An unhappy ending

I've lived in this apartment for 17 years, most of that time with my wife until she took leave of this life. For almost as long, the building super has lived across the hall.

We've never been friends, but always friendly. Virginia even knocked on our door with leftovers a few times. My wife brought them home-baked cookies to say thank you.

Sure, Virginia and Miguel's dog yipped too much, there was always a clutter of junk in the hallway outside their door, and when they babysat their grandchildren, they'd let them play in the hallway, right outside my door. It's a law of physics: All people are annoying. But it's an apartment, so you sigh and get on with life.

And Virginia was a pretnear perfect super. When there were problems, we knocked and she'd quickly send her husband Miguel, or the building handyman whose name I've never known. All issues have always been promptly addressed and fixed.

Then the landlord died. I'd never met the guy; from what I've heard he was old and eccentric, and after he died nobody was sure what would happen next. The rent here is reasonable, but if his family sold the building to some corporation or real estate company, it would definitely go up.

Well, they haven't raised the rent but they've fired Virginia. An announcement was posted in the lobby. The dead owner's daughter now owns the building, and we will no longer have a resident superintendent. The announcement ends, "We thank Virginia and Miguel for their years of work."

This sucks for Virginia and Miguel, of course, but it also sucks for people who live here.

A story within the story: About ten years ago, I was washing dishes in the middle of the night, reached to turn the water off, and ever-so-slightly bumped the faucet. It exploded. Hot water went shooting full-force at the ceiling, and the entire faucet mechanism — spigot and handle — clattered to the floor.

Now I had a lovely and very hot fountain in my kitchen! I went to the utility closet for a wrench, and by the time I came back the water was half an inch deep on the floor, and painfully hot wading through it. The valve under the sink was un-turnable and I was melting. After several failed attempts, hot water everywhere and getting deeper, I pounded on the super's door.

It was 2:00 in the morning, and Virginia yawned but didn't complain. She handed Miguel a wrench, he put on boots and splashed into my kitchen, and he had the water off within maybe thirty seconds. All three of us mopped and cleaned up the water, and Virginia called the landlord's handyman, who came an hour later with two enormous super-strong fans to dry the woodwork.

Now imagine that same story, but without a resident manager. Hot water everywhere, me soaking wet and pissed off and my wrench won't turn anything. With no door to knock on, only a phone number to call and probably leave a message, the kitchen could've been submerged overnight, hot water seeping through the floorboards and flooding the basement below.

Yes, you're right: It's stupid to run an apartment complex with no manager on-site.

Still, I assumed that Virginia and Miguel would continue living here, just without whatever discount they'd received on the rent. But, nope. Yesterday they were moving out, stacking boxes, carrying things to a rental van. Their door was open, and I brilliantly said, "You guys are moving out?"

A hallway conversation followed, and I never knew there'd been so much drama in our big brick building on Elm Street. Virginia says that two tenants have been bad-mouthing them for years. The landlord always took Virginia's side, but now he's dead, and his daughter believes what the troublemakers have said — that Virginia and Miguel have been "difficult" with tenants, lazy about shoveling the snow, mowing the lawn too early on Saturday mornings, vacuuming the halls too late on Sunday nights, and too rude, when telling someone to turn down the music. Etc.

"All bullshit," I said. "You should've knocked on my door. I'd tell the landlord's daughter or whoever owns the building now, you two have been super supers."

Then the story gets worse. This is not a rough neighborhood, but Virginia says their car has been vandalized on five occasions — all in the last two years, and most in the last two months.

"That sounds targeted," I said.

"Yeah," she said. "We think it's one of the complainers, or both of them."

"It's racial," said Miguel. "When those two tenants yell at us, they call me 'Juan' and my wife 'Mrs Juan'. A couple of times they've called us 'beaners'."

"Oh, so that's what's going on."

"Yeah, that's what's going on," Miguel said, carrying a big plastic bin of stuff and walking toward the door.

"One of them threatened to have us deported," Virginia said. "We had to tell him the bad news — my husband has an accent, but we're Americans."

And with that, I needed to ask the most important question. "Which tenants made all this trouble for you?"

Virginia said, "Kevin in #9, and Marion in #11." I memorized this information. Kevin is trouble, I already knew — he creeped out my wife more than once, and we've had words. But I have no idea who Marion in #11 is, or even whether it's a man or a woman.

Virginia lifted a box, a signal that the conversation was ending. I thanked her again for the Mexican cooking she'd given us several times over the years, and said again, "You've been good neighbors, and a great super."

It's 2021, so there were no hugs or handshakes. She walked away with a box, and I came back into my apartment, went straight to my laptop, and typed "Kevin in #9, and Marion in #11." Wanted to make sure I didn't forget the names.

I'll have a new hobby now: Kevin and Marion. I've mellowed in my old age, but I've been a bastard in the past, and I still have some bastard in me.



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