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Tuesday, October 07, 2003

Since the world is talking about Ahnold, I decided to write about Marcella and Marco, and their decrepit world

We live at “In Eden”**, an aging white apartment building less than 2oo yards from the Pacific ocean. A lemon tree grows outside of our kitchen window. It prevents the people walking along Prospect Street from looking in. A huge bird of paradise tree obscures one of our bedroom windows, and the other is blocked by a clump of loquat trees. It’s ironic that we’re afforded so much privacy by such lush vegetation. We have no bedroom door.

Of the nine windows in our small apartment, only one can be locked. Five can be cranked open, but not cranked shut. Three can be cranked shut, but not open. Only one can be opened and shut normally…..but it’s not the one which can be locked.

The vegetation provides so much privacy because the gardener won’t cut it back. The landlady won’t pay him if he does. She won’t pay him if he doesn’t.

He uses a lawn mower, a weed trimmer, and a leaf blower, and he wears bright orange goggles, and ear protectors like they wear on the deck of an aircraft carrier. He also wears bright red articulated knee pads. He has the loudest gasoline powered tools in California. In one hour, he makes enough noise to have harvested half of Nebraska, but all he has to show for it is a modest pile of clippings battered from their stalks by his noisy, smoky, blunt tools. His leaf blower is so old that it wheezes most of the time, then produces an occasional, severe straight-line gust of wind, scattering leaves and clippings in all directions. Unaware of this pattern, he attempts to “round them up” again, scatters them again, and again, and…..

I think his bright orange goggles make dog poop invisible……he doesn’t see it, and so he never picks any of it up, but if he doesn’t see it, why doesn’t he ever step in it??? I wonder about this.

Our apartment is number “12”. The number one is affixed to the door by a single screw which is rusted into arthritic immobility. The number “1” has rotated sideways, and now our apartment is “minus 2”.

** (Deliberately clumsy statement)

Our maintenance man, Marco, is an affable, middle-aged stoner from Lemon Grove. He is without a clue about most things, but is always cheerfully ready to dismantle, or smash anything under the pretext of repairing it. We love this guy! Our kitchen faucet had suffered abuse at the hands of previous occupants. The end of it where the water comes out had corroded, or someone had twisted something off of it (or Marco had “fixed” it).

I asked Marco to look into the matter, and he said that I would have to speak to “Marcella”.

Marcella is a horror. She’s a weathered old woman who wears black pants, a black zippered jacket, and a black baseball hat with red piping, and tennis shoes. Her hair is long, thin, sparse, and dyed an anemic, unnatural, faded orange. It looks “weedy”. She looks like she’s been exposed to too much radiation. She’s the landlady. She’s the landlady from hell.

We told her about the sharp faucet. A sharp faucet? Who’s ever heard of a sharp faucet? It’s as improbable as cutting yourself with a balloon, but she WAS the landlady of a sharp faucet! And it was her responsibility to fix it.

She disallowed our comments, but two days later, sent Marco to install a plastic faucet.

When we met her to settle the issue of plastic vs real faucet, she seemed to be a saddened, disappointed, put-upon sweet old lady trying to do her best, and we left feeling bad for the old girl, but still wanting a real faucet. The old, floppy, loose, corroded faucet had failed, and we thought she should replace such garbage in order to maintain her property, keep us content, and uphold the best image of La Jolla as a perfect place to live.

That’s what we thought.

Days passed and Marco said she was not going to buy a real faucet because she thought the used plastic faucet she had gotten from the Habitat for Humanity junk store was good enough.

After looking at plastic faucets in Home Depot, we decided to accept the junky faucet, enjoy our new life in La Jolla, and dismiss Marcella’s craziness as symptomatic of the poisons which had destroyed her brain.

What was taking shape was only the beginning of a prolonged, painful conflict. Pirates should have decorated their flags with her face!

We asked her to replace our white, rusting, dirty refrigerator which was keeping our food warm for us. She told us that it worked and didn’t need to be replaced. I told her that it was a white, rusting, dirty crock pot. After jousting with her for a few days, we got our new fridge. Marco showed up beaming his warm smile, happy to get an item off of his “to do” list, confident that he had the solution. He landed at the foot of our steps with a black leviathan refrigerator on a dolly. There followed an epic struggle, but he finally wrestled it into our tiny kitchen. The weight of the huge refrigerator smashed three ceramic floor tiles as it was fought to its final resting place.
It was a very large, black, two door side-by-side, refrigerator-freezer with an ice maker and a water dispenser built into the door of the freezer. We had never even imagined a black appliance before! When it was plugged in, the lights flickered, and then dimmed, and stayed dim. After four days, it started to get cold, and we started to feel that we were going to be able to enjoy the beauty of our new surroundings in the jewel of southern California. We asked Marco when he was gong to connect the water dispenser and the ice maker. He shuddered and left quickly without saying a word.

It was never connected.

Remember, Marcella wears black pants, a black jacket, a black baseball hat, and her hair is orange. She looks like a Halloween thing, or a scary tackling dummy used by the Princeton football team. The door to her apartment is black. For her, black appliances must the norm. Hers is a dark world of fogs and shadows, and I really don’t want to try to imagine the things she must see whirling around in the gunk of her mind.

Under the pretext of being the maintenance man,Marco had probably been in our apartment and had stalked spiders across the walls and into corners, and then painted over them, into the walls forever. Life was standing on his throat, and he probably needed to kill some bugs to avenge his low station in life. There were patches of glossy paint where he painted over years of dirt and smudges, and he even filled nail holes with thick, cheap, cream colored glossy paint instead of spackle. In the kitchen he applied flat paint to glossy walls. His mind was as loose as the tiles.

Heavy, old paint oozed into power outlets and light switches, filling and embalming them. The old, thick, shiny paint sealed them forever, and the light switches were permanently “off” when the paint dried.

Whatever havoc he had wrought on our future home was acceptable to Marcella as being “cleaning, painting, and refurbishing.”

He had tracked sand across the floor, so we got our Swiffer out and began “swiffing”. The sand came up, but it didn’t. It was persistent sand which resisted every attempt to get it up. It fought being vacuumed and seemed to scatter before the tools which were designed to gather it up. It was my first and only encounter with self-procreating sand.

Finally, I realized that he hadn’t sealed the new grout around the kitchen tiles, and it was turning to sand. With the broad happy grin of a true idiot, he confessed to having done that (or not having done that). When he ran out of grout, Marcella wouldn’t give him money for more, so he mixed dissimilar grouts and whatever other things he had until his mixture seemed pasty enough to squish between the tiles, and now it was all decomposing into sand. The tiles began to leave the floor.
Our kitchen floor was moving the same way that people in the east think that California moves all of the time.

He returned yesterday to repair his grout work. It can never be repaired. It has to be destroyed by a competent person, and the debris hauled away and hidden so that Marcella can’t find it and have him install it elsewhere.

Marco arrived with a huge plastic bucket, some big sponges, a few large bags of powdery stuff, and a few tubs of something white and viscous. It looked like he finally had the right combination of tools and chemistry to keep our tectonic tiles from shifting.

He even had his own articulated knee pads on, and was wearing his best idiot’s grin. I wanted to believe that he was about to do something correctly.

Monthly power bills were always double what they were for our neighbors. If we ran the microwave in the morning and turned on the toaster, the lights went out! If we ran the toaster and tried to make coffee with Mr. Coffee…………the lights went out! If we checked our email and tried to make toast……..the lights went out. We learned that we could only run one device at a time, or……….the lights went out.

This time, Marcella was ready to fix the problem. Her solution to the wiring problems of her ramshackle building was to say “Don’t use the microwave to cook”, she said. I asked her what else we would use the microwave if it were not to cook with. Her craggy face rotated on its jowls, and her expression said that she was so much smarter than we were. “Make your coffee on the gas range”, she snapped. “Shouldn’t use the toaster”. she observed, “They use too much electric”.

If she owned Buckingham Palace, she would still be a hillbilly. She is like Gollum from Tolkien’s novels. She is always taking and coveting and demanding. Our power went off at exactly 6:00pm every night, which is when the timer turned on the exterior lights on the building. Could she be tapping electricity from our apartment?

We've moved, and no longer see her. I miss Marco though. He was unfazed by life, poor as hell, always smiling, and always willing to smash anything in order to fix it.

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