You might think that I’m referring to the end of Jean Charest’s nine years of Liberal rule in Québec, but in fact I’m referring to the retirement of my building’s superintendent, who’s been in that position for more than 30 years.
Short, white-haired, chain-smoking Dee, as I’ll call her, has never been the picture of health, and her gruff manners make it difficult for me to describe her as an “old lady” even though, at 77, she should otherwise fit the epithet. In fact, La Chelita probably best described Dee in a comment on Facebook in response to my announcement of her retirement:
That old broad? Who always leaves the door open? With the most tacky Christmas decorations of all time? Who has a voice that pickles eggs?
Yup! That’s Dee. Her health has been declining fast since last year, meaning that she has had to rely on her offsprings to come in and do most of the work. I already wrote about her brood two years ago, but her one respectable daughter who has taken her in to live with her summarized it well to me last Monday: “I had a meeting with the old guy [who owned the building until his death last June] and his son [who now owns the building] and I convinced them not to hire anyone from the family when Mom would retire,” she confided. “I mean, two are on drugs, one drinks and one [sister] is a convicted thief, not to mention none of them can be relied on to be there and do the work.”
And that’s the thing about Dee: the minute a tenant had a problem, she was on it — sometimes too much so. She told me once that the “old guy” (i.e., the late owner) preferred having problems fixed immediately than letting them get out of hand. She also convinced him that it’s better to get good, reliable tenants and keep them by not increasing rents unless absolutely necessary. As such, there hasn’t been much turnover in the four-plus years I’ve lived here, during which time I haven’t had a single rent increase, and I suspect the “keepers” among us are models of always paying their rent on time.
It was during a conversation about 10 days ago that the Sane Daughter told me all I didn’t know yet: that the old guy had died in June; that his son had taken over the building; that Dee was retiring, but that she (i.e., Sane Daughter) was working on hiring a new janitor. However, a day or two later, I bumped into one of her brothers who was going around with a petition, claiming that the old guy’s son intended NOT to replace the janitor and only have someone come in once or twice a week to mop the hallways whether they needed it or not. Remembering the Friday night in the dead of winter a few years ago when a hot-water pipe burst above the ceiling in my bathroom, I agreed it was unacceptable not to have a live-in janitor, so I signed the petition to have him replace Dee. He might be an oddball and would never win a prize for workmanship, but at least things would get done in a timely manner.
Of course, that was BEFORE my talk with Sane Daughter last Monday when she told me about how she’d long ago made plans with the owners not to hire any of them.
“But I still don’t understand why all of you actually signed his petition,” Sane Daughter said to me on Monday.
I stepped up to her, my nose almost touching hers, and said, “You know how your brothers and sister are. They step right into your space like this and ask you for ‘a favour.’ And you know how each of you always says, ‘Don’t listen to him or her or your mother.’ We never know WHO to believe, and frankly, if it were true that there’s a plan not to replace the live-in janitor, I would be the first to protest with the son [the new owner].”
I then stepped away from her. I think she got my point. She might be used to the way they interact in her family, but most of us aren’t.
Enters the Exterminator Dude.
My first encounter with him dates back to July of last year when I reported having bed bugs. That was around the time Dee first landed in hospital and Sane Daughter had taken over for a few weeks. It turned out that the problem wasn’t specific to me but to a few floors at my end of the building, and the culprits were the dudes who’d finally been evicted after months of not paying their bills, including rent, and apparently keeping the place in a shocking mess.
I got a weird vibe from Exterminator Dude right from the start, but not in a bad way. He’s this solidly built brown dude about 5 feet 8, but it’s his dry sense of humour that really threw me off. He seemed to immediately pick up that I’m a Friend of Dorothy, but it was unclear if he was one, too, or simply one of those straight-but-not-narrow kind of guy. Anyway, he came for a few visits last summer, and I’m glad to report that the bed bugs are long gone.
This July, however, I spotted a mouse in my apartment and I immediately reported it to Dee. The very next morning, as I was working, the doorbell rang and Exterminator Dude was on the other side of the door.
— Oh my god, you again?” I said, remembering his sense of humour.
— Dee tells me you’ve got mice now,” he replied, as if we’d just spoken last week.
He set several peanut-butter-laced traps in the kitchen and the living room, advised that it would be better if the same traps were re-used if some were caught, and went on his way. When the first mouse was caught, I got one of Dee’s son to get rid of it for me, for even with plastic gloves or whatever, I start to dry-heave as soon as I get close to a loaded trap. But as a result of Dee’s overprotectiveness, Exterminator Guy was at my door the next morning even though I told her that wouldn’t be necessary since there were still a lot of traps left.
After weeks of summer when the temperature never went below 15 C, fall started arriving this week and overnight temperatures dipped into the single digits. These cooling temperatures must have given the mice world the signal that it’s time to bed down for the winter and seek warmer surroundings, for after three mice getting caught in two months, two got caught just in the last week.
That also brought back Exterminator Dude to my door, although no one told me they sent for him again. Luckily, although I was working, I wasn’t on the phone when he showed up. He reloaded and added more traps, and we chatted as usual as he was doing his work.
Of course, the main topic of our conversation was Dee’s departure and the antics of her crazy brood. While discussing the thief, he matter of factly dropped, “She won’t be able to smooch off her mother anymore, but maybe her new girlfriend will help her out.”
WHAT??!! Girlfriend? I didn’t know she swung both ways, but then, I try not to think about her in ANY sexual situation, be it cock sucking or bush whacking.
— She already flashed her tits at me once,” he said.
— Eeeww! That must have been a sight …as in, NOT!”
— Actually, the tits aren’t bad. But yeah, the rest is pretty gross. But you’re a looker. You must have shit like that happen all the time.”
This was all coming from the guy who, during his previous visit, had told me how he’s a compulsive provider and protective bulldog whenever it comes to his wife and kids. In response to having “shit like that” happening to me, I did tell him about Horny Miss Titties and concluded the tale with “Talk about barking at the wrong tree,” to which he just agreed with a “No kidding!”
But as our conversation evolved, things became clear …or clearer. Basically, he told me about how he only hung out with girls when he was younger, to the point where many assumed he was gay. Then, in response to how Dee’s brood overstep the line of other people’s personal space, he told me that’s how this certain guy was when he was dating his son, about whom he said, “I’m not saying this because he’s my son, but he really is a friggin’ gorgeous boy — light brown skin, olive eyes — so he’s always getting hit on by guys …nice ones but more often weird ones.”
Bingo! Now I got it! Exterminator Dude is and always has been straight-but-not-narrow. Although he didn’t say one way or the other, I’d bet you he’s never done it with a guy and has no interest in trying it, without the thought itself revolting him. And although I didn’t say it, I couldn’t help but think how lucky his son is to have him as dad.
I would rather not see Exterminator Dude at my door again, as his presence indicates that I’m having problems with pests. Besides, it’s unknown if the new janitor will call upon him or someone else if more pest problems arise. But I have to say that, after he left, I couldn’t help thinking how he’s such a quintessential Montrealer: live and let live, open-minded, and flirtatious just for the heck of it without intending anything but playful bantering and joie de vivre.