Monday, December 13, 2010

Crazy Josie

I guess it was inevitable that I’d be a landlord.  I grew up with tenants all around me.  My parents owned a 4-family house in Brooklyn, and until I was 12, we lived on the top floor – a 4th floor walkup!  I remember racing up and down those stairs a thousand times a day like it was nothing.  It was nothing.  If the ice cream truck came and I needed money, if it was suppertime, if I needed my skates, if it were time to come up to bed – those three flights of stairs zipped by.  Sometimes we’d ride down the banister just for fun, and have to run up the stairs to do it again and again. Every one of those trips passed the homes of three other families who were my parents’ tenants.

As the neighborhood got seedier, the tenants were sketchier, until, just before my parents sold, we had Crazy Josie living in the apartment below us.  The woman was really crazy, with a brood of kids, some young and some almost grown.  I don’t recall there being a Mr. Josie. 

Whenever Josie got particularly out of control, my mother would threaten to call the authorities on her, but she never did.  I have no idea what Josie cooked, (and by extension what her family ate) but used to imagine it was cats or old clothing, because the smell that came out of her apartment and oozed into the hall required running as fast as I could, while holding my breath for a full flight of stairs and the landing.  Every day.  A thousand times a day. 

Thanks to Josie, we also developed a problem with bedbugs, which ran up the airshaft with the roaches and mice, and infested the entire building.

By the time we finally sold the building, Josie was starting to make my mother crazy, too. We left Josie, with her brood, bedbugs, roaches and mice, to the next owner. 

For the next eight years we lived in a little one-family ranch house, without tenants.  But then my folks must’ve forgotten what it was like, kind of like you forget the pain of childbirth after a while, because their next house, and the one after that, both had small walk-out apartments downstairs, and they continued with tenants for many years afterwards. 

Some years after we sold the Brooklyn fourplex, in the A&P in our new neighborhood, a man came up to my mother and introduced himself as one of Josie’s sons, now grown. He thanked her for not reporting his mother.  My mom always said she was glad she didn’t, because the outcome of that encounter might’ve been different if she had.  But, until I became a more jaded and practical landlord, I thought of it as keeping that hardscrabble family together when they needed it most.   

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