Amanda Kovattana

Middle-aged musings in interesting times

Thursday, February 07, 2013

House Retrieval


In the ongoing saga of my rental housing adventure I reclaim my house from another set of failed renters and learn how to do my own shamanic space clearing ceremony with help from my power animal.

The gate was open as I drove up to the mini compound within which our two rental houses were situated one behind the other. I had been in contact with Eliseo who lived in the back house with his family. He had kindly called to let me know that someone had broken in a window in the front house, the cheap vinyl one in the door that opened to the back yard. Someone had also cut the metal tongue of the latch on the padlocked garage door. We needed to get people in here ASAP.

Inside I found the house a mess. Despite my agent having said the departing tenant left the house clean, it was not clean by my estimate at all. Mail littered the floor, the bathroom hadn't been cleaned probably since his girlfriend left. There was stuff left in all the cabinets, hangars in the closets and the garage was a man-cave of beer bottles, cigarette butts and empty boxes. 

I was just glad I hadn't had to evict him as I had Mike before him. Mike took advantage of five months of free rent until the day the sheriff came. (Two months of back rent owed plus three months to get through the eviction process.) Mike's story, to the end, was that he was a victim of his wife who had stolen his disability money and disappeared with their only son leaving him an emotional wreck. 

"What did she do with all the money?" I asked him.

"I have no idea," he said. He was a master at telling me exactly what I wanted to hear every time I called up to see if he had packed up and was moving out. In fact throughout our relationship, he had fed me line after line about what his values were and what he believed in. Over time I could see that, not only did he barely live up to this picture of himself, but he operated within a very limited comfort zone tied to this neighborhood. I chose to believe in him because I felt so comforted that he was taking care of everything and he was so skilled at property maintenance that things worked out to my benefit as far as the house was concerned.

I had little experience of men, so I felt compelled to seek advice. I asked a client who was in the middle of divorcing a husband. She had often been very astute with her insights.

"Are men required by society to be reassuring?" I asked.

"No," she said, "it is their intention to be reassuring. There is a difference." 

"But, then they do exactly what they want," I pointed out. 

"That is also their intention", she replied. Hah.

I had to play along because I knew I had nothing to hold Mike to his word, not even a cleaning deposit. We hadn't asked for one because he was working for us. The rental contract was hardly worth the copy paper it was printed on, because Mike lived under the radar, working freelance on a cash only basis, changing his name regularly to escape any creditors. Only when I had gotten him off the property could I allow myself to tell him I wasn't fooled. I called him on his phone, which he wasn't answering and left him a message about the things he had left undone.

"I know who you are now," I said, unmasking, with this tone of authority, every last unfulfilled promise he had ever laid on me. It was the most satisfying thing I had ever said to him.

Two months later, when I was going through the shed, I found a file box with a file full of notes he wrote to his wife about how they had gambled the rent money away in Vegas, as well as his complaints about their waning sex life and hints of a boyfriend she was set to leave him for. This was such a startlingly different picture of the situation, I was relieved that it had nothing to do with me. There was nothing I had done to deserve how they had treated me. I was confident that Mike knew this about himself too and I no longer feared him.

I had since learned to use a rental contract that would better protect me (one I adapted from what the eviction lawyers offered). I now understood how each clause of it was designed to give me authority to prevent the many scenarios I had put up with. I would not settle for tenants who did not have, at minimum a bank account, and who cared somewhat about their credit rating. (No one ever had terrific credit. If they did they could buy a house.) I also came to understand that being able to pull the eviction trigger was all I had to guard against becoming a doormat and loosing control of the property. I was seasoned now; I would never wait so long before taking action again, in fact I had a late fee. And I had used much firmer language with our departing tenant who was dragging his heels to the final hour. Renting low income housing, I realized, was as much about coaching people to good behavior as it was about property maintenance.


Sweeping Out

I moved about in this world revealing as little about myself as possible, especially anything that might indicate money. My shabby little Honda wagon was perfect camouflage. And I always came in my work clothes of a recognized working class style, carpenter pants, a denim work shirt and old shoes. And if anybody asked, I was doing this as an enterprise financed by a partner who had secured a loan for which we were likely underwater, but we would still do the right thing by keeping the place maintained, unlike every other landlord in town. I could feel good about that and about keeping two manageable little houses from the brink of decay. And with the new plumbing, put in last year, it was backed up from the brink even further. Our financial advisor sanctioned it as a viable cash flow though he thought it was crazy that it was so far away. I liked going there though; it was another world. It reminded me of that other compound of simple houses with complex relationship; the one where my ten year old self had, in her own way, ruled the roost.

I set about with a broom and started to sweep the place out. I found old family photos in the hall cupboard. The kind you don't want to go missing. I put them into my car for safekeeping. That night I wrote an e-mail to the departing girlfriend telling her about the mess I had found, how mad I had been at both her ex and my agent and if she might possibly be able to come back to the house and help me clean it, as she had once offered, despite my asking at the last minute and it being Sunday and all. 

As I thought over my words, I realized that I would not have used any emotional language before and I attributed that to the sensibilities of my returning 19 year old soul part. 

Sunday morning I went out to breakfast at the IHOP (nothing but chains here on Hospitality Lane); had four fried eggs, two bacon strips, two sausages, a tiny bit of hash browns. I also ate the ball of butter in the middle of the stack of pancakes. 

As I was leaving I got a call from the girlfriend. She would be over in an hour. She was eager to see what a mess her ex had left, and would spend the day reassuring herself that she had done the right thing in leaving his lame ass. I knew it would be cathartic for her. And the old family photos turned out to be hers. I was glad for that and she was good company as she happily shared her insights.

She cleaned all day, while I reinstalled the window sash and replaced the latch on the garage with a bigger one. I also visited Eliseo's family, crossing through the gate between the two yards; access granted to me just as it had been when I was a child, to all parts of the compound. They were having their weekly family barbecue with a dining room table set up in the garage. I was charmed by this. It reminded me of the outdoor eating arrangements of my Thai home. Eliseo's brother-in-law, who had his own landscaping business and had cleared the seven foot weeds for me, came to talk to me and we discussed further how he might smooth out the backyard where Mike had left the hole where his pool had been. I hadn't shopped around for a gardner; I liked to keep things in the family. I had already asked if they knew anybody who would rent the front house, but no leads had surfaced in their Hispanic community.


House Clearing

Eliseo told me Leroy, the neighbor across the street had been asking about the house for some relatives of his. He offered to walk me over and introduce me to him. Leroy's house was the smallest in the neighborhood set in the middle of a yard that seemed huge by contrast. I had seen him about and he had always been very polite—an African American man. We rang the doorbell and opened the door when we heard him beckoning us to. Leroy hoisted himself off the couch smiling at us. After I shook his hand, he said that the house I was trying to rent was cursed.

"NOW you tell me," I said laughing. I knew exactly what he was talking about as he mentioned how each couple who went in there came out broken up and before I had bought the place it was even worse. 

"Don't worry," I reassured him, "I will perform an operation," I said, tracing the shape of a window in the air. Eliseo laughed at this. "No really", I said, "I will call in a priest and do an exorcism". They both laughed even more.

But Leroy had reminded me that I would not leave without doing my own brand of space clearing. I wrote down for him my phone number and the $950 rent I was asking on the house, plus $500 for deposit. Then I crossed back over to the empty house. Satisfied that the house was clean and the floors mopped I stood in the middle of the front bedroom. I had not been able to get any sage, so I would have to do without. First I clapped my hands in all the corners using sound to break up the stuck energy. I did this in all the rooms. Then I stood in the middle of the living room, closed my eyes and called for Mongoose.

I had met a woman in England, two years ago, on the tour of sacred sites with all the mystics. She had seen me put my hat over my face and journey at the site of the sacred waters of Cerne, when the German shaman had shown up and offered to drum for us. At lunch, in the pub, she sat next to me in an amiable way and asked me a few questions to determine what caliber of mystic I was. When I told her I worked with hoarders it prompted her to ask if I did space clearings and she had urged me to do so. Later she described her technique to the group. She simply asked St. Michael to send down the Hoover with which she would vacuum whatever space she was concerned with, especially all those old theaters where she plied her trade as an actress. It needed it, she explained, because of all the emotional energy thrown into the space from the enacted drama of a play. Especially into those high ceilings.

So I reminded Mongoose of this conversation and asked him to send me an equivalent to her Hoover. Suddenly over his head a creature hovered in the room with us, his broad wings above me. This, said Mongoose, was the Hoover Pelican. Okay, I thought, I can work with him. And so I walked the room in a spiral from the center going out to the walls, holding the Hoover Pelican in my mind as he sucked up all the dingy energy from the room into his large bill. We went from room to room, bathroom, living room and kitchen repeating the exercise until I got to the kitchen door and he flew off towards the ocean. 

"You know", I thought to myself, "this reminds me a lot of the shamanic extraction workshop" and so I was satisfied that I had done it.

I'm a good landlord, I said to the universe feeling better inside the now freshly Hoovered house, the afternoon sun streaming in the window. There must be good tenants out there who would be pleased to have such a house and such a fine landlord, I said. All you have to do is match us up, I reminded these Forces of Good. They didn't really need reminding because that's what they do best, maneuver people around until they get hooked up and get what they need from each other. They just needed to be asked. I would be patient and wait, keeping the faith that it would work out. 

I left the blinds open in back so thieves could see there was nothing to steal. I left the garage unlocked for the same reason. I closed the gate, after I backed my car out, and locked it closed with the padlock.

The day I drove up down the I-5, I answered calls from my ad in the paper. One of those callers checked out the house and called back later in the week. I felt comfortable with her straight forward presentation. She and her fiance both had jobs they wanted to be closer to and relatives in the area. They had been together a long time and their landlord would be sorry to see them go. They loved the house; it was charming and the workbench in the garage was perfect for his upholstery projects. Their rent would be the same as where they were living now. 

My agent reported that they were nice and seemed to be hippies, she said laughing her valley girl laugh. Hippies with upholstery skills. I was liking this more. He did upholstery for a living, mostly for hotels. She was a caretaker and also had a house cleaning business. Their references checked out. One of the references, a landlord, was very chatty. Asked me how I was doing with my rentals. He said he had been pretty lucky, but added "you sure won't hold on to any religion being in this business". I laughed. 

"Or maybe you get religion being in this business," I said. Yes, my faith in humans had been trashed three times now, but my spiritual strength had been fortified, along with my leadership skills.

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