In the past year, I’ve become a slumlord. It wasn’t by choice. It was a mantle thrust upon me. And I’m an absolute failure at it. I am, in fact, the worst slumlord in the history of those who profiteer off the misery of others.
My dad’s best friend, George, left my brother and me a dilapidated apartment building in a dodgy neighborhood when he died. We didn’t realize we owned this dump until just recently, though, because we didn’t know George had died.
After 80 years of friendship, George and my dad stopped speaking to each other after having an argument over President Obama. I never understood what caused the rift since they both hated Obama. My brother speculated that maybe they fought over who hated him more. Regardless, feelings were so hurt that when my dad was dying, he refused to allow me to invite George over to say goodbye.
As it turns out, George had died a few months before my dad. But, since he was unmarried with no kids, we didn’t know of George’s death until an attorney tracked me down with news of our inheritance.
George was a fun-loving playboy who aged into a complete lunatic. My mother would cite George as a cautionary tale during her campaigns to marry off my brother, another fun-loving playboy. “Do you want to wind up like George?” she’d threatened, raising the specter of a lonely existence spent with a string of buxom lady pirates from Eastern European countries who take all your money and leave you only with their abandoned pets and visits from immigration authorities.
My brother avoided that fate by marrying, having kids, and moving to California. I stupidly remained in the Midwest, which leaves me to deal with the inherited building.
George was a true slumlord. He owned several buildings where he performed minimal upkeep. When my brother and I first visited the building, my brother proclaimed, “What this place needs is a fire.” That was one of George’s favorite phrases. When he had exhausted the resources of a building and its under-privileged tenants, he’d burn it down and collect the insurance.
But, I’m not George. I’m a socialist in the Scandinavian sense of the word. I am determined to transform the building into a utopian society for single moms! A place where they can work collaboratively, sharing childcare and cooking responsibilities, and become stronger through sisterhood.
I convinced my brother that we should fix the place up. I immediately met with the tenants, notebook in hand, and diligently jotted down their requests for building improvements. I hugged them and assured them that we would make this work — together!
But what I didn’t take into account was the deep antipathy between these women. They had lived together in this sinking ship for years and had cemented cinderblock-sized grudges against each other.
I routinely gather them in the backyard for rally sessions where I stare off dreamily into mid-distance and give inspired lectures about empowerment. They respond by rattling in their seats like boiling tea kettles, waiting for me to shut up so they can start screaming at each other over perceived slights, loud music playing, and the use of “foreign” cooking spices that “stink up the joint.” The first building meeting ended in a melee when one woman lurched at another and grabbed her hair.
In the past month, though, I’ve seen signs of hope. One tenant sent me a smiley face emoticon via text after I brokered a peace accord between her and her downstairs neighbor and longtime nemesis. This morning, on a call with my brother, he suggested we sell the place. I considered it for a moment, but then I pulled up the smiley face emoticon and convinced him to keep the dream alive.