Wednesday, August 24, 2011

That Ol’ Jack Magic – Unconditional Love in a Faulty Structure: Part One

A NOTE BEFORE READING: Today’s post and the two Wednesday posts that will follow it come from a memoir project: five Catalysts and five Constants. The project’s essays are all quite a bit longer than my usual posts, so I am going to share this one in three installments.

I should make one thing clear from the start: I don’t like Jack.

In fact, there have been times when I really have not liked Jack. And there have been times when my feelings for him have gone way beyond “really not liking.” His behavior and his firm inaction are unfathomable, and because he is nothing more than my landlord, I shouldn’t have to entertain feelings about him – ever. But, on occasion, I have had no choice.

Like that time my kitchen faucet essentially exploded at half past midnight, shooting water across the room. Thank God I had not gone to sleep yet, and thank God my neighbors weren’t sleeping too deeply. Though I didn’t know any one of them very well back then, they responded to my calls for “HELP!” Several of them bailed water out of my kitchen while another figured out how to turn off the flow to the entire building – the only way to end the potentially decapitating stream that was bursting out of the wall.

Jack’s got some messed-up pipes, I want to tell you.

And then there was that really scary time that my leg went through the deck/walkway outside my second-floor kitchen door. When I realized I couldn’t pull it out of the hole it had created, I yelled “HELP!” once again. Neighbors responded. Among them were a few who had become friends.

“Call 9-1-1!” I blurted out, realizing – for the first time in my life – that when you need 9-1-1, you know it. And although it should have been a relief to have the fire department arrive, I couldn’t help but feel even more vulnerable at that point. With five firemen surrounding me, I believed there was no way the deck would hold up. And when it collapsed, I’d still be stuck in the wood. My head cracked open on the pavement below.

But the deck didn’t give, and the firemen did get me out. They had to use an electric saw that I watched as it cut the wood just inches from my leg. By then, a crowd from the neighborhood had gathered. I was convinced after that evening that I would probably be a feature of “Show and Tell” in a few local classrooms the next morning.

Jack’s got some soft wood, I want to tell you.

About four months after the deck incident, I was in my living room with my Mom, who was visiting from Virginia. It was a typically hot October day in L.A., so we had the air conditioner running. (A window unit that came with the apartment; something that could probably get a nice chunk of change at the Antiques Roadshow.) Suddenly, there was a funky smell. I saw smoke coming out of the wall socket into which the air conditioner was plugged. I quickly turned off the unit and called the fire department. They arrived within minutes, checked it out and told me not to use the outlet again until an electrician could make the necessary repairs. I immediately called one, and he came over that afternoon.

The electrician replaced whatever needed to be replaced, and I wrote him a check. When I sent Jack my rent the following month, I enclosed the electrician’s receipt, deducted the cost, and explained my math in a note. The next week, I received a bill from Jack for the amount I had deducted. It stated that no repairs can be made without the landlord’s prior approval.

Jack’s got some strange wiring, I want to tell you.

But there’s one other thing about Jack that I cannot deny or overlook. He brought to this building the most amazing tenants. And he brought to this tenant the most amazing friends. It’s magic. It’s bigger than all of us. And it’s definitely not something that I made happen.


“I’m not a friendly neighbor,” I once confessed to my mother, some months after moving from my marriage into Jack’s building.

“That’s because you lived in New York,” she responded.

Maybe there was truth to her theory. For someone else. But I think, for me, the embracing of privacy came first. I think that the reason I chose New York – for college, and for the eleven years that would follow college – is that I craved the option of being anonymous. After growing up in a small town in Virginia, I didn’t want people to know me or to know my business. Sure, I always would have close friends, and they would know more about me than they probably cared to know, but I still guarded my privacy. And as a tenant, I cultivated it. Until…

“Hi, Katie!” Therese calls out through her first-floor living room window.

“Hi, Therese!” I respond, smiling, as I head to my car in the back lot.

(So much for Mom’s theory, I think. Therese lived in New York, too.)

But Mom’s New York theory was not disproved by Therese. It was disproved by Elizabeth, who had moved into the building several months earlier than Therese. Elizabeth, in her own inimitable style, introduced us all to each other. Elizabeth – who also had lived in New York, by the way – brought to Jack’s building her unique brand of Texan hospitality. She had an indefatigable ability to inspire us to pool our resources for a night of partying. Before we knew it, we all chipped in for a grill. And once we were fed, we gathered in her living room for party games. It became a weekend routine, and one that I welcomed. A nice way to relax and interact without going out.

I still didn’t feel particularly close to any of my individual neighbors, but I was enjoying the communion. It was good to become friendly with these people with whom I shared a roof – with whom I shared the pipes, the wood, and the wiring that were unique to Jack. We always had landlord stories to swap, that’s for sure. And Elizabeth seemed to have more of them than anyone.

Of course, where she was concerned, Jack did have a case. Whether we liked it or not, every eviction notice he ever posted on her door was issued validly. She always seemed to be behind on her rent as she pursued a career that might be worthy of her phenomenal singing voice. And I would miss that voice. I would miss hearing her hit every note perfectly, never requiring musical accompaniment.

And I would appreciate always what she had brought to the building.

The first Christmas season after she moved in, I taped a holiday card to her front door. “Dear Elizabeth,” I had written inside, “When I tell my friends about the new energy in my building, I always tell them that one person made it happen. She’s our building’s ‘Fraulein Maria.’ Because of her, there’s music in the house again. I thank you for that, and my only regret is that Jack bears no resemblance whatsoever to Christopher Plummer. Those are the breaks. Love, Katie.”

Remembering that note now, what strikes me is that when I referred to “friends,” I was thinking about the people I knew outside the building.

…But something would happen around the time Elizabeth moved. The bonds that had been created during loud parties and competitive party games would become stronger. Among a few of us, there would be more quiet, one-on-one moments. We would share problems, secrets, and dreams. We’d still have the larger gatherings on the stoop or around the grill, but something deeper than simple socializing among neighbors was emerging.

to be continued on August 31st.


Lisa Ricard Claro said...

I enjoyed this very much and look forward to reading more. Jack sounds like Mr. Roper on Three's Company, without the lovability factor. In any case, you've lucked out with your neighbors. Amazing how the Universe brings people together, isn't it? Even Jaded Jack is being used for good.

Cheryl said...

I'm loving how you're subtely shifting the tone and mood as this moves along.

I'll probably have to reread this when you post #2 and then read #1 & #2 when you post #3. I have a long attention span but a short memory.

Anonymous said...

I already need to read more Katie. If this were a novel I would take it on holiday, it has that sort of feel to it - so many characters to get to know, snippets of action thrown in and the narrator, clearly inviting us in to share.
Looking forward to the next!
Debbie :-)

Martha Mawson said...

I love your writing, Katie. Whatever the topic, whatever the feeling, it always leaves me wanting more. I may be a bit biased, being your sister, but, damn girl, you really are such a talent. Can't wait for installment 2.

Jayne said...

I am intrigued! Especially as this is a memoir - it has a really nice chatty tone to it and I'd definitely pick it up in a bookstore as your writing 'voice' drew me straight in. :)

Michelle Fayard said...

What a great mid-week pick me up reading this post was; thank you, Katie!

Marlena Cassidy said...

Oh wow, this was wonderful! I love your voice and all the characters, as well as the vague ominous could that is Jack. I can't wait to read more.

Sioux said...

What a story beginning to whet our appetite.

Thanks, Katie.

Sarah Pearson said...

What a lovely piece of writing, you make me want to know more. Looking forward to the next post.

Kelley said...

really interesting stuff. Thanks for stopping by my blog. I loved having you :)

Deana said...

See Katie, some people have it and some don't. You clearly have it with your writing. I aspire to be like that one day:)Can't wait for the next installment!

Donna K. Weaver said...

I'm loving this!

Jaye Viner said...

Hi, this is random. I found you as a fellow Campaigner. Can you instruct me on how to add badges using blogspot? yours look nice and I can't get it to work. :-(

Laila Knight said...

Hey there Katie, I stopped over to follow you. Happy to meet you. I'm pretty sure I sent you an email too. :)

Myne Whitman said...

Hi, thanks for your comment on my blog. I love your writing style, and hopefully, I can read the follow up to this, cos I validated :)

Lola X said...

Absolutely fantastic blog!!! Glad I found it! Love it!!!

Lola x

Mary Mary said...

Just wanted to say hey from the Campaign trail!

Jules said...

Dang, Katie when you do something you do it well huh?! I'll make a mental note for the 31st and sorry I'm late.

What a great read. :)
Jules @ Trying To Get Over The Rainbow

Lola Sharp said...

Hi Katie,
Thanks for stopping by my blog and *waves* to fellow campaigner. :)

I sincerely enjoyed this essay. I wonder what happened to Elizabeth. Did she ever find success with her singing? I hope she did.


Andrea said...

Looking forward to more, Katie. I'm hooked, just like everyone else.

Anonymous said...

Great voice, Katie. And man, haven't we all known a Jack? Looking forward to the 31st.

Claire said...

Hi Katie
Thanks for reading and commenting on my blog. So pleased I returned the pleasure as I love your writing and am looking forward to reading the next instalments, plus having fun on the Campaign.
~ Claire

Madeleine said...

I like the voice and style of this piece. Very readable :O)

Trisha said...

Great writing! Love a good memoir.

MorningAJ said...

Jack sound like a right (*insert your own insult here). But if you're happy and surrounded by friends I guess he's worth it.

Thanks for calling in at my blog. I'll see you along the way in the campaign.

Damyanti said...

Katie, your voice in this piece is so strong. It makes me think I can see you.

Thanks for your comment on my interview and hello from a fellow campaigner!

cj Schlottman said...


Sorry to be so late in commenting. (You know my situation). Like all of your work, this piece is a smooth read and carries a thought provoking message. I am looking forward to the next installment!


Neil Vogler said...

Hi Katie! Many thanks for dropping by my blog as part of the Campaign today. I'm returning the favour, and I must say, you've got a great blog here. And I certainly agree with all the other commenters here talking about how strong your voice is in the piece above. I'm looking forward to stopping by more often, and to reading more.

elizabethanne said...

Oh wow, like all the others who have commented before me, I am hooked, and can hardly wait until the next episode. Thank you for commenting on my blog and leading me to yours. The campaign is already turning up gems.

Heading to the subscription spot now!