A NEW LIFE -A FRESH START - PART 1
The next couple of months, Lynn was happier than she’d been in a long time. She found that the bookkeeping was not nearly as difficult as she had imagined although the logic escaped her that a rent subsidy could be so high that the tenant was paid to live there when their income fell below the formulas. She only wrote out two of these checks a month, one to a disabled couple who lived in a three bedroom apartment and one to a single father of two children who had lost his Welfare for fraud. She was warned early on by Carol, the lady who trained her, not to waste too much time trying to figure out the why of HUD subsidies and rules, just to follow them. She also got the background on why she was hired that day. The former manager had been stealing rent money and was caught and fired. She had worked for the Spears for three years and had let the apartment complex go to Hell, neither screening prospective tenants or pursuing evictions when they were necessary. She had destroyed records to cover her embezzlement and before Lynn was hired Carol and both Mr. and Mrs. Spear had to literally knock on doors and have the tenant come into the office and fill out a new application and tell how much rent they had been paying and then work up a brand new contract for them.
They had hired a new manager who stayed for about two months and then just called in one day and quit. Once this woman was hired and trained, they had disposed of the other applications they’d received for the position so Lynn, showing up at the office that day was truly timing at its best.
Two weeks before Christmas a three bedroom apartment was ready for Lynn to move into. It had taken two weeks to repair damage to the walls, doors, floors and to get it clean. Because it was in such bad shape they had replaced the carpet throughout and every room was freshly painted and sparkling clean. She was able to enroll Traci in the new school and after meeting with the teacher of the Behavior Disorder classroom she was hopeful for the first time since Traci had begun school that she would be getting the attention and learning skills she needed. Tim liked his new school and made friends easily there and around the apartment complex. Her office was just yards away from their apartment and she had them check in as soon as they got home. Bill had been in rehab for his alcoholism too and was spending more time with the kids and they had gone out to eat as a family and taken the kids to the movies a few times. It was such a peaceful time at home.
In contrast, work was a daily challenge. She did not type well or fast and had cheated in her typing class at the junior college, sneaking peeks at what she was supposed to be typing. She would memorize the words and watch the keyboard as she typed. She ended up with a C in the class which hurt her grade point, but hurt her much more now that she needed those skills. She bought an old typewriter and a book, practicing nights and on weekends until her skills became acceptable. The skill that wasn’t mentioned in the job description was one she learned a need for as soon as the Spear’s and Carol left her on her own. Jan, the manager that had been fired, wasn’t collecting rent from some of the tenants. She’d made friends with many and moved in people she knew, providing false income information and giving them apartments ahead of those on the waiting list. A few moved, like rats jumping from a sinking ship, but two remained and they were not at all happy with their rent going from $24 a month to over $300 plus utilities. She was being challenged every day by several angry people who made it clear they didn’t like the new rules or the one who was in charge of enforcing them. One lady in particular was determined to run her off, thinking it would be easy. What she failed to realize was that Lynn grew up hard and was no stranger to living in less than desirable neighborhoods. In fact, this apartment, built only four years before, was one of the nicest places she had ever lived and she loved her new home.
Bertha was a large woman, both in build and presence. She could fill a barroom with silence just by walking in the door and the fact that she carried a knife and had done time for stabbing one of her boyfriends made her seem all the larger. She was a no-nonsense, hardcore, third generation Welfare mother and was currently raising two grandchildren after custody was given over by two of her many kids. Lynn saw this was a way of life for some, a child was to be given over when the woman reached the age that her Welfare and other assistance would be stopped. Several of her tenants were raising nieces and nephews if they were younger and had no children of their own or grandkids, as Bertha.
This day, she filled Lynn’s office with outrage and cussing from the second her body was fully inside the door. “Why you go an raise my rent? I ain’t paying this! Motha fukker come moving in here with your kids and your Spic boyfriend, thinking you run a thing now do ya?”
Lynn stood up and walked around her desk, nudging past Bertha and opening the file cabinet that held the three day eviction notices. She sat back down at her desk and started filling it out in pen, glaring at Bertha as she wrote. “Well, then, if you ain’t gonna pay don’t be wasting MY time up in this office. Here’s your eviction now so when rent comes due and no money – then you can get your ass out!” This was no more legal than what Jan had done and she wouldn’t even try using it served on rent not yet due, but she did know where to hit the woman.
“Well now, you must be thinking bout getting your self hurt,” Bertha snapped back at her.
Lynn came up out of her chair and started around the desk again, paper in hand. “And you must be thinking yourself homeless – now get outta here and give me some peace!” She shoved the paper at Bertha’s chest but she moved back and it fell on the floor.
“I ain’t causing no trouble! Just asen a question, that’s all. Don’t need to go all psycho on a woman. My name’s Bertha. I live over there in 304 with my two gran babies,” her tone was testing.
“I know who you are and I know where you live. If you want to keep living there don’t come up in here giving me no grief!” Lynn was standing toe to toe with the largest and meanest woman in the complex and if she lost this round she’d be finished. Years of being the new kid, the one bullied, beat up and chased home from school gave her instincts that kicked in naturally when needed.
Word got around when Bertha sent one of her grandkids up with the rent that next month and Lynn had gained a foothold. An icy chill would come in with about half of the tenants when they paid their rent, but they paid it. To make matters even worse, Mr. Spear said no more cash so they had to pay extra for a money order if they didn’t have checking and most didn’t. Trying to stretch every dollar, this extra expense was as welcome as this skinny assed white woman with her Mexican boyfriend, a white kid and a mixed one. The Mexican wasn’t living there at first but he started staying nights here and there. When one of the tenants complained to Mr. Spear he said that was her husband and it was no business of theirs anyway. Mr. Spear owned the place and one of his mistresses, Queenie, was the only one he cut any slack. If he said it, it came to pass, so people gave him a wide passage when he visited the property.
When Lynn would go to the other complex to collect rent she stepped into a different world. These apartments held some single parents but also working class families and even twelve units set aside for the elderly. The fact that the kids stayed away from the elderly units and noise was kept to a respectful level whenever she’d check on the place just amazed her. For the most part rent came in like clockwork, there were few vacancies and those usually meant someone bought a house or moved to another nicer complex. It was a much older place, by at least twelve years, but the only way you could tell was from the god awful colors of the carpet and appliances. Harvest gold and avocado green were all the rage when this place was new and things were made to last back then. There was no talking the owners into replacing carpet that wasn’t worn or appliances that ran just fine even though they were butt ugly. It didn’t deter many people from renting either and Lynn was very careful to screen who she rented to. The subsidy was small here, if there was one, and it was a decent, quiet place to live. After half a day there she looked at her complex with new eyes and didn’t like what she saw and felt.
Little by little Bill worked his way back in by being the devoted Father. He was always a meticulous housekeeper and would often cook meals, do laundry and be a sounding board when Lynn was having trouble at work. His presence didn’t hurt her status any either. Knowing there was a tall, muscular man behind this new manager deflected many ideas of causing her trouble.
Lynn spent a great deal of time inspecting apartments for housekeeping and damage problems which was required but hadn’t been done at all in the three years that Jan had been manager. Mr. Spear or her maintenance man, Rich, always accompanied her to help spot repairs and for her safety. Lynn appreciated her apartment so much and the nice landscaping Mr. Spear spent thousands of dollars on. She took pride in where she worked and lived and was changing the reputation slowly with the surrounding home owners and showing them that subsidized housing didn’t have to mean devalued prices of their property or constant trouble.
Lynn learned more about sociology, psychology and criminal justice at her job than she ever did in college. Her life growing up was a large part of why she could not only relate but get as ugly has she had to be with people who would chase off most young women. There were many decent people who just needed a helping hand up on the waiting list and clearing out the tenants that couldn’t or wouldn’t respect their homes became easier as she saw things that would stay with her for years.
One afternoon she and Rich were doing inspections and came to an apartment that wouldn’t open with the master key. The lock looked the same but it had been rekeyed and Rich let out a stream of obscenities that would have made a sailor blush. Before she could respond he took off around to the back of the building and found an unlocked window. He opened the door for her and started opening windows. The smell was so overpowering Lynn gagged and continued to as she walked down the hallway and into the kitchen. The outside of the refrigerator had something running down the front of it and she reached for the handle.
“DON’T OPEN …” Rich was too late with his warning. He stood back and watched the show. It wasn’t his first experience with this. He’d seen too many apartments where the utilities were shut off for non-payment. The utility company had an agreement with Mr. Spear that he would be notified if this was about to happen but this one had slipped past.
Lynn’s mind tried to comprehend what she was seeing. The blood from meat was the dried mess running down the front of the frig, the smell had increased to a level stronger than a gas mask would have covered, but the thing that her brain tried to protect her from was the movement. Hundreds of white wiggling maggots covered the meat and insides of the refrigerator. Surprising Rich and her self too she turned from the scene and started upstairs, kicking diapers full of dried excrement and urine out of her way as she went. Rage, like red hot lava was rising in her, thoughts of how she had struggled to pay the rent all the time she was in college stood out clearly in her memory. Months of never having meat in her refrigerator other than hot dogs and hamburger became a clear picture in her mind’s eye. Using dish soap for shampoo because she couldn’t afford both, placing meal after meal of macaroni and cheese and fish sticks in front of her kids, having to say no to every request for a toy or a meal in a restaurant … all of it came flashing back as if it were the present reality of her life. Upstairs she found the toilet clogged and the bathtub full of dirty clothes and disposable diapers. One of the bedrooms held a waterbed with a large bookcase style headboard and matching armoire and dresser. There were clothes wherever she looked, some still sporting tags. The other bedroom was the baby’s room and there was a crib and a changing table, not new or even nice. She strained to remember the rent roll to give her the name of this woman.
‘Rich, do you know offhand who lives here?” She was going to track her down.
‘Yeah,” Rich said a name that didn’t sound familiar. “It’s Jim Patters, one of Jan’s old boyfriends. She must have zeroed his rent if it isn’t showing up as vacant.” Rich knew most of the tricks, having worked this complex since it opened.
“Zeroed the rent – you mean they owe nothing and we owe them nothing so I just keep recording the subsidy month after month and there is no real way to keep track of them?” Lynn determined to go over the books very carefully that day. ‘So whose baby did he have?”
“No kid, he just did babysitting for some of the girl’s around here. Took it out in trade if you get ….”
Lynn thought of the maggots and the filth and even that didn’t compare with the thoughts she had of the women who would leave their children with this man.
“I get it – you knew of this and did nothing, said nothing?” She needed to direct her anger somewhere.
“Who the hell am I supposed to tell?” Rich was indignant, “Besides, I have my hands full trying to fix what these assholes tear up. Don’t have time to be running a detective agency too. Anyway, at least they didn’t leave the kids alone while they went out. There’s more of that going on than you want to know about too!”