Banging on my door woke me up at 4:23am on a Monday morning. “Get out here, the hot water heater’s exploded!”
I jump out of bed, shivering as I step into cheap sneakers – fifty-four degrees according to the window thermometer. Steam rose from the soupy ground outside the utility room, water draining from a broken seam in the Eisenhower-era water heater, equal parts of dryer lint and mud. Grunting, I reach for the water cutoff valve handle behind the heater and burn myself getting it shut.
“Not much else I can do. You’ll need a plumber for this one.”
“Do I look like I can afford an emergency plumber call?”
I shrug in the glare of our blue motion-sensor lights. Dawn was still an hour away. RoseMarie and I share a weird relationship made up of commerce and hostility, tempered by neighborly necessity. Our shared camaraderie comes out being the friends you make in a lifeboat, kinship because you can’t afford to kill each other.
She’s still on edge and I know why – it’s been a rough month for RoseMarie. Two car-breakins outside her front door. Marauding racoons laid waste to our garbage cans – meaning we need to keep them padlocked shut at night. Then there was serving an ex-tenant with a restraining order when he threatened lethal violence over the matter of a damage deposit. These are the things you learn to live with when renting property in Eugene.
Property crime, broken infrastructure are nothing out of the ordinary in 2023. Good deeds drowning in an ocean of well-intentioned bad choices. We’re all hunkered down in our dank little dens – fingers crossed that the good arrives soon, and the bad doesn’t get too bad. Violence and chaos are only a phone call or a rusty water pipe away.
RoseMarie finds a plumber willing to come out for less than the price of a down-payment on a new Kia Sorrento. Good thing too, because my landlord’s eye started to twitch, fingers rubbing that thousand-day chip she kept in the pocket of her faded blue housecoat. I could hear the EPD dispatcher now, over the scanner – ‘large white female in pajamas screaming in the middle of the street – possible 5150 – ascertain the problem.’
Back upstairs, comfort the traumatized cats who don’t differentiate between ‘inconvenience’ and ‘problem’ when it comes to people banging on the door. Nervous shedders. Start the coffee early -practice gratitude for the simple pleasures in among the gruesome distress.
Then I sat down at my keyboard and began to write.