And so ends one of the weirdest living experiences of my entire life. I have fled the previous house several days earlier than planned and have never been more glad of anything. When the nutty old lady first showed me around the first-floor apartment it seemed like a sweet deal. ‘You can have all this to yourself,’ she shrieked in ear-stabby falsetto. ‘We live upstairs.’ It was a completely separate apartment. There was a small dining room/patio thing, a bedroom, and a small living room, arranged in a circle, doors opening into one another. Then a bathroom and kitchen off the end of the dining room. A washing machine in an alcove. I could tell from the three-hour conversation we had, to which I contributed about two percent, that she at least was your typical eccentric, if that’s not a contradiction in terms, and would be trying to collar me for chats when possible. But still. The place had everything one could need.
What she didn’t explain was that they didn’t have a fridge upstairs, and so would be popping in several times a day to collect and deposit items in mine (no knocking, just arriving). Nor that they lacked a washing machine, and that she had an obsessive tendency to wash all the towels and linen in the house every three days. So ditto every third day for a multi-hour laundry session. Nor that she also loved doing things like scrubbing floors at insanely frequent intervals, preferably in the early morning about three hours after I’d gone to bed. And hosing down the metal roof of my patio from above on her terrace, so that the house suddenly exploded into thunder drums. Nor that the old guy goes to work at 4.30 each morning, and has a fondness for popping in at that hour for no discernible purpose but to wander about for three or four minutes looking at stuff, and looking at me like I was strange for being awake. Dude, I’m up since last night. You woke up at this hour. Nor why the living room had been deemed off-limits and firmly locked up by the time I arrived, making me feel like some sort of tall hairy Bluebeard’s wife.
Then, anytime I should leave the house, the old lady had the discomfiting habit of dashing into my room and cleaning it up. I would duck down to the shop for fifteen minutes and return to find my bed made, all my clothes whisked out for laundry, and anything that had been on the floor stacked up on a raised surface. This may sound convenient, but at 27 years of age, having someone you barely know washing your underwear and making your bed is just a bit creepy. It’s also hard to manage when you only have three t-shirts and two pairs of socks, but can’t take your eyes off them for five minutes lest they disappear into a two-day laundry cycle. More recently I’ve taken to closing up the room and sneaking out so she thinks I’m still asleep in there. But if I’m home it’s fair game. The other morning she popped in, blathered a couple of unrelated lines, and then started singing me a (lengthy) song in Guarani, the indigenous language of Paraguay. I mean lengthy. When she was finished she shrilled “You don’t speak Guarani, do you! Hahahaha!” No madam, I do not. Intercambio cultural.
They have also taken my appreciation of passive aggression to new levels.
It is early on, my second or third day there. The old guy comes in in the morning. He is massively grinny and smiley and fidgeting and slightly hunching his shoulders in a way that screams ‘incoming passive aggression.’
“Oh, hello,” he says. “You were smoking in here last night?”
“Um…no,” I say. “I don’t smoke.” [NB: Possibly as a reaction to this conversation, this fact has not been entirely true in recent weeks. But at this stage I hadn’t smoked a cigarette since I was 17.]
“Oh! Because I thought I smelled smoke.”
“Nope, don’t think you did. I don’t smoke.”
“Ok, I thought I did.”
“Maybe from next door.”
“Because Victoria and I both really don’t like smoking. We both really don’t like the smell.”
“That’s fine, I don’t like it either. I’ve never been a smoker.”
He goes about his grinny smiley way. Later that night, he comes in after work. I am standing in the kitchen doorway. He is still grinning, but he doesn’t look directly at me, just peripherally in my general direction, as though if he doesn’t acknowledge me then I won’t notice that he’s there. In the middle of the patio wall is a large mirror. He goes over to it and jams into the frame, in as prominent a position as possible, a large “No Smoking” sign. He nods to himself, grins a little more, grunts with satisfaction, as though he’s just finished putting together a cabinet or laying some new decking. I almost expect him to clap the dust off his hands. Then he wanders out again, still without looking at me. He’s mostly out the door before my brain catches up with what has actually just happened.
“Um…hang on,” I say. “Is that for me? I already told you that I don’t smoke.”
“Oh!” he says, as though surprised to see me there. “No, no. That’s just… for… that’s just for…” He trails off like a wombat track through thick forest, and backs out almost imperceptibly, clicking the door closed behind him.
On the fridge powerpoint is a timer. It switches the fridge off for half the day. They evidently think that this will save them money on their power bill. I don’t know if this is true or not, but it seems that you’d use more power re-cooling the fridge than maintaining a lower temperature. Anyway, not my problem. Except that most of the time, most of the stuff in the fridge isn’t really cold. It’s kind of cool. Cool-ish. I like drinks and things to be actually cold. And when I do something like store a bunch of chicken in there, I don’t feel so confident about their system. My understanding is that things kept at colder temperatures keep for progressively longer periods of time. Where chicken at 4° lasts for a few days, chicken at -4° lasts for a few months. Therefore, I posit to myself, where LPC is the Lasting Power of Chicken and x is the number of hours:
If LPC @ 4° = x, then LPC @ 8° = <x
I like to write things out like this because I am retarded at maths and it makes me feel better, until people who are good at maths come and laugh at me for my pathetic formula construction and I feel like less of a man. So the point is, I turn the timer off so the fridge just runs. Colder is better, and the fridge in the apartment I’m renting is something I feel justified in having some say about. Eventually someone turns the timer on again, but usually by then the chicken dilemma has been resolved in a stomach-related fashion, and I let it slide until the next time. Nobody so much as mentions the existence of a fridge timer to me. Then one day when I go to turn it off, I find the entire off button has been fused into an unmoveable lump with a whole bunch of surgical tape. Still nothing is said.
Early on in my stay I tell them that I can’t really sleep in the small single bed. They bring me another one to put side-by-side with it. This is much better. I am happy with this arrangement. Then a few days ago the bloke and I have a semi-argument about rent. I’ve been there a month and a week, and only paid upfront for a month. So he wants to put the price up for the days afterward (presumably to offset the savage cost of my fridge-tampering). I point out that if you want to put the price up it’s generally customary to discuss this before the days in question have elapsed, so that people can agree on it or not. We bat this around for a while. Finally he tries to guilt-trip me by saying fine, it’s up to me what rate I want to pay… “Como dice tu corazon.” (Whatever your heart says.) He leaves, I go out. When I get back an hour and a half later, the second bed is gone. Vanished. Just the one little bed remains, neatly made up with single sheets. I fold myself into it like a crumpled shirt, and drift off to cramped semi-sleep with the consoling thought that house fires are much more dangerous for the people living upstairs.