SLUM LORD: Day Two

 

I want to tell you about a man named Jack.  That was his real name, and his father, who owned the apartment complex we managed at the time, also owned the better part of East Portland.  Name a building, apartment or otherwise, and he owned it.  He was a very kind, gracious older gentleman who had sired just one heir to the family throne:  his son, Jack.  Jack joined up with Big Daddy right out of college and soon became a junior partner in the whole operation.  Jack and his father were different.  Remember a long time ago when I told you that Jack’s father was kind and gracious?  Well.  Jack and his father were different.

The privilege of working for Jack extended far beyond him simply signing our paychecks.  It just so happened that out of all the apartment buildings Big Daddy owned, ours was the building that boasted Jack’s personal office just across the parking lot from our own front door.  Meaning, Jack spent eight hours every day merely yards away from the property we managed and for which we were accountable–to him.  He managed his father’s other properties and employees from a distance, but was able to flick open his blinds to see whether we had kept every blade of grass and each piece of shrubbery groomed just so.  And Jack certainly liked things just so. 

Working for Jack didn’t bother me too much, because I was a poor, pregnant woman who had lost any shred of self-dignity eons ago.  Living under Jack’s scrutiny every day was just another log on the fire.  Working for him did, however, bother Derrick.  Because–do I even need to say it?–Derrick is a guy.  And though my last post focused on my own hardships, let me tell you how much fun my dear hubbie had with all of this.

Every night, after working ten hours at a stressful engineering job, Derrick spent another hour in standstill traffic to finally make it home sometime after seven o’clock.  Once home, he inhaled dinner, stripped off his shirt and tie, put on his jeans and sweatshirt, and started on the maintenance jobs.  Think of it as a kind of reverse Superman trick;  instead of becoming buff and powerful after changing clothes, he was diminished and weakened by an immediate drop in social status.  Nonetheless, he swallowed his pride and cleaned and repaired cheerfully, knowing that our combined efforts allowed me to stay home with Rachael.  We knew that eventually, together, we were going to get ahead.  Jack, on the other hand, seemed to have picked up the Golden Goose on his way home from a frat party.  (At least, that’s the way we liked to see it.)  (Not that we were jealous.) 

One weeknight, after a particually harrowing rush hour experience, Derrick parked his car in the lot, ready to take a break with his family before putting on the ‘ol work duds.  As he was heading toward our front door he ran smack into Jack, who was heading for his own car to leave for the night.  They stood facing each other for a moment, then exchanged grumbled pleasantries, each standing on either side of Jack’s new Ferrari.  (He’d recently traded in his Mercedes for something a little saucier.)

Jack informed Derrick that I must not have done the evening “walk-through” yet, because he had seen some trash on the ground.

Derrick asked him, “Where?”

Jack pointed to a small wad of paper on the pavement at his feet.  “Right there.”

“Oh.”  They both looked at it.  Silently.

“It needs to be picked up.  Your duties included walking through the property morning and night, making sure it’s clean.”

“Yeah, sure.  Sorry about that.  Jen must have gotten tied up with Rachael.  We’ll get right on it after dinner.”

“No.  It needs to be done now.”

“Right now?  Oh, um, okay…I’ll just go and change and we’ll head out.”

“No.”  He smiled, pointing to the trash.  “It needs to be done now.”

The two men locked eyes, but it might as well have been horns.  If you know my husband, you know that he does not like being told what to do, especially by this undereducated prince.  But of course he had no choice; his wife’s maternity crop pants from Target depended on his ability to provide.  Time warped and then stood still as Derrick bent slowly over, keeping his eyes on the ground to avoid his taskmaster’s glare.  He could almost hear the Ferrari laughing at him, it’s red glare so harsh it was palpable.  Jack stood and watched as Derrick picked up the paper and walked it over to the dumpster, threw it in, then came back.

“Thanks.  I don’t enjoy seeing trash around here.  Have a good night.”

“Yeah.  You too.”  Jack hopped into his car and spun out of the driveway.  Derrick slowly made way to his two-bedroom hovel and fat, pregnant wife.  He told her about the encounter, and she laughed hard.  He laughed, too.  But not quite as hard. 

Until last night, ten years later, when I was writing this post and we both laughed so hard we cried.  Real tears.  Good ones. 

But we’re still mad at Jack.   (A pox on your Ferrari!)

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