our landlord is one helluva sketchball.
after our first encounter you would think i would have been a tad more worried, but i maintained that dopey happy optimistic i/m-moving-in smile, the kind (as buddy says) found only on the faces of little girls, the gays & certain kinds of fish who are smiling on accident.
he was over so rémy could fill out some insurance forms, which also could have clued me in to his management style had i paid a bit more attention. the apartment above us, currently rented by a good friend, delphine (who lived in this apartment before rémy & i moved in), had been having some issues with the pipes in her bathroom. apparently, any time anyone flushed, there was serious overflowage issues coming from the base of the toilet. she called the "proprio" plenty of times & when he finally gave in & showed up he said that everything was fine, that everything would be fine, and that it just needed to "dry out". sure thing. gallons of water under the floor of a 3rd-floor apartment, let/s let it sit & "dry" for a while, shall we?
so one night (of course it/s the first night when my friends in vichy actually come to hang out at the apartment in clermont; we hung out in clermont all the time, but thomas always complained about staying at rémy/s place, basically whining that he didn/t want to hear us get it on all night, which was only his way of saying HE wanted to get it on all night & he knew he couldn/t if he was sharing a room with a bunch of friends. thus we would all end up hanging out at alejandro/s piece of CRAP apartment [seriously biggest piece of shit i/ve ever seen, would not EVER live there, and i/m NOT that picky...i/ve lived a lot of dirty places, like dorm rooms or old school bellingham houses for example] where they would end up sleeping on mildew-smelling mattresses just because thomas could have a paper-thin door to separate him from the rest of the clan. anyway, alejandro/s place is WAAAY in the bf-nowhere range of the city, meaning no one ever wanted to make the 40-minute trek to centre ville, right downtown where all the action was, and also coincidentally right by our humble apartment. anyway, this was, of course, the FIRST NIGHT everyone had come to visit us & hang out in our apartment...) we get back from being out on the town with some friends (actually we had ended up at the giant park that overlooks the entire city, climbing trees & being generally young & drunkenly carefree, but enough with the tangents), we open the front door with a grand "TAH DAH!!! welcome to our home!!!" to none other than a giant swelling crack in the ceiling pouring a steady stream of water onto our own piece of crap kitchen floor.
you can imagine the chaos that ensued.
france is a funny place. for many various reasons, but in particular because, whatever seems to be the trouble, people always pick up the phone and call the fire department. o! les pompiers! it just seems so silly to me. pleasantville silly, where they call big strong men in heavy fire-resistant clothing & protective hats to rescue kittens out of trees. why les pompiers would be able to help with a drippy ceiling at four in the morning is beyond me, but rémy AND delphine AND delphine/s current boy michel seemed to think the mere thought of NOT calling them alarming enough to send them into a shock-induced coma that then actually WOULD merit ringing up those men in tights (under 80 lbs of flame-retardant uniforms, that is).
of course the firemen sort of wanted to know why the hell we were calling at three or four or whatever it was in the morning, asked us if we had shut the water off yet, frowned when we responded with "uhhh, well, no...?" & told us to do the obvious, go to bed like normal people & deal with it in the morning. which we promptly did.
when the proprio finally decided to respond to this a week or so later (after countless trips through the kitchen on tiptoe, for fear that accidentally placing too much weight on a certain square of the peeling cheap linoleum of the kitchen floor might tip the whole tenderly balanced mixture of wall & crossbeams that is our apartment & send the ceiling on down to crush us, with a nice deluge of used toilet water to top it all off), it would be the first time i would officially meet this character.
now let me just interject here (as if i don/t do that enough) that if there is one thing i do not like about the french language, it is the distinction between the two different forms of second-person personal pronouns (we/re speaking nominative case pronoun here, peoples, as in the type of pronoun that is doing something in the sentence [i, you, he/she] as opposed to the accusative case, which would be the noun having something done to it [him, her, whom]). this would be the distinction between the subjects tu and vous.
now for those of you who speak any romance language (spanish, italian, french, all of these will do just fine), you understand what i/m talking about. for the others, it may be slightly more difficult to understand, so let me explain with a little grammar lesson (this one/s on the house). tu & vous BOTH mean "you" (as in, "you walk", "you swim", "how are you?"), but they are used in different situations to address different individuals. the most basic distinction is that "tu" is ALWAYS singular, and "vous" is its plural counterpart. so if you are talking to more than one "tu" it becomes a "vous" situation. however, "vous" is also used to address someone
a) superior to you,
b) someone you don/t know very well, or
c) someone you want to show respect to.
thus saying "je vous aime" could mean both "i love all of you!!" (when "vous" is playing the plural card) OR "i love you, someone-who-is-of-higher-status-than-me-like-perhaps-a-prince-or-a-king" (when "vous" is playing the stature card).
now when you learn this stuff in language classes, they usually emphasize that "tu" is for friends and "vous" is for strangers, but in real life (i.e. in countries where they actually speak the language on a daily basis, as they do in france) you realize that it can be much more complicated. just like when you/re little you learn stuff like men open doors & stand up at the table when women excuse themselves, but in real life you learn that there is a certain hierarchy to getting on and off the elevator in the morning that is a tad more tricky; it turns out it has more to do with whether or not you are a partner in a well-to-do law firm or if your heels are in season (and if your are sporting heel enough, but good high heavens not too much heel!) than which gender category you may or may not fall into. this whole "vous" business is much the same & i just can/t quite get it down. not only is it incredibly more complicated to conjugate "vous" verbs than "tu" verbs (especially complicated tenses, because "vous" is ALWAYS the exception to the conjugation rule, and verbs are NEVER what you would think and/or like them to be), but the "vous"ing doesn/t always swing both ways. for example, while i might vousvoie my grandparents to show i understand the natural wisdom that comes with age, as in to emphasize our chronological differences, my grandparents might tutoient me, because to them i am a kid, i am young, i am family. but then kids tutoie everyone because "they just don/t understand" (which could be another way of saying "grown ups put up fences & create made up barriers just to complicate things") so maybe i won/t vousvoie my grandparents because they/re my family. i don/t know. i guess what it boils down to is i just don/t like the idea of linguistically demonstrating that i feel sufficiently distant enough in stature from someone to vousvoie them.
(actually [this is another major side note, i know, but when i figured this out after buying a french copy of romeo & juliet & then doing a little research based on an intriguing question, i found it incredibly interesting & therefore want to share it with you], at one point in time not too long ago, this distinction in status [or whatever you might like to call it] existed in the english language, too.
you know all that complicated mushy thy, thou, thee business you find in shakespeare? the stuff that we think we don/t understand, that we think complicates the language, that makes sitting through four hours of hamlet at the theatre seem less enticing that watching mold form in a petri dish? that/s the distinction. however we mistakenly assume that since it seems all fancy & we don/t use it anymore it must be some super formal language. that when romeo says to juliet "i love thee blah-eth blah-eth blah-eth" it really means "i am wicked formal & value you as i would the fairest princess under that pale moon sick with grief". to think this, however, would be wrong. "thou" is actually the "tu" of ye olde englishe. meaning it is the familiar, friendly type of second-person personal pronoun you would use for close friends & family. people you know really super duper well. "you" is actually the "vous", the formal talk, the "i-want-you-to-know-there-is-some-sort-of-separation-between-us-that-is-crucial-enough-to-merit-an-entirely-different-second-person-personal-pronoun" second-person personal pronoun. somehow in the modern world we dropped the pretty stuff, the thy/s & thou/s & thee/s & just stuck with plain old you. which makes all that shakespeare stuff seem overly complicated when really he was just staying faithful to the grammatical complexities of his day & age. i, personally, liketh all that flowery stuff. but enough of this school house rock business & back to another conjunction junction.)
anyway, all this tu/vous stuff really gets to me sometimes. it flusters me when i know there is someone in the room who i/m going to have to vousvoie because i spend the whole time concentrating on making sure i know how to conjugate the verb for questions & responses, but over-concentration always makes me slip up. it/s a vicious cycle.
so the landlord is sitting in the kitchen filling out these papers with rémy, ensuring him that it is HIS OWN insurance who will pay for the damages, (that rémy just needs to give them his social number & blood type for shits & giggles, standard protocol) when we bring up the fact that i am moving in & ask what we need to do to make that official. who we need to talk to, what forms we need to fill out, etc etc. he sort of does this sideways glance thing i often catch him doing & then in his always happy-go-lucky i-never-stop-whistling-and-sometimes-it-gets-creepy way says "well, i/m not so sure we need to really bother anyone with that."
-"well, i/m getting aid from the state for being a single working adult living in this apartment," rémy interjects (ahhh, socialism, where the government actually DOES help you live).
-"well, what they don/t know certainly can't hurt them..."
true, i/m not french. true, it/s not technically cheating on taxes or whatnot. but still, it just seemed kindof sketch.
well, after finding out the ceiling won/t be taken care of until at least june or july, we started pressing him harder about fixing our nasty kitchen floor, which rémy had asked about the beginning of october. he assured us he would do his best, which in my history of landlord language meant "ha ha, good luck getting me to answer my phone for a few months."
so you can imagine my surprise when this afternoon i hear a knock on the door & there is whistles, right as rain with a giant roll of cheap flooring over his shoulder. no warning. no phone call. just a knock on the door. so then when i rush to single-handedly move ALL of the items out of the kitchen and into the living room, including the refrigerator & stove (rémy is at work), i watch him bumble around in the kitchen, muttering "vous"-this and "vous"-that, nervous sweating & even more nervous whistling. just generally getting in the way.
redoing a kitchen floor. i wasn/t quite sure exactly what that entailed. i quickly found out. apparently all it includes is horribly slicing a giant roll of cheap knock-off linoleum to roughly fit the surface area of a kitchen & then slide it under the metal bars that are screwed into the floors to separate rooms. i had quickly makeshiftedly swept the floor and he didn/t even sweep up the pile of dirt into the dustpan. he just sort of spread it around with his foot while he thought i wasn/t looking & then threw the pile of new floor down onto the ground. that would have to be the biggest proverbial sweep-the-dust-under-the-rug move of all time.
oh well. it/s done. & while it/s certainly not expensive & a stretch from classy or, let/s be honest, even pretty, it/s sort-of aesthetically pleasing. in that, it-goes-with-the-drab-kitchen-walls kind of way. and despite his randomness, his choice of day & hour & that damn inclination to be always whistling, at least he actually came & got the job done. that much i thought would never happen, so much so that i now owe rémy money. that bet has been long in the running.
but i guess in the grand scheme of things, landlords are never normal. they always seem to exist in a realm a step or two past legal insanity, with their quirks & their abnormalities, their refusal to ever schedule a meeting before showing up & that slightly misplaced charisma that some of us temporarily mistake for charm. just a bit past human, most of them. which is perhaps why we use certain grammatical devices in these cases, just to remind us that whether or not we may find ourselves living under someone else/s roof, our own lives can safely keep a good distance, protected in the space of another made up barrier that makes us adults.
a few words about miss chelsea elizabeth...
oregon-born, seattle-raised, bellingham-bred and franco-refined, she had moved back to the states from her affairs across the atlantic & now resides in columbia city with french husband & love of her life rémy. they spend most of their time taming the garden, taking care of their three chickens & two cats, and preparing the urban homestead for a new little chick of their own.
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