Tuesday, January 4, 2011

I Shall Never Live With a Female Again: Part Two

Wrench not pictured.

The Prozac Jitters
I had worked at the same company with S about a year when we decided to live together. She seemed a nice enough person, with a good sense of humor.
     She had been engaged, but the fiance had inexplicably moved out one day and canceled the wedding plans. She was distraught and, paying too much rent for a Brooklyn floor-through, wanted something more economical. I sympathized with her over the disappearance of the boyfriend. 
     "How could he abandon you like that?" I asked, indignant. It seemed capricious and cruel; later, I thought it showed a discerning nature and more than a lick of sense. He had legged it, and fast. When he broke up with her, S had idly threatened to stab him with a kitchen knife. 
     When S left her old apartment, I took the opportunity to let an apartment-hunting couple of mine know about it. They visited, approved, and agreed to take it. After S arrived with bags and boxes to our new apartment, she asked if I would accompany her back to her old place to "pick up a few things,"  such as her bedding, and a few pairs of shoes. Odd that she left them out of the moving truck, I thought, but agreed to help. When we arrived, I received my first harbinger of doom. S waded right into the apartment, through piles of wrinkled clothing, bags of half-eaten potato chips, cat toys, sponges, utensils, and sacks of garbage. I stood there, appalled, as she scooped up a few pairs of shoes. A couple of them spilled out of her arms as she shuffled back toward the door.
     S, you see, was the kind of girl who always appeared impeccably dressed, ironed, and accessorized. I had never had a hint of the chaos under the veneer.
     "Things got out of control while I was packing," she confessed. Very well. I had visited her in the apartment a few months before, but remembered nothing like this. Perhaps it was just an aberration.
     She gathered up whatever she could carry and gave me the garbage bucket and a mop to tote back to the new apartment. They looked suspiciously unused.
     "I guess you're going to come back and clean up this stuff?" I ventured.
     "Not at all." she replied. "The landlord will take care of it."
     A few days later, I received a phone call from my friends who had moved in. The apartment was supposed to have been left "broom clean." They had spent a full day, along with the landlord, toting sacks of discarded possessions and rotten food to the street. The refrigerator was filled with half-eaten bags of stale Cheese Doodles. Not only that, but S had left two big cardboard boxes stuffed full of her personal diaries. My friends were kind enough to hang onto them. (About two years later, when S still had not made a move to reclaim them, my friends cracked a couple and read a couple of tiresome, whiny entries. They were then chucked unceremoniously in the trash.)
     S, however, had brought plenty to our new apartment. Three cats, with all their accessories, moved right in. The place was lousy with cats. Her former fiance, a poet, had abandoned a full library of books in his haste to escape her. About 30 boxes of them sat in our living room. And her clothes collection was astounding. It came in big black garbage bags, on clothing racks, on hangers stuffed into boxes. Everything was impossibly wrinkled and, I soon discovered, would be summarily dry cleaned--at what enormous cost I can't fathom.
     After a couple of weeks in the new apartment, S still had not made a single effort to put away any of her belongings. They filled the common rooms from floor to ceiling, spilled out into the hallways, glutted the exits. The whole place was one goddamn fire trap. Over the piles, the three cats prowled about, yowling and urinating wantonly.
     Enraged, I demanded that S raise herself off the couch and do some work. She would tote a load of clothes up to her lair, then collapse on the sofa and smoke languidly, watching me under half-lidded eyes as I strained with more of the load.  After about 3 months of steady work, all the materials were contained. Her own room was a study in chaos: great, black garbage bags of clothes were piled around her bed like a barricade, and the clothing racks sagged under the weight. S had become so enslaved by fashion that it had literally imprisoned her; she lay in there like some troglodyte harpy, cawing out demands and complaints. She was so doped up on Prozac and other unidentified substances that she never got out of bed before 11 a.m.--especially on work days. Around her bed, an alarming supply of prescription bottles lay opened and half-spilled, presumably so she could snack on them in the night. I also noticed what I thought was a crusty old vibrator lying amongst the detritus, but I won't speak of that.
     Sometime early in our relationship, we acquired a third roommate. G moved in , full of good will. During his first week, one of the wretched cats urinated on his new leather jacket, which he had been unfortunate enough to leave on his floor.
     Despite the enormous number of feline presences in the home, S cleaned their litter box sporadically, at best. The cats rebelled. Occasionally, we would find little cat doody surprises on the kitchen floor. G and I made a pact--we would not clean the things up, no matter how terrible, because it would set a bad precedent. As a result, sometimes the poo would remain on the linoleum until it encrusted into a kind of awful museum piece. When we tactlessly mentioned the "little accidents," S would mutter and growl under her breath.
     S spent most of her evenings sprawled on the couch, a cigarette in her lips, the remote in hand. I seemed destined for weak-willed, pasty roommates with no hope of social life. A nimbus of cigarette ash and food products formed on the carpet--my carpet--under her head; the stain is there still. When I returned home from a night out with friends, S would fix a lazy, lizardlike eye on me from her recumbent position. The effect was downright creepy.
     Pretty soon, we began to notice that a pervasive odor of cat urine was infecting the entire place. The cats seemed to favor a dank, brown rug that had been laid down over the stairs and in the front hall sometime in the 1960s. One afternoon, G. and I tore up the entire carpet, picking out nails with a pair of pliers, and hoisted the sodden mass outdoors. The wood floor that was revealed was in decent shape. During our labors, S returned home, and fell into a foul humor as we had not asked her "permission" before the undertaking.
     Money also became an issue. S and I had initially agreed to share the grocery shopping. This changed after I got wise to her little scheme. At the store, she always seemed to have an empty wallet. I was constantly asking her to reimburse me for food, cleaning supplies, and other household necessities. So jittery with Prozac that she could barely write, S would grudgingly pen a check after some weeks of requests.
     During this time, she was set up by a sympathetic coworker on a blind date. On only their second time out, her purse was stolen. The date, acting as a gentleman, offered her his credit card until she could get her cards replaced. During the next few weeks, S engaged in a maniacal spending frenzy. She returned home with pairs of new shoes to add to her growing pile, and wallets stuffed full of cash-advance money--none of which, I noticed sourly, went to repay me for all her past debts. After at least $1,000 of madcap spending, S went to the bank machine and discovered she had maxed out the poor fellow's card. She explained to us, without a trace of remorse, that as his mother had recently died, he had a number of expenses on the card for the funeral and the gravestone. She seemed slightly put out that her ready cash flow had dried up. By this time, the poor man was so repulsed by her that he insisted she get out of his life--and forget about the money.
     For some time, S had taken to applying her makeup and dressing in my room after I left for work in the mornings. Her room was such a disaster that such actions were impossible. Although I kept my door bolted shut to keep the infernal cats out, S would often forget and leave it open behind her. After a weekend away, I returned home and headed for my room. Something was wrong. Terribly wrong. I patted the bed, and realized that it was a sea of cat piss--soaked through right down to the mattress. G returned home to find the sheets, featherbed, and blankets cascading down the stairs, while my tortured screams echoed through the house. To add fuel to my fire, I discovered that S had eaten a large portion of my prescription allergy medication. She must die.
     S, when confronted, suggested that perhaps the cats were angry because I had abandoned them for the weekend. She also recommended that I kept my door locked. With that, she slouched out of the room, forgetting to offer to clean my bedding. I did eventually wrench a check out of her to pay for the exorbitant cost of cleaning the featherbed (no dry cleaner within a 50-mile radius would touch it), but the situation led to the final dissolution of our friendship, as it were. After accusing G and I of a cruel collusion against her and the cats, she elected to move out. I made myself scarce while she packed. Afterward, G and I cleaned every trace of her foul presence from the apartment. I noticed that the little toad had somehow managed to pack all my music notebooks and my entire box of tools--two things which she would never use in her lifetime. She claimed she didn't have them, but I think the real reason is that she never unpacked at her new apartment. I can picture her there now, surrounded by cardboard boxes and piles of faeces.
     After she was gone, we did find one more memento of S: we made an odd discovery of a collection of giant x-rays of her skull and pelvis, stuffed behind the couch. Sadly, there was no silhouette of a metal wrench to be found that might explain the mystery of her troubled nature. Somewhat terrified, we pried up the cheap wooden boards in the dining room wall and hid the x-rays there, where they will no doubt be found by some future archaeologist.  


Jack Silbert said...

Why does cat piss amuse me so? Oh me oh my.

Anonymous said...

What an amazing story. The x-rays at the end made it feel like a piece of artfully-crafted fiction.