New Victims

It’s a chilly day and I’m watching our new tenants move into the rental house next door. We gave them a hand with some of the heavy stuff earlier and now I’m just sitting up in my writing room snooping out the window. I always do this, and I’m told it’s unbecoming. The last folks to move in, I found myself popping over there every few minutes to see if they needed anything. I was being nice, I thought. But genuine human interest and warmth can skid into sketchy territory pretty fast. You start with Nice and soon you’re on the road to Overly Solicitous and before you know it, Stalkerish is coming into view. After a week or so, with the last tenants,  I pulled back and made myself completely scarce for a while. They didn’t know me. I didn’t want them to have to worry I was going to be one of those pain-in-the-ass chatty landlords.

But these people do know me, already. They know exactly how I can be, and they’re already resigned to it. So.

We met Anna years ago, in fact. She played cello in a band with our very first tenants, Big Dave and Little Dave. Evidently, she tells us now, she lived there. In the basement. Illegally. Along with a rotating crop of sofa surfers. “I hope to get around to repainting that dark-ass green room in the basement,” I told her when she was checking out the place. “I don’t know who was responsible for that.”

“I did that,” Anna said.

When The Daves moved in, I couldn’t stop snooping. I’d be in my darkened living room peering into their window at night. “Dave!” I said to my Dave. “Aww! They’ve got a floor lamp!”

“Get away from that window,” Dave said.

“Dave! Aww! They’re putting a little table in the kitchen!”

“Get away from that window,” Dave said.

I quit updating Dave. But you know? It was just like when you bang a birdhouse together and hang it in just the right spot, and an actual bird shows up, and starts taking care of things. Or when you get a little bitty kitten and bring it home and it pokes around and finds the food dish and the water dish right off, because it’s the smartest kitten ever. And then later you hear it flushing away in the basement litter box that it found all by itself. Genius kitten. We’d fixed up the house, and now there were authentic humans in it, young ones, feeding themselves and using furniture and everything. Would they know where the litter box was? Yes! They do! They’re so smart!

Doesn’t mean they ever cleaned the litter box. Five years later Big Dave strolled in just as we’d finished spiffing up the place for the new tenant. We’d had the carpeting removed and torched, and set off a bleach bomb, and were just about done squeegeeing mystery sludge off the walls, and he stood at the bathroom door, admiring our work.

“Gol, you guys,” he said, “if this bathroom had been this clean when we moved in, we might have taken better care of it!”

“It was new when you moved in,” Dave pressed out, through clenched teeth.

“Oh,” Big Dave said, there being nothing else to say.

We loved those filthy boys to pieces, and we still do. And the splendid and indomitable Beth who succeeded them, and Extraordinary Dean, whom she lured in fair and square. And Molly and Zach who replaced them, two people who claim to be writers and yet never failed to pay rent. And now Anna and Noah. We’ll be giving them keys to our house and pickup truck in a few days, because they’re just two more in an unbroken line of spectacular young people we love like they’re our own children, only without any of the unfortunate genetic repercussions. But I’m not that worried about being a pain in the ass this time.

If I were truly an overly solicitous landlord, I’d have had their furnace fixed by now.