A New Landlord

It was a good day, which roughly meant I wasn’t feeling as shitty as I normally did. Making the most of my good fortune, a deep breath revitalized worn out nerves. Another and the world spun out of control. Good fortune never lasted long. Daring a peek through scared eyes, I was amazed to see myself not caught up in the whirlwind. Honored by such kindness, I projected the calmness back up to the Heavens as a sign of gratitude. Suddenly I stood in the eye of a hurricane. Awed to bear witness to an act of God on a level unnoticed by most, I marshaled up my forces. I had a date with a landlord.

It wasn’t the hotel itself that worried me, but the fact that it was so close to Hastings Street. Known as the ‘front lines’ and the ‘war zone’ in treatment, it defined how far someone had fallen in the drug scene. Seeing fights and needled bleeding arms only amplified its militaristic implications. Yet, I could use its very negativity like a trampoline to propel me to greener pastures. At least I hoped so.

Sticking to the alleys to avoid the ‘suits’, fears dissipated into the deafening carnival-like atmosphere of Pender Street. Hunger burned like never before. Yet despite the obvious , yet my favorite pizza place, 2001 Flavours, was too busy to deal with. Resenting the lineups and people for getting in the way of my needs, I made fun of their mindless social conventions, despite wanting to just minutes ago. The energy warped. I looked up at the heavens and prepared for the worst.

From statistical analysis at UBC, I learned how each unknown variable in an equation represented a degree of separation from the answer, its ‘truth’. Each judgment then became another variable removing me degree by degree from ‘truth’ or God. I tried not judging, but all it did was leave me stranded and no closer to where I wanted to be. Believing I’d found another paradox, something remarkable happened: another coordinate axis superimposed itself over my three-dimensional one. The first contained necessity, intent and invention, but the second related to my distance from the origin, how I’d got there and how I had to get back. As I tried desperately to recall vector analysis the axes began to shift and transpose accordingly. Now I had three options: stay put, return home or move further away. The first felt empty and vacuous. The third brought storm clouds to mind along with a metallic taste to mouth. Left with the second choice, I recomposed myself before going to see the landlord. Funny how what you were looking for was always in the last place you looked!

Outside, I saw no visible intercom. Sniffing the air like an animal, I recomposed myself just in case I was being watched. Donning the ‘fake-it-‘til-you-make-it’ pose, I reached out automatically and rang the doorbell that I swore hadn’t been there seconds ago. Suddenly sounds intensified, sight brightened, senses screamed, movements became jerky as thoughts and fears were scraped onto the surface of memory. Hyperventilating, my mind ran amok with self-doubts: ‘what if there was something wrong with my hearing? What if there was too much static? What if he was busy? What if I had to wait a long time? What if he didn’t like me? What if he said no?’ Through the tortuous mental debris, I tried the door. It clicked open and I entered.

Still, in pose mode, I smiled pleasingly for any camera. Inside, I thought I’d walked into an old photograph from the 1940’s. Now nothing more than an architectural relic, a mix-match surreal decor of a golden past and cheap practicality of mirrored walls and linoleumed floors played havoc with my mind. Knowing the elevator gave new meaning to the word slow, I took the stairs and the opportunity to secretly make myself more presentable.

The landlord was a kind, soft-hearted old man whose warm face and peaceful demeanor seemed strangely out of place with my expectations of a rough, tough, bat-wielding peacekeeper. But what better way to maintain peace and order than by faking it? After all, I didn’t know him. The ‘as-long-as-you-can-pay-the-rent’ hospitality was relieving considering my capabilities. I smiled warmly thanking him for his hospitality and generosity. He frowned. Realizing I wasn’t there to make friends, I pushed aside feelings to secure the business deal. He immediately smiled back. I felt like a good boy. Self-doubt pricked my mind: ‘I wasn’t and could never be a good boy. I was arrogant to have thought such a thing. It was all a trap and the minions of hell were sending out their recruiting officers – the nicest ones of course – to welcome me’. I forced my mind to shut up.

Without even asking how I was going to pay, he handed me an intent-to-rent form. Pride reared its ugly head. I didn’t ask for the form, he didn’t know I wanted it, but apparently all it took was a few minutes to tell I was welfare material. I’d gone through something similar several years ago in Victoria while job hunting. The manager took me aside and told me, albeit nicely, they didn’t hire people like me – addicts. I wanted to plead my case but didn’t or rather couldn’t. The truth was I left traumatized. My mind raced into high gear. ‘Don’t fight. At least he won’t ask about our disability. I don’t care. Yes, you do. You know you do. He doesn’t care. Maybe he’s not like the rest. ‘Maybe’. What if they always ask even though they’re not supposed to? Whatever the case, there’s nothing you can do. It’s their word against yours. It doesn’t matter as long as he gets the money. Yes, that’s it!  Don’t fuck up. Not now. You might never get such an easy chance again’.

His souring look told me I was taking too long, so I bounced into action. He looked at me and smiled as though he knew something that I didn’t. Confused, I retreated further inside myself in an attempt to quell the voices and the feeling of being seen. ‘Just be nice Mike. He doesn’t care if the world’s not right, or your life’s a mess. He just doesn’t want any problems. Just pay the rent and be quiet. Yes, it makes sense.’ I smiled uneasily in return. I’d show him I didn’t intend on staying long enough to be recruited into hell.

I left and let out a huge sigh. With a once simple task requiring so much energy and self-composure, I’d allowed myself to fall into a world where a little energy messed things up in a big way while a lot was needed to make things right. As the full weight of the world pressed against me, I pressed back then stopped. I was scared of being snuffed out of the picture once and for all. What if I was already dead and dragging my heels on the road to hell? I lowered my head and looked into the Earth. Grateful to not see the fiery sulfurous pits of hell, I turned to more pressing things like submitting the intent-to-rent form.

© Michael J. Varma, The Gong Show, 2011 –

Unauthorized use and/or duplication of this material without express and written permission from this blog’s author and/or owner is strictly prohibited. Excerpts and links may be used, provided that full and clear credit is given to Michael J. Varma and The Gong Show with appropriate and specific direction to the original content.

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