My Scrambled Nest

An Almost-Empty Nest Journey of "Letting Go" With Laughter and Love, By Cathy Free

One year ago today, I saved my mother’s life. Here’s a copy of the story that I wrote about Bright Friday for The Washington Post. : ) 

By Cathy Free

A year ago, several days before Thanksgiving, my mother was sent into hospice care to die. She was weak and declining by the hour. Three doctors told us that a nasty blood condition called sepsis would soon stop her heart.

I had a hunch they were wrong.

The facility near her home in Salt Lake City was short-staffed because it was Thanksgiving weekend. I couldn’t persuade a doctor to come in and see her, and I felt as if my window to help her was closing fast.

So I spun into action: I called a mobile phlebotomist (the people who stick you to take a blood sample) to come over right away to do an independent blood panel. It was the best call I ever made. We found out that my mother wasn’t dying of sepsis at all — instead, she had critically low potassium.

My mom, as it turned out, needed bananas.

While the day after Thanksgiving is traditionally known as Black Friday to most people, my family now calls it something else: Bright Friday. It was the day we saved my mom.

Since last Thanksgiving, I’ve had 365 days with my mother that I didn’t expect to have. Now 77, she was greatly weakened by her ordeal and requires a long-term care center. But her mind is still active, and her sense of humor is as quirky as ever.

In my three-days-a-week visits, we’ve settled into a comfortable routine: After I bring her a homemade peanut butter smoothie (with extra banana), I settle in next to her bed to read the day’s headlines and fill her in on my two kids’ latest dramas. Then we’ll vent about politics while I spritz her with her favorite “Alien” or “Joy” perfume, give her a manicure or rub lavender lotion into her fragile skin.

On sunny days, I’ll wheel her outside to look at the mountains and check on the family of quail that has set up house in the shrubbery ringing the courtyard.

When she was close to dying last fall, I thought often about the last trip I’d taken with her just seven months before. For more than a decade, my mother had invited me to join her during her annual trip to the International UFO Congress in Arizona every February, and I’d always laughed and declined.

Then last year, when I could see that my mother’s step had drastically slowed (she needed a cane to get around), it hit me that our years together might be numbered.

We weren’t always close. When my parents divorced and I was 11, my brother and I, the oldest two, went to live with my father. My mother kept my other brother and sister, the youngest two.

Old wounds had healed with time, and I thought attending the UFO congress together might be fun.

And it was. For three days, we attended seminars about spaceships, crop circles and alien abductions and shopped for E.T.-themed merchandise, including little green alien necklaces, “I Don’t Believe in Humans” T-shirts and “Fifty Shades of Greys” books.

Mostly, though, we laughed and sipped bright green margaritas and just enjoyed being together as a mother and daughter for the first time in years.

Our getaway took on new meaning in late September last year when my mom’s left knee collapsed while she was preparing for a yard sale. She ended up in a rehab center, then the hospital, and my siblings and I were told that sepsis in her knee had moved to her kidneys. She needed immediate dialysis.

The treatment boosted her kidneys’ function, but her outlook was still poor. Three doctors said it was time to move her into hospice and say our goodbyes.

In her hospice room at a care center near the hospital, my brothers, sister and I took shifts in a cushy recliner next to her bed. As she cycled in and out of sleep, I talked to her about her final requests.

“Nothing fancy,” she told me. “Let’s keep it simple.” She wanted sunflowers at her memorial service and lots of family photos. “Champagne,” she said, “would also be nice. And happy music.”

I rested my head on her chest to feel her warmth.

“Mama, I love you. This is hard, but I will try to be brave,” I told her.

“I love you, too,” she replied, taking my hand. “Think of the happy times. Remember your pink canopy bed? I can still see you sleeping there.”

I went home Thanksgiving night, but, unable to sleep, I went outside in my pajamas and looked at the stars, clutching the snowy owl necklace that I’d worn since my mother’s diagnosis. She always loved snowy owls and collected memorabilia as far back as I can remember. I’d bought this one for my mom at an English sorcery shop in 2015 and carried it with me to Stonehenge, where my family had a tour at sunset. When the sun appeared in the middle of the Great Trilithon, I held up the necklace, knowing that my mother would love that I’d performed a small ritual. At that moment, I felt connected to her and smiled, wondering whether the necklace would now have some sort of power.

As I stood in my chilly backyard last year and searched the stars for the Pegasus and Pisces formations the way my mother had taught me, I was overcome with a feeling that the medical experts were wrong. I decided my mother was not dying. I left several messages for the doctor on call at the care center to come and see her, but he didn’t respond.

After I ordered the blood panel on my own, the phlebotomist called later that night. “I’ll fax the results in the morning,” he said, “but I need to let you know that your mom’s potassium is the lowest I’ve ever seen. It’s critical. She could have heart failure.”

My mom’s nurse said she couldn’t give her potassium without a doctor’s approval. So my brother, who was taking a shift in the recliner, rushed to the grocery store for potassium pills, which he crushed up in water for our mother.

Early the next morning, I was there when the fax results came in showing that if my mother ever had sepsis, it had mysteriously vanished. I immediately called an ambulance to take her to a hospital.

In the emergency room, a doctor said my mom never should have been in hospice care. After nearly a month in the hospital, she was sent to a new care center, which was worst than the first. Finally, on the third try, we got it right.

The staff where she is now is attentive and caring and nobody bats an eye if my mother says, “The lunch today looks like cat food.”

It’s not a perfect life (she’ll never walk again), but my mom is happy on most days and thankful to be alive. I can’t stop smiling when I think back on the recent afternoon when a priest came to her room by mistake to deliver last rites.

“Oh, hell no!” my mother exclaimed. “I’m not going anywhere!”

We laughed until she nearly fell out of her bed. On this Bright Friday, I’ll toast her again with her favorite champagne. My mom says she’s up for two glasses. And maybe a banana.

Cathy Free is a Salt Lake City-based journalist and former newspaper columnist. She contributes regularly to Inspired Life and is writing a book about saving her mother’s life.

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As I wrote this long overdue blog post, my daughter was preparing for her high school’s annual Halloween stomp, which is always held on the Saturday AFTER All Hallows’ Eve. This year, my daughter and her boyfriend decided to dress up as Alice in Wonderland and the Mad Hatter. You can probably guess which costume my kid wore this past weekend. With her long blond hair and mischievous sense of adventure, she was born to play Alice.

For more than two weeks, my daughter searched high and low for an Alice costume that didn’t consist of a micro-mini skirt, plunging bodice, fishnet stockings and an apron that wouldn’t cover a white rabbit. She wanted Alice in Wonderland, not Alice in Hookerland, but alas, she couldn’t find anything appropriate.

So what did she do? My girl searched the deep confines of the basement for my sewing machine (which has been used exactly twice since the Cretaceous Period) and made her own costume, sans pattern, sans instructions, sans any sewing experience other than a summer class she took when she was in the fifth grade. As the machine whirred late into the night, I was in awe of her talent and determination, and also felt a twinge of sadness. This was her last Halloween before she goes off to college next fall.

On Halloween evening, as I crunched through dry leaves during my customary walk around the ‘hood to check out everybody’s costumes (it’s much more fun to see the ghouls in action, rather than wait for the doorbell to ring), I saw lots of superheroes, princesses, skeletons and vampires, but no Alices. I did see a girl dressed up as Dorothy from “The Wizard of Oz,” though, with her dad accompanying her as the Cowardly Lion. They took me back to 2007 — the year my daughter decided to be Dorothy and I drove her to four toy stores in search of the perfect stuffed “Toto” to put in her wicker basket. And a preschooler dressed as a tarantula reminded me of Halloween 2010 when my daughter was “Queen of the Black Widows” and paraded with her pirate brother around the neighborhood with a red hourglass on her black velvet dress, a giant web on her back and an enormous spider “crown.”

When I returned home from my trick-or-treat trek, I wore that creepy crown on my own head to answer the door, half-expecting to see my daughter bound up the steps and ring the doorbell like she used to at the end of her happy rounds.

How delightful it was to watch her frantically brush her hair on Saturday night (“I’m late, I’m late, for a very important date!”) and slip into her Alice costume, finished just hours before. “Bye, Mom, gotta run,” she said with a Cheshire cat grin after posing for a few quick snaps with her Mad Hatter boyfriend. “I’ll be home by midnight.”

I smiled through happy tears, recalling a favorite “Wonderland” phrase as she hurried out the door. Life really has become “curiouser and curiouser.”

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Last week, I went shopping with my daughter for the third (and last) time for a high school homecoming dress. Although it was a bittersweet outing, we’ve certainly come a long way since our first trip to Dillards’ prom dress department when she was a sophomore. Then, she accused me of wanting her to dress neck-to-toe in scratchy calico like Laura Ingalls Wilder after I pointed out that a backless, midnight blue gown was a bit too “revealing.”

I made a quick save that day in the dressing room and explained that I meant to say the dress was “revelatory” about her personality. Perhaps too revelatory. In the end, it didn’t matter because my girl used her common sense and picked out a lacy black-and-cream dress that looked like something Grace Kelly would have worn to New York City’s 21 Club.

Since that first excursion, I’ve learned that the secret to shopping for teen formal wear is to casually sit back, snap pics of each outfit and offer more “wows” and “yowzas” than “hmmmmms.” I now trust my daughter to winnow her choices to the top three and keep my preferences for a slinky, golden Gatsby dress or ballerina-style layers of black taffeta and tulle to myself.

This is her fantasy, not mine.

Last week, after she settled on a merlot-colored, sleeveless gown with a midriff panel of sheer lace, my daughter turned to me with shining eyes as we took the escalator down to the jewelry department to pick out some matching earrings.

“Thanks, Mom,” she said, beaming. “I love it.”

I felt a little pang inside when I realized that there will only be a few more moments like these, with a holiday dance coming up and prom night in April. Perhaps I’ll help her to pick out a new dress to celebrate high school graduation. And then she’ll be off to college, on her own.

No wedding dresses yet, I want to tell her. No maternity dresses for the next decade, either. Take one milestone at a time. Instead, when we get home and she fans out her new dress on her bed to admire it, I give her a hug and tell her simply, “Nicely done, sweetie. Love you.”

She will always have my heart.

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Remember the 25-pound bag of rice that my son insisted on buying at Costco two months ago when I took him shopping for new apartment supplies for him and his two roommates? Remember how I bet him 20 bucks and a rice-and-beans family dinner that half of that rice would still be there by New Year’s Day?

Guess what, people? I peeked in his pantry the other day when he wasn’t looking and THE BAG HAS NOT EVEN BEEN OPENED. He hasn’t boiled enough rice to feed a goldfinch! We had a little “conversation” and it went something like this:

Mom to Son (casually leaning against his kitchen counter): “Oh, I almost forgot to tell you — I picked up a great rice cookbook for you at the bookstore the other day. I’ll give it to you the next time you drop by.”

Son: “Hmmmm. OK. Thanks. But that really wasn’t necessary.”

Mom: “Au contraire. You and the guys must be getting SO tired by now of rice and beans. This cookbook has recipes for Caribbean chicken and rice, Puerto Rican rice, Cajun sausage and rice and sizzling Chinese rice soup. There’s even a recipe for Indian rice pudding. Damn. I probably should have picked one up for myself.”

Son: “Well, you could keep that one. There’s nothing wrong with rice and beans. We’re seriously doing fine.”

Mom: “Oh, no — this is a gift for you! I’ll just borrow it, sometime. You know, I’ll probably have to take you shopping for another bag of rice soon, because once you guys try these recipes, you’ll be going through rice like Greeks at a double wedding.”

Son (smiling): “I seriously doubt that.”

Mom: “Black rice cakes, wild rice soup, Indonesian sticky rice, rice salad, Italian saffron rice …”

Son: “OK, I get it! Enough with the rice. I’ll look through the cookbook. But we’ll probably end up sticking with rice and beans.”

Mom: “Rice with black beans, rice with kidney beans, rice with lima beans…”

Son: “Arrrrgh. Would you STOP!”

Mom (bursting into laughter): “You haven’t touched that rice yet, have you?”

Son: “Nope.”

Mom: “Why not? Are you holding out for the apocalypse?”

Son (laughing): “Something like that. Actually, Ben also bought a big bag of rice. We’ve been using that. Can that count towards the bet?”

Mom (lightly giving son the “Elaine Benis shove” from “Seinfeld”): “Get out! No way! Only one 25-pound bag of rice is allowed per bet! And said bag has to be one that I actually bought for you. Yup!”

Son: “Well, I still have three months. I can still win that bet.”

Mom: “Only if you invite 500 people over for jambalaya. Want the cookbook?”

Son (deeply sighing): “All right. I’ll take the cookbook. Do you have a rice cooker I can borrow?”

Mom: “Only if I’m invited for dinner.”

Son (sighing more deeply): “OK. Deal. But only on a night when I don’t have to study.”

Mom: “In other words, never?”

Son: “Well, I do study a lot. But maybe on a Sunday sometime.”

Mom (hugging son): “Perfect! Middle-eastern rice with chicken and olives?”

Son: “Yeah, yeah, yeah. Whatever.” 😊❤️

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I’ve been so busy living my life lately that I haven’t taken much time during the past several weeks to sit down and write about it. Two excellent movies that I saw over the Labor Day weekend, though, finally inspired me to carve out some time for an overdue blog post.

First, I sneaked away to see “BlacKkKlansman,” Spike Lee’s extraordinary true-life film about Ron Stallworth, the first African-American detective to serve with the Colorado Springs Police Department in the 1970s. Working with a friend who was an undercover narcotics detective, Stallworth infiltrated and exposed the Ku Klux Klan, even speaking regularly over the telephone with the hate group’s leader, David Duke.

Although entertaining, Lee’s film more importantly provides a searingly honest and uncomfortable glimpse of racism in America. Halfway through it, I started to cry, realizing how little had changed in four decades. In fact, in many ways, the situation today seems much worse, with white supremacists again marching openly, hate crimes in the headlines almost daily and a Hater-in-Chief in the Oval Office, firing off every insult that enters his head with no thought or care about the outcome. I climbed into my car for the drive home feeling shell-shocked and angry, wondering what it will take to finally put the battles of racism and sexism behind us. Hasn’t this country learned anything from the past?

At that moment, there was only one person I wanted to talk to: my mom.

Until she became ill and required a care center, my mother was my most frequent movie companion, especially if the films involved history, true crime or controversy and caused those who viewed them to stop popping Milk Duds into their mouths and think about what they ultimately meant. Although my mother’s body is no longer active, her mind is still running on full steam most days. She listened intently as I told her about the movie and showed her photographs of the real-life Ron Stallworth on my iPhone. Then she reached out for my hand and squeezed it tightly.

“It’s a hard time,” she said, “but you can’t give up. One day at a time, everyone has to make a difference the best way they can. Nobody can solve all the world’s problems, but everyone can show kindness to even one person.”

Comforted by her optimism, I smiled through my tears all the way home. Then two nights later, I stopped by my mom’s room at the care center again, this time to watch “RBG” — the award-winning CNN documentary about Ruth Bader Ginsburg, our country’s first female Supreme Court justice. My mother had wanted to see it for months.

Over plates of her favorite Florentine ravioli, we watched raptly as a young Ginsburg took on gender equality, encouraged by her husband and longtime love, Marty, who died eight years ago. We cheered as she was appointed to the high court by President Bill Clinton, laughed at her reaction to skits about her on Saturday Night Live and shook our heads in amazement at footage of her working out with weights at age 85.

“Hang in there, Ruth — we need you,” said my mother as the end credits rolled. I looked at her, propped up in her bed, enthusiastically waving her black cane in the air, and smiled.

“Hang in there, Mom — we also need YOU,” I said, kissing her forehead. That evening, I drove home with Aretha Franklin’s “Respect” pounding from the speakers and my mom’s longtime mantra echoing in my head:

“Never give up. Never give in.” ☺️❤️🦉

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What an honor it is today to wish my mother, Joy, aka “Snowy Owl Woman,” a happy 78th birthday. Last November, when doctors diagnosed her with sepsis, gave her two or three days to live and whisked her into her hospice, my three siblings and I never could have imagined that we’d be buying birthday presents and cards this week for our mom.

It’s now been 261 days since I acted on a hunch and asked a mobile phlebotomist to come to my mom’s care center on the day after Thanksgiving to give her a blood test, confirming my suspicion that she wasn’t actually dying. Although she’s now back on hospice status due to a nasty bed sore, my mother is doing well — so well, in fact, that she’s asked me to bring her a bottle of good whiskey today in celebration.

Of course, I’m more than happy to oblige. I’ll also be taking her a dozen dark chocolate cupcakes, a new bottle of perfume (Dior’s J’adore Joy) and a Donald Trump Balloon Baby T-shirt, since she’s been coveting mine. : ) The best gift, though, is the one that my mom has given our family: 261 more days of stories, smiles and laughter; 261 more nights of falling asleep knowing that our beautiful Snowy Owl Woman is alert, talkative and happy, not yet ready to take flight.

Happy Birthday to you, sweet mother of mine. The past year hasn’t been an easy one, but you’ve risen above the sadness and uncertainty. You’ve shown us all how to shine.

❤️🎂❤️🎂❤️

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Daughter to mom (at the mall): “Seriously? You’re buying ANOTHER pair of clogs?”

Mom: “Yes, I am. They’re comfortable. And I always buy a new pair of shoes before school starts.”

Daughter: “But you’re not going back to school. I am. We’re supposed to be shopping for ME.”

Mom: “And we are, m’dear. But I have to do SOMETHING while you’re trying on every pair of platforms and boots in the store.”

Daughter: WhatEVER. So could you possibly find those in a more garish pattern?”

Mom: “Well, I tried, but they’re fresh out of day-glo green with purple unicorns. So ‘flower child’ it is. Bother you much?”

Daughter (laughing): “Actually, yes. Can you not wear them in public?”

Mom: “Hmmmmm. Doubtful, but I’ll think about it. First, though, how about a ‘cheese-on-a-stick’ and lemonade in the food court? That way, you can run into everyone you know while you’re out with your mother.”

Daughter: “Yes! To the cheese stick, not the other stuff.”

Mom to shoe clerk: “Sir, would you mind putting my old shoes in the box?” She smiles sweetly at her daughter and slips into her new clogs. “I’ll be wearing THESE home.”
😊❤️

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Has it really been 34 years since I pulled my favorite silky pink shirt off the hanger, took it into Earl Scheib Auto Painting in downtown Salt Lake City (at a time when a car could be transformed for $99) and handed it to a perplexed painter with flecks of blue and white in his beard?

“THIS is the color I’m hoping for,” I’d told the guy after making the decision to give my 1972 Volkswagen Beetle a much-needed facelift. “Not hot pink. Not peachy-pink. Not fuchsia or rose or flamingo pink. I want cotton-candy pink. Do you suppose you could help make that happen?”

It was 1984, and I’d recently bought my third Beetle from a friend for $600 after selling my beloved burgundy-wine ’77 Corvette. Although I adored the ‘Vette, (silver leather interior, removable T-top panels, a deep and sexy vroom) the insurance premiums were outrageous, not to mention the gas bills. And when covering police stories for The Salt Lake Tribune, it felt odd to roll up to a crime scene like one of Charlie’s Angels. A Corvette was far too flashy and conspicuous. 

What I needed was a pink Volkswagen. 

When I held the shirt out to the auto painter, he backed up a bit in horror. “Pink? You want me to paint your car PINK? Are you sure? PINK?”

“Absolutely, I’m sure,” I told him. “Look at my car now, all splattered with gray primer. THIS will be an amazing improvement.”

“Hmmmmm. Really? I kind of like the gray,” he said. “We have lots of gray shades. Or maybe blue. How about baby blue?”

“My LAST Bug was baby blue,” I replied, exasperated. “And the one before that was forest green. This time, I’m thinking pink.”

“Well, look I’ve been here eight years and I’ve never painted a car pink,” he said. “Never. But it’s your money. Honestly, I should charge you extra since I’ll have to mix it up special. Plus, I’ll be going home tonight covered in pink paint. How do I explain that one?”

“That’s up to you,” I said. “Confident men have no problem wearing pink. My boyfriend has a pink necktie.”

“Oh, all right,” he said with a sigh. “Pink it is. Come back in two days at 5 and it’ll be ready. I’ll keep your shirt for now to make sure I get the right color.”

He did not disappoint. Two days later, I let out a squeal of delight when he rolled out my curvy Beetle, adorned in its shiny new coat. The heater ran nonstop and there were still large rust holes in the floor, but on the outside, my sweet Bug was blushing like a new bride. The perfect shade of cotton candy pink.

And as an added bonus, I never again had trouble finding my car in the parking lot.

🌸🌸🌸

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Mom to son (inspecting the Victorian apartment he is now renting with two friends near the University of Utah): “So all of the bedrooms are in the basement? Is there a fire escape? Do the windows open?”

Son: “How should I know? We just moved in.”

Mom: “OK, I’ll go check.”

Son: “What? Why? We’ll be fine!”

Mom: “But what if there’s a fire? Or an earthquake? What if you have a loud party and need to flee the cops in the middle of the night?”

Son (exasperated): “That was YOUR life. Trust me, we’ll all be too busy studying.”

Mom (walking downstairs to son’s room): “Hmmmm. OK, but I’d still like to check.”

Son (rolling his eyes): “Whatever! You’d better not break that window.”

Mom: “Well, it’s a little rusty, but it opens. That’s good. But this house was built with Victorian people in mind. They were actually quite slender without all of their bustles and fussy hats and overcoats. This is a small window. Maybe we’d better see if you can fit through it.”

Son: “No way! You’re too paranoid! It’s FINE!”

Mom (looking in another bedroom on her way upstairs): “It looks like Ben’s window is plenty big. So THIS is your escape route. Got it?”

Son: “Whatever! Would you stop? We’re not going to burn the house down!”

Mom (peering into the empty fridge upstairs): “Well, a fire certainly won’t be started by any of you cooking. I can see that. How about if I run and get you some groceries?”

Son: “We’re fine! We’ll just eat at the coffee shop across the street in the morning.”

Mom: “But what about TONIGHT?”

Roommate No. 1 (entering kitchen): “I have a case of Top Ramen.”

Roommate No. 2 (shouting from the living room): I have a couple of cans of chili.”

Mom: “All right then, I guess you’re all set. That’s too bad because I was thinking of going to Crown Burger to get burgers and milkshakes so you won’t starve on your first night.”

Son and roommates (in unison): “Really? Sweet!”

Now that I’ve just shared an early supper with my son and his two friends (they’ve known each other since kindergarten), I can say without a doubt that the old Irish proverb is true: “Laughter is brightest in the place where the food is.”

Are you looking to have a meaningful conversation with your 20-year-old son after he’s just moved into his first apartment? Food, people. Food!
😊💖

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It’s been exactly one year since we moved my son into his dorm at the University of Utah for his first year of chemistry studies. Now, after two months of living at home over the summer, we’ll be moving him again tomorrow into a three-bedroom Victorian apartment that he’ll be sharing with two friends. Although I’m sad that his sunny room will be empty again (most likely permanently this time), I’m excited for my kiddo to truly fly on his own. In a tight rental market, he and his pals lucked out in finding a place on a tree-lined street just blocks from the university, with a killer coffee shop across the street and a bus stop outside the front door. And as an added bonus, I know the neighborhood well.

Thirty-five years ago, I used to live here.

Two blocks down the street is a 12-unit apartment building where I lived for about four months in 1983. “Why such a short time?” you might wonder, and there are two reasons: First, I found out after moving in that I had several dozen “houseguests” — cockroaches that traveled up my kitchen sink pipes at night. Secondly, I had a landlord who was certifiably nuts.

The roaches were disgusting enough, but they gave me an excuse to avoid cooking the entire time I lived there. The rental market was even tighter than it is now, and I felt lucky to have the apartment after my previous building was bought by a new owner who upped the rent, forcing almost everyone out. Since I was rarely home and ate most of my meals out anyway, I figured that as long as the roaches didn’t venture into the bedroom, I could deal with it until my six-month lease was up.

What I didn’t anticipate was that I’d end up with a landlord who took management lessons from Norman Bates.

“Crazy Bob,” as other tenants called him, seemed nice enough when I paid my first month’s rent and signed my lease. Retired and in his late ’60s, he was a wiry man with a fringe of gray hair, who always wore high-water plaid pants with a black leather belt cinched a few notches too tight. I soon learned that he had one cinched around his brain as well. Because Bob lived down the hall, there was no avoiding him, even when I’d come home late from my job at The Salt Lake Tribune. His lights were always on and his door was often open, and I’d sometimes catch a glimpse of him sprawled in his recliner, beer in hand, watching television as I hurried to my apartment.

One night, about six weeks after I’d moved in, Crazy Bob followed me down the hall, obviously drunk. “Why didn’t you pay your rent! You owe me back rent plus a late fee!” he shouted.

“What are you talking about? I already paid you and my rent isn’t due for two more weeks!” I replied, exasperated. I quickly ducked inside my front door and locked it. He pounded on the door a few times and shouted something about taking me to court, then stumbled back to his apartment. I was more angry than frightened and decided that if he did it again, I’d call the police. Sure enough, three nights later, he was back. “Where’s my rent! Pay up or I’ll evict you!

“Go suck a lemon!” I told him, slamming my door. I called the police, who showed up in 15 minutes, but Bob told them it was a “simple misunderstanding” and that he’d confused me with another tenant, who was behind on her rent. He apologized and seemed sincere, promising that it wouldn’t happen again. I figured, “This guy is wacko, but since I called the cops, he’ll now leave me alone.” And for a while, he did. But then, two months later, he again followed me down the hall and banged on my door. It was late and I was tired, so I pushed a chair under the doorknob and went to bed, thinking that I’d deal with it the next day, when I came home from work.

Then, the next night, trudging up the stairs and down the hall, I found something attached to my doorknob: A metal “lock-out” device that prevented me from opening my door. “What the f*$#!”

Livid, I went to Crazy Bob’s apartment, which was unusually dark, and pounded on the door. When there was no answer, I borrowed a neighbor’s phone and again called the police, who finally convinced Bob to open his door and remove the lock. That did it. I decided to move. Late that night, I drained my waterbed from my second-story window, boxed up my books and records and tossed anything that I didn’t want into the kitchen. Then I crumbled up some graham crackers and poured a half-gallon of milk over everything to draw out the roaches, and drove over to a friend’s house for the night. The next morning, after phoning in sick to work, I found a new apartment in the Avenues and a boyfriend with a pickup truck helped me load everything up and move.

“Hey! Where the hell do you think you’re going?” Crazy Bob demanded on one of our trips down the stairs. “You have a lease! You’re in violation of your lease! I’ll take you to court!”

“Oh, yeah? Go for it!” I shouted back. “And while you’re at it, kiss my ass!”

He never sued me, of course, and thankfully, I never saw him again. I smiled with relief when I met my son’s landlord, a professional man with a warm demeanor who favors khaki shorts to high-water polyester pants. “He’s a good kid — take care of him,” I said, shaking his hand.

“No worries,” he replied with a wink as my son rolled his eyes. “I learned a long time ago that it’s always best not to piss off the parents.” : )

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