My landlord may think I’m some sort of psychopath.
The GPS informed H and me that we were exactly 22 minutes from our destination: my new flat. I had been told by campus housing to give the landlord a call when I was about 10 minutes out, but I thought I’d be nice and give him an extra 12 minutes to…I don’t know…finish cooking the tilapia for his salad or till under that last patch of garden. I dialed, my hand shaking slightly. I’m not very good on the phone; whether I’m calling a friend or the pizza guy, I always manage to say something jackass-like. Come to think of it, I do that in person, too, but the phone makes it all seem so much more permanent. I could look in my phone records and see how many minutes I spent sounding like a jackass.
“Ha-llo?” said an annoyed sounding voice on the other side.
“Eh…hello, Mr. Ludovic*?”
“Yes, who this?”
“Uh, this is Bagel, your new tenant, and I’m just calling to let you know that I’m about 20 minutes away.”
Hmm. That was much easier than I thought. Clearly, I am a phone genius. I was mentally patting myself on the back when I heard H utter an “uh-oh” from beside me. I looked up to see a solid line of cars stretching out for what seemed like miles in front of us.
“Don’t worry,” I said cheerily. “We’ll just be on time instead of early.”
The minutes ticked by and we only inched forward. Nearly 20 minutes later, we were in the city proper. H dodged and weaved through cars, maneuvering our big yellow van like she had been driving it all her life. I was fully convinced that, had I been driving, we would have been pulled over and H would be nursing me through a panic attack. I glanced at the clock.
“Maybe you should call the landlord again,” H suggested. “I don’t think we’re gonna get there on time.” I sighed and picked up the phone.
“Ha-llo?” said the still annoyed voice.
“Hi, Mr. Ludovic, this is Bagel-your-new-tenant again. Seems I’m going to be a bit late. I am so so sorry. Can I give you a call when we get there instead?”
“OK.” Click. It was hard to determine if the second “OK” sounded more or less exasperated than the first.
After the GPS got us lost several times due to construction or lost service, H and I finally arrived at my new building. I called Mr. Ludovic.
“Hello, Mr. Ludovic!” I said brightly. “This is Bagel-your-new-tenant. We’re here. Would you mind popping by to give me the keys?”
Shakespeare said that brevity is the soul of wit. Perhaps Mr. Ludovic was a Shakespeare fan. Or maybe he thought I was a jerk. Either way.
H decided to wait in the van while I got the keys issue sorted. I waited by the front door for maybe two minutes before I saw a short, olive skinned man with graying hair trot up the front walk towards me. He nodded to me and launched right into business.
He shoved a jangling key ring in my faced. “Big key, front door. Middle key, you door. Li’l key, mails. OK?” I nodded my understanding. I followed him through the front door down an unbearably hot corridor. He pointed to a door on the right. “Bicycling.” He pointed to a door on the left. “For clotheses. OK?” I wasn’t really sure what the hell he was talking about, but I’m too politically correct to ask a person with a foreign accent to repeat themselves. Luckily he didn’t wait for my response and walked quickly towards a tiny elevator with a sliding black grate. We got in, he closed the doors and up we went.
Awkward elevator silence ensued. Why is everyone always so quiet on elevators? I mean, you’re in there, all crammed together, nearly or actually touching, and you don’t say anything? What is wrong with society these days? Why can’t we be more social? I was determined to break the taboo.
I looked over at Mr. Ludovic’s creased brown face. “So,” I began. “Are you…Croatian?” It’s a hobby of mine to guess where people or their family names are from.
“Eh, yes,” he replied, looking at me with a small amount of awe and/or, dare I hope, respect?
“Oh, YES!” I said, doing a small fist pump. I love being right. Balkan names are always so difficult. Bosnian names are usually pretty easy, but it’s the Serbian-Croatian names I really have a hard time placing. Also, most of their accents are too similar to tell apart….Sorry for that random tangent. Anyway. Looking up from my self-congratulatory spasm, I saw him staring at me as if I had just peed in the corner of the elevator. “Uh…sorry,” I said lamely. “Look, here’s my floor!” I said as we soon after jarred to a stop. I rushed to get off.
Mr. Ludovic did the landlord thing, showing me around the flat, making me sign a bunch of papers and informing me where I could park the moving van. If possible, I made an even bigger fool of myself by doing things like squealing over the view from my windows, almost breaking a shelf by trying to hang from it, and the like. Even now, I don’t really know what came over me. Everyone has those wacky days. I’ll blame it on a lack of sleep. Or lead poisoning. Or both. Unfortunately, all the events of my wacky days were condensed into those first few hours in my new place, and all were witnessed by Mr. Ludovic. All things said by the aforementioned were said in a terse, monosyllabic manner and the happy landlord took off like a shot when his duty was concluded. I took the stairs back down to the first floor and jogged out to the truck to start the unloading process.
“Well, H,” I said as we pulled the dolly through the front hall. “My landlord thinks I’m a nutjob.”
“Well, Bagel,” H replied. “Your landlord is right.” I chuckled and grabbed the handles of the dolly in order to back it into the lift. To do so, I wedged my bum against the grate while H held open the outer door. It was a most uncomfortable position, and I readjusted suddenly as I felt my grip on the handles slipping. It was then that I heard a rattle and then a metallic clink. I looked down just in time to watch my newly procured keys vanished through the crack leading to the elevator shaft. Things went in slow motion. It kind of looked and sounded like this:
Perhaps it was a little less dignified.
H took it all in stride.
“Not a big deal. Just give your landlord a call.” Sadist. I pulled out my phone and, once again, dialed Mr. Ludovic’s number. Maybe my knowledge of Balkan surnames had impressed him enough to not be annoyed with me.
“Hi, Mr. Ludovic, guess who.”
“It’s Bagel-your-new-tenant so look I dropped me keys down the elevator shaft I’m sorry I’m sorry.”
There was a very pregnant pause.
Mr. Ludovic met us in the front hall. He came towards me with the look of someone approaching a rabid badger.
“I call guy. He get keys. I call you. Here temp-or-ary keys. OK?” He held out a new set of keys to me, and quickly withdrew his hand when I had grasped them, as if he were afraid he could have lost a couple fingers in the process.
“Yes, OK, thank you, sir,” I said as he turned to leave. “See you later, then,” I said without thinking. I can only imagine the response formed in his head.
“Dear Jesus, I hope not.”