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.” : )