After Tony, pizza boxes were the bête noir of my managerial experience. In the back of the building, a round metal trash chute emptied into a dumpster on wheels. When the dumpster filled up, I switched it out with an empty one. As long as the chute wasn’t clogged, I didn’t have to become closely acquainted with my neighbors’ garbage. But every weekend at least one moron would jam a big square pizza box into the small round chute. Soggy, stinky sacks of trash piled up, three stories high behind the pizza box. When this happened, I was forced to snake and beat fermenting garbage into the dumpsters.
I became obsessed with rooting out the offending containers before they were saturated with grease of chicken and unidentified fluids. My apartment had windows facing the landing, so any real or imagined sound of folding cardboard would taunt me. I woke up in the middle of the night, sure I’d catch the imbecile committing crimes against my free time. How could anyone be that stupid? Big box, little hole. Was someone trying to piss me off? Did Rasputin eat pizza?
Sometimes the owner of the apartments sent me to a building he owned on Bush Street to pick up rent checks and water the manager’s houseplants when she went on vacation. The Bush Street building was unimpressive on the outside, but the manager’s apartment was a beautiful two bedroom with bay windows facing the east, gleaming hardwood floors, built-in bookcases, and sliding pocket doors between the rooms. My studio faced the dumpsters and boasted a lumpy, stained Murphy bed, cockroaches, and a dingy maroon carpet that curled at the corners.
Every month I deposited money into my checking account. When Tony or Rasputin got on my nerves, I got out my bankbook and comforted myself with the growing balance.
Although Tony and I no longer shared a ceiling, his bathroom and my bathroom shared a light well. Early one morning, his angry voice echoed up the shaft. “There’s no *&% hot water. There are children in this building! %$# children need hot water!” His screaming was accompanied by the sound of water splashing in his claw-foot tub. Tony’s concern for the three children in the building was admirable, but as his rage grew in volume and intensity I’m sure he woke them and everyone else in the building. He blasted up the stairs and alternated between screaming and battering my door with his cowboy boots. By now his diatribe had become an explosive nonsensical loop about children, the legal system, and hot water. He left after I threatened to call the police, but curses randomly erupted from his unit for the rest of the day. The repairman arrived before noon, and Tony and the three children had hot water. The door to my unit was marred by cowboy-boot prints.
Later, at work, I told the other cooks about having to wake up to a raving lunatic. One of the waiters interrupted. “Did you say this guy’s name is Tony? Does he always wear a leather bomber jacket and cowboy boots?” I told him Tony’s last name. The waiter said, “Wow. I can’t believe that guy is still alive. He was the drug dealer for my college buddies and me. He used to hang around with us at our parties like he was one of our friends, but we couldn’t stand him. He took so many drugs. He told me he took PCP when he was at home. That guy is a freak.”
PCP? An animal tranquilizer was his drug of choice? That explained his bizarre behavior. That would also explain why the police had been snooping around the building and asking questions about Tony.
After two years, I was earning more money as a cook than I had when I’d first moved to San Francisco. I began to reevaluate whether the grief of managing the building was worth the $350 deducted from my rent. On an errand to pick up checks at the owner’s Bush Street apartment, I asked the manager how much she paid for her apartment. She looked at me like I was an idiot. “Nothing. I get free rent and $500 a month.” Wait. She lived in a beautiful two bedroom, and I lived in a studio that faced the dumpsters. Maybe she had more duties than I did. Nope. She didn’t touch the dumpsters or clean. She collected the rent checks and showed apartments. That was it. And I watered her plants when she went on vacation.
I gave my 30-day notice for the job and the apartment. The next time the police came asking questions about Tony’s activities, I spilled my guts.
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