I was exhausted after an excessively long three-day trip, catering to the whims and fancies of Lockheed L-1011 TriStars filled to the gills with passengers flocking to Fort Lauderdale by the millions, it seemed. Everyone seemed to be flying south; it was snowbird season in the Northeast quadrant of the United States. I dragged Dog, the name given to my navy-blue carpet covered carry-on suitcase, up a couple of rickety stairs leading into the kitchen. I rounded the corner to head up to my bedroom coming face to shlong with Tony, my swarthy Greek landlord who spoke English, though he was sometimes a little hard to understand.
“Oh, Christ! You scared me,” I jumped at the sight of him casually sauntering down the staircase centered in the foyer area of my side of a decrepit two-family home, the outline of an excessively long schlong evident against the frayed fabric of the towel wrapped around his waist. His hair was damp, and he knew that I knew that he had used my bathroom to take a shower. The fragrance of my Herbal Essence Shampoo was evident as he drew near.
“Hey, Leeeza! And please, no need to call me Christ,” he laughed, cracking a joke to ease the tension of the elephant in the room, or under the towel as was this case. After the awkwardness of the initial double-take, I avoided looking at the bulge as he slowly, for full effect, meandered down the stairs. The crotch-to-knee lump—a lump he was obviously quite proud of—was there to be praised and I could read disappointment on his face when I didn’t take the bait.
A door in an unoccupied room on the lower level of my side of the house, opened straight into the office of his side, a single-story smaller apartment. And though I kept it locked, Tony had a key. He had no boundaries where the home—or anything, really—was concerned. He was having minor renovations...or so he said...on his side of the wall, therefore, his shower was not working.
“You can’t just come on my side of the house whenever you want,” I chided him. But he just laughed and proceeded to the room housing the door to his side, currently wide open, and disappeared into his “office.” His “office” was the room he used to cut cocaine with powdered B-12 and other white powdered substances to stretch his product. To make it go further.
Yes. Tony was a drug dealer.
He was also addicted to crack, using a pipe he’d fashioned out of foil and some type of screen, possibly from my kitchen window coincidentally missing a square of screen about the right size. He was in his early thirties and had already suffered two heart attacks, according to him, caused by smoking the crack I’m pretty sure he cooked up on his side. I once arrived home from a trip and caught him crouched over my gas stove, getting high as he heated the tiny crystals of rock over a lit burner. On that occasion, he couldn’t find his lighter and his gas was turned off for renovations...or so he said.
Yes. Tony was a habitual liar.
He was so adept at the lies that even though I knew he was lying; I still fell for his lines of bullshit every time. He once convinced me to pay my rent a week early promising he would not cash the check until the day rent was due. I argued with him for a while, mostly things related to why he needed it at that moment if he didn't plan to cash it, but he charmed me with reasons that didn’t really make sense as to why he needed immediate possession of the check. I buckled and wrote out the check, telling him it would bounce if he cashed it early.
Yes. Tony cashed the check—immediately.
It bounced and I subtracted the fee from the following month’s rent. Being a savvy young woman and having lived on my own for years, I knew in my heart he would immediately cash the check because he likely needed the money for drugs. I was smart. I put myself through college with the assistance of part-time jobs, government grants and loans and also moved halfway across the country, alone, for flight attendant training and a new job in a city I had never seen. I was comfortable being on my own and handling my own finances, but he was that good at working people's emotions, convincing them of his good intentions.
His younger brother Nick ran their legitimate business, which was construction, yet the ongoing construction supposedly keeping all elements of his home from being in working order, never progressed. Sure. His side was in disarray, but it seemed more like the permanent disarray of an unorganized drug abuser, not related in any way to ongoing construction.
Thus, I made my decision.
I waited until his truck was gone.
I snuck into the detached three-bay garage, an area too full of junk to actually park a car in, and dug around for a while, finally coming across a hammer and a rusted coffee can containing nails of various sizes. I kept one eye focused on the driveway as I ran back into my side of the house through the kitchen door. I took my handy-dandy tools into the empty room with the door that opened into Tony’s side and knocked, loudly calling his name. Though I wasn’t doing anything wrong by keeping him out of my apartment, I was a little fearful of proceeding with the plan if he was holed up in his office cutting while snorting the cocaine he wrapped in small foil pouches to sell to his customers.
“Hey Tony? Are you there?” No response from his side, so one at a time, I hammered two inch framing nails, angling them through the solid wood door into the wooden doorframe. I started at the top on each side of the door, working my way down to floor level. When I was finished, I turned the doorknob and pulled a little bit and when it didn’t give, all 135 pounds of me yanked at the door with a full-body vengeance. It held fast.
I went about my business, catching up on my laundry and doing other necessary things as I waited for Tony to pull into the driveway. He got home a little after dark and I was on pins and needles waiting for him to try the door.
I started to heat up the left-over pasta from the previous night’s dinner to find it had been nibbled around the edges and a large hunk was missing from the middle.
Yes. Tony had eaten my pasta.
I was mad but then I remembered the door, sealed shut like the lid of a coffin and my mood instantly lifted.
Later that night, I heard insistent knocking and Tony’s voice, “Hey Leeeza, you can pay me the rent early. Yes?" And, "What happened to the door?”