Wednesday, October 12, 2005
Ramshackle Ambush Part One
I was scouting out neighborhoods looking for a new place to live when I got sprayed in the face with industrial strength bug poison. As the potent chemical blend burrowed into my pores and raped my eyeballs, I fell to the wooden floor, gasping and clutching my face.
"Oh shit, sorry kid! Didn't mean to do that. You got medical insurance?"
The apartment was a ratty little hole in the basement of a ramshackle house at 33rd and May on the south side of Chicago. It was my second appointment of the day, and the elderly owner met me there ten minutes before, bug spray in hand. He led me into the dingy apartment and pointed out improvements he intended to make before letting the space.
"That's the living room. Nice window, right? Lots of light." He sprayed the sill. "Here's the bathroom. We're gonna retile this. I think they kept a cat locked in here, so it's a little musty right now." He sprayed the caulking. He sniffed it and seemed satisfied.
In one bedroom there were cigarette burns on the wooden flooring. Nobody lets that many butts smolder unless they're seriously blissed on dope. This guy certainly had a bad run of tenants previously. The neighborhood was full of trees and decent cars, no litter, no gunshots. At least not on this Saturday afternoon. So why was this place such a pit?
The kitchen lacked both an oven and a refrigerator, so I asked about them. "What about the stove and fridge?"
"Oh! Yeah! You can put those here and here." He smiled and the wiry grey hair sprouting from his ears perked up as the smile stretched his skin.
I was plenty dubious after witnessing the compulsive spraying, the burns on the floor, the peeling paint, and the pungent smell wafting from the commode. Now he's telling me I have to provide the two most important appliances in the kitchen myself? And he wants $600 for this shithole? The old guy opened up a kitchen cabinet and let another blast of aerosol death mist fly, speckling the interior where my plates would rest. Time to go.
"Thanks for showing me the place, Ron. I'll call you soon if I'm interested. Have a nice-"
"Wait a sec, hold on! I want to show you one more-"
He turned around too fast for a codger his age and nearly tripped himself. He used the hand holding the can to brace himself against a doorframe, smashing his fingers between the cylinder and the wood. One of those fingers depressed the aerosol trigger. I took the blast right in the face.
"Kid? Hey, kid? Deep breaths. Breathe. You'll be okay. I'm really sorry."
I rolled onto my back, hyperventilating, watching the tar stained ceiling through teary blinking eyes. I tasted battery acid and boiling antifreeze fighting for possession of my tongue.
"You're not gonna sue me, are ya?"
I pawed at my throat. "Wa... water. Please." Ragged and wet.
"Uh... no cups, kid. Water's shut off, too. Let me help you up."
His cell phone rang. "Joey? Yeah, I'm showin' the place. I thought you said you were gonna finish fixin' this place up! It looks like crap, and I almost just killed a kid who mighta rented it if you hadn't been a lazy little bastard! What? I bug sprayed him. No, not on purpose. On accident! In his face. Yeah. No, he's not dead. What? Are you sure? That's a bit drastic, don't you think? Okay, all right, sure. I'll be here. Hurry up."
He closed the phone and looked at me.
"You just take it easy. My nephew is on his way. He's gonna help you. We'll, uh... he'll take you to the hospital, get those eyes flushed clean. You'll be okay. And I'll give you a discount. A hundred bucks off the first two months, how's that sound?"
"Urrrrrk...." I heard an ice cream truck jingle outside. I think. My head was throbbing, and I could feel every heartbeat, every surge of blood tremoring through the capillaries under the skin of my face. Sounds were thickening, and the old bastard's voice sounded like he was talking from inside a seashell. My stomach buckled, and I convulsed. Slightly. I tried to stand up, using the kitchen counter to hoist myself upright.
To my surprise, the fat old man slapped my hands from the counter lip.
"Stay down, kiddo. No sense risking falling over or passing out or anything. Let's wait for help."
"Nah... I gotta go. Go home. Shower. Drink some milk."
I tried again to get up. This time he shoved me hard. My head ricocheted off the wall. My neck got wrenched a bit. Ailments and injuries were piling up fast.
"What the fuck? You really got it in for me, huh? Damned old man." Hoarse.
"Don't get up, kid. My nephew is on his way. You just stay right there. We'll take care of you. Yes we will. You betcha."
He itched his crotch, pocketed his bug spray, and began picking his nose. He watched through the highset window absentmindedly, waiting. I wondered what his nephew had said to change his attitude so drastically. Something was very wrong. 4:20 PM - Bottle Rocket Fire Alarm
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