Why do we want to live by the water? It bathes you – ocean, lakes, and streams. The babbling brook. The shimmering tops of currents in the sunlight. It’s life. Birth. Sexuality. It is being human. My definition of the Lake Effect is a brain surge from major angst to calmness and serenity. We’re drawn to it. It’s addictive.
We thought it was possible when we walked into the unit and the foyer that cold January day. A warm hum of reconstruction work was happening. Amid the sounds of buzzing and spews of wood dust, I was drawn to the chaos in the kitchen. Dust and carpenter tools were strewn messily. As I stood at the window, the stress of selling our house, seeing over one hundred properties, and having the last deal fall through at the start of the new year melted away. This was our last resort, and it looked like we had hit the jackpot.
It was the view outside the window over the kitchen sink. I looked outside and smiled. After the last fifteen years of having a sink face the backsplash, here’s a view. It was winter midday, but I was smitten with the gray sky reflected in the icy dark lake, waterfowl floating casually by. The willow tree leaned in toward me, its dark green frond branches swaying in greeting. She was a part of the group, that maintained guardianship over the secret identity of this house, reminiscent of Georgian mansions and Gothic tales. Only the stories whispered here were not Gothic. They were Gambino.
In any case, we were hooked. Immediately. And they knew it. We told them how we liked the place (loved it) and that we were ready to move in (we were in desperate need of living quarters, as our closing occurred almost a month ago), and not everything has to be completed before we move in. The property manager interpreted our amiability as a weakness. She toyed with our fantasy of having the good fortune of finding such a place– an open space layout on three levels, glass screen doors across the rooms, an open covered porch, guaranteed view of sunsets over the lake’s western front.
It was an onerous lease, but we had little choice left and signed on January 11, 2019, with a two-year guarantee and a discount if we agreed to clear the walkways of snow and maintain the front and back yards of the property perimeter. We signed it because we had nowhere else to go. Like a dog offered a Key Foods marrow bone, we signed with the understanding that certain things needed to be fixed/updated/included within a reasonable period. Things changed as soon as we signed and the monies transacted, including a six hundred dollar pet fee for our eighteen-year-old cat, Nell. Our move took twelve hours on a frigid weekend. We collapsed in bed despite its hardness, falling into exhaustive sleep for the following days.
It took two weeks before we realized the mattress was upside down and the hardness was the solid wood backing. The work that was supposed to be done in two weeks dragged on for six. The old bathrooms, worn and weary, were never properly cleaned, and the plumbing was substandard, the tile floor was painted with oil-based paint, and caulking and faucet leaks occurred almost immediately. The new wood floors were nice but paint-splattered and scratched from careless workmanship. After the maintenance boys packed up, they left behind a trail of detritus, unfinished tasks, and no way of knowing when the rest of the will be finished. Yuri gave them a bottle of Scotch in a gesture of goodwill so they would return to complete the work. In some ways, it backfired.
The property manager was not pleased. She didn’t want any camaraderie between the maintenance boys and tenants. The niceties ended abruptly. We became a number and a commodity– renters. Soon, everything changed: attitudes, responses, divisiveness among neighbors, and bullying tactics. “Don’t ask her for anything,” warned Becky, our neighbor in the upstairs unit, “She’s not to be messed with.” Quiet and unassuming, Becky was the first to go. We met a couple of times, walking around the lake, and agreed on our assessment of the property manager. “Don’t ask her for anything. Not even repairs. It irritates her.” That’s her job, I’d say. That’s why we live in a unit and pay rent. “Stay out of her way, and you’ll be okay.”
Take heed, take heed, cried the northeastern wind, whipping across the opened porch and over the lake headed for New England (to be continued).