Rainbows and Candy and Unicorns

Occasionally, I beat myself up a little about the fact that this blog usually defaults to complaining about events in my life. Then I remember that the initial purpose of it, and the reason I called it “MissAnthropy” is because I have a tendency to overreact to minor events in life that I consider the result of other people’s lack of consideration for their brethren.

Occasionally, I wish that I had some major insight or incredible thought to share with the web that might make blogging serve some other, higher purpose. But, really, isn’t it just a public journal? Isn’t a diary just a recounting of events in one’s life? And isn’t it up to the individual blogging to determine the purpose of his or her public journal?

I’ve known my entire life that I’m sarcastic, cynical, sardonic, cranky, and irritable. The only time I didn’t feel this way was when I was self-medicated. Drugs, alcohol, legal or illegal substances. I don’t want to go back to that point and I don’t want to be out of control. But part of accepting my need to control things in my life means understanding that, when I can’t control something, I get irritated and anxious.

What helps, sometimes, is to hash things out here. I think about what happened and my reaction to things, then I talk about it publicly. The few people who regularly comment often have some tremendous insight that helps me to re-think my actions/reactions, and how I might better deal with the same or similar events in the future.

Eventually, I’d like to know that every entry I make is an entertaining account of something that’s happened to me, and that all my readers, friends or not, have an enjoyable experience just coming here.

The past two years have been the most difficult and challenging of my life. I’d say “except for high school,” but I don’t think I had the tools or resources to deal with anxiety and depression in high school and we’re all a little messed up as teenagers, so I’m not counting that period of time. If what has gone on in the last 36 or so months has taught me anything, it’s that I do possess a greater amount of positivity and compassion for other people than I thought I had.

A few times, I have caught myself just wanting to give up and give in to whatever force in my life was pushing against me, but that was rare. I have, instead, discovered that I think the future still holds some amazing things and these difficult periods are passing. I still have hopes and dreams and goals, just like any person.

Not to sound completely sappy and full of rainbows and bullshit. Because the truth is, I’m still a grouch.

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Critter Central

Thanks to the generosity and kindness of two different friends and Charlie’s dad (with the promise to pay them back within the next few weeks), we are able to put a deposit down on a better apartment.

Yesterday we went to look at it, had a “doggie interview” with the landlord, and I got to see the place. It’s big, freshly painted, just professionally cleaned, and has a dishwasher. A dishwasher! The landlord seemed cool. He really liked us, and dug my sense of humor. As cool as he may be, he doesn’t live anywhere near the apartment. So it seems like it’ll be a good fit.

The apartment is on the second floor which, in Chicago, is actually one and a half flights up, because there is a garden apartment partway underground. It’s in an older building, so it’s got its pros and cons, not the least of which is the size, which most likely means more expensive utilities. But whatever.

There’s a Polish woman who lives below, two 20-something guys on the first floor, and we would get the top, complete with 10-foot ceilings, a newer kitchen, and two extra rooms, one of which will be a guest bedroom.

Off the back of the apartment is the kitchen, which you have to pass through to get to the additional room; a sunroom that could also be used for storage. Off there are the many, many stairs that lead down to the basement and the free laundry. That aspect alone is fantastic, except that we’ll be sharing it with three other people. I’m not sure what the deal is with that kind of a situation. I’ve never shared a washer and dryer with other people in an apartment before, so do you work out a schedule with them? Does each person do laundry on certain days? Do you get priority in order of move-in date?

It even has a garbage disposal, which, as a renter of old, old homes for many years, is not something I have had the luxury of using since, probably 2001. I don’t have a habit of stuffing food, willy-nilly, down drains, but being able to grind up anything that might get stuck in there is something I really miss.

We also thought there was a free garage parking spot included, but that does not appear to be the case. However, the neighborhood is not close enough to any of the large Chicago attractions to require permit parking. When you live near Wrigley Field or close to downtown, a museum, or certain parks and restaurants, the city has zoned parking so residents at least stand a chance of getting to park near their place. Tourists have a habit of randomly taking up spots in an effort to avoid the ridiculous charges for garages.

I am really glad we’re going to be above ground because, this morning, Bea woke up with huge, red, hot welts all over her arms and legs. Our first thought was, ohmygod she has to go to the hospital. That initial parent panic faded as I tried to remain calm and assess the situation. Her mood and behavior were exactly the same as they are on any given morning. She didn’t have a fever. Though the swelling and redness was pretty severe when she first got up, it began to fade within a matter of a few minutes. By the time we’d been up for an hour, it wasn’t nearly as freaky.

I did send an email to a friend on Facebook who’s a pediatrician with a photo of a large bite on the back of her thigh, just to see if he thought we needed to take her somewhere. Charlie told me that a guy he works with woke up one morning in a similar situation and thought his daughter had chicken pox. As it turns out, there were baby wolf spiders in his kid’s room that were gnawing on her in her sleep.

So I got out the vacuum and a flashlight and sucked up no less than 8 tiny spiders in her room and closet, plus four or five other unknown bugs from under the bed and dresser. I got several webs and a lot of hair, which I worry speaks more to my lack of housekeeping skills than anything. And last night, I must have smooshed at least four different kinds of beetles and multi-legged creepy-crawlies. Shudder.

All the more reason to get the hell out of here. This place is such a dump. There are holes and crevices and hiding places and cracks for any manner of critters to hang out and reproduce. We now know there are rats in the walls. The other day I was cleaning under our kitchen cart and found dirt kicked out from under the baseboards. Charlie mentioned this to Anne, who didn’t even respond verbally. She just sort of moved her head around in an acknowledgment of the fact that he was speaking and that was it.

The landlady knows we have been searching, but she doesn’t know that we’ve definitely found a place. Yesterday morning, she spoke to me for the first time in over a week. During the course of the conversation, I mentioned that we may not be able to get out before Labor Day weekend (when we’d initially planned on heading back to Indy for a visit), to which she responded, “Well, if you can, TRY to be out before the first. You guys are really putting me in a bind here.”

At which point I bit my tongue so hard to keep from exploding at her that I think I might have drawn blood.

 

Against a Wall

So I kind of screwed up. Apparently, the city code that applies to us is only good if we call the city FIRST, then she tries to evict us. According to three other people who explained it to me.

Anne told us to hold on to the remainder of August’s rent and use that to put down somewhere else. The next day, she reminded us that our rent was now officially late and served us with a 5-day notice of eviction. If we don’t get out, she’ll file for eviction. If we pay her rent, we have no money to put down on another place. If she files for eviction, we can’t rent anywhere.

It’s an ugly, ugly corner to be backed in to. She knows she has the upper hand and has totally used the only tool in her bag of tricks to hang over us. We can’t put Bea in to an apartment that would allow people who have been evicted, so we’ll do whatever it takes to get out of here.

Including, borrowing money from friends. I really thought we had things sorted out when we got here. Sure, we were tight on cash, but it was manageable, if a bit boring when we would want to, say, try a new restaurant, or check out a museum. But it was only a matter of time before we had all that stuff under control.

Now we are in between such a hard place and such a large rock that it feels like I can’t breathe.

In the past three days, I’ve eaten a banana, a small bowl of cereal, and some Reece’s peanut butter cups. Two, to be exact. And about thirty gallons of coffee.

I haven’t really slept. My adrenaline starts pumping and my heart races when I see Anne, prepared for a confrontation. She ignores me or goes right back inside, at which point my system crashes and I feel totally exhausted.

Last night I had to fight back tears in front of Bea because how the hell am I going to explain to her why I’m sad? I just feel sick and tired and worn out and impotent. I have no recourse at this point. The woman is using Bea as a pawn against us because we had the audacity to claim her house was dirty.

Obviously, it’s more complicated than that, but it boils down to something so simple. She told Charlie she would claim we brought in the mold because it was raining the day we moved in and our furniture got wet. She said it’s because I smoke that I got sick. She said she would deny everything in court. She said she has every right to evict us unless we pay her rent. We can’t afford to pay her rent and move.

Technically, we can’t afford to do either thing right now, and are having to rely on the generosity of friends and relative strangers (a guy I went to high school with offered to loan us some money. I certainly hope we don’t have to borrow money from someone I haven’t seen in, like, 16 years) just to keep things in the current state of total chaos and tension.

It makes me sick to find myself in this position and to have to move Bea again, but it’s so much more complicated and involved than that. I don’t even know what to do.

The Lawyer Card

It’s been an exciting few days in the household. And by exciting, I mean exhausting and stressful. Our landlord is currently out of town until sometime this afternoon, which means we breathed a little easier this weekend.

After Wednesday, things have been pretty tense. The super-chatty, in-your-face Anne has turned into the ice cold, brusque Anne who only uses her front door (which she never did in the past two and a half months we’ve lived here), and doesn’t say more than two words to me.

Not that I’m complaining, but after yesterday, things took an even nastier turn. I did some searching the past few days, spoke to a law student and two friendly attorneys, and found the Chicago city clerk’s web site with the municipal codes for landlords and tenants (located here, for your reference). I sent an email to Anne with the information — one particular part of the ordinance applies to any renter in the city of Chicago, which states that a landlord cannot take retaliatory action against a tenant when they ask for inspections or repairs that interfere with a basic warranty of habitability.

Her response to my email detailing this information boiled down to: you’ll hear from my attorneys. Plural. This was sent on a Sunday, which leads me to believe she probably has a friend that she called and that friend said they’d draft up a scary letter telling me and Charlie to pay or they’d start legal proceedings against us.
I, too, have friends who are lawyers, and I’ve spoken with them. All I have to do, they said, is stand in court and read the municipal code out loud. No attorney, no filing fees, no need to do anything but state the facts.

As it turns out, her termination of the lease after we asked for a mold inspection and prospective remediation was illegal. Not only are we entitled our security deposit, we can take up to 30 days to find another place without paying her further rent. And, in the most extreme situation, we could take her to court for all the rent we’ve paid up to this point, as well as asking for attorney’s fees.God knows I don’t want to be here for 30 more days if I can help it. Her personality has done a complete 180.

One of the ordinances says a tenant in this situation can sue for up to a year’s worth of paid rent, if s/he lives in a larger building, but what applies to us, in a dwelling with less than 6 units where the landlord lives on site, says you can only sue for two months. Which is about how long we’ve been here. We weren’t even asking for that — just our security deposit and the same period of time she gave us to get out, initially.

I sincerely hope it doesn’t come to actual legal bullshit. Ideally, she would’ve handed over the deposit (assuming she has it, which I think is a major part of the problem. If she hasn’t put it in escrow, we’re all in trouble) we would use it to put down on a more satisfactory apartment with better living conditions, and, hopefully, a landlord that doesn’t live on top of us, and just get the hell out. We have found some prospective apartments but we don’t have cash in hand, which makes things complicated for us. Again.

In my email, I was honest, saying, look – this is your space. You live here, you work here, you clearly don’t want us here anymore. So let’s resolve this issue as soon as possible so everyone can go on about their lives. The only people who are really out anything here are me, Charlie, and Bea. We’re the ones who have to pack up, who have to enlist the help of friends again, who have to put in another change of address, take another trip to the license branch, change all of our utilities. We are the ones who have to uproot ourselves, try to explain to a future landlord why we were here only 3 months, find a new pediatrician.

And, sadly enough, even if she has no legal grounds to do so, she could still at least start the process of eviction (filing the paperwork is nothing more than her paying a fee and claiming we’re late on rent), which would appear to other landlords if they took the time to look it up. So if she wanted to be a super duper mega-bitch, which would not surprise me at all, she could do that. We would fight it and win, but it wouldn’t change the fact that there’d be a court record of it.

Deep down, I do empathize with her. Despite feeling as if she’s put me and my family in a nasty living environment – first our physical and now our emotional health – for her own personal gain, I think she truly believed it just wasn’t that bad. Her office was down here for a while and she claims she didn’t have any problems, her business partner has a mold allergy and didn’t have any problems. But they weren’t here when the plumbers were tearing up the floor and drywall. They didn’t have to breathe in all the junk and have their belongings covered in the dust and mold spores. Telling me to “go to the doctor” didn’t change the fact that I couldn’t see anything for half an hour, every day, five days in a row.

She initially tried to make it sound as if this was what I wanted (I didn’t want to move, no matter how it sounded to her or in previous blog posts. That’s merely the eventual conclusion I came to, given my understanding of the expense of addressing the problem from her end) and she’s just doing us a favor. Which probably makes her feel that much more pissed off.

Like many women do, she’s got a mental chalkboard going where, every time she’s done something nice for us, she’s made a mark. Now she’s pulled out the chalkboard and is fuming, thinking, “I can’t believe they would do this to me after I did X, Y, and Z!” But the principle of the matter is, picking up a stroller she found at a thrift store for ten dollars isn’t the same as me feeling sick for two weeks, talking to her about it during that time, and her saying nothing but, “You could have had an aneurism/stroke/brain tumor.”

All the little things she has done for us, I appreciate, but I would have appreciated it much more if she’d just minded her business, stayed polite, and offered to clean up the effing mold.

I feel as if she’s yet another in a series of people in my life who are The Victim. While Charlie and I stand around feeling like we’ve been hit by a truck, the driver screams out the window that we damaged their truck. I just don’t get it.

Even if she suddenly decided she would address the mold, it’s too late. Of course, she’ll need to address it, anyway, because if anyone else with mold allergies lives here, the same thing is going to happen again. Her complete disregard for me and Charlie and, especially, Bea leads me to believe she is not as genuinely nice a person as she wants to be perceived. From Day One, she tried to act like Bea’s grandmother, demanding hugs and kisses and giving her little trinkets to try and win her over. It sort of grossed me out. Most of said trinkets were dirty, covered in dog hair, or something that Bea didn’t particularly care for. A bag of glass stones does not negate the potential asthma or pneumonia my daughter could develop from living in this house while people are tearing out walls.

I get that she feels threatened and totally betrayed, because that’s how my mom and my dad and several other people I know are. It’s never an issue of the other person attempting to be rational and hash things out. It’s, “I have done this and this and this, and this is how you repay me? You stab me in the back? You try to ruin my life?”

Because, essentially, I’m feeling the same way. Although I don’t think I’ve gone out of my way to do favors for Anne, I feel as if I have done nothing wrong and am being punished for no reason.

We knew she wasn’t going to do anything. We knew she didn’t want to put out more money. We knew she was going to try and make things uncomfortable for us (and I’m honestly scared to see how the next few weeks go). But her first response of “pay me rent, leave your deposit, and go,” was not quite what I had in mind. Her second response of, “You’ll hear from my lawyers,” also was not what I was expecting.

And, of course, now I’m thinking, “Shit. If I’d just relented, given her the rent, and left the deposit, we wouldn’t be in this mess.” But she knows that, which is exactly why she pulled out the lawyer card. I’ve pissed her off, I’ve broken her trust. She thought we were friends and I asked for more than she was willing to give. So now she wants me to suffer. And, in the process, she’s going to make an innocent two-year-old suffer.

We’ll see how things go when she returns this afternoon. I’m exhausted just thinking about it. I hate confrontation. But if she indeed wants no further communication, she’ll just have to ignore me when we’re outside at the same time.

By the way, why can’t I just catch a goddamn break?

Minor Eviction

Okay, yes. We were leaning toward the possibility of having to find another place. I just wasn’t expecting it to happen so fast. And it’s not like either of us is in the military, so moving every three months seems quite wasteful.

Yesterday was my birthday and, having a two-year-old, it wasn’t quite as low-key as I’d hoped. We spent almost all of the morning and early afternoon going to two different parks and trying to keep Bea entertained. She was in a sassier-than-usual mood and was being quite difficult.
By the time we got home, had lunch, and put her down for a nap, I realized I didn’t feel that sick, my head wasn’t hurting, and the fresh air had definitely kept me from experiencing any of the symptoms I would usually have if I’d been in the house.

So I did some research and sent the landlord an email (she was working at her business partner’s house rather than her own) detailing the information I’d found and the steps most departments of health recommend. I made sure to use reputable sources (the CDC rather than http://www.blameyourlandlordformoldexposure.com — which is not really a site I found, but is close to some I came across).

I’d called the allergist I saw in Indy when I encountered this same problem in 2005 and they offered to mail me the results of my testing. I told Anne she might consider hiring a mold remediation specialist.

First, you get an estimate of the inspection. Second, they give you a detailed explanation of the findings of their inspection. Third, they give you an estimate of the cost and how involved a removal of the mold will be. If my allergy test displayed the same types of mold found in the house, we could go from there, I said.

Within ten minutes, I had a reply that simply said that Charlie and I best move out and be gone by the first of September. It was really that to-the-point.

I was shocked and it left me speechless. I knew there was a chance she wouldn’t be up for trying to address the problem (see my last blog post). I had no idea she would say we had to leave. I called one of my friends who’s a landlord and she calmed me down. There’s no way you can be evicted in 20 days, she told me, and Anne would have to file papers that gave us 30 days, at the least. Also, she reminded, Anne has no cause to tell us to get out.

So we started looking at the tenants’ rights pages and I came across one interesting and frustrating piece of information: a landlord in Chicago can issue you an eviction, sometimes after only ten days, if you violate the lease and have not paid rent. Right now, we pay her rent twice a month (half on the first, half on the 15th), at her suggestion. Which means, she could claim 10 days’ unpaid rent on the 10th of August because we’d only paid half on the first. The lease says to pay rent on the first of the month, in full, and I don’t have anything in writing to back up the fact that she told us we could do otherwise. Charlie started yelling, “I knew that was going to bite us in the ass! I knew it!”

Talk about frustrating.

I wrote her back immediately to say look, I’m sorry if I upset you, I was just trying to figure out the best approach and this is what I found. She didn’t see that email right away as she was already on her way home. I saw her pull into her parking spot and Charlie went out to speak with her.

She came up and said, “Wow. You guys have had a busy day, huh?”
Charlie said, “It was pretty calm until we found out we were being evicted.”
“What? Oh, no! That’s not what I meant!” she exclaimed.
“Well, your email to Courtney said we had to be out by the first,” Charlie said.

She went on the explain that she was “only trying to help,” and if I was “that uncomfortable here,” she was just going to let us out of the lease. Charlie reminded her that the reason we’ve paid her rent twice a month for the past two months is because we haven’t been able to afford the whole deal at once and still keep on top of our other bills. So how could we sign a lease on another place if we’re still trying to get on our feet here?

They spoke for quite some time and I didn’t hear most of it, but what he told me later was that they agreed we would be out by October first — at the latest — giving her time to list the place and giving us time to put together some money, find another place, and perhaps she could keep our security deposit for the September rent. She agreed to this, but kept saying that she didn’t think the problem was mold and I needed to see a doctor and she was just worried about my health because migraines are a neurological disorder.  She went so far as to suggest maybe I had a brain tumor or aneurism.

Charlie and I left immediately after this so we could talk about everything without worrying she was trying to stand outside our windows and listen in (which seems to happen a lot when she’s watering the plants). We walked to Boystown and sat outside to eat and people watch while we tried to figure out how the hell we were going to do all of this.

My classes start September 8th. I have a graduate student orientation on the 6th. Financial aid will go through sometime around then (I have no idea exactly when it’ll be in our grubby little hands), but that will at least offset some of the cost of moving again. Of course, Liz offered to drive up and help us, because she’s just that kind of person.

In the meantime, I have to start packing. We have to fix the back door that Alvy has been chewing on when we leave him alone. If Anne is keeping our deposit for September rent, we better make sure there isn’t any damage she can claim and charge us for. Granted, the house is about 100 times cleaner now than the day we moved in, but whatever.

The really fun part is, this morning, as she was performing her hour-long obsessive ritual of watering all the stuff in the yard that doesn’t need watered because we’ve had something like 18 inches of rain in the past month, she started to turn things back around on me, just like the landlord from the house in south Broad Ripple.
I need to take antihistamines. I need to go to a doctor and find out what’s “really” going on. There’s mold everywhere. Who knows what’s really making me sick? Also, she feels sorry for us because we’re never going to find a place that allows our dog. She feels sorry for us because ALL the house around here are OLD and I will just keep coming across more and more mold. She feels sorry for us because we’re never going to find a landlord as understanding and kind as she is.

All the same stuff the landlord in Broad Ripple said, and all things I told Anne about when we first had a conversation about this a couple of months ago. She clearly doesn’t remember it, or considers herself an exception in this case.

I didn’t tell her that we’ve already found three potential apartments, two of which are completely rehabbed, all of which are cheaper than what we pay now. Two are within walking distance of Charlie’s work. All three have parking, a laundry in the building or in the apartment itself, A/C, hardwood floors, and dishwashers. One even has a built-in microwave in the all-stainless steel kitchen.

Of course, none of them are perfect. I’m not familiar with the neighborhoods like I am with this one. Do I need to get a different pediatrician than the one we’ve already made an appointment with? Will there be a nice park within walking distance? Is there a close el stop? How long will it take me to get to campus? Will we have enough room for our friends to come and stay?

This really throws off a lot of my plans, as I’m sure you can imagine. The landlord clearly does not want to hire any sort of licensed specialist to check out the house, probably for fear she’ll be required to address the problem to the tune of thousands of dollars (as well as some other not-so-legal issues being found out). Her mantra this morning was, “I don’t know what I can do to help.” But I reminded her that the “help” comes from the mold removal people. And she just repeated herself over and over again.

So, instead of, as I was secretly hoping, actually getting things fixed, we now have to dump even more money into moving. And there were so many things I wanted to get. A new toilet brush, a new vacuum cleaner, rugs to replace the ones Alvy and Trinity ruined when they were sick, a nice storage unit for Bea’s toys, textbooks for class . . .

I am so tired of having things turned upside on me. Every time we seem to get settled and things are beginning to adjust into a calm sort of routine, it’s like the universe reaches out to yank me out by the back of my shirt and say, oh no, you’re not getting too comfortable over there, are you?

Antipathy

mold sporesIt’s only 10:30, so we’ll see if today marks a fifth excruciating headache in six days. For the past week, I have started getting a migraine at the same time every morning except for one (and that was when I wasn’t in the apartment), the really bad kind with auras. Yesterday the flashing, wavy lines, and zigzags affected my vision enough that I started to get really freaked out. Like, do I need to go to the hospital? My peripheral vision was fine – when I moved my hands on either side of my head, I could see them both clearly. But everything in front of me was blurry and distorted.

I’m pretty lucky that my migraines usually go away as long as I fall asleep. I made it to Bea’s nap-time, then made her lay down with me in my bedroom while I felt like someone was trying to split the two hemispheres of my brain apart with an icepick. The pain actually woke me up twice, which has never happened before.

The thing that really worries me (besides the loss of vision, which I’ve never had, and besides the frequency of them), is that the only time I’ve ever gotten headaches like this is when I was exposed to mold.

We rented a place a few years ago on the south side of Broad Ripple, Indiana, that had toxic mold in the basement. Our landlord at the time tried to argue that mold is everywhere (it is, especially in an area that used to be a swamp), and went so far as to make me see an allergist on my own dime to prove I had an allergy. I did, and it’s a severe one. Of all the things that popped up on my arms from the test, the mold one itched for weeks after seeing the doctor.

Still, our landlord didn’t want to relent. She tried to say it was in my head, that maybe I burned too many scented candles in the house, or maybe I just needed to bleach the walls. We performed a test that comes in a little kit you can get at pharmacies to show her how many different kinds there were and she argued that those tests were unreliable (probably true), so we suggested we call the Department of Health and have a mold specialist come and check out the house.

She let us out of our lease at that point.

The only thing that’s missing right now is uncontrollable sneezing fits. But I think that only happens when I’m directly exposed to it, meaning if there’s bad mold in this apartment, it’s hidden deep in the walls.

That makes me . . . nervous.

The idea of moving out of this place when our lease is up is enough to make me feel tired. The thought of having to do it soon, if there’s toxic mild growing inside this place, really irks me. I had a conversation with the landlady prior to signing the lease where I asked her about the moisture and bugs. In an email I sent her later, I told her about this previous experience, how sick it made me, and that not only can I not live with mold, I definitely don’t want my kid to, either.

I asked her what sorts of steps had been taken to avoid these things (as much as is possible, given that it’s a garden apartment in the Midwest). She assured me — and you’ve heard this before — in no less than four paragraphs that there were zero issues with either and detailed the steps she’d taken both inside and outside the apartment.

So, either she was lying because she just wanted us to move in, or she really has no idea how bad it is in here. Of course, it was a matter of hours after moving in that we discovered how wet it was, and spent a couple hundred bucks on a heavy-duty dehumidifier we couldn’t really afford. If nothing else, we figured it would at least keep the problem at bay during the 12 months we’d have to stay here.

But now I’m thinking we’re going to find ourselves in a situation similar to that other rental in Broad Ripple. We’re going to have to get one of those test kits, tell Anne about the problems (she knows I’ve been having migraines this week, but that doesn’t mean she will admit to it down the road. She has already tried to blame them on “pollution”), possibly even have a specialist come out to look at the place (what’s that going to cost?), and, if it’s really bad, break our lease and find another apartment.

As much as this place irritates me at times, I do not really want to pack up and move in a month. I don’t want to try and find people to help us move, or move right when I’m starting graduate school. I don’t want to screw Anne over, and I don’t know what she might do with our deposit. We had to put down a full month’s rent, which is a lot more than most places around here which usually just have a $175/person “move-in fee.”

I think the scariest thing about this is that I haven’t experienced the usual sneezing, coughing, itchy eyes sort of allergic reaction. Instead, it went straight to horrible headaches, which is . . . well, to say “bad” is an understatement.

The Mean Geek Clique

There are geeks and dorks, dweebs and nerds, weirdos and freaks. While each classification has its own definition, they all share one common thread: each is susceptible to bullying. Whatever it is about us that makes us stand out, seem strange or awkward, makes other people  uncomfortable enough to target us (at any point in life but, of course, more often when we’re young), some more horribly than others.

Chances are, those who are bullied are also smart and, as we get older and more self-confident, we can find clever ways to bite back when we feel threatened.

Sometimes, though, what seems like fighting back is just another clique bullying someone, and the cycle continues. Only this time, it’s not done out of ignorance or stupidity, it’s a direct, planned, nasty attack meant to make someone else suffer for his or her perceived ignorance. Because that attack is fueled by years of our own genuine or perceived suffering.

Take for example a site that makes fun of Etsy sellers (I admit I’m concerned about attacks from users), a web site full of geeks who love unique, handmade products, but make fun of the worst ones that are featured on Etsy. For sure, Etsy has turned in to a kind of homemade eBay, where some sellers are trying to make a buck off something that is usually neither handmade (unless it’s by an 11-year-old Guatemalan boy) nor unique.

Occasionally, I glance over the comments on the Facebook fan pages for each site. Etsy is full of a bunch of people verbally blowing each other about their cutesy crafts, and the other is full of people attacking the Etsy sellers or users for being stupid, then getting pissed at that person for having the audacity to be offended by being called stupid by a bunch of strangers on a web site.

A recent series of posts has turned the corner from occasionally ugly, light-hearted fun-poking to really vicious attacks. The thing that bothered me most was seeing users who disagreed with the group being attacked, called names, and encouraged to cry like the babies they are and leave the site.

The other night, the site pointed out a couple who had a themed wedding which was featured on the Etsy site. The theme was offensive to many people (1,199 comments and counting as of this post).  The couple admitted to spending something around $10,000-15,000 for their wedding, where they tied their boot laces together, “shared a single bean,” and made all of their guests dress in related gear (including creating a blog months in advance where the bride featured Etsy sellers who had products she felt guests should purchase, and making fun of anyone who came in “regular clothes”).

The angry response was exceptional. Users called the bride and groom everything from ignorant and racist, to referring to the groom as a c*nt, to having Twitter wars with members of the couple’s family who felt the response was out of line.

Fans toted out the stories of their own family members who barely lived through the Depression, suffered extreme poverty, starved half to death. Some referred to their own childhood or young adult destitution, shared sob stories about how they surfed friends’ couches, or talked about other people they knew who were essentially homeless. Hence, the wedding theme was NOT CUTE and these people were PISSED. They posted 15-paragraph-long diatribes about the Depression, what a hobo really was, how retarded this family was, why they deserved to be attacked, and how the user, themselves, can say all this because they know a poor person.

Don’t get me started on my lifelong financial woes, because the shared experience of homelessness does not make me any better or worse than those other people — the couple getting married or the people tearing them apart.

Pointing out the ridiculousness of the wedding’s theme is one thing. The deliberate, personal attack on these people was snowballing out of control. The creator of the site admitted to me that things occasionally get crazy like that, but usually burn out quickly. However, I noticed that first night that she was the one asking fans to post screencaps of the couple’s family’s Twitter feeds, which could only be found if fans took the time to search for those people online. It seems like a terrible waste of energy. And the comments have gone from the hundreds to over a thousand in a couple of days.

I love Etsy. I love the idea of a site that helps people who create individual, handmade items that any of us can purchase. I love the other site. There are lots of hilarious, weird things posted on Etsy, and this site finds that stuff and pokes good fun at them. The owner of the other site also encourages her fans to buy the products of sellers who are in desperate situations – a girl making bags to try and fund her boyfriend’s cancer treatment, a single mom of three kids making teddy bears to try and purchase a car for her family.

Sometimes, though, the snarky, witty, clever, helpful people turn into these rabid, foaming-at-the-mouth, vicious creatures. Their cultural awareness, education, and intelligence is backed by decades of anger at having been made fun of by Popular People. Suddenly, the geeks are the ones with the power, and their sheer numbers, shared hatred for all things cliquey, and skills allow them to completely tear down and destroy an otherwise harmless person who has made a mistake, a misstep, a blunder, a goof, an ignorant remark, or even an ugly dress.

Essentially, they’ve turned into a pack of bullying mean girls. They may support a cause they feel is worthy, but anyone they feel isn’t worth it is summarily trounced.  One woman announced her disappointment in the other users, and her Facebook comment was promptly recorded and posted on the site, where 300 people called her a bitch and a twat, told her to go screw herself, and other don’t-let-the-door-hit-ya’s.

It makes me wonder how strong the connection between the fans can really be when, as soon as someone says “this is going too far,” he or she is ostracized. I made one remark about how I think it’s okay if one out of 90,000 fans dislikes a post and was told to go perform a sexual act on myself by no less than eight people in five minutes.

You can’t blame their behavior on teenage ignorance. It’s adults being  intentionally mean. They want to TELL YOU LIKE IT IS, school you, educate you as to WHY YOU’RE SO FUCKING STUPID, and they want to make sure you suffer for your ignorance.

But what they don’t seem to get is that it’s still butthurt. When someone responds to say, “Why are you doing this to me?” And those fans rise up en masse to pound him back into his place, regardless of their rationale, it’s still bullying.

The Ladies in My Life

I’ve made a concerted effort to extract myself from relationships that I feel are negative, energy-consuming, and difficult. Interestingly, most (if not all) of those were with women. I don’t mean sexual relationships, though that’s about the only thing that was missing. A lot of my former girl friends took so much time, effort, and maintenance, that we ended up “breaking up.” Whether it was me saying I just can’t do this anymore, or them saying I wasn’t putting enough of myself into our friendship, they ended. Even my relationship with my own mother was toxic and exhausting.

Having very little contact with any women around my age where I now live, I have no idea what sorts of friendships I could forge, but I have come to realize how lucky I am to have so many supportive, honest, independent women “back home.” Despite the fact that I no longer see them on a regular basis (and let’s be honest, many of them I haven’t “seen” in quite some time), I appreciate them now more than ever. Mostly because the women with whom I do have regular contact right now are passive-aggressive and difficult for me to deal with.

There are two who come to mind – our landlady and a friend who calls me on a regular basis. I say she’s a friend because our relationship isn’t completely one-sided, but it is one that takes some energy on my part because I’m not sure how to communicate with her.

The friend who calls is a bit of a Type-A personality. She feels she has to micromanage every part of her life, including the people in it, because she has to do it at work. She will call “just to talk,” which is not something I have found myself doing since I was about 16 years old. And, though the conversations may start with her asking me how I’m doing, the minute I pause to take a breath, she launches in to the same complaints about work I’ve heard a hundred times. I should also point out that she’s been doing this the entire time I’ve known her, not just since I moved. During these marathon phone sessions, she frequently complains about how much she’s on the phone . . .

I’m the type of person who wants to help my friends solve their problems. I’d like to identify the problem, address potential solutions, and help you apply the best one. I’m not great about doing that with myself, so maybe I do it too much with friends.

I am working on “just listening,” but it’s hard to hear the same complaints over and over and over again without the complainer attempting to fix any of it. Granted, some of her work difficulties are un-fix-able. She works with some real idiots and you can’t fix stupid. But some of them do have reasonable solutions. She just chooses not to do anything about it.

Of course, I’m more than aware that you might think this blog is just me complaining about the same things over and over, but I would like to think that what sets me apart is that I consider my friends’/readers’ solutions and, when possible, apply them. I also tend to think I’m not super passive-aggressive or a liar.

Which brings us to the landlord. On a regular basis, she refers to herself as a “good Christian,” and likes to talk about what behaviors she exhibits make that statement true. Sometimes — even in the same breath, she’ll tell me how she lies about things to get her way. Playing (or making) up a disability to get special assistance, fibbing about certain requirements necessary in the city of Chicago for different licenses (cars, dogs, apartment, etc…), bending the rules to benefit herself, refusing to apply for permits and then trying to weasel out of the inevitable punishment by playing dumb. She’s even gone so far as to smash a box of glass bottles on a neighborhood bar’s doorstep, then pretending to be deaf so the manager wouldn’t yell at her.

She seems proud of her lies when she tells me about them. It wouldn’t be that much of an issue for me if she didn’t try to play herself off as a poor, honest, ethical, good Christian widow who’s just trying to get by in this cruel world. Owning up to your choices is one thing. Rationalizing the behavior is hypocritical.

But the problem with her corner-cutting is shoddy, unreliable work  — you can’t run the microwave and a hair dryer at the same time — and neighbors who resent her — they let their tenants throw trash all over our yard because they think the landlord is just a crazy old deaf woman. No one takes her seriously and there’s really no need for accountability. We are only two months in to our lease and already know we don’t want to stay. If she wasn’t the kind of woman who wants to be your best friend the minute she meets it, it’d be a different story. But we don’t get much personal space in our apartment. She’s always in the yard, pressing her face against our door to tell us one thing or another. An email would suffice to let me know the plumbers are coming. You don’t have to pound on my door at 7am when everyone is shuffling around in their underwear.

Those plumbers? The ones who worked on our sewer drains last month? And left a bunch of tools, a wheelbarrow, a three-foot-tall pile of dirt that was several feet wide (and took up most of the back patio area where Bea would play) for at least 3 weeks? She pays all these guys under the table, but none of the work is on the up-and-up so they do a half-assed job and leave a mess.

Charlie is watching a co-worker’s dog this week and has to get up early, go walk the dog before work, take his lunch at the co-worker’s apartment,  walk the dog again after work, and comes home even later than usual. He feels like crap, we’re all sick, and I’ve been struggling to get through 12-hour days taking care of a snotty, whining toddler who refuses to blow her own nose. I’ve had a headache for three days straight and can’t sleep for Bea’s coughing, crying, and congestion.

This morning, Anne came knocking on the door at 9:30. Her business partner, Jane, is supposed to have the parking spot behind our house from 10am until 4pm, Monday through Friday. And, once or twice per week, Charlie goes in at 10 to make up for the days he works until 6:15 and 7pm.

They both were all frazzled, asking if we’d gotten new plates or if someone else had taken the spot.
A.) Anne knows we got Illinois license plates, and has acknowledged that she knows this in the past. We’ve had several conversations about it, including her paying us in advance to care for her dogs next weekend so we’d have enough to cover the surprise fees we didn’t know about.
B.) We’ve had the exact same car the two months we’ve lived here with the exact same Apple decal in the back window.
C.) Jane was 30 minutes early.
D.) Jane is supposed to call or text us in advance if she’s coming earlier than usual.
E.) Anne then said it wasn’t a big deal since the plumbers were coming later and would need that spot, anyway.

If Anne had just knocked on the door and said, “Jane is here, you need to move the car,” we’d have moved the car. Instead, she said, “Oh, I was just worried someone else had parked there! Did you get new plates already?” They could have just said nothing at all since Jane wasn’t going to use the spot.

Why can’t women just be honest? Why does it always have to be a thinly veiled insult, or a passive aggressive accusation? If Jane wanted to spot, she should have called ahead to say she was going to be early. She could have parked in a temporary space behind the house and said she needed us to move. And all of Anne’s hysterics served no purpose since Jane would have had to move when the plumbers arrived later on this morning. Except the plumbers haven’t shown up yet and it’s 3 in the afternoon now.

This is the kind of stuff I was talking about a few days ago when I said Anne sometimes reminds me of my dad. You hear one thing, then they tell you something different. When you call them out on it, they act like you’re the crazy one.

Something I will never understand about women is why it is so hard for them to tell the truth. We don’t want to hurt one another’s feelings, so we say something that isn’t completely what we mean, but something gets lost in the translation and then no one is happy.