UNITED STATES—I was on the porch when a man came walking down the street and stopped to look at the front of the house. It was Lawrence, right on time. I met him that morning on the patch of sunlit earth in front that wasn’t doing so hot sprouting the grass seed I’d scattered. Unlike leagues of other prospective tenants, Lawrence kept his appointment. He wore a crew-neck sweater, navy blue; was unfailingly polite. Had a job at the airport, recently acquired, handling luggage curbside, and he was looking for a room for two people.
Lawrence was honest and up front about a recent rough patch in his life. He was setting up housekeeping while he waited to be joined by his wife, who was away in Sybil Brand. Sybil Brand sounded like a nice place, but it was the women’s prison in East LA, and Lawrence’s wife had done something not nice to be there.
I had to weigh all this. Certainly my job as manager wasn’t to give somebody a chance in life, but here I was with the chance to give somebody a chance in life.
I walked Lawrence Brown up the creaking stairs, all the way upstairs, to show him the attic room at the top of 1980 Estrella.
“No,” Lawrence said after a quick glance at the shag-carpeted garret. “It’s dark and depressing. There’s no cross ventilation.”
I took him back downstairs to the first-story turret room with its high ceiling and big windows that let the morning in. Across the street a milk truck was unloading for the store, a power mower was going someplace.
“This is it,” Lawrence was confident.
His eyes had a clean, clear glow and he had the cash for the non-refundable deposit. I had given up hope of renting any rooms after a couple weeks of missed appointments and a tiny number of apprehensive souls who just turned up their noses at what they saw. “There was a glow in his eyes,” I told a friend about the huge milestone of renting out my first room. The glow was measurable and non-chemical, and my friend concurred that there are those who embrace faith or undergo a cleansing, and you really do see a glow.
There is another kind of glow, hard and synthetic, when people get high, but Lawrence’s was the real deal.
You can’t rent a room on the basis of a glow in one’s eyes, I know. Perhaps a more case-hardened manager would have seen the possible pitfalls in Lawrence’s application, but his references all checked out. I know you can’t rent out a room on the basis of a glow in one’s eyes. But I was green and pretty young to be in a manager’s shoes, twenty-seven.
The fact is, after renting my first room I was feeling celebratory. When I couldn’t get somewhere by bus, my friends, who had dismissed me from a residence on their couch, would graciously come to this place that felt a bit like Fort Apache, the Bronx and we would go to clubs, poetry readings, the basement at Coconut Teaszer or watch videos at Nadeau.
With Lawrence Brown to join us on Estrella Avenue there were smiles, smiles all around. I was on top of the world, flirting with that “everything-done” feeling: I could almost taste that elusive state when everything the house required had been taken care off—all the rooms were rented out, the drains were unclogged.
There were smiles when a friend of Lawrence brought his furniture in an old pick-up and stood on the sidewalk wiping sweat off his face with a bandanna as Laurence and I did the heavy lifting moved in the couch. On the nightstand he had a Bible and an had another book that looked somber: the binding portended Nietzsche or the Bhagavad Gita. It turned out to be an AA guide—a thing that would become familiar to me as I dealt with the humanity that dwelled in the rented rooms.
Now with the first month, last and security deposit in hand, I got a chance to finally meet the owner of the house, to put a face to the chipper voice and deprecating humor that harassed me via phone often at the crack of dawn. Mr. Wylie came in person to pick up the loot in a white Mercedes SL that he parked crosswise over the front yard, but hey, he owned it. I remember he called in advance, saying “I’m a block away.” His phone was a device half the size of a football helmet. In and out in seconds, working at twice my speed, he took the money and sped back to the freeway.
To be continued…
Humorist Grady Miller is the author of the humor collection “Late Bloomer,” available on Amazon.com. Grady can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.