Month: November 2007

The Diving Bell & the Butterfly

the diving bell and the butterfly

Sometimes, The BF has to drag me to movies.

Okay, most of the time. He’s remained a more ardent fan of both film and music, almost always willing to put up with the minor discomfort that trekking out to consume new things involves. I don’t know when I shifted from being the girl who’d see four (challenging) movies on a weekend in New York City to the old lady who’d rather stay in and watch a DVD, but there’s no denying I’ve shifted demographics.

Well, come on, like you’d want to leave your comfortable home and drive through 10 miles of Los Angeles semi-rush hour traffic to see a movie about a man who’s struck down by a massive stroke in the prime of life and wakes up from his coma to find the only thing he can move is his left eyelid?

As my friend, Danimus, likes to say, “The goody-good times.” I’m glad I don’t have to market this film.

And yet, I’m about to. Because that’s the only way a great but challenging film like The Diving Bell and the Butterfly is going to get the audience it deserves: one rave at a time.

I can do nothing but rave, save perhaps marvel. How did the editor of French Elle know what I was going through when I had my own hospital epiphany? How did he bat out an entire memoir with his eyelid? How did director Julian Schnabel make this story come alive, brilliantly, burstingly, hilariously alive, with a main character who was, for all intents and purposes, immobilized?

Most of all, how come none of that matters and the film ends up being about love and human foibles and communication and all the other utterly mundane (but profound) things we struggle with day in and day out, no matter what our level of autonomy or mobility or self-understanding?

There’s not a false performance in the film, and everything, the music, the lighting, the design, is beautiful. Unobtrusively so, there to serve the story and not for dig-me purposes. Full and mad props go to Schnabel, director of the also-excellent Before Night Falls, who won the Best Director Lion at Cannes for Diving Bell.

It’s also the perfect tonic for a trippy season, this overly-amped time of year when we wonder why there’s no there there and whether maybe we haven’t all got things a bit bollixed up and backwards. We have, but Jean-Dominique Bauby’s message is that it’s not so difficult to sort it out, should we really want to. Connect with your humanity, with the magnificence that is the ability to feel a thing and communicate it to another living soul, and you will reconnect to the all-that-is.

It is maybe a little more difficult to do when you have so many moving parts in the way, but it is possible. Live, live, live while you have the chance.

See this movie if you need a little reminder of all the good reasons why.


Image of the delicious Emmanuelle Seigner lifted from The Diving Bell and the Butterfly site.

Play Misty for Me…RIGHT THIS @#%$! MINUTE!!!!


There is something about this time of year that, even if she really, really likes winter holidays and cooler weather, can bring an up dude down.

And that’s where I am, down. Or down-ish. Not so far down as I was pre-Arnie, certainly, but hey…getting up from down is a process. (So is learning that “up” is not better than “down,” but that is a post for the Half-Assed Buddhist to tackle, and thus far, he has refused to take up the blogging cause.)

To cope with it all, in the grand tradition of Mom’s side of the family, I self-medicate. Unlike several of them who are no longer with us because of it, I try not to turn exclusively to my pal, Dr. Al Key Hall, for solutions. Instead, I mix it up: a little sugar, a little caffeine, a lot of long/hot showers, some escapist reading and, my all-time favorite, the cheesy movie. When the skies or my mood darkens too early or often, I watch movies, lots and lots of movies, most of them familiar to me already, and of a decidedly unchallenging nature, thematically.

My current go-to drug of choice is a great, old Clint Eastwood flick, Play Misty for Me. It has everything I love: the Central Coast of California (comfort location); a 1970s setting (comfort decade); an absorbing but not overly complex story structure (gently-engaged-but-not-overtaxed brain); enough dialogue to serve as company (comfort movies play in the background, usually); and a connection to my childhood (Dad loved Clint and worked with him later in life, so I feel like Clint is kind of the good, Hollywood version of my dad.)

I never really understood why people owned movies until I stopped watching television. Now, I get it: for the company. For the comfort. For the little respite, that brief trip in the Wayback Machine that takes you away from it all in a way Calgon can’t. It’s not just about watching Clint narrowly escape the clutches of the mad (but ultimately, sad) Evelyn Draper for the 20 or 30th time (Jessica Walter in a tentpole performance, the movie would sink without her); it’s about going back to a time that felt safer, or at least less complicated. It’s about having a Dad and not being the elder yourself. It’s about a world that was less crowded, less noisy, less dangerous and at the same time more exotic, or at least, one that seemed that way from my 10-year-old vantage point.

That’s really what it is, of course. It’s about being 10 again, and everything being 10 meant: safety. Security. Years and years before I had to worry about what I was going to be and how I’d take care of myself when I was alone and it was dark.

Yes, at the risk of being completely morbid on the threshold of this happy holiday season, my love for this nutty old film is about being farther from death, so far as to have zero acquaintance with it. And what’s even crazier than that is the whole reason I appreciate holidays and loved ones and the combination of the two is that I have a far keener appreciation for their being here at all. Once you’ve lost, you can’t help but treasure what’s left all the more.

I will, of course, listen to a few carols over these next several weeks. (How can you not? Isn’t it mandatory at this point? Take off your shoes and overcoat, empty your pockets, and listen to goddam Christmas carols.) I’ll even partake in some holiday…er…stuff. Parties and gifting and whatnot. In moderation, Christmastime can be quite pleasant.

But you’ll excuse me if, at some point in the middle of the festivities, I slip off by myself to my home and, well, a neat single-malt and Clint in the DVD drive. A girl’s gotta do what a girl’s gotta do.

And this girl needs a quick trip up the coast in an old Jaguar with a jazz radio deejay.


UPDATE (11/29/08): For more on this suspense masterpiece, I direct you to the site of one Joe Valdez, who writes a film blog that is hands-down my new-favorite obsession/timesuck.

“Thank you, sir! May I have another!?”™, Day 21: There’s always room for sorry

This is Day 21 of a 21-day effort to see the good in what might, at first, look like an irredeemable drag. Its name comes from a classic bit of dialogue uttered by actor Kevin Bacon in a classic film of my generation, Animal House.

big little hug

Everyone knows that the phrase “painless breakup” is an oxymoron. Any two people who are truly together are going to have a rough time of it when the together part ends.

But some splits, let’s face it, are rougher than others. Maybe because you don’t see them coming. Maybe because the passion is still there. Maybe, god help you, because of both of these happening at the same time.

The spring of my horrible breakup ushered in the summer of my unhappiness and the fall (and winter) of my big illness. It was not a banner year. And yet, I would not hesitate to call it the best, most significant year of my life. It was the year that changed me: that illness, and how I dealt with it. That breakup, and how we both dealt with it.

You see, up until then, there had been lip service about remaining friends with exes, but really, that’s all it was. A polite fiction. The friendship that arose from the ashes of this wreckage took years to form (with a good, long break between the end and the beginning), but it is the friendship I am most proud of. I have had longer friendships, and even closer friendships, but I had never had a friendship I had to approach like religion: utterly faith-based.

Like the Crohn’s, which has taught me so many good things like tolerance and kindness and the value of slowness and simplicity, this breakup and subsequent friendship taught me that anything was possible, given two people with the right attitudes and enough time. It laid a foundation for all kinds of impossible things: a breakup without rancor. A previously unimaginable friendship with my ex-husband. An inner flexibility I’ve never, ever experienced. The possibility of change, true change.

I do not know who reads this blog, beyond the people who come out from the shadows and tell me. But I do know this: there is nothing anyone has done to me that I would not forgive them for, were they truly sorry. I had a conversation with one person to this effect some three-odd years ago. At the time, it took a great deal of effort (and, I’ll be honest, blind faith) to say it, but I meant it: the door is always open. Step through it, and together, we will work out how to move forward from there.

And should you choose not to step through it, that’s is fine, too. Who am I to say what is right for you? We are our own keepers. Surely, I made choices that have left others scratching their heads. Surely, other people have moved on from things I have done which were painful, and have extended me grace I don’t even know. (Thank you for that. And I know, I know, quit calling you “Shirley.”)

Thank you, one and all, for being my teachers, no matter what the lesson or the method.

What a lot I have to be grateful for. What a lot, indeed.


Image by Jon Irons Photography via Flickr, used under a Creative Commons license.

“Thank you, sir! May I have another!?”™, Day 20: Gloomy Manor

This is Day 20 of a 21-day effort to see the good in what might, at first, look like an irredeemable drag. Its name comes from a classic bit of dialogue uttered by actor Kevin Bacon in a classic film of my generation, Animal House.


One of the sad facts of divorce is a general reduction in circumstances, especially for the mother, and children, if they stay with her.

The facts of my own parents’ divorce are far too byzantine to cover in this post. The split had its roots in my parents’ ridiculously short courtship (a long weekend at Jack Webb’s fabulous Palm Springs getaway), fundamental incompatibility, and unfortunate coming of age on the cusp of the era of self-awareness. Too much possibility and too few tools to deal with it.

But for the sake of our story, let us oversimplify and blame this on the mother. The father, who always did his duty and yet was never quite There, was as bewildered as I that this shit was going down. He was forced into moving off-campus into a dreary, studio apartment, followed by an equally dreary one-bedroom apartment, while we stayed in our fabulous (if largely unfurnished) co-op by the lake.

Within four years, however, their fortunes had reversed: Dad moved into the swingin’-est 2-bedroom bachelor pad I’ve seen yet, rooftop pool, living room furnished with pinball machines and parade of hot stewardesses and all, while Mom, little sister and I moved in with her parents.

On paper, things still looked good: gigantic mansion on Lake Michigan in a tony suburb, weekly visitation with Dad and private, Catholic school for the two of us. In day-to-day reality, though, things were a little different.

First, we moved into Enablers Central. Mom found two new instant drinking buddies in her own father and eldest brother, who’d been booted out of his own household. They had different poisons of choice, but weren’t all that picky, so anytime after about three o’clock (depending on day of the week and state of employment), you were pretty much guaranteed that someone was going to start tying one on.

Second, the Chief Enabler, our otherwise astonishingly responsible and competent Swedish-American grandmother, was, um, stingy with a few things, including the food. I don’t mean that things ever got completely Dickensian on us, but she came of age in the Great Depression and I, more often than not, was hungry. (Although because she was a kickass cook, what there was to eat was always pretty darned tasty.)

A teetotaler, devout convert to Catholicism and frugal genius without par, Grandma had one human weakness: an insane sugar jones. Everyone knew where she kept her cookie stash; we also knew exactly how many we could poach without getting busted. When the selection was Pepperidge Farm Sugar Cookies, it was tough, pretty difficult concealing cookie leakage in that small, tight stack. You were better off around certain holidays, when there were tins of home-baked goods. But you didn’t even look for the good candy stash. You pretended you didn’t know about it (even if you did), and waited for her to haul out the Fannie Mae and offer you a piece when she was feeling itchy and generous.

Possibly worse than the food situation, although for a 12 and 7-year-old, not much, was the heating and plumbing situation. While the house was grand and gorgeous, with beautiful bones, plenty of space and a gracious flow, it was a sumbitch to heat and maintain. Everyone in Chicago was hot in the summer (well, except my beloved paternal grandparents, who got A/C shortly after it was invented and were never without), but I wonder how many people in our ZIP code were as cold as we were in the winter, there on the lake, in that huge house with the wind rattling the old storm windows, and the heat turned up enough to keep the pipes from freezing but not much else. It wasn’t bad when you were fully clothed, and we learned the benefits of layering early on, but there was this insistence on bathing that made life difficult at times.

Which brings me to…the plumbing. The original plumbing, no doubt, with next-to-no water pressure and never enough hot. Forget that we were only allowed to use three squares of toilet paper per seated occasion (god knows I’d like to); far, far worse was shivering in the shower as you tried, TRIED, I TELL YOU, to get your 1970s, long-and-parted-down-the-middle girl-hair wet, shampooed and rinsed. At some point, our uncles took mercy on us (my beloved youngest uncle had moved in by then) and let me use the special shower they’d added on to one of the rooms. It must have had new pipes coming up from the main, because compared to every other faucet in the place, it was like standing under a hot fire hydrant. Which, in January, just off the lake in Chicago, is as close as it gets to heaven.

Life there was not, I must say, an unmitigated hell. I escaped every day to my wonderful, amazing grammar school, albeit an hour away by bus, and in the dark, for this was during the energy crisis of the mid-1970s. Gloomy Manor itself was an amazing place to explore and imagine, with four floors of who-knows-how many rooms, and a huge yard with steps down to the beach. I had dolls and books and all the paper and pens I wanted, plus hours and hours to myself, which I’ve always loved. If we lost half the house to the winter, sun porches and side porches and attics and basements, there were other, warmer rooms.

And while it chapped her hide, Mom never actually shut my sister and me up as we washed and dried every night to the sound of ourselves singing “If Mama Was Married” from Gypsy. While we were a dark family, we all appreciated a good joke.

Still, it was with profound relief that I welcomed her next husband, my ex-stepfather, into our lives. We went out to dinner, we sang in the car and everyone was allowed to stuff herself with food. He laughed easily, which was none too common at Gloomy Manor, my paternal grandfather’s grim-joke name for this fallin g-down house by the lake full of stoic and/or drunk people. Our rental house that summer in Evanston before I started high school was a paradise compared to the remote prison I’d been stuck in for a year and a half. I barely cared that we were moving to a new place with a new school where I’d no know* nobody in my class of 1,000; freedom was in sight.

What is there, then, in that 18-month sentence, to be thankful for? Well, Youngest Uncle, for starters. He introduced me to Led Zeppelin and Monty Python and the National Lampoon during my stay, and besides saving my bacon, opened new worlds to me. Almost 20 years younger than my mom and only 10 years older than I, we probably never would have gotten close were it not for us being thrown together as cellies.

There was the quiet, too, and the isolation. Perhaps not the best for building critical preteen social skills, but while I was sequestered in the North Suburbs, my Chicago friends were starting to get into some pretty grownup stuff. I can’t prove it, but I’m guessing that getting pulled from the city slightly before I hit 13 probably helped me hang onto my innocence for an extra four years, not at all a bad thing, in hindsight.

Most of all, though, came a fine appreciation for simple luxuries: the hot shower. The warm room. A full belly.

Love, expressed out loud.

It would have been devastating to have been deprived of these things from childhood, of course. But to have them, then have them taken away…well, like it or not, it probably contributed greatly to my gifts as an artist, not to mention my ability to see the humorous side of things. What is the comedian’s curse again? Damn you for giving me a happy childhood?

They did their best. I know that, too. Nobody writes down, as the saying goes; in the same way, few people are intentionally awful to their fellow man. There is patterning, followed by a tent of darkness.

Some of us, if we’re lucky, get just a peek under that tent. A small peek, bracketed by lots and lots of sunshine and warmth.

I am one of those people. And that is why I do what it is I do.

Thank you, Gloomy Manor, for the inadvertent gift of understanding. It’s taken me a while to put it into play, but with some luck, there will be many, many years of illumination before this light is put out.


*Wow. I was so overwrought, I plumb forgot my words.

Image ©2007 MichaÅ‚ Å»ebrowski.

“Thank you, sir! May I have another!?”™, Day 19: Sam

This is Day 19 of a 21-day effort to see the good in what might, at first, look like an irredeemable drag. Its name comes from a classic bit of dialogue uttered by actor Kevin Bacon in a classic film of my generation, Animal House.


I did not discover I was a dog person until last week, but I have always loved cats. Yes, they’re aloof, but they’re also independent and delightful in their own way, a very different way than dogs.

And I grew up with cats, starting with Crystal, when I was about six years old (sharp-eyed readers will note that this makes my p0rn name either “Crystal Delaware” or “Crystal LSD”, depending on whether you call first street, period, or the first street I remember).

Turns out Crystal was allergic to city living and Mom was allergic to Crystal, so Mom stayed in town and Crystal moved to a farm to chase birds. This rendered me catless for a few years, when Newly-Divorced Dad let us get Monique (my parents divorced when I was young, what can I say?)

Once Dad moved away with his new family (to be fair, they would probably have preferred to stay right there in Chicago), I was essentially petless for almost 15 years. When I was in high school, Mom had another baby, so I had a kind of human pet, but that was it for years and years. College is too transient a time for pets, and when I was living in New York City, I could barely afford to feed myself.

Things started looking up money-wise when I moved back to Chicago, but my life was in rather great disarray, plus I was in renter’s mode. A pet is not a great thing to get when you’re not sure whether you’ll last out the year in your adoptive city.

But once I’d sorted things out with my shrink-slash-astrologer and decided to stay, it made sense to really put down roots. A terrific condo dropped in my lap, and in short order, Sam followed.

Sam. Sam I am. Samela. Sam had a sad history when he came to me as a three-year-old. Much beloved by his first master, Sam came with a gallon-sized baggie of frozen cooked, chopped roast beef in individual serving sizes, and a stack of red plates he liked to eat it on, Sam was not, alas, beloved by the man’s fiancée. Reluctantly, he chose the girl and I got Sam. There was some judging on my part about this (which I came to regret later, as you’ll see) but I was happy to have Sam under my care.

Sam liked to sit around, a LOT, and then suddenly, arbitrarily, get up and do five minutes of wind sprints across the wood floors of my condo, time of day be damned. He had a tiny, tiny head and a big, not fat, but big, body. He enjoyed playing with invisible pieces of paper, freaking out for no reason and sleeping on my head. Not beside my head: on top of it. (My head-to-frame size was inversely proportional to Sam’s own, so I shed a lot of heat out of that sucker, and Chicago gets fiercely cold of a winter’s night.)

Mainly, as you might expect, Sam dramatically improved my disposition. He was someone to love, and to love completely. That should have been enough.

Alas, I was greedy and foolish. I wanted human love, too, and the type that appeared on my doorstep did not like cats. In fact, he hated them.

In fact, he wrote a poem about his feelings for them, which started like this:

Kitty in the microwave
Asking me your life to save
It’s hard to hear your muffled cries
Above my sizzling cottage fries

Okay, all you SPCA types, he was a stand-up comic and it was a joke. And a funny one, the way he delivered it. I laughed, every time. Me, lover of Sam. And felt only the smallest twinge of guilt in doing it. (My motto: the Joke is King; all Hail the Joke.)

The three of us living together was not so funny, however. The Chief Atheist didn’t ever, ever physically mistreat Sam; I wouldn’t have stood for that. But he was overt in his hatred, and I know Sam felt terrorized. So it was not hard to make the deal that when and if we moved to Los Angeles, Sam would not move with us. We’d all be better off. Well, Sam would.

Sam had a dry run or two with my friend, Deb, before the actual move. Having grown up in a house with a mother who made you put snacks in a dish before eating and who moved the piano to vacuum behind it every single day, pets had never been a part of her mental (or physical) landscape. (It was a very tidy and pleasant house, though, I must say, way nicer than any I’ve ever lived in.)

So she took on the task with some trepidation. And, again, I must confess that I pushed a bit: I knew that if Sam lived with Deb, there’d be a good chance I’d get to see him a lot on visits, (although I didn’t realize how much that would ultimately turn out to be.) But of course, the same miracle happened with Sam and Deb that happened with Arnie and me: she fell in love. Sam brought out something in her she’d never known was there, could be there, and she took sterling care of her new baby until his death years later.

I have always looked on my loss of Sam, or my abandonment of him as I caved under pressure, with a strange mix of sorrow and thanks. Sorrow for the obvious reasons: I was weak. I lost Sam. As a grown woman of 31, I still didn’t believe in my own self well enough to stand up for what I truly wanted.

Thankful, too, though, for some equally compelling reasons. Like having to face up to some less than delightful weaknesses I needed to work on. Like introducing a friend to the wonders of unconditional love on the donor end.

And mainly, for giving Sam the Wandering Kitty the best of homes to live out the rest of his years.

Happy holidays, little guy. May they be filled with lots of tasty roast beef served on brick-red plates, and big, warm heads to nap on.


“Thank you, sir! May I have another!?”™, Day 18: Dude, where’s my stuff?

This is Day 18 of a 21-day effort to see the good in what might, at first, look like an irredeemable drag. Its name comes from a classic bit of dialogue uttered by actor Kevin Bacon in a classic film of my generation, Animal House.

bottom shelf

My other sisters have lost far more of real value because of our alcoholic mother: substantial money; their youth. Things get stolen out from under from you when you have an alcoholic parent that you don’t even realize until much later, when you start comparing yourself to your normal friends.

I lost a little money, true. And a little of my youth, I suppose. But what I miss are my words.

I’ve been doing this crazy scribbling for much longer than this blog’s brief existence. I began a diary back when that’s what we called them, when they were bound in leather and came with tiny locks and keys and their heavy, gilt-edged paper only allowed for five or six lines of information per day. I’ve been writing stories and drawing pictures since I could pick up a crayon, manufacturing worlds for my imaginary creatures to live in that rivaled Middle Earth in their detail and complexity. I knew I could not keep everything; when you move a lot, which we did after my parents’ divorce initiated our long, slow slide into intrafamilial dependence, you learn to do with less and less, to cull down to what is most important to you. Good training for the apocalypse, I warrant.

Before my escape to college, I got my stuff down to a few boxes, and then, on a subsequent visit where I was told to pare down, to one that I had to keep. It held the best of the best: all of my journals, best (or favorite) drawings and keepsakes, an unsigned Picasso print from my grandfather (well, so he said, anyway). One box.

You’re not supposed to think about the stuff you leave at home. You’re supposed to put up with your parents nagging you to pick up your damned stuff, already, so they can turn your bedroom into a sewing/guest/crafts room. But you don’t even imagine that, outside of horrific acts of God, your stuff will just disappear.

Sometimes I wonder when I pick through stuff at thrift stores about how it got there. The same way I wonder how someone could just give up a good dog like Arnie, I wonder how someone’s handmade photo frame with a family picture ends up in that great unwanted pile called the Goodwill. But I do know, someone dies…alone. Or someone gets on drugs, goes crazy and wanders off. Or someone loses his job and is forced to move out in a hurry.

Or someone’s alcoholic mother can no longer pay the fees to the storage company and her things are sold in lots. Poof, a lifetime of chairs scavenged from estate sales, of knickknacks and out-of-print childhood books, of ski clothes and stuffed animals, of words and words and words, gone. Because of booze and shame and despair. Because you are broke and too embarrassed to ask for help. Because, because, because.

Of all the things I have had, it’s the loss of words that haunts me. I don’t trust my memory, you see, but I trust the words. I trust what they say, and I trust in my ability to read between them and recall the rest. Right now, my memories begin at age 18, in college. I still have every single journal with every single cringe-inducing entry. The photos I have that predate them? They help me to remember, but they were taken by other people of me; they are not my memories. I’m making those up now, as I go along.

I get a hollow feeling right now, even now, thinking of that box. And yet, I’m thankful to have lost it. It has made me treasure the few relics that have turned up in other dead people’s things even more. And it’s made me appreciate that no matter what exists, or doesn’t, it is my story to tell, however I see fit. My story to distill meaning from.

Most of all, it has helped me find compassion in my heart that I might not have found otherwise for my mother and for people like her. People who cause pain even while surely they wish they could stop. We’ve all of us let something be sold out from under us, done (or neglected to do) something out of carelessness or fear; in this case, it was just something tangible.

The love is not in the beloved childhood doll any more than the stories are in the written-down words. These are things that are in us, that we carry wherever we go, and that come to life when we share them.

Let’s put it this way: maybe, just maybe, if I had those journals, I never would have started writing out loud, for other people. I never would have had the experience of having my words played back to me, of hearing what resonated and what didn’t, of what landed and what didn’t. I never would have met the people I’ve met and learned the things I’ve learned and changed the way I’ve changed.

A Picasso print, signed or not, legitimate or not, will last as long as it lasts. The feelings unearthed by looking at it are what lives on.


Image by orbitgal via Flickr, used under a Creative Commons license

“Thank you, sir! May I have another!?”™, Day 17: Tenant from hell

This is Day 17 of a 21-day effort to see the good in what might, at first, look like an irredeemable drag. Its name comes from a classic bit of dialogue uttered by actor Kevin Bacon in a classic film of my generation, Animal House.


Before I decided to downshift into the carefree (ha!) life of artist/Seeker-of-Truth, I was a woman of property.

When my now-ex-husband and I decided to relocate from Chicago to Los Angeles, we decided to rent said property to some nice couple, so that once we’d secured jobs and agents, we could return to live in our city of choice with a minimum of hassle. After all, it was such a great place in such a great neighborhood, and this process could only take 18 months, two years, on the outside.

Three years later, our dream tenants had to relocate to a different city for work, and we had to find someone to replace them. We were managing the place long distance, but we hired an agency to screen prospective tenants, also known as That Parade of Freak-Job Losers with Hilarious Credit Ratings.

Finally, they found us another dream tenant. A big antiques-lover, she preferred older buildings (ours was pre-war), needed a parking space (we had one, a huge deal in the densely-populated Wrigleyville/Boystown neighborhood) and best of all, had a good, steady job at a nearby hospital as a mental health care worker.

That should have been our first tip to run.

She didn’t raise hell right away. The gateway hell was little things: could she do this, add that, install these? Fine, sure, we said. We were happy to have her happy; if she wanted to add hooks and shelves and whatever other crap that would hold her doodads and knickknacks, fine by us. Plaster is (relatively) cheap and the ex is (very) handy.

But the problems started coming faster. There were cracks in the walls or the dryer was broken or the neighbors were annoying. (Um, what happened to your great love of this 75-year-old building? And isn’t that what neighbors are for?) The ex would make repairs when he was in town, and when he wasn’t, we had a handyman friend take care of what he could. A really nice, really easygoing, really competent handyman friend, who told us in no uncertain terms (and some fairly colorful language) that our tenant was batsh*t crazy, and also something that rhymed with “hunt.”

Things devolved for months and months until we were barely speaking. She was constantly threatening to withhold rent, to take this up with some board, to generally keep making our lives a living hell. There were crazed letters of three, four and five pages in length, outlining the many physical and psychic indignities she was being made to suffer at our hands. I earned my first set of diplomacy stripes in this period, talking her down for hours on the phone, patiently listening to her alternate cursing of us and pleas for understanding. Bat. Sh*t. Crazy.

And then, we decided to sell. All of a sudden, Crazy Lady was our new best friend. She looooooved the condo; we knew that, right? Other people might like it, but she really loooooved it. She’d bonded with it. It was home. She’d added so much to it, like…shelves! Hideous assy kountry krap fixtures. Uh…paint. I guess. And best of all, if we went with her, we’d have someone in there we already knew and loved!

To add insult to inanity, she not only lowballed the price by tens of thousands of dollars, but, if I recall correctly, also enthusiastically proposed a bizarre extended payment plan that made zero fiscal sense whatsoever. After marveling briefly at her big, crazy brain and matching brass balls, we came back with price in target range, less than we could probably get, which was only fair, since we’d be paying no realtor’s fees. But apparently far, far more than she thought she should be paying.

So we gave her notice that we we would be showing the place. Our realtor would, of course, work around her schedule, but she’d need to give access.

The seething hydra kicked up a huge fuss, with more threatening of boards and lawyers. She called us every name in the book. She told us we were delusional, thinking our place was worth that much. Our attorney wrote her a nice letter spelling out the actual law on planet earth; Crazy Lady backed down, sulking. We were nervous that she’d do something to queer the deal, but miraculously, even with her blocking maneuvers, we sold it, and quite swiftly, at more than we’d originally thought we could get.

You might be thinking this is another example of that karma I’m thankful for, but really, it’s not. (Although I do admit to feeling more gleeful than sorrowful at the thought of her having to haul all of her goddam kountry krap back down three flights of stairs and out of there.)

Honestly, I’m thankful because I learned one thing for absolutely, positively sure: there are landlords…and there are people like me.

Thank you, Crazy Lady. I hope you are happy in Kountry Krap land. And that it’s many thousands of miles away from me.


Image by TCM hitchhiker via Flickr, used under a Creative Commons license.