There are many real estate nightmares in the naked city. This is only one of them. — Ralph Weinstein
* * *
Malibu, California — Call her Joni. She’s 75. She’s my father’s widow, his second wife, as good a woman as my mother was, and that says a lot about her, and how lucky my father was to have married two ten’s in one lifetime. Joni and my father lived together in Malibu in a beautiful contemporary home originally designed and built by a man with an Italian light fixture fetish, a well lit mountainside aerie with a stunning sea eagle’s view of the ocean between Zuma and Trancas. It’s a 3500 square foot, two story residence that became too much for Joni to maintain living alone there after my father’s death. Since Malibu’s real estate market was (and still is) depressed by the economic meltdown, she wisely decided not to sell but rather to lease the property until hopefully it would appreciate again to a semblance of its previous pre-crash value, which in the golden years of Malibu real estate values was something in the four million dollar range. She engaged a real estate firm, one of Malibu’s biggest and oldest such egregious vulture-like enterprises, to draft and negotiate a lease contract that specified a fee of $12,000.00 per month, which was a fair figure given the property and the neighborhood (the “comparables” as they say in real estate lingo), and so it wasn’t long before an interested family showed up to consider engaging it, which they promptly did. Our story begins as I sat down with Joni to discuss what followed:
RW: So, Joni, was it really as bad as all that?
Joni: It was a nightmare come true from which I’m still recovering. I should have known right away.
RW: What do you mean? Were they like a family of apes swinging from a tree when you first met them?
Joni: I never met them.
RW: You gotta be kidding. You never met people who were going to be living in your home for at least a year, to evaluate them in advance?
Joni: No, I’m not kidding. The head of the family, Walter Rind (that last name alone should have clued me) works for a Texas corporation that rescues failing businesses, then resuscitates them somewhat, and then sells them at a nice profit. Call it bottom feeding I guess but catfish do it and they do fine. A partner from the firm, the CFO, negotiated the deal with my real estate reps led by agent Wanda. Mr.Big Shot Exec said that they, the Rind family, were very anxious to move in right away, could I vacate immediately? It was July 1, right in the heart of the joyous summer season, but I thought, well, yes, I’ll drop everything and vacate posthaste to allow the Rinds, Mommy and Daddy and the three little Rinds, to celebrate the Fourth and enjoy it in their newly leased home. So I busted my butt to get out of there in two days, and you know what?, the family-from-thoughtless stalled two more weeks before committing to the deal and moving in. They ruined MY holiday when I traditionally host family and friends in my home. Like I said, I should have known right off.
RW: Wow. People who don’t do what they commit to do. They sound like real Americans to me, just like the folks who elected President Obama with high hopes and now wonder why President Business-As-Usual isn’t their best Bud. This, Joni, is called dumb shit-itis, a malady defined as a form of insanity when one believes anyone is different from all the other schmoes one sees in Washington, on the freeway, on TV, at the office, in front of you in line at the post office, and mindlessly strolling around the absurd complex of purveyors of overpriced crapola at the cruel joke of The Lumber Yard and The Cross Creek Shopping Center. Ok, so these solipsists don’t follow through with what they say they’re going to do, they have no consideration for anyone but themselves. Surprise me some more.
Joni: Right away Mrs. Rind phoned early one morning to inform me that there were two squeaking door hinges in the wardrobe room; could I send a “professional person” over right away? (That’s the term she used since the lease language specified “professional persons” be summoned promptly to effect necessary repairs). I thought, Jesus, does Mr. Rind know what WD-40 is? But I called my son who could easily masquerade himself as a “professional person” to get over there and do what a chimpanzee could do with very little training. He called me afterwards. “Mom,” he said, “I was in and out of there in five minutes. These people are freaks.”
R.W.: Great story so far.
Joni: Oh, you have no idea. Many many more such phone calls came regularly, interminably, many of them on the subject of light bulbs that needed changing. Could I send an electrician over immediately?
R.W.: You’re joking.
Joni: I wish I were. These people were helpless in the face of the most elementary tasks. They reminded me of a sign in the bathroom of a fishing tackle store your father used to laugh about all the time. It was posted above the toilet paper dispenser and read “Installing a New Roll of Toilet Paper Will Not Cause Brain Damage.”
R.W.: I’m beginning to believe the far left press pundits, that these are the final days. But no, on I go, suffused with optimism despite so much evidence to the contrary. So I assume there’s more. What else?
Joni: Oh lord, so much else. One night I get what’s like an emergency phone call from Mrs. Rind. Seems the TV cable’s on the blink and they can’t Ti-Vo their favorite show while they run down to Tony’s for a Greek dinner.
R.W. What was their favorite show? Dancing with Morons?
Joni: She didn’t say but the panic in her voice unnerved me, I thought, my god, these people are so hooked on the idiot box it’s like a form of torture when the damn thing’s over and out as it can often be in Malibu due to the weather or rodents chewing the wires or whatever. I told her, in as polite a language as I could muster at the time, Look, lady, get a grip, you not catching the weekly version of Celebrities Go Postal or whatever does not mean the collapse of western civilization. Enjoy your dolmathes and then come home, dismiss the nanny, and read a book to the kids. They’ll look at you strangely at first but then you’ll see, they’ll react well to valid intellectual stimulation above the level of TV’s parade of lies and trash culture.
R.W. Tell me there’s more.
Joni: Of course. They called to complain when the gardener, the professional gardener, put the automatic sprinklers on hold in the midst of this last wet winter. I told Mrs. Rind; do you not understand that watering is unnecessary when water is coming naturally from the sky these days?
R.W.: What was her response?
Joni: Nothing. She said nothing. Then I said, have a nice evening and then I hung up. So strange, Ralph, so strange, these people are like from Mars.
R.W.: No Joni, they’re not from Mars, they were born and raised here on the planet we know and love. Their numbers are legion. That’s what’s so frightening. I’d feel better if they were truly aliens. Please tell me there’s no more.
Joni: Sorry Ralph, there’s more. Let’s call it Exitgate. Watergate was at least a Nixon ploy that made some sense, all’s fair in filthy politics and all that. Exitgate was more heinous because it involved willful stupid destruction of my property. They decided they wanted to enter the automatic gate at the bottom of the driveway no matter that it was designed to open for exit only. They forced the gate to open for entry and thus destroyed the mechanism to the tune of five grand to fix it. These fruitcakes were costing me more than I could continue to bear in terms of aggravation and real dollars, it seemed like they came to me from a cruise on the River Styx.
R.W.: What about your reps at the real estate firm, did they offer any assistance or counsel during the ongoing onslaught of the Rinds?
Joni: Agent Wanda was compassionate, she felt my pain. She said, Omigod Joni, I’ve been in this business for thirty years and I’ve never been involved with people like this. You’ve got, what?, four months left on the lease and then, hopefully, you’ll be quit of them. Hang in there, Babe.
R.W. Please, I beg of you, tell me we’re in denouement, descent from climax, because I don’t think I can hear anymore without some serious medication in the form of medical marijuana and Russian vodka laced with a pickled Brussels sprout and the attendant juice. Tell me it’s over.
Joni: Sorry Ralph. The big doo-doo was still to come. Mrs. Rind discovered there was mold under the kitchen sink, or what she thought was mold, but what she thought didn’t matter. She called the mold people, the firm that makes a good living off of mold paranoia, they showed up, sent a sample of the gook to the mold lab folks with whom they’re in obvious cahoots, and sure enough the mold lab folks diagnosed the gook as the real fatal thing, as in the early Steve McQueen flick “The Blob” wherein people die under a tsunami of cascading alien goo that looks like green jello. Enter the plumber, the mold inspector, the tented kitchen, the carpenter and new cabinets, the twelve thousand dollars it would eventually cost to deal with the problem. In the mean time, Family Rind moves out, checks into two luxo rooms in the Four Seasons Hotel, one suite for the kids and the nanny, and the other for Ma and Pa Rind. They charge spa treatments, movie star home tours, souvenirs for the kids and god knows what else but the bill comes to nineteen grand for the week and these crepuscular creeps have the chutzpah to present it to me knowing full well, he’s a professional number cruncher for chrissakes, that it’s way out of line given the per diem allowance in the lease specified to cover absence from the property if necessary. We settled for what was fairly stipulated in the lease, a few thousand dollars.
R.W.: Yikes Joni, how did it end?
Joni: Thank God, they opted to vacate at the end of the lease. I heard they bought a place down the street. They’ll fit well into Malibu’s poverty of affluence psychographic you talk about so much. I re-listed the house for sale and got an offer tantamount to what your father and I paid for it 10 years ago. I accepted it gladly and am happy and at peace at last having moved into a townhouse in the valley. How do the French put it when they mean good riddance but wish to say it with more savoir faire? Adieu, Malibu, adieu? But I, being more honest than the average Frog, allow me to close with the word a French cavalryman used when Waterloo was concluding, when the British requested surrender: Merde, he screamed, merde! I think that term sums it all up nicely.