June With My Landlord
I went into labor around 6 a.m. on the morning of June 2nd and around 2 a.m. the morning of June 3rd, the kitchen light flickered on. One of us — probably not me as I was in labor — got out of bed, where we’d been trying to sleep in 7-minute intervals, punctuated by the worst pain of my life, for the past however many hours. Dustin tried the switch. It didn’t turn off. I got up between contractions and flicked the switch on and off like a madwoman, which I was in this moment. Sparks went off, the light — the terrible terrible florescent light that we go out of our way to never use — stayed on.
We tried to replace this light once before, to put in a regular light bulb, but found the wiring to be uh, less than safe. Crumbling in our hands would be the more accurate descriptor. CRUMBLING IN OUR HANDS. We screwed the swirling florescent bulb back in where it came from and backed away slowly.
On June 2nd when the light turned on and wouldn’t turn off, we couldn’t get in the basement to turn off the circuit breaker. Our landlord, of course, has padlocked the basement and not given anyone the key. Or he did, but he accused us of stealing the padlock and replaced it and didn’t give anyone the key this time.
Cut to me curled in a ball on the bed, writhing and moaning and wanting to die, while Dustin balanced an Ikea footstool on top of an Ikea chair, shaking with no sleep and adrenaline and general structural instability. I laid in bed and thought about how he was going to die, either by electrocution or by breaking his neck falling off of a $3 footstool. I pictured us both in the hospital, like a sitcom. I DON’T WANT TO RAISE THIS BABY ALONE, was all I could think. I closed my eyes, he pulled down the florescent light bulb and swept up all the dust that came raining down. The incinerated wires and ceiling and who knows what. We recommenced me kneading the flesh of his arms and punching him in the chest and crying quietly, wanting to give up.
This went on for several more hours — until the next night, in fact — but at least the light was off.
A few days after the baby was born our landlord came by to yell at us about the recycling. Someone in the building had not tied together their cardboard correctly or something like that. We did, of course. Dustin has this spool of twine and he loves it too much to not take advantage of the opportunity. Plus all of our boxes are too conspicuous now, every box covered in a horror show of smiling, squirmy, anonymous children.
The landlord said he got a ticket. “That sucks,” Dustin said. I was sitting on the couch with my boobs out, feeding the baby, muttering no no no no no no under my breath, praying the landlord didn’t walk into our apartment. “How much is it?” he asked. I had seen this ticket in the hallway earlier that day. It was for $25. I wanted to rip it up and throw it away, though I’m not sure why. My landlord brings out all of my most childish impulses — the kind of mischief I never felt compelled to as a child but now? NOW I want to steal things, to break things, to write shitty messages under his shitty messages. Things like LOL or NOPE or NICE TRY.
The landlord said he didn’t know how much the ticket was but that if we got one again, he had no choice but to make all of the tenants split it up and pay for it. $25 five ways, I thought. Fine, motherfucker, take your five dollars. But also, hell no. We didn’t fuck up our recycling. Someone else did, not that anyone would ever fess up, monsters that we are.
Is paying tickets for recycling the responsibility of the landlord? I don’t know. I want to say yes, I want to say that’s part of the deal. I want to say get the fuck over your $25 fine, buddy. Shove it up your ass. But I am sitting on the couch feeding the baby, praying he doesn’t walk in our door. His door? Our door.
The landlord writes a very long note about it and hangs it in the vestibule of our building. I keep meaning to take a photo but a few days later it’s gone. Did someone fess up? Did he just pay?
When the landlord comes over to check on the light, I open the door. He doesn’t call ahead, and we are in newborn chaos. I am not exactly dressed, ever. Not exactly ever out of bed. We shout at the door that we’re Coming! again and again, like some bad porno. He knocks harder. This asshole.
Dustin is holding the baby when he walks into the kitchen to talk to him. I am pacing and trying not to make eye contact, furious for no real reason or all reasons, because my body is thrumming with hormones and sleep deprivation and some new urge to protect that is foreign and known all at once.
The landlord says something like, “Baby!” and holds out his hands as if he wants Dustin to place the baby in them. Dustin shrugs and does this without missing the beat, not wanting, I guess, to hurt his feelings. I watch in horror. I do not want our enemy to hold the baby. At the last second though, the landlord recoils. He jumps back like he’s seen a snake. “Oh no no no no” he says quickly. We all laugh or gasp or something like, Oh my, what is happening here? “I don’t want to drop him!” he shouts. I think about the children he has, but I am also grateful. He asks if he can fix the light today. I say no. Today is not good. I am a mother now, and it has emboldened me. Tomorrow is better. Tomorrow is no better but I want to “teach him” I say later, that he can’t just show up.
Days later he brings his “guy” in to fix our light. They have a ladder this time which makes them seem infinitely more equipped. I make another in my number of two block excursions to get a smoothie, hopped up (hopped down?) on Percocet. Wounded. I come back in to find Dustin swaying with the baby just offstage and ancient light fixture debris rains down over the guy.
They take three more visits to fix the light. It involves Dustin running back and forth from the basement and shouting which breaker he is trying. All of the color-coded wire tape has, it goes without saying, disintegrated.
On the final light-fixing visit, the landlord brings us a box tied with a ribbon. I am in the other room, as always, feeding the baby. This time I sit in a rocking chair with my back facing towards them. I am staring out the front window, rocking, hating that we don’t have doors, praying that the landlord doesn’t rush over and ask me something while my tit is out. I don’t like having my tit out in proximity to this man, but what can you do? Go sit with my tit out somewhere in public? Actually, that seems preferable, but it’s too late. I hear him ramble something to Dustin about how the box is big but it’s the only box they had at Macy’s. Dustin comes over and hands me the box. It is huge. Inside of it is a set of baby clothes. He bought clothes for our child, the one he didn’t want to hold, the one he wanted to preclude from living here when he wrote NO CHILDREN on our lease and we had to tell him that no, that was illegal. I think again of his own kids, the son who is supposed to move in next door. When we met the landlord he walked through our apartment and, remarking on all of our books, told us how much his son loved to read. How old is he? we asked. He was 20.
I opened the box again after the landlord left — like very cute contraband. There were pants with a dinosaur on the butt. A blue sweater with a triceratops. There is a onesie with a brontosaurus and a little speech bubble. The dinosaur is saying “I LOVE MY MOMMY.” Goddammmit, I thought, and shoved it in a drawer.
Photo via Wikimedia Commons