I called Norman, my landlord, to thank him for repairing the hot water and for fixing up the deck. I didn't ask him, "Norman, what on earth made you think that nailing a poorly measured piece of plywood to the uneven floorboards then painting the whole rotting thing blue was actually going to improve the deck in any way?" Instead, I said, "Norman, when are you coming back to remove the grill, busted chairs, card table, can of gasoline, etc. that you stored in my kitchen back to their home on the deck, or better yet, to a landfill where they belong?"
To which he replied, "Uhhhhh. Not today. Maybe in a couple of days. Today my face... it's swollen. Swollen twice the regular size."
I reminded him as kindly as possible about the shattered window in my living room and hung up.
The thing about Norman, and his wife Dalia, and their son Mike, is that they are retarded. Landlording, for them, is a family business. And it's a good thing, too, because none can complete a sentence without muttering incoherently, furrowing their eyebrows, repeating their previous asinine comment, and unloading unsolicited and irrelevant information on the listener. Such as the time Norman informed me he would be replacing our front door to comply with the city's fire code regulations. I was just getting to know him at the time and casually asked why exactly the door needed to be replaced.
"Because they're ballbusters," he replied, eyes wide with disbelief.
"The inspector. For years it was a man. He never had no problems with me; I never had no problems with him. Now it's a lady inspector, she's bustin' my balls."
"Oh. What's wrong with the door?"
"All these doors, old doors. They're great doors. Had this house 12 years, never had a problem with the door. I got 9 other properties, all of 'em got good doors. Now this lady inspector's tellin' me it ain't 'fire resistant,' I gotta change it."
He sighed. "It's not easy being a landlord."
To brighten up our dismal, dirt-caked, decaying house, Anna and I bought some plants. I started out with an indoor vegetable garden, because I'm really only interested in growing things I can eat. The corner of our bedroom gets full sun, due to our south-facing windows which don't have blinds. I've got several pots full of basil, stringbeans, collard greens, mustard greens, and arugula. I call the basil and arugula simply Basil and Arugula, but I christened the stringbeans Bonnie and Her Babies and the collards Aimless Amos. Anna selected some lovely tropical plants for the kitchen windowsill. However, Home Depot neglected to identify these pretty little things. They were labeled only "house plants- decorative" and aside from the obvious aloe (named Burnheart) and the African violet (Esmerelda), we had no way of knowing what other colorful species we were purchasing.
Esmerelda, Burnheart, Tereza, and Sabina are pretty enough but the real star of our kitchen windowsill was Connie. Four brilliant yellow blossoms crowned her regal cactus stature, lighting up our dour kitchen like a candlelight vigil. So you can imagine our shock and disappointment when Anna went to water Connie one morning and discovered clear, plastic-y gobs beneath those luminescent blooms. It was HOT GLUE. Connie's blossoms were FAKE, glued onto her natural cactus flesh by the garden department at Home Depot in order to sell her as a "houseplant- decorative." Who even knows if Connie is real at all.
But we all have our crosses to bear. Obviously, Connie's is vanity and artifice. For Norman, Dalia, and their spawn, it's utter uselessness. For Anna and me, it's another year of living in New Brunswick. But things could be worse. We could be in Newark.