened began to form in my mind. Pat immediately recognized him as a new tenant, "George! George, are you alright?" George's reply wasn't quite intelligible.

"C'mon buddy, let's get you to your apartment, eh." We helped him up and supported him all the way to the door of his basement apartment. "These your keys?" He nodded. "And this must be the money you dropped man." We watched him stagger to the bedroom before closing the door behind him. Pat explained that he was pretty upset lately, having just returned from living in Japan and that he hadn't found a job yet. Again, I was amazed at what she knew about each person in her building and how much she seemed to care about their wellbeing.

Soapy summarized, "So Drunky Smurf here must have dropped some change outside trying to get his keys out of his pocket. Once inside he fell over and hit his head low on the wall, dropping his keys in the process. Looking for something to press against his wound, he pulled more change and a fiver out of his pocket and pressed the bill against the wound before dropping it as well. Then he must have stumbled down to his basement apartment, running up against the bottom of the stairwell to steady himself. But he dropped his keys, so he couldn't get inside. Rather than go search for them, he staggered to the utility room and collapsed on a pile of plastic."

"Oh, and I'll bet his mailbox key just coincidently also opens #304. Only so many shapes of locks before they repeat themselves," I chimed in, making a mental note to go back later and check if my key opened any other boxes.

Pat thanked us both for our help, asked that we not mention it to anyone and padded back upstairs to get some sleep. And every time I talked to Pat after that I felt a special bond... That we had solved a case together and that she could trust me and my friends to help out in a tough spot.

But things have changed... In the same way a locally owned general store is replaced in your life by a Walmart. Now when the fifth day of the month rolls around and I've forgotten to pay rent, my new building manager lovingly puts a "You have 10 days to pay rent plus a hefty late fee or vacate" warning under my door. I no longer feel any sense of community or ownership toward the building. I no longer pick up an errant piece of garbage in the hallway. I no longer really wish to live in that building. And the anemic, obligatory hellos that issue from the mouth of my new building manager ring false and hollow like the unfulfilled promise of capitalism.

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At 6/20/2006 01:59:00 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

It sounds like you solved the case with two other guys - Soapy and Steve. Do they know each other? Are they like twins or something? Or is it one person with a Jekyll & Hyde complex? :O


At 6/20/2006 08:10:00 PM, Blogger ScottyTuxedo said...

That's a really amazing story. So, the lady in 304 was okay then? Because I'm worried about her. My last apartment had a manager that was really great, like the way that you describe. Corporate mentality has also done that to Cirque Du Soleil, which despite their massive talent has essentially become the Starbucks of circus. Did you ever read, Ask The Dust, by John Fante? If not, may I recommend it to you? I think you'd jive well with it.

At 6/21/2006 04:13:00 PM, Blogger Johnbai3030 said...

Thanks for the book recommendation Scotty. But, as STAVE IT OFF loyalists can attest, I don't know how to read. Perhaps you can discuss the book with me sometime and give me the gist of it. Either that, or maybe I can purchase it and put it on one of my bookshelves so that people will think that I've read it.


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