SLACKJAW by JIM KNIPFEL
November 10, 2019

Then Everything Went to Hell. Again.

 

You would think learning my convicted felon of a landlord had put the house on the market to cover his legal bills would’ve been bad enough. I mean, I’d been living here for ten years. Beyond that, I’d only been living here for ten years. I’d just gotten everything the way I liked it, I’d just learned my way around the neighborhood, I’d just found a decent Italian deli within walking distance, and now I was being threatened with eviction? Nothing fills me with more dread horror than the idea of having to find a new place, pack up, move, unpack and start all over again. The death of a child? Brain cancer? An asteroid the size of Tennessee hurtling toward the earth? Those things I could deal with, but for godsakes do not make me move.

            Worse still, the house being on the market brought with it all those things that come along with a house being on the market—a big ugly-ass sign out front, potential buyers stopping by for guided visits, open fucking houses all weekend, all these evil-minded strangers wandering through my apartment to steal things, tracking mud and bad faith with them everywhere as they did so.

            But that was only the start. Trying to turn all that happened in the month of October and well into November into standard prose, as I would prefer it, would end up being a novella at the very least. Instead I think the easiest way to handle it is as a bullet point presentation. Maybe sometime down the line I’ll turn it into a novella, but for now this will have to do. The following took place between September twenty-fourth and November fourth, for those keeping track.

            (Kindly overlook the inelegance of some of these entries. They were written in a mad rush, often with a black kitten climbing up my back as I typed.)

     A week after we learned the house was for sale, our oldest cat, Bert, the seventeen-year-old beatnik of the trio, took a bad turn, requiring two back-to-back trips to the vet in Manhattan, each a day-long ordeal bookended by sixty-dollar cab rides. The vet diagnosed him with hyperthyroidism and sent us home with multiple medications that did him no good at all.

     The day after Bert’s second trip to the vet, a stray kitten, jet black (like Bert) and about three months old, ran off the street into the lab where Morgan works, where it hid in and behind the assorted machines for the next two days. As he was darting from one machine to another, a quick-thinking Russian tech snagged him up and put him in a box. Morgan was asked if she wanted a kitten and couldn’t say no, so came home on Thursday with what would be our fourth cat.

     Since we knew absolutely nothing about Oleg (as he came to be dubbed), we quarantined him in my office until we could get him checked out by a vet to make sure he didn’t have FIV or feline leukemia. Of course quarantining him in my office precluded me from doing any work, but I figured I could live with that for a week.

     The real estate weasel came by to take a whole bunch of pictures of the apartment to post in his online ad. This required me to stop everything for an hour as he did so.

     Our orange tabby, Thonny, began scratching at his jar and gagging every time he ate, which may be a symptom of mouth cancer. Bert, meanwhile, still wasn’t getting any better on his new medication.

     Two days after Oleg arrived, the real estate weasel began with the open houses every Saturday and Sunday, with private tours for more serious prospects on random days in between. Each of these demanded that I stop everything for an hour or more to let strangers into my home—something I would never do otherwise, unless a loaded gun was involved. I had to explain that no one was to open the office door, for fear of letting Oleg out or the other cats in. I knew it looked creepy, but I didn’t care. The realtor was surprisingly understanding about this.

     Given that trips into Manhattan to see the vet were nightmarish and expensive, we did some research and found one in the neighborhood that looked promising. A few years earlier we’d taken Thonny to a vet around the corner for a minor problem and they damn near killed him. It took him two months to recover from that one visit, so we vowed to stay the hell away from that vet from now on. This new one was a couple of blocks further and seemed worth a shot. We weren’t quite fully attached to Oleg yet, so decided to use him as a trial run.

     The washing machine started leaking. Normally when something like that happened, I made arrangements with a repairman and paid him out of pocket. Considering we were facing eviction, we decided fuck it, and let it leak.

     The real estate weasel came by with some kind of engineer to measure every room in the house in order to create a floor plan. It took several hours during which again I could do nothing, and the engineer pointedly refused to speak to me.

     The new vet turned out to be very good, but told us that Oleg, while otherwise healthy, had roundworms, meaning we not only had to sterilize everything in the office with bleach—we had to continuously sterilize everything in the office with bleach, given Oleg would have to be quarantined in there for the next month. Now not only would I not be able to work, Morgan and I had to change clothes and shoes every time we entered or left the office to see Oleg.

     The day after we learned Oleg was extremely contagious, Bert began vomiting violently, and wouldn’t stop. We got an emergency appointment with the new vet, who determined the Manhattan vet, in concentrating on Bert’s thyroid, had missed the two tumors nearly blocking his intestines. He needed surgery, and would have to remain in the hospital for the next two weeks.

     The open houses and viewings continued. The real estate weasel told me they had two offers so far, both far below what my convicted felon of a landlord was asking. With the lower of the two bids, he said, we’d be able to stay. With the higher bid, we’d have to move. Morgan and I had actually made a bid, one that took into account all the fundamental work the building needed, and were completely ignored.

     More, and increasingly vile, would-be buyers continued tromping through the apartment, as I considered hanging a cardboard sign around my neck reading, “Are you the asshole who’d evict a blind man?”

     Meanwhile I had my own doctors to see, to check on the status of my shrinking brain and dissolving skeleton.

     The constant bleaching of everything in the office was taking its toll on our skin, and not being able to work was, as usual, casting me into an immobilizing depression. The business with the cats and the house wasn’t helping much, either. The bills were piling up, and I was losing a month of income.

     Then the dryer died. We could afford to ignore the leaking washer. It may have been leaking, but it still washed clothes. The dryer was another issue. Can’t very well dry clothes in a dead dryer, so I called a repairman. I was hoping to arrange his visit to coincide with the next open house, but that didn’t work. Instead the inevitable happened, and he showed up at the front door the exact moment the vet called. Bert’s surgery was scheduled for the next day, and she wanted to give me some important updates, and the repairman was on a tight schedule and needed to know what the story was. So I had one talking in each ear, and couldn’t understand what either was saying.

     I started thinking it was a little odd that ninety-five percent of the people who were coming to look at the house—even during the open houses when any schlub off the street can march in and steal my crap—were Chinese.

     Bert’s surgery was a success, though we still had to wait for the biopsy results, and he had to stay in the hospital for the next week or two. Oleg, meanwhile, delightful and cute and infectious as he was, was slowly dismantling my office bit by bit, from tearing up books to renaming computer files.

     Then Daisy, our only female cat, began spewing up a foamy substance several times a day. I couldn’t help but start to wonder if Oleg was some kind of feline Bad Seed. Or more accurately, a feline Godsend (oh, look them up.) So much of this, after all, seemed to coincide with his arrival.

     For the past five years, Morgan, I, and the kids in the basement had done what we could to keep the place presentable, but knowing where we stood, the niceties fell away. Dryer repairs notwithstanding (that was necessary), no Halloween decorations went up outside. We stopped sweeping off the stoop and clearing the leaves out of the little front courtyard. We stopped cleaning and straightening the entry hall and making minor repairs. Let whatever fucker bought the place fix that leaky faucet and the doors that were never hung straight. A palpable gloom settled over the house.

     We took Daisy to the vet, who thought the vomiting might be connected to her bad teeth, but wasn’t sure. Her chronic constipation was also a concern, but she didn’t know what exactly to attribute that to yet. She gave her a few shots, ran a few tests and sent her home.

     I was given the wrong time for a Sunday open house, and only learned this when two women just strolled through the front door and started looking around while I was washing the dishes.

     Bert was still recovering in the hospital, but the prognosis was good. Thonny started getting better. Daisy started getting worse, and Oleg was getting larger and wilder and faster, and was more determined than ever to break out of the quarantine room.

     Then, a month after I interviewed him, Nick Tosches died.

     On October 23rd, Morgan and I noted there was a moment of peace. None of the cats was in immediate peril, there were no scheduled viewings or open houses, and it was a nice day out. So we decided it was probably safe to remove the air-conditioner. As we were doing so, Thonny, who had never done any such thing before, hopped through the open window onto the roof. Much panic ensued.

     An hour after Thonny came back inside, the vet called to say Bert could come home the next day, together with a sackful of medications, some of which he’d have to take daily for the rest of his life.

     Not long after Bert came home thin, shaky and bedraggled, he began sneezing and wouldn’t stop. Within a day, his face was a mask of dried snot. Our new vet was closed, so we called another vet who said it was likely nothing to worry about.

     The same day Bert came home, we got a note from the landlord and his brother saying that while they didn’t have a deal, yet, they were getting close. The Chinese man they were negotiating with insisted the house be delivered empty, so, in short, get the fuck out.

     We reluctantly started looking at apartment listings, and quickly learned just how many places out there wouldn’t allow pets, smokers, or people who made under $90,000 a year. It wasn’t looking good.

     The morning after Bert’s sinus condition (or whatever the hell it was) grew alarming, Daisy stopped pissing and was in obvious pain. If it was a blockage, she could be dead within hours. We were edging over the bar from the overwhelming into the merely ridiculous at this point. Since our vet was still closed that day, we had to bundle Daisy up again and run her into the vet in Manhattan. In the end it was just a urinary tract infection, no big deal, but required another slew of pills. The bills were really adding up.

         We spoke with our new vet the next day, who insisted on seeing Daisy herself. What the Manhattan vet had prescribed, she said, was not only wrong, but potentially dangerous. She gave us yet more pills and, oh yes, Daisy had to come back in two weeks for dental surgery, as that was the likely cause of her vomiting.

         On October 30th we looked at our first apartment and were tempted to just take it to get that shit out of the way, but decided no, given the apartment in question was a grim, tiny, dark place overlooking a parking lot in a fourth floor walkup, it wasn’t worth it. Later that night we received a note from the landlord letting us know the place had been sold and we had to get the fuck out. An hour after that, as we were preparing to eat dinner, a process server showed up at the front door to hand us legal papers telling us the place had been sold and we had to get the fuck out. This made me what you might call “a little upset.”

     On Halloween, we brought Oleg to the vet to get his final vaccinations and get fixed. When it was all over, we learned his roundworm had cleared up, which was a joyous moment as it meant we’d at last be able to let him out of the quarantine room and I’d be able to get back to work. This news was tempered, however, by the news he would have to wear a plastic collar and use a special cat litter for the next two weeks as he recovered from the neutering, meaning he would have to remain in quarantine until mid-November, when he came back for a follow-up.

     That was on Thursday. The following Wednesday was Daisy’s dental surgery. The Wednesday after that was Bert’s follow-up when we got the biopsy results. The day after that was Oleg’s follow up, and the Wednesday after that was Daisy’s. In the meantime we were still trying to find a new apartment, but that’s a forthcoming column unto itself.

     Needing some extra hours to cover the mounting and potential expenses, Morgan took on two extra days at work, which left me juggling four cats, three of whom had medical issues, while trying to find a new apartment, jettisoning as much crap as I could before the move, and starting to pack, all the while not getting a lick of work done. It was all too fucking much. Yes, people deal with far worse on a daily basis—fires, floods, illness and complete economic collapse—but for godsakes. For the first time since I was seven or eight, I actually started looking forward to Christmas, figuring in one way or another it would all be over by then. Until the next time.

     And then the heat went out for three days.

 

You can contact Jim Knipfel at this address:

With occasional exceptions Slackjaw generally appears weekly. For email notification of other Jim Knipfel publications (books, etc.) and events please join the Slackjaw email list here.