December 30, 2005

Returned from time spent with family to discover that my refrigerator had decided to grow up and become a heater. Since the weather is cold enough and forecast to remain so, less than a day had apparently passed since the transition, and (fortunately!) the refrigerator just happened to be as empty as it ever was, with the help of my temp-rented balcony I temp-dealt readily enough: and then I went downstairs to the building management office to continue trying to untangle the erroneous eviction notice through the forest of staff who apparently never talk to each other, who never seem to be responsible for the specific issue I am trying to resolve, and half of whom always appear to be on vacation. (Obviously I am in the wrong line of work.) I walked in the door of the open office. The staff member-of-the-day, the only person in the office, looked up at me. I smiled back, and laid the two relevant pieces of documentation on her desk: resolve that first and at this point urgently, before sending in the work order about the refrigerator (which I introduced at this point only with the laughing words "it seems to have turned into a heater").

"What do you want me to do about it?" were the first words out of her mouth. Yes, those were certainly the words I wanted to hear from her, just then.

I asked her just to look at the two sets of numbers in question. I left without comment for the moment that the first of the two documents showed the exact amount of money the building management corporation had, in writing, asked me for when they had re-evaluated my rent two months ago; while the second demanded more, saying that I had not paid enough, yet at the same time showing that I had paid exactly what had been asked of me previously.

At first she tried to avoid looking at them at all: I don't know the history, I don't have the file. You don't need the history, said I. It is only a matter of the numbers. Just: look, and think. I think the smile might have still been tugging at my mouth as I said the words. Certainly I was still amused, if oh so tired, the whole sequence of events (and other things) this month has a certain surreal quality to it, and I take it with a sense of humour (for the alternative would be to weep), for all it swallows up time and energy beyond what I would have thought possible to have, even last month. But the humour is what I was feeling, then: and only the dry expressionless hint of humour would have shown in my face and my voice.

I have rarely heard so many ways to abrogate all responsibility in a single sitting.

Forget any possible acknowledgement that a mistake just might have been made by someone in the office (and I was and am perfectly willing to leave it at "someone", provided I could get this eviction notice from dangling above my head): she had gotten well into a solid apologia for the corporation before finally revealing that she was the rental agent for the corporation and had no further power (and this, during a time that the building management office was said to be open) -- and even then she tried to enforce upon me everything but that her corporation might have slipped up. She may not have had the power to resolve anything, but it didn't stop her from trying to thrust all responsibility, for every last part of this interaction, upon me. She didn't even see a problem with the demand that I keep re-arranging my schedule and taking time from my obligations to keep trying to deal with the office's mistake, lest I be evicted due to that mistake. (I understand now why the tenants' association finally formed: and one would have thought it a union, for all the pressure the building corporation had exerted against that forming.)

As fortune would have it, another person had wandered into the office during the last minute of this exchange. I said I was willing to let them go ahead, if it were reasonably short; I could wait. Turned out they were looking to rent an apartment.

Ah yes, says the rental agent, I was just on my way to that building: and she was collecting keys and fully prepared to be out of the door and abandon me standing there (and who cares if I were to be evicted tomorrow or not) -- when I turned to the potential new tenant who had witnessed the relevant part of our discussion and said quietly to them, "Prepare to deal with this kind of thing regularly, if you choose to rent here."

The rental agent froze. Just that simply, I had taken back the power into my own hands. (Until that moment, I think she honestly believed there was nothing I could do about it, so there.) After a few frozen seconds, she, public face of the corporation she served so loyally, said to me, "Don't be disruptive" -- but I only stood there, half smiling at her ... and waiting.

She didn't leave, not then. When I asked her a second time, she admitted she could fill out the work order for the refrigerator, and did so. And, as I headed out the door first, she even apologised -- shifting finally from a bludgeoning demanding to halting explanation and plea for understanding ... though I had offered her this from the first.

Why did her back have to be against the wall before she could see it?

Happy New Year!!!

And to you as well :)
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