Tuesday, November 22, 2011

A Bird In The Hand...

Jefferson’s sister had a puppy named Ms. Swiggles that now lived with Jefferson and would until his sister’s world tour by yacht was completed in May. Ms. Swiggles was a nice puppy as puppies go, never ate shoes or barked incessantly or did any of the other irritating things puppies are famous for. She did, however, periodically let out a yelp. The kind most dogs reserve for moments in which their tails are being stepped on, though Ms. Swiggles would let one rip while sitting contentedly on the couch, not being stepped on or even looked at.

After a couple of weeks of mind-shatteringly loud unexpected yelping, Jefferson began to get sideways looks. Lucy rushed up to Ms. Swiggles and pet her, though she seemed to be looking for signs of abuse as she gently ran her fingers through Ms. Swiggles’ fur and felt around her neck. Ms. Swiggles wagged her tail and remained silent until Lucy seemed contented and walked away.

Soon after Lucy’s check-up, Esther tried to play vet, pretending to love dogs (she did not) so that she could examine Ms. Swiggles and give Jefferson unsolicited nutritional advice based on things she knew about cats. Ms. Swiggles passed her test, but that was not enough to discourage Aggie from further intervention. She bit the bullet and offered to take Ms. Swiggles in, claiming halfheartedly that interaction with animals was good for Lidia. Jefferson confusedly declined but said that he would be happy to lend Ms. Swiggles out to anybody in need of company. Aggie gave him a judgmental look, after all she had given him an easy out, but decided against taking him up on the offer because of the effort required. What was she, a pound?

Soon, the building-wide concern for Ms. Swiggles was all anybody could talk about in the hallways. Neighbors passed each other with pleasant smiles for once, asking for updates on the dog situation and passing well wishes along to them and theirs when it seemed appropriate. Esther got several free cat-sitting offers out of the ordeal and Emery was encouraged to buy a parakeet by a building very much in need of a happy animal story. Aggie even offered to bird-sit should the responsibility become too taxing for flaky old Emery to handle alone.


When Ms. Swiggles and the parakeet disappeared on the same spring day, Esther decided that it was time for an intervention. Busting open Jefferson’s door using a lock-picking technique she had learned from a mischievous soldier while serving as an army nurse, she demanded to know where Jefferson had put the dog and the parakeet. He explained that the dog was gone; had never been his and was too annoying to invite back after the months he had spent absorbing judgmental stares and angry whispers. But a parakeet? That he’d never heard of or seen.

Esther was convinced he was lying. That as a known animal hater he had stolen Emery’s precious parakeet and sold it on the black market to finance his champagne swigging and whatnot. Yet that day as she arrived home, she noticed her cats pawing at something in the corner. A dead bird.

Overcome with guilt, she did what any sensible person would. She laid it at Jefferson’s doorstep with a note that said, “THIS bird.”

He owed her anyway. After all, she had been listening to that damn dog yowl away for months.

Monday, November 14, 2011

Crooked Bean

The morning that Bean woke up with a crook in his neck, he did not think much of it. Presumably he had slept in a weird position and would be fine within several minutes.

When the crook did not go away until later in the day, after he downed several aspirin, he simply assumed he was coming down with something and resolved to get to bed early that night.

When it came time to make the decision between watching Letterman and getting enough rest, Bean put it off the early bedtime. He felt he had earned an evening of comedy and superficial celebrity interviews by putting in a full day with a crook in a neck.

The next morning his neck felt find but Bean could not move his left leg. It was stuck between asleep-ness and painfulness and no amount of blood flow seemed to restore its functionality. Aggie was already up with Lidia, flitting around the house and exclaiming things from corners near and far.

Bean attempted to speak her name, assuming his voice would be weak due to all his inexplicable sleep injury. To his surprise, his voice was loud a clear. His shock at hearing himself bolted him into an upright position and when Aggie finally came in to check on him there seemed to be nothing wrong.

“My leg is not working.”

“It looks fine,” she said absentmindedly, kissing his knee as if he were a toddler and continuing on her way.

Standing up proved challenging but Bean did the best he could, hobbling over to his dresser and pulling out a pair of sweatpants. Wearing slacks did not seem like an option in his injured state. He managed to dress himself while lying on his back, then rolled up again to hobble into the living room.

Lidia tore by him, only inches from his malfunctioning leg, the moment he stepped out of his bedroom. There were a precarious couple of seconds, but he caught the end of a freestanding bookshelf to steady himself. The bookshelf did the trick briefly until it too lost control and began to tip. Bean finally tipped as well, falling over a fluffy chair’s armrest and landing with his chin to his chest and his working leg curled into his forehead. His non-working leg was holding the bookshelf at bay as volumes of antique “for show” books showered onto the floor.

Aggie came wandering in, but instead of rushing to Bean’s aid she stood with her hands on her hips and waited until she felt enough time had passed that Bean had learned a lesson. Then, carefully, she pushed the bookshelf back onto its base, pulled Bean up by the arms, and said, “I hope you’re planning to clean this up.” Nervously, he did as he was told, hoping to avoid future mom-eyes from his child’s mother. Those were the worst.

Letterman that night seemed every more necessary, so he again put off getting enough sleep to clear his mind.

The next morning Bean woke up with a sore neck again.

“You know what, Aggie? I’m just going to stay in today,” he said, turning over carefully. “Because I don’t think I’ll ever get up the nerve to actually skip Letterman.”

Aggie pounded him on the back. “It’s your turn with Lidia, idiot. Get up.”

So he did as he was told. And as he raised his head he noticed the pain was gone.

“Aggie, hit me again.”

Without question she hit him again. All the parts were in working order. Violence, as it turns out, is sometimes the answer.

Thursday, November 10, 2011

Super Mini-Board

The first mini-board was formed in response to a mini-problem: the plumbing was going and the board needed to identify a go-to plumber that residents could call if (really when) their pipes leaked. This mini-board consisted of Emery, Aggie, and Liseli, all people who had no interest in plumbing or understanding of pipes and water. One renter, Benjamin, had been thrown on the panel the pad the numbers and was tasked with doing all the work. They had a small operating budget, which went to buying doughnuts for their meetings and padding their incomes, but no plumber was ever located. Nobody had ever asked for any financial records, so when the building was audited and the records were finally requested, each member drafted up several fake plumbing receipts, all of which named Benjamin as the plumber, and that was that.

A second mini-board was formed to deal with the rodent situation, which was only getting worse as construction dragged on across the street. Nobody volunteered for that mini-board so the only person on it was the person who suggested it, Lucy. Thanks to her stellar negotiating skills, it had a very large operating budget and no oversight. When the audit came up, Lucy also seemed to have no receipts, but her apartment was an island of rodent-free living. She drafted up a receipt for a fake exterminator named Giuseppe that had, on paper, treated the entire building. Paradoxically Giuseppe was a real person, the person behind all the construction and therefore responsible for the rodent presence in the first place. Luckily, the auditors did not an interest in irony.

A third mini-board was formed as a protest move to challenge the leadership of Phil Hertz on the regular board. It contained Morty and, on paper Emery too. Luckily this mini-board had never met, so when it was asked for it’s receipts the only thing that got thrown in was a dry cleaning bill, which was summarily tossed aside by the auditors.

After the audit, in order to deal with the mini-boards’ lack of financial oversight, Mr. Hertz and Mr. Lamb from next door decided to form a super board that would be responsible for managing the mini-boards. To do this successfully, the super-board ultimately became the board that could dole out funds to residents, and was co-chaired by the board presidents. Informally called “finance” by residents, the super-board was now the go-to body for dealing with everything from block parties to personal Christmas parties to parking tickets. It was the law, or at least it could pay off the law.

The number of mini-boards began to skyrocket as soon as rumors of the weak-willed nature of the super-board leadership got around. There were now mini-boards for Alcohol, Chips, Beer (often clashed with the Alcohol board), Paint Supplies, Bike Racks, and Exercise Machines. These mini-boards made regular presentations to the super-board about their need for funds, which become so overwhelming that an assessment was levied on the shareholders and the regular board, elected by the shareholders, was powerless to stop it.

After the assessment, a mini-board was formed called Stop Future Assessments and another called No More Mini-Boards. In response, a Mini-Boards Are Great mini-board was started by Jefferson, whose champagne-swigging parties were benefitting greatly from the funds he had been requesting through his personal mini-board, Jefferson’s Party Bureau. Quelly from 19 had joined the Mini-Boards Are Great mini-board as a way to meet Jefferson, and soon Liseli began to attend their meetings to keep an eye on the situation and ensure that Jefferson was not seeing Quelly behind her back (though he was also not seeing her behind Quelly’s back either).

Residents had to come down on one side or another of the mini-boards issue, and soon political parties with newsletters and fundraising calls had formed. Esther had donated $10 to Mo More Mini-Boards, which created some tension between her and Morty, a staunch Stop Future Assessments supporter. The two mini-boards had similar aims but clashed regularly over political strategy.

It was when Lucy pointed out that the political mini-boards were not alleviating the problem and instead were taking even more money out of resident’s pockets that Stop Future Assessments and No More Mini-Boards decided to come together. The continued to ask for money but reasoned that at least there would only be one party representing the anti-assessment vote.

It took everybody by surprise when an auditor came around and asked the now powerless regular board of 19 for receipts. By the next day, word had spread that there was to be no talk of mini-boards until the audit was over and that the super-board was temporarily suspended until 17 and 19 could separate their finances sufficiently enough to please the auditor.

No More Assessments/Mini-Boards was temporarily disbanded and all evidence of it, the flyers, postage meter, and typewriter, was put into a closet in the basement. Jefferson also ceased to operate Mini-Boards Are Great, and Liseli was sorry to see her excuse to meet with him go, though she was happy to know she would not have to see the backstabbing Quelly anymore.

The first regular board meeting post-super-board was awkward to say the least. After a few painful minutes of sitting around, Emery finally raised the question that was on everybody’s mind.

“What do we do here again?”

Wednesday, November 9, 2011

Last Call for Comments

A bitter battle over the level of tint in the front door’s window was finally pushed aside after Mr. Hertz offered to do an presentation on window tint’s relationship to crime at the next meeting, and a last call was made for announcements. The board meeting had been going strong for a good two hours and the call for announcements was more a formality than anything else, but Turtle approached the makeshift podium and began to speak.

“I wanted to broach the idea of putting a deck onto our roof.”

“A public deck?” Jefferson asked. This was an idea he had raised several months ago to no avail. “I’ve been saying that for a while. It’d be nice, right? To have a deck."

“A private deck. For my apartment.”

“That’s not what I was talking about,” Jefferson clarified.

“Are you looking for permission?” Mr. Hertz inquired.

“Well I think it’s only fair that the board pay for some of the expenses. It will make the building seem more exclusive after all. I’m basically handing you all free money if I do this. Your apartment values will skyrocket.” Mr. Turtle had a history of claiming that certain things would make apartment values skyrocket, none of which were true. “I’ve already spoken with Mr. Merryman.” A fake friendly wave was launched to a figure in the back of the meeting. ”He seems very supportive of the idea, which is convenient since he owns the roof.”

“It sounds like you are the one asking for free money,” Morty chimed in. “Why doesn’t Merryman pay for the deck?”

“Don’t you understand this will enrich the lives of all residents? What kind of building has private roof decks? A luxury building, that’s what.”

“Luxury buildings have communal roof decks.”

“I am offering you the chance to live in a building with a penthouse suite.” To which the meeting dissipated into giggles.

Jefferson was usually on board with Turtle’s crazy plans, but he finally had the chance to be the voice of reason and he took it, “Putting a bow on a pig doesn’t mean it doesn’t eat mud.”

Morty smirked. “What my misquoting friend is trying to say,” he chimed in, “It that you are wrong and your idea is stupid.” And that, it seemed, was enough to settle it.

“Also,” Lucy added, glad to be an adult in this building for moments like this, “your apartment is a dump and no amount of decks is going to change that.”

To which Mr. Turtle had only one reply, “No your apartment is a dump.”

Mr. Hertz called the meeting there. “I expect everybody to carefully consider the window tint issue and I hope that nobody will carefully consider Turtle’s presentation. See you in a month.”

Monday, November 7, 2011

The Varied Responsibilities of a Board President

Ms. Alden had been 97, lived alone, and was still the #1 source of fresh-baked cookies during neighborhood birthdays. She died at 3:13am. Her meowing cat had alerted neighbors that something was amiss. Mr. Lamb had called an ambulance by 7am.

Deaths in the neighborhood always forced Morty to ponder his own mortality. Thinking that he might die made him want to eat steak, though according to his doctor eating steak could cause him to die too.

Esther rarely considered her own mortality because dying was not an option for her right now. It would not be fair to the cats. Still, deaths was annoying to her it its own way. It required sending flowers to strangers and the flower store shopkeeper was on her list for having made a favorable comment about Reagan three years ago.

Emery felt theoretically sad to hear that Ms. Alden had died, but in times like this he found himself unable to speak in anything but pithy maxims. He began a card that read, “I’m sorry for your terrible loss. This is a sad day.” It occurred to him that, should somebody he loved die, an impersonal card like this might be more annoying than not getting a card. He began again. “Thinking of you on this sad day.” Nope, not any better. He decided to call Esther and go in on her card.

Lucy had known Ms. Alden for her entire life and the loss felt like the death of a grandmother, albeit one she had not been close to (Ms. Alden was a good neighbor, but she had contained a slightly old-school bigoted edge…). Still, Lucy had eaten at least 500 birthday cookies between her and all of her cousins and was certain that making Ms. Alden’s cookies would make her feel better. She put all of the ingredients on the counter, whipped herself into a frenzy, then invited Emery down to taste-test with her. Emery was so happy to have a way to help that he went to Mr. Hertz first and demanded that the handover of a birthday cookies from his most recent birthday, which had just passed two days prior. Mr. Hertz obliged, and Emery and Lucy set out to make cookies, none of which ended up tasting like the sample cookie. By cookie 5 the task was becoming maddening and they quit before hitting on the correct combination of ingredients.

Bean and Aggie had only met Ms. Alden once, and didn’t like her. Because he was seen (in his own eyes) as somebody who did not beat around the bush, he did not mince words when he told Aggie how we felt about her death. “Whatever, it’s fine. I need coffee.”

Mr. Hertz did not find out that Ms. Alden was dead until a week later, when he tried to return a piece of mail that had mistakenly come to him. It was not unusual for he, who spent his entire life sitting at a local coffee shop, to somehow still miss out on major gossip.

Though late, however, he was the only person who made it to the florist, found a card, and laid a rose at 19’s door. To save face he blamed the rose on Lucy, then signed his card to the family with his names of all of his neighbors, leaving his at the bottom. His responsibilities as Board President were varied, after all. Varied but important.