In this month’s issue, we look at renting in Fort Lauderdale and around South Florida. Spoiler alert: It can be hard. Here, our editor remembers rental issues of a different nature.
It wasn’t a terrible apartment, just old. And M, our landlord, was a practical guy. Why replace an ancient heater that makes banging noises like a horror-film basement hostage when you can just come over every couple of weeks to repair it?
We were living in what I’d call a pre-gentrification neighborhood in a city far from Fort Lauderdale, the kind of neighborhood where the cafes are all amazing and the bars are all cheap. Jo and I were newly married, not yet into parenthood and keen to spend on socializing what we saved by not renting someplace more expensive.
And so it was that M came into our lives. He liked us. He told us every time he dealt with us that we were good, professional people. He’d say that whenever he was repairing something, which was often. (“Of course you need electricity in the kitchen; you’re good, professional people.” “Of course you don’t want the stove catching fire; you’re good, professional people.” “Of course the toilet should flush; you’re…”)
He was remarkably resourceful in a surely-none-of-this-is-remotely-legal kind of way. Some problem with the gas oven meant you had to turn it on by manually lighting the pilot light at the back. For this task, M fashioned a long match holder made of several slender metal sticks taped together. All you had to do was strike a match, stick it on the end of the pole thing, lean into the dark oven, poke around with the lit match until you located the pilot light, light it and back swiftly out. M belonged on his own HGTV show, or in prison.
And always, he’d tell us about his hard life. He’d walk in, toolkit in hand, and immediately start explaining how he’d been the younger son, things had been difficult and he had many problems of both a business and a familial nature. We would listen, nodding solemnly while silently hoping the heater he’d begun banging on with a hammer wasn’t about to explode.
M left our life in the usual, non-exploding way. After having our daughter, we decided a house might be a better bet than a third-floor apartment. A few years and several moves later, we’re Florida homeowners. We have a mortgage, home insurance that could pay the salary of a Marlins middle reliever and, in general, concerns other than a landlord who occasionally repairs things in a way that make us question whether or not we’re going to return home to a smoking, blackened void where the back of our apartment used to be.
It’s good, home ownership. But I still miss the old place sometimes. On summer days, I used to open the door onto the fire escape. I’d sit there, drinking a beer, listening to the city and smelling the lamb cooking at the café next door. Then I’d smell something else. Something possibly gas-leaky. Coming, inevitably, from my kitchen. I’d go in, try not to be overwhelmed by fumes, and grab another beer. But I wouldn’t open it until I first called M.
Hey, I’m a good, professional person.