UNITED STATES—The sun can, at times, be so raw and unforgiving, it can give you a toothache. And the survivors of the dreams and plans stand stunned in the blinding blaze: what happened? what went wrong? They say we’re living in a desert, and the desert will make you crazy . . .
A lot of things happened at Manhattan Place that spring. Joe the ersatz paterfamilias moved out of the attic man cave he’d fashioned. The owner, Wylie, was peeved; he saw that the loudmouth “crazy” Joe (branded such for being so vocal about getting the hot-water heater fixed) had been getting a mid-city penthouse free—above the little room he was officially renting, which served as his office and entry to the closet with stairs to the attic. Wylie wanted more rent and he got it from a couple who were about to have a baby, a young blues musician and his lovely wife.
Their doorway was right across from Moorehead’s room. He vacated according to his agreement, and he wanted his things put into storage since he didn’t have a permanent place to stay yet.
Moorehead was sighted around the neighborhood, such sightings as generated by souls who’ve gone beyond the pale and therefore qualify as events worth talking about. The Turkish addition to our household, Ahmet, saw him by La Cienega and, “He said hello to everyone and said that he would like to come back (someday).” We chuckled after hearing the ominous ‘someday’ through Ahmet’s emerging English. Joe spotted him stopping near Arlington and picking up a piece of random paper from the sidewalk and scrutinizing it with childlike absorption. Well, that’s the kind of extra attention you get once you pull a kitchen knife on somebody and say, “The President told me to do this.”
I know that curiosity often leads me to look at odd papers on the ground (to this day I cannot do so without remembering Moorehead and what Joe said about him) and wonder if that means I’m crazy. But sometimes the odd pieces of paper turn out to be money.
We . . . Wylie, Bill Bailey, and I dragged our heels in clearing out Moorehead’s room. When we finally got around to opening it, after the sheriffs had come, some things were disturbed. The front window was open a crack—the turntable and speakers were missing. Somebody had broken in by the window via the front porch—not through the door. It was a clean, quiet job performed one night when I was probably out with friends.
The natural reaction would have been to file a police report, but there was plenty of guilt all around. I felt it for having rented the room to Moorehead, despite my vow after the Edward and Beverly Jones debacle to never heed a mother’s recommendation. Guilt for dragging our heels in getting the stuff into storage. Guilt for renting out a room to the party who very likely committed the theft. Guilt even for being out the night that the theft occurred.
The German poet and universal genius Goethe said, “You treat people as if they are elevated, and they will rise to the occasion.” More than a couple times as manager I helped out people who were less than qualified to be tenants, united with my own fierce desire to keep the rooms filled, often they did turn out to be fine. My tenure disproved the Goethean dictum in the case of the Manhattan imbroglio. Goethe also said, “I could have been the greatest criminal in Europe.” I disproved that one, too, or maybe the problem was being in the United States of California instead of Europe.
You see, I had a bright idea how to handle the situation with a minimum of loss for Wylie properties: get a padlock and a hacksaw, cut the hasp and glue it back together with super glue after putting the things in storage. Put two and two together. A hacksawed padlock would immediately explain why some things went missing. Some of the boss’ muscle came with me down to a storage unit down by the convention center. And I set it up. I’ll always remember a phone call with a friend after that hard day’s work; the friend asked, “Is there larceny in your heart?”
Grady Miller is a humorist. His new comedy fiction cavalcade, “Later Bloomer,” is now on Kindle. Grady can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.