Any elisions in this timeline represent long stretches without unpleasant interactions with landlords, and uneventful tenancies make boring stories. I rented many apartments throughout Iowa City and Chicago before my first full-scale landlord-induced meltdown, which set into motion a series of motifs I’d revisit over the next eight years.
It started with black dirt around the basement’s floor drain, discovered just a couple weeks after my wife and I moved into the house we’d just bought. Because I’d only rented before then, and don’t tend to learn new things until there’s an immediate necessity to, I’d never had occasion to know much about home maintenance beyond filling holes in the wall with toothpaste and hoping my landlord didn’t notice.
But even we knew that stuff was supposed to go into, not out of, the floor drain, so I went online and found a sewer guy named Rick, and Amanda called him. We scheduled the appointment for Saturday morning. Amanda would be in class, and I’d be left to deal with Rick.
No sooner had Rick arrived than the first crisis arose. Friendly and voluble, goofy but kind of blustery, gray-haired and large-bellied like we hope all skilled laborers will be, Rick lumbered downstairs and immediately worked himself into a lather of panicked disbelief.
“Oh no. Oh, this isn’t good. This isn’t good at all.”