Wednesday, July 09, 2008

The Red Scarf

We need to talk about my landlady. My apartment is in the bottom of a large house and Petunia, the owner, lives upstairs where it sounds as if she tap dances on stilts all night while cooking bacon. My apartment smells day and night like a smokehouse because of her incessant bacon cooking up there. I swear she has bacon for every meal.

Petunia is the kind of older lady who wears caftans and turbans. She has a distinct Mrs. Roper vibe going on and she wears the mothbally perfume of old house in the folds of her muumuus. None of these things particularly bother me.

It's been over a decade since I rented anything and even longer since I had to deal with an actual landlord of any kind. But although it's been a while since I've been a tenant I certainly don't remember my landlords being so, well, involved.

Petunia showed me all around when I got here. This is where this is. If you need towels look here, but quickly the tour dissolved into a lecture and a set of detailed instructions. I shouldn't call them instructions. That's entirely too polite and understated. They were rules. Rules for which any slight deviation was implied to carry serious consequences. Don't do this. Make sure you do that. Never ever... Always. There were a lot of them. Accompanying each rule was a sign and some of them were things I would never do anyway - Do Not Wash Underwear in Sink!!!! The signs have many exclamation points. Some of the signs warned me against things I wanted to do, such as use the oven. I can not use the oven. There are signs on every light and every door instructing me when I can turn things on and off and open and close. Some things must never be opened. Others must never be turned on. Some things have to be turned on and off at precise times.

I got the sense that Petunia thinks I'm a 19 year old college student who has never lived on my own, never owned properties and never, apparently, turned lights on and off before. The whole porch light has got me in a tizzy. I can't understand the logic of the porch light rule.

I have to turn it on before I leave even if it's in the daytime. Then when I come home I have to turn it off before going to bed so it doesn't shine in the neighbor's bedroom. This makes sense.

My first night Petunia came banging on my door at 10:30pm when I was in bed. I go to bed early. I got all up out of bed and found Petunia standing angrily outside.

"I told you not to turn the porch light off until you go to bed."

I thought she meant just make sure I don't forget to turn it off before I go to bed. This makes sense. I misheard. She did not say BEFORE. She said WHEN. Ok. But I was in bed and the light was off so what did it matter?

I hadn't turned the porch light on at all. I left in the afternoon. I returned well before sunset, so I didn't turn the porch light on because I didn't need it. This was wrong.

The next day Petunia instructed me not to talk to anyone about renting here because she was renting to me for cheap because of the floods and she didn't want anyone to know about it. I explained that I don't discuss things like that with people and then she went into a long story about how cheap I am getting this place for and she usually rents it for 3 times more (trust me she does not. No one in their right mind would pay 3 times this for this place I assure you, unless it was on Central Park West or Russian Hill). Then she started asking me probing questions. I know they were all designed to see if I had money or had married well because she wanted to know how I could afford to take 3 weeks out of my life to come to the midwest to do something as frivolous as write for 21 days straight.

Yesterday I awoke to much banging and slamming outside the window. A chipmunk was caught in a metal trap outside. Petunia is trapping adorable little chipmunks!!! I was horrified an asked her about it and she went on and on about how she hates chipmunks. How could someone hate chipmunks? I asked what she did with them and she said I didn't want to know. This is really not ok with me. I don't want to live beneath a chipmunk murderer. I said she should get a cat. She said her neighbor was allergic. Please. The neighbor in question has 2 sheepdogs and who cares if a neighbor is allergic to cats? It's the neighbor. They don't live here.

Then the toilet clogged up. I picked up the plunger to plunge the toilet and a dripping mass of poo and pee soaked toilet paper fell out onto the floor nearly causing me cardiac arrest. Someone had used it before and not cleaned it out and had just set it on the floor so when I picked it up this bacteria boulder had fallen out. I flew upstairs and made her come down and she proceeded to yell at me for cleaning the plunger out on the floor and not in the toilet and she could not understand that the stuff was already in the plunger and when I picked it up it fell out and all that pee and poo on the floor did not belong to me, hence my germaphobe panic. She couldn't get it and continued to yell at me over this. I made her plunge the toilet and clean it all up with bleach and then she started blaming me for clogging the toilet up saying it had never happened before. Obviously it had! I was so irritated.

Ten minutes after this was over Petunia came back banging on my door. In her hand was a red scarf. She told me she wants me to tie the red scarf to my doorknob so she knows when I'm not here so she can come in without bothering me. I said it would bother me even if I wasn't here. Dear God. I asked what she needed to come in for. She said in case she needed to do things. What could she possibly need to do? I may as well tack a sign on the door saying "Please rob me, I'm not here!" or for Petunia herself "Petunia, please come rifle through my things so you can figure out how much they cost and if I'm up to no good!"

When I came home last night she had tied the scarf to the door herself.

56 comments:

Mommy said...

Thank God it's for only three weeks!

Anonymous said...

Ummm...remember the other day when I said I'd love to come visit you in Iowa? I've changed my mind.

JG

Eric said...

Ye gods.
Though I understand about the chipmonks.
I remember reading a story about her father who in the 50s and 60s had a very lucrative automated furniture plant.
That is until two very eloquent and polite chipmonks got into the works and made a shambles of the factory. Her father was ruined, her mother divorced him and they found him dead of sterno poisoning on the corner of chip and dale
/stream of conciousness

Eating Dust said...

Holy Crap that's illegal. I'd call the cops, seriously.

You rented it, she cant come in.

Wow.... that's got me all FIRED UP lol...

I hope it gets better.

Arwen said...

She reminds me of my ex-landlady in fact they could be sisters. My landlady took me on a tour of the building my first day there, proceeded to tell me about her box of fuses. She bought them in 1947 for $.42 and so far it was still over half full. She then proceeded to tell me that she knew exactly how many were in the box so I shouldn't go crazy and waste them... sometimes the fuses just needed to be pushed back in tighter, etc. She tried to do the same thing about letting her know whether I was home or not and so I just told her that there was a state law requiring her to give me 24 hour notice before she was allowed into my apartment unless there was an emergency (by which it means the police or fire department(s) had to be called). I told her there was a $10,000 fine and 30-day jail sentence for entering someone's apartment without the above stipulations (I just made that part up... I have no idea what the penalties are, lol). She finally stopped coming in when I was gone after that.

The funny thing is a few years ago when going to the hospital for tests with my second child, I became friendly with one of the techs I saw every week. We talked about where we lived and such. We had both lived in a certain town, she asked where, I told her, she laughed and said she OWNED the house where I used to live etc. Long story short, my ex-landlady was her mother-in-law who sold the house to them after I moved out since the other two tenants hadn't paid rent in over two years. I thought I had it bad as her tenant, that poor woman has her as a MIL, UGH!

Green said...

Crack. Petunia is clearly smoking lots of crack, at all times of the day and night. This is why she cooks bacon all the time - to cover up the smell of her crack-smoking.

Jean/Phoenix said...

Can you move? It probably isn't worth it for the time that you are there - but, dang!

BaxtersMum said...

oh my god.

I'm about to rent a room.

This scares me immensely.

I think your husband should come visit you but you not identify him as your husband.

That would set her off beyond belief.

Kirby said...

OMG... I had a crazy landlord once, but I could never put up with Petunia....

Anonymous said...

Petunia is a psycho. Good luck lasting 3 weeks. I guess knowing it has an end-date will help, but it would drive me insane.

Still... it is fun to read!

- faithful lurker in Northern California -

Curlatini, Esq. said...

Take the scarf with you the next time you leave and see what she ties to the door, if anything. Or maybe you should hang a bra on the door and see what she does next!

Thunder Brainstorm said...

Dear God, that woman sounds horrible! I can just picture her going through the empty apartment and personal belongings while the tenants aren't there. **Shudders**

You've been very patient. I think that my head would have exploded by now if I were in your place. And also, I'd take all my valuables with me everyday, just in case.

Reb said...

She sounds like she is a bit off her rocker. You might want to acquire a copy of the landlord & tenants rules for the area and leave it tied to the door.

I would certainly make sure I took anything of value with me when I left the suite. Baring that you could pick up a small box of condoms and leave them right out in the open where she can't help but see them. Throw a couple away though just to mess with her.

Anonymous said...

I bet she is so excited to have a new hobby!

a l'ouest said...

Are you SURE you want to stay there??? That lady is nuts.

Those 21 days (and nights!) are bound to be the longest three weeks in your whole life O_o

kerry said...

I've rented from a lot of different people, though only once or twice did I live in someone's house like that. It does sound like she's a little overly involved. Hopefully you can stand it for three weeks.
**hugs**

Bridgett said...

Wear the scarf when you go out.

misha said...

wow. superfreak. and possible worst landlord ever. at least its only 21 days. i think i would have told her that i have an anxiety disorder and need to be undisturbed at all times in order to concentrate on writing. once you get interrupted the anxiety sets in. I dont know, but she is sounds super nuts

MJH said...

I realize you're not going to be there long-term, but I would find other living arrangements today. That lady sounds like a freak. I bet mid-western freaks are a whole different species than southern or Florida freaks!

booda baby said...

Oh forchrissake. Give me her number. That crazy old bat needs a quick talking to. (WHAT?! Where did I get 'crazy old bat' from? The 'Iowa' kicks in way too easily.)

I don't know about Florida, but in the midwest, on the rare occasions you have to deal with those who aren't passive aggressive (its own special hell) but just plain aggressive, you are entitled, encouraged and expected to tell them firmly to STOP.

The well placed expletive helps a lot in this short exchange.

If you're not up for it, maybe we can find you a better place to live for the next 18 days?

Elise said...

I think you should tie a scarf, but a BLUE one. See what ol' Petunia has to say about the color deviation.

Anonymous said...

You need to move. How are you going to get any writing done with this insane person (I wouldn't call her a lady) bothering you every 5 minutes - day and night?

Gidget Bananas said...

I have one word for you darlin': MOVE!

Amy said...

The crazy land lady in a turban - that's so very Writers Workshop-y.

By the way in case you didn't already know, the Pioneer Woman posted a blueberry smoothie and called it a recipe. Thought you might like to know. Guess she's still on notice, huh? :p

Chiada said...

Oh my lord! That is just too much! Way too much! I can't believe some people... geeeeez... I'd be so out of there (if I was a long term renter, not just like you for 3 weeks). Talk about a control freak! A mircomanager of the worst kind! Um, excuse me, but isn't there something about a 24 hour notice to enter a tenant's space unless in the case of emergency? Geez. This lady is making me sick. She must be ill. I'd say mentally ill but then someone might get mad at me. Why don't you stay up until 2 a.m. with your porch light on, shining into the neighbor's place, and when she bangs on your door you can say, "I haven't gone to bed yet so that's why it's still on". That's a way to make her rules backfire on her.

Shannon Culver said...

Seriously. I love your blog, but I don't understand how you find these people! Is there some sort of alternate universe you live in, or am I blinded to these fascinating human spectacles which really may be living around me if I were just able to see them?
Love your blog, love your descriptions, can't decide if you're making this stuff up or not but I don't really care.
Loyally,
Shannon

bottonz said...

OMW that would drive me insane... Good Luck !!!!!!

Holly said...

Holy cow! In!Sane! I knew someone who rented a room from a woman like that. Her name wasn't Petunia, but I wouldn't be surprised if they were the same person. This woman regulated how much toilet paper the man could use and would go in his bathroom to check to make sure he hadn't used too much.

There are chipmunks in South Florida? Or did I miss something?

Heather said...

Um... could you stay in a hotel for the rest of your time there? I am scared for you! The plunger story alone made me choke on my almonds.

neongolden said...

I would be so glad that I was only going to be there for three weeks! That is just totally insane--all the poo-yelling, light-switch demanding, chipmunk-murdering aside, the complete invasion of privacy would make me want to scream. Or worse. I'm sure she thinks that since she owns and you rent, she has free reign to do as she pleases.

Good luck with everything, and enjoy your writing!

traca said...

You need to channel your inner Millpond and let this woman have it. If you have a signed agreement, tell her that you will only be abiding the "rules" of said agreement. If you find out she has entered the apartment, without giving you 24 hour notice, you will contact the police department. What a busy body bitch.

Laurie said...

Ok, are you kidding me? that woman is a PSYCHO!

How are you going to live with that for the next few weeks??

Anonymous said...

On your behalf I am absolutely appalled at your landlady's unreasonable requests. Unless the ridiculous dos don’ts and red scarf issues are written into a lease IGNORE HER. I would also advise locking up your personal belongings because this woman clearly intends to invade your privacy when you are absent.

Chris (Dippy Chick) said...

OMG! What a nut! Well, at least she's good blog material! :)

Kim said...

I don't know about Iowa, but in Alaska there are pretty stringent laws that prohibit landlords from entering rental property whenever they wish without at least 24 hours notice (accepting any real emergent situation.)

Actually, here you go the specific Iowa laws regarding access to a rental property: http://www.legis.state.ia.us/IACODE/1999/562A/19.html

She sounds completely crazy, and since you're only there a few weeks, maybe it's not worth pushing the issue. But if you feel it is, there are legal presidents to do so.

Good luck with Petunia and your writing!

St. Casserole said...

Petunia makes for a good story but ugh. I don't like the idea of someone going through your possessions.

Blessings to you as you write!

beatgrl said...

Wow, and I thought we were going to get no action for the next three weeks!

lallison said...

Sure tie the red scarf when you leave. But nail the Tenant/landlord laws to the door Martin Luther style. Then install a deadbolt on the door to the closet and put everything in there when you leave.

the Bag Lady said...

Girl, I don't know how you manage to attract all these "characters" into your life, but, holy crap (falling out of plungers or not), just look at all the fodder for your writing!!
Buy some weird sex toys somewhere and leave them in full view - see if they disappear... Can you buy blow-up male dolls? (I've led a sheltered life!) (Oh, not in Iowa, you say? Dang.)

Steph said...

Being an animal lover, I would have been gone after the chipmunk incident....

Aside from that- I would find a new place to stay. It's probably only going to get worse.

bluelikethesky said...

And people this we southerners are "eccentric." HA!

Good luck.

Anonymous said...

OMG! I fear that the rules of turning on and off electrical items are because the wiring is so bad it could set the place on fire if too much current comes through.
And about the scarf/light business, are you sure she and the neighbor aren't coming in while you're gone to make whoopee on your bed while you're gone?
The only reason I can imagine anyone going to Kansas City is ghost hunting. Are you?

Hilary said...

What's the harm in tying the red scarf? Firmly. Around her neck.

Anonymous said...

You should tie the scarf to the door sometime when you ARE there, and if she tries to come in, secretly record the entire conversation that ensues. Then you can call the cops on her. She really has no right to invade your privacy that way -or worse! she might even be a thief!

Marcie said...

The thing that's getting me is trapping the chipmunks. I would freak out if I saw an animal struggling in a trap! Those poor things!

stljoie said...

Holy shit. This is too ironic for words....your escape to a quiet place to write is twilight zone. I would tell her that when you paid her rent it became your place...not hers. I think I would have the locks changed.

Nancy in CT said...

You attract crazy like flies on poo! Don't leave, this lady will give you plenty to write about.

Nancy in CT said...

Also, you have to take pictures of the notes and post them to:

http://www.passiveaggressivenotes.com/

This site is hysterical!

Shay said...

She is not allowed to come in when you are not there. Period. In fact, she's not allowed to come in when you ARE there, unless you invite her in or she has a couple of cops with her.

Beverly said...

after spending the last hour reading the passive agreesive notes on that site - i have to agree. it's friggin HILARIOUS!!

Student/Teacher said...

Ah, Midwestern busy-bodies. What fun. I know because I am one....

hebba said...

how freaking lucky are you to have such wonderful material to fill that writing well with? Seriously, I had a crazy landlord like that (he was a tenant when I moved in and bought the house from the owners later)and it got really scary after a few months. When I finally left, I superglued all the drawers shut and the toilet seat down. (what? he could easily fix that with nailpolish remover)

Rich said...

Petunia sounds like a real treat.
I soooo need to go back and read your archives.

Anonymous said...

Your Petunia is like our Sadie. I told her I was worshipping Satan every night in my closet and then she left me alone.

Just Jo said...

you could always leave your "manuscript" about the murder of an old busy body landlady laying out on the bed.... Just a thought :)

TK said...

Can you say "P S Y C H O" ?! OMG, the landlady is nuts! I agree with the previous posters, you are supposed to have 24 hours notice of entry on any rental. It took me a lot of years to learn what crazy is and now I am very sensitive to it. She's crazy, not eccentric, crazy! Or the crack thing. But I just had a horrible thought, is it bacon or people? I understand humans being fried smells pretty much like bacon...

I'd say take LOTS of notes and photos for your own protection and also for future reference because it's likely at least a third to a half of a great book if you can get through the rest of your stay, wow!

If I was stuck there I'd put a bolt on the bottom of the front door so you can lock it from inside when you are home, or at least on the bedroom door assuming you have one. You wouldn't want her to really see it, I can barely imagine the scene that could cause, but I know I would sleep better.

I also agree with not leaving or at least hiding the valuables. I definitely would set traps to see if she is coming in, and if so then maybe plant something about how you are on probation for assaulting and seriously injuring a nosy landlord... or go with the fine and jail sentence.. just copy and paste some of the state law stuff from the other poster's link into a text editor and change a few lines to something outrageous for all the fines and prison time, then if you don't have a printer see if you can take it to a Kinko's on a disc and print it out. Then leave it half under something else so she will just HAVE to look at it, LOL!


(I had either a landlord or my ex roomie climbing all over my roof in the middle of the night looking in all the windows, and breaking in, so freaks are every where! They both were shifty liars and had the same round, fat face).

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