11. Why Not Burn It Down?

Plenty of people would have had that steel door in the basement welded shut, maybe added a couple sheets of reinforced steel, a few heavy oak cross beams, some logging chain and sound dampening.

I set off to have a chat with the tenants.

After Doris and I moved to Summit Avenue, I reluctantly rented out my Frogtown home. It’s a cottage not far from University Avenue. When the trains go by you hear that jolly ding, ding, ding. People going places, getting things done.

I poured a lot of love into the place. A perennial garden out front. A picket fence. Plenty of scraping, priming, painting. New roof. Copper pipes.

Not to mention the memories. That first time Doris stood on the threshold and gave the place an appraising once-over. Her relieved judgment: Why it’s sweet, Charles. The violets, the doilies. There’s the soul of an old lady inside you. To which I said, later that night, You want to change your opinion on that old-lady business? She flopped beside me in my bed and said, Charles, you got a lot going on.

I didn’t want to sell the place. “We might not be Summit Avenue types,” I explained. “We might want to beat a retreat.”

“So rent it,” she said.

“Tenants,” I told Doris. “Everything looks okay, then the boyfriend moves in, and the boyfriend’s sister, and the sister’s boyfriend, five kids, next thing you know it’s the cops, the neighbors, everybody on your back. You’re not getting the rent, the toilet’s backed up. Totally predictable.”

“Here’s what’s predictable,” Doris said. “You leave it empty, first the copper pipes get stolen. Then the wiring. Then those cute stained-glass windows. Followed by the radiators. Followed by the water damage. Then the squatters starting fires in the living room to keep warm. Why don’t you just go burn it down right now?”

“Okay, okay.”

I did what I could to find responsible tenants. I quizzed the ministers in the churches nearby. I advertised in their church bulletins. Because I am a stupid, soft touch, I rented to a church gal with a little yipping terrier who was sold to me by the Reverend Elijah Hawkins as a decent woman coming off some hard times.

Elijah, I’ve known him for decades. He gave me that you-can-save-this-gal’s-life-or-you-can-turn-the-page look that he ought to patent. I said yes to the gal and dog. Inevitably the psychopath boyfriend followed. By his reasoning, he needed her money for meth more than I needed her money for rent. We had a few ineffectual conversations regarding priorities.

I pulled up to the old place to terminate their month-to-month lease. That the end was in sight: good. The propsect that this would end well: dim.

I knocked on the door. The terrier attacked it from the other side.

“Whosit?” the boyfriend barked.

“Landlord,” I said.

“Ain’t rent day.”

Not that they paid it. “Just came by to chat,” I said.

“Get way from that door,” he yelled at the dog. I heard a yip and a whimper, then the chain rattled against the hasp.

“What you want?” he said, one eye glaring through the narrow slot.

Monday: Meth can do a lot.

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