Old Pipes

Commentary: In Exile

by Will Doig
Published on February 3, 2005, 12:00am | Comments

Though she's being nice about it, our downstairs lesbian neighbor has informed us through a series of handwritten notes Scotch-taped to our door that our toilet is leaking water through her closet ceiling

We alerted our landlord, Roma, to the problem. Roma is Transylvanian and lives in a place called Royal Palm Beach, a small community located off of the Florida Turnpike, with her Hispanic boyfriend Kenny. She and Kenny used to live in this apartment -- the one in which I'm sitting and writing at this very moment -- until my boyfriend, Carl, moved into the building back in the dot-com wane of the 1990s. At that time, the shower and kitchen were part of the same room. To boost the rent, Roma built a separating wall out of plywood, which means that to get from the shower to the toilet, one must pass through the living room, then the kitchen, then the bedroom.

(When the building was built, in 1900, the apartments had no bathroom facilities at all. Communal bathrooms were one per floor, now hidden behind sealed doors).

Carl moved into Roma and Kenny's apartment and Roma and Kenny disappeared into Florida (Roma inherited the building from her mother who, Carl swears, looked exactly like a vampire in her final days). Now, when a plumbing setback presents itself, or the heat won't turn on (or turn off), we call Roma's cell phone, which goes directly to voicemail, and Roma, if she feels the complaint is valid, contacts Gigi, our tiny Polish super.

Gigi's duties consist mainly of garbage removal, light cleaning, graffiti eradication, and smearing the cracks that occasionally appear in the hallways and stairwells with a pink, translucent goo. Repair work is more of a crapshoot. Some repairs Gigi will never make. Our bathroom door, for instance, has come off of its top hinge, and now strains against the bottom hinge at an angle. We debated an attempt at summoning Gigi, but decided that it would probably be necessary to briefly set fire to the door to warrant a bona fide repair call.

Rodney lives in 14, the apartment adjacent to ours. When he moved in, he completely renovated his apartment and installed security grills on the windows. He's very polite, watches sports with the volume way up, and is sometimes gone for weeks at a time. His phone rings constantly, a corporate ring, two sequential, bi-leveled tones like you'd hear in an office.

One floor below us on the other side, there's a gay man named Huck who used to scream at his two little terriers. He'd scream for hours, a nasally, blood-curdling shriek that everyone in the building could hear quite easily. Lots of profanity. "You fucking piece of shit mutts! Look what you did! I got enough problems without coming home to this shit!" Someone must have called the authorities because a few weeks ago I saw a letter slipped partially under his door from the Humane Society. It could have been Rodney who called, or it could have been the lesbians.

Or it could have been this woman in 4. We don't know her name, but her door is covered in animal rights bumper stickers and she plays the piano, which means her apartment must be bigger than ours. She seems to favor "Rocket Man."

Some of the residents have been here since the second World War. The Ukrainian woman in 13 still has her bathtub in the kitchen, and used to hobble out to do errands in the summer in her peasant dresses, her short sleeve shirts that revealed her flabby, wrinkled arms, and her faded, floral-print head scarf, while her husband would sit on the stoop in his dark-colored dress pants and white wife-beater, clutching a cane. Carl would bring him glasses of water, which he'd always refuse to drink, and finally, two summers ago, he died, and now his widow, increasingly old, sits on the stoop in his place. Her daughter, a slight woman, took up residence on the fifth floor with her husband.

Others have passed away, as well. A woman from the first floor who used to stage a little flea market on the front steps of the building each weekend. An old man who, when he died a few years ago, left an apartment with stacks of newspapers dating back for decades. After his body was taken away, Gigi put all of his things out on the sidewalk for people to claim, and Carl took an old, broken, wooden TV set that now sits on the floor of our apartment.

There's a gorgeous, outdoorsy sort of guy with a big dog in 1. On our floor, down the hall, there's a man who chains his bike to the banister and attaches notes to the handlebars threatening the wellbeing of anyone who should "fuck with it."

And there are the lesbians downstairs, one butch, one femme, who have our toilet water to contend with. They listen to classic rock all the time, very loudly. I'm listening to it through the floorboards right now. We've decided that we'll only flush our toilet when necessary until the problem is fixed, since the flushing is what seems to make it worse. They were very appreciative of the gesture. We told them we understand how frustrating this must be.

Carl and I have been thinking about repainting, and maybe moving the couch so that it doesn't block the fireplace, which, of course, hasn't worked since the dawn of central heating but looks cool just sitting there anyway. We've also been trying to get Gigi to fix the intercom. Seems someone whose buzzer wasn't working opened up the keypad downstairs and switched their wires with the wires of another apartment, so that when you pushed 8 you'd buzz 2. Apartment 2, then buzzerless, switched their wires with 12's. 12 swapped with 15 -- our apartment. Each time the wires were switched, a new scrap of paper would appear on the wall: "Push 6 for 14." "Press 9 for 11." Now, to ring the animal rights activist, you have to buzz Huck. For the Ukrainian woman's daughter, press the button for the dog guy. Or the classic rock lesbians. I can never remember whose wires are crossed with whose.

Will Doig's column appears bi-weekly. He can be reached at wdoig@metroweekly.com. To read past installments, visit metroweekly.com.


Call 202-638-6830 to advertise here in Marketplace