SLUM LORD: Mission Accomplished (and Aborted)

I know I promised seven days of Slum Lord stories but, for the best possible reason, I must abort the mission after only five. Why?

We’ve found a place to live!

And it’s not an apartment or my parents’ house.  No, we decided that a big, beautiful home on a large piece of property, complete with an accompanying pasture, full-size basketball court, nicely finished barn–and a white gabled fence, no less–would suit us nicely this summer, thank you very much.

Remember all my talk about the Universe providing?  Well, provide it did, and as with all things meant to be, everything just fell into place.  To make a long story short:  the nicest couple in the world is moving to Wyoming.  They are moving on the 7th of June.  We have to be out of our house on the 5th.  The lady of the house called me a few days ago and offered to let us stay there until the house sold, which will likely be awhile as it is out of most people’s price range.  But would we mind waiting until the 7th to move in?  she asked.  No, I replied, nearly in tears.  I think we could manage at my parents’ house for a few days.  Oh, good, she said.  Would we mind helping out a bit with utilities and some light dusting, upkeep of the lawn, and so forth?  (Her son would take care of the pasture, of course.)  No, I replied, still in disbelief.  I think we could manage that.  We could probably even be coaxed into caring for the pasture if her son got too busy.  Oh, good, she said.  Would we mind if they had to come home again to retrieve anything they wouldn’t be able to fit in the moving van the first time?  No, I replied, the tears almost spilling over at this point.  I think we could manage a visit from them.

Would we mind?

And on that note, I will also tell you that we don’t mind–don’t mind at all–that we have the kindest friends, neighbors, and ward members on the planet.  As soon as they caught wind of the fact that we were looking for a place to stay, people I rarely even see were calling and texting me, telling me about ads they’d seen, deals they’d found, co-workers who could help us out.  I don’t know if I’d take the time to peruse ads for somebody else.  I hope in the future I will.  It is humbling to see how thoughtful some people are.  And inspiring.  And, in my case, highly educational.

And so the days of slum lording are over and the days of high living begin.  The only problem with this whole arrangement is that when we finally do move into our new home, it will be quite a step down.  My sweet (new best) friend laughed when I told her that, and said, “Sorry…that’s one thing I can’t help you with.”  And so she can’t.  But I’ll forgive her, since she’s helped me with everything else.

Hooray for nice friends with houses and friends with nice houses.  But mostly, hooray for nice friends with nice houses. I hope one day to be as generous to someone else as they’ve been to us.


Shortly after the, um, “flood,”  we decided it was time to move on to greener pastures.  Actually, we liked our little place in Lake Oswego, and if you’ve ever visited its downtown where we lived, you know that Mr. Rogers neighborhood is alive and well.  It is that clean, charming, friendly and serene.  I used to put Rachael in her stroller and set out for the bank, the cleaners, the grocery store, and the Tillamook Ice Cream Shoppe–all within a city block of each other.  I rarely had to use my car, and the frequent northwest rain only added to the coziness of our little nest.  We were really happy there.

But then money happened.  We were doing all right in Lake Oswego–getting by on one income and trying to save up for a home in the expensive Portland market.  We would probably have stayed for a while if another apartment manager hadn’t called and informed us of a different job–across the river, on the East Side–that would double our paycheck, and thus our savings.  Double our savings.  That was all we needed to hear.  We barely even went and looked at the place before we said yes.  We were so excited about our fattened wallet that we even splurged on a used Accord, giving us two cars in which to zip around town since Derrick would be driving across the river to work and I’d no longer be able to walk around the Land of Make Believe for all of my errands.  We knew it was a less cushy neighborhood than what we’d been in, but what neighborhood isn’t compared to Lake Oswego?  We would be fine, just fine.

Needless to say, my parents were none too thrilled when they learned we were relocating their beloved granddaughter from planet posh to the ‘hood.  We told them, in the nicest way possible, “too bad–it’s our life” and then asked them to come help us move.  We also ribbed them about being overprotective worrywarts.  I mean, it was just another apartment in another part of town.  And the owner’s office was just a few feet away from our front door.  What could happen?  Besides, everyone knows that young parents in their twenties are invincible.  We would be fine.  The baby would be fine.  Our parents would get over it and they’d be fine, too.

We settled into our new digs and the next day I headed for the nearest US bank, which was part of my duties as official laundry-coin collector.  (That was a great part of the  job, really.  Loved handling all that cash.  Fulfilled some nameless childhood dream I can’t quite describe.)  But I digress.

So I walked into the bank, which was just down the busy street from our apartment.  Upon walking through the front door I noticed how everything looked so much sleeker, brighter, and more metallic than the bank in my old neighborhood.  The front door itself was extremely heavy and took some effort to open.  It was covered with long steel beams, the likes of which were stretched across various sections of the lobby inside.  The teller windows were covered with a thick, clear glass that I found retro and chic.  I liked it.  Over dinner that night I described to Derrick the modern look of the bank and how cool it was.  He listened patiently as I described the decorative steel beams in detail.

“Jen, those are bars.”

“Yeah, I know, and they look really cool.  Kind of minimalist and…”

“No.  I mean they’re bars, as in bars to discourage bank robbers.  That’s why the doors are so heavy, so that it’s harder to get away.  The glass on the teller windows is to protect them from guns.”


I omitted this tidbit when my mom called me that night.  Instead, I told her that we were doing great and enjoying living “in the city,” instead of a boring suburb.  I could almost hear her roll her eyes over the phone.

The next morning, Derrick got up before I did to get to work early.  He walked out the door and walked right back in.  I sat up in bed, wondering why he was back.

“What’s up, hon?

“The Accord was stolen last night.”


“Someone stole our car last night.”

“What do you mean, someone stole it?  Did you park it somewhere else?  Are you sure it’s not there?”

“Yes, I’m sure. Of course I’m sure.  It’s gone.  Someone stole it last night.”

Who steals a car? I thought.  Tell me:  who?  Nobody steals cars.  Nobody I knew stole cars.  Nobody who knew anyone I knew stole cars.  Why would they steal our car?  Didn’t they know that it we had paid for it, that it wasn’t theirs to take?  Who steals a car??

I could not keep this news from my family, try as I might.  Certain things just come out as soon as you open your mouth, and getting your car stolen is one of them.  To their credit, my parents were outwardly sympathetic, but I can only imagine the angst in their minds.  After all, the car had been stolen right beneath the window to the baby’s room–literally.*  Maybe three feet separated the criminals from our eighteen-month-old daughter.  (Oh, Mom–I really was sorry about this one.)

We were so taken aback by this unexpected violation, you can imagine my delight when a Clackamas County Police Officer called just a few days later and, with a heavy accent I couldn’t quite identify, informed me that he’d located my car and would be returning it to me shortly.  I was delighted.  I was surprised they had found it so fast.  I was surprised the officer knew my first name so readily.

I was surprised to learn that the friendly officer was, in fact, my brother.  He’d punk’d me.**


My family was laughing at me behind my back, wondering how I could be so naive.  My friends from Lake Oswego were wondering what in the name of Mr. McFeely we were doing, leaving paradise for purgatory.  My new boss was wondering why a relatively normal couple like us couldn’t stay on top of the trash (and crime) situation.

All I was wondering was:  dude, where’s my car?

*Does anyone else think using the word “literally” to expound one’s meaning has become a really annoying crutch in our collective vocabularies?  I’m guilty of it, too.

** You know Tom Hanks’ character in “You’ve Got Mail?” That is so my brother’s personality, it’s not even funny.  Doug has the same dry wit, bemused but cheerful demeanor, and wavy hairline.  He is also a clever conversationalist and a big teddy bear underneath all of the wisecracks.  And he’s married to a beautiful blond.  It’s uncanny.  Literally.

SLUM LORD: Day Three (and four)

In the interest of full disclosure, for today’s post I am going to amend my last one with a comment from Derrick.  I feel that as the bearer-of-the-brunt of the Great Flood, he at least deserves to have his story told straight.

(That, and we’re packing and organizing and getting ready to move and I really don’t have time to be on the computer and I’m using today’s format as a total cop-out.)

Tomorrow, I will deliver another story.

Possibly including strippers.

Depends on how serious I am about getting ready for Sunday.

In the meantime:  enjoy!

In my last two posts, I’ve told you about the second building we managed, which was in the glittering (not) Gateway District of East Portland.  Today I will share with you a fond memory that took place in the first building we managed, which was in the (truly) beautiful neighborhood of downtown Lake Oswego.

This building was actually quite pretty, and we had some good times managing it.  One of the best, though, was the night the basement flooded.  With water, did you assume?  No, no, my friends.  With poop.

You see, just below our “Managers” quarters sat a peculiar little basement apartment-of-sorts.  It was basically one large, square room with a linoleum floor, freestanding shower in the center (no wall.  no curtain.) and a large rough white basin for a sink with a broken mirror over it.  I think Rocky Balboa may have trained there once.  It was that kind of place.  The room usually remained empty, as we did not rent it out.  It was some kind of secret hunker that existed for what purpose we knew not.  Much like Wonka’s factory, nobody ever went in, and nobody ever went out.

One day, however, our boss Mike showed up on our step and  informed us that he would be moving into the basement apartment  for an undetermined period of time.  He did not tell us why, but we gathered from context clues that it had something to do with a wife and a fight.  Mike was Jack’s contemporary in profession (a liason between us and the owner), but Jack’s exact opposite in background, wealth, and personal grooming.  He was a nice enough guy, though, and we didn’t mind having him underfoot.

A few nights after he arrived we were getting ready for bed when the phone rang, followed by Mike’s frustrated pleas for some help with “a problem” downstairs.  Derrick quickly dressed and rushed down to see what was wrong.  (Have I mentioned lately how glad I am not to be a man?)

I sat in bed reading for awhile when Derrick came back, bursting through the door.  I asked him what was going on.

“Oh my gosh, it’s so gross, it’s so gross, it’ssoooogrooosss!!  Ewww, it’s disgusting!!”

“What?  What is disgusting?  Tell me!”

“Jen, the whole sewer backed up and it’s all floating on Mike’s floor!  It’s creeping up the walls!”

“What do you mean, the ‘sewer?'”

“I mean, the sewer! The toilet!  Right now there’s six inches of urine, toilet paper and turds floating around Mike’s bed and suitcases.  He had thrown some clothes and stuff on the floor, and it’s all covered in feces.  Oh my gosh, it’ssogross, it’ssogross, it’ssoooogrooosss!!” At this point my husband was starting to sound like a girl, but I didn’t blame him.  Shaking his head with clamped lips, Derrick put on some boots and went back downstairs to begin the lengthy process of stopping the flooding and cleaning it up.  (I, of course, had to stay upstairs with the baby.)  (see pp. #5, sentence #3.  So glad.)

Two hours later Derrick returned and said that Mike would be needing to sleep on our floor for the night.  I said that was fine, even thought our apartment was 700 square feet with only a paper-thin screen door separating our bedroom from the living room.  But I felt sorry for Mike, so Derrick went to get the air mattress so Mike would sleep more comfortably on our hardwood floor.

The problem?  We had only one way to blow up said mattress, which was with the same wet vac that had just been used in reverse suction to inhale the turd-floats.  We looked at the hard floor and the limp mattress.  We looked at each other.  What could we do?

We dumped the slop out of the vacuum, swished a little water through it, and pumped up that mattress.  I found some blankets and started making up the bed, which now smelled like an outhouse.

“Is Mike okay?”  I asked him.  “This must be so embarrassing for him.”  Derrick gave me a puzzled look.

“You know, he actually seems fine.  He’s just upset that he’s missing Dave Letterman.”

“What do you mean?”

“Yeah, he just keeps saying over and over, ‘I’m missing Letterman.  I gotta get this done so I can watch Letterman.  I can’t go to sleep without watching Letterman’  It’s weird.”

“That is weird.”  Weird…ya think??

Nonetheless, Mike knocked on our door a few minutes later–changed but not showered (have mercy!)–and gruffly thanked us for use of our floor as he swept past and made himself at home on the air mattress.  He looked around for the remote and in an instant Tonight’s Top Ten list was blaring against our walls.  At first I thought he barely spoke to us because he was humiliated; a fifty-year old man wading in someone else’s waste, what could be worse?  But watching him laugh cheerfully along with the late-night comic, I realized that I was judging someone else by my own value system.  He couldn’t have cared less about the poo.  He really did just want to watch Letterman.

I’m glad we were able to help him out with that.  The next morning, we burned the air mattress.

Derrick’s comment:

Jen has uncharacteristically forgotten a couple of details:

The sewer main in front of our complex was actually crushed by roots from a very large oak tree. So … Mike’s apartment wasn’t only the lowest point in our apartment complex. No. His, was the lowest point for 6–7 city blocks. That meant, when ever old lady Harris flushed her toilet (2–3 blocks away) it ended up in Mikes apartment.

Also, we aren’t talk ing about an over flowing toilet like the one caused by a flushed tennis ball. No. I’m talk ing about an eruption that leaves human feces plastered all over the ceiling (no kidding). It was really … errr … spectacular (if that’s the right word?). — sorry about the gross visual.

Also, lest some of you refuse to ever shake my hand again. I didn’t actually end up cleaning up the place. We called a professional HAZMAT crew. Again, no kidding.

Now … I wish Jen would move past the gross stories about human waste and placentas. I fear some might think I had my family living in less than desireable locations. Instead, I think she should move on to stories about the apartment complex that housed most of the ‘cast’ from the Boom Boom Room (the local strip club).