Unplanned Seven-Week Sabbatical
M and I rent a small 2-bedroom house in Georgetown, one of the cheapest neighborhoods in Seattle-proper (within the actual city limits of Seattle). Georgetown is right in the middle of the industrial district; it consists of one pretty main thoroughfare, with some real big old brick buildings that are falling apart and which are inhabited by only the bravest and roughest artists and musicians. Georgetown also has three streets of houses (the residential part of the neighborhood). Our street is the nicest, particularly our block, but much of the rest of the neighborhood is of dubious habitation. There are lots of halfway houses for sex offenders, for instance, and down at the other end of the streets there are seedy hotels which often have rather uh, rugged people loitering around. Oh, and one of the houses just across the street from us is a drug dealer.
So, M and I have been talking about the possibility of getting a roommate. We’re doing okay financially, but would also be okay with a little extra income to help us get me a laptop.
Just in passing one day, we told our next door neighbor, Dale, about it. Dale is also renting. His name is on the lease there, and he’s been living in this house for 13 years. He is a tall, lanky mid-to-late 50s, old, politically conservative gay veteran with a face that is permanently drawn and haggard-looking, like he’s not shaved in a week. Dale had been in a relationship for 10 years with this one guy who he really loved. They lived in the house next door, and kept it all nice and clean. And Dale worked really hard and bought a lot of stuff for his partner. He actually told us he’d spent his life savings him. Then one day, his partner got an inheritance, and moved to Hawaii. Dale went out there a few months afterwards and the guy told him to buzz off. Crushed, Dale slouched back home and pretty much gave up caring about anything.
This was three years ago. He moved down into his basement, and started getting roommates. He had a pretty good deal going for a while, with his subleasers paying the whole rent, so he hasn’t had to have a steady job. But, in these past three years, his roommates have been getting worse and worse (not paying rent and bills, causing chaos, bringing in untrained animals, tearing up the house, etc.).
So, one day in early November 2007, we drove up to the house and Dale was outside working in his (very beautiful) yard. Dale is really good at plants, and keeps his yard immaculate, especially in Spring and Summer. We talk a bit, and he asks if we’re still looking for a roommate. “Well,” I say, “we’re not LOOKING for a roommate. We don’t even WANT a roommate, but, yeah, it wd be nice to have some extra cash coming in.”
“Well, here’s the deal,” he says. “I’m tired of trying to find good roommates and taking care of this old house. I’ve got a buddy who’s gonna get me a job working for Microsoft Food Services, so I’m gonna have a steady income. How about me moving in with you guys and being your roommate? I can pay you 500-600 bucks a month, and I don’t have very much stuff to move, and, after all, we’re just next door to each other, so moving shouldn’t be a problem. What do you say?”
“What about your cat and dog?” we ask. “We had to harness the moon to get our landlady to be okay with us taking in a cat. We might be able to hide the fact that we’ve got two cats, but there’s no way we can have a dog.”
“Well, my dog is 13 years old and she’s got a huge tumor that I’ve not been able to get taken care of. I’ll see if I can find another home for her. But if not, she’s pretty much on her last leg anyway; I could just put her down if I can’t find another home for her.”
M and I tell him we’ll think about it and get back to him… So we talk it over and finally decide, despite some misgivings, that it would, after all, be nice to have some extra cash. So, a couple days later, we tell him okay. We draw up a little rental application form, agree that he’ll pay $500/mo for rent plus $100/mo for utilities, and that this is just a temporary arrangement which we will both review on Feb 1. So, we all plan on him moving in on December 1. Dale tells his roommates they’ve got to leave, and informs his landlord they’re all moving out.
Well, the evening after Thanksgiving, we’re eating dinner and Dale knocks at our door, face more drawn and gloomy than usual. “Hey guys. Um, I’ve had a little setback. Turns out my buddy at Microsoft didn’t have as much pull as he thought. But I’ve gotta be outta that house by the first… I got nowhere else to go… ”
M, of course not wanting him to have to live on the cold, wet streets of Seattle, says, “Oh, that’s okay. Just go ahead and move in, and we’ll play it by ear. You can just pay us whatever you can afford. I’m sure you’ll be able to get a job soon, and you’ll be back on your feet in no time.”
So, come December 1st, well, December 2nd, we get him all moved in to our house. It was not a difficult move, but if he’d not lived next door, it would surely have taken a good-sized U-Haul truck to pack up all his stuff. As it was, the entire half of our basement that was empty got filled with his stuff, including three big old rugs, several shelving units, a dozen or more upholstered dining chairs, dozens of cat sculptures, statues, figurines, pillows, etc. (he’s obviously a cat fan), and just boxes and boxes of old, dusty stuff.
Things seem to be okay for a while. Our house is very small, and M and I are want to walk about in the buff, so it’s kinda weird having another person around (meaning that of course we’ve got to stay properly-attired, which kinda cramps my style), but Dale is rather low-maintenance, at least until you initiate some sort of conversation. Then he becomes outrageously profuse and a half-hour later you’re squirming and wishing somebody’d call you so you can politely excuse yourself and duck into your bedroom.
But after a week, he had still not found a new home for his dog, and I tell him it’s time to go to the pound. So, Dale not having a car, I tell him we’ll drive them down there. And what a long, sad drive that was. Nobody spoke for the whole 20-minute trip. We pull up there, he lugs the dog in its carrier inside, and M and I roll down the windows and finally take a breath. A half hour later, Dale emerges, and we ask him how he’s doing. “I’m okay, actually. When they saw that she was a pure-bred Basenji, they said they would definitely try real hard to find a new home for her. They said they would call me back before the end of the day.”
And they did call him back before the end of the day, and they did find her a place, a real nice retirement-home-sounding place for Basenjis, out in the country with lots of sunshine and fresh air and playmates.
And Dale was extremely happy for that. He really loved that dog. It was his main companion for at least these last three years.
A couple days later, Dale approached us and asked if he could borrow some money. “Just whatever you have, 40-50 bucks would really help right now.” i pulled out my wallet and gave him the $18 in cash I had there. “That’s all I got.”
“Thanks. I’ve got some catering gigs lined up this weekend, I should make like $12/hour. I’ll pay you back then.”
Around the 8th or 9th of December, I awoke with a sore throat. “Great,” I thought to myself. That’s always the first indicator of a cold for me. I just had one more week of school, really just a Tuesday afternoon Final in which the students were just to turn in their Final Project, so I wasn’t too concerned about having to miss class. But a couple days later I was unable to get out of bed. I was hurting all over, like a full-body headache. And that was just lying still! If I moved it was even worse!
But I’ve been this sick before. It’s only this bad for a day, maybe two, and then I’m up and about at least, if not completely better, but still able to function. Usually.
Four days later, I’m still in tremendous pain, still unable to get out of bed, not knowing what day of the week it was, not knowing what time of day it was, barely knowing my own name. M, who had just started her nannying job on November 1 for a nutritionist couple, drove home in the afternoon and dragged me in to see Janice, her nutritionist boss. I always tend to hang out a lot with M and her kids, and I have developed a friendship with Janice’s two year old daughter Sonja.
As I lay on the table, Sonja climbed all over me asking, “Keith? Keith?”
“Keith is sick, Sonja. He can’t play with you today,” M and Janice told her.
And while Sonja watched from the corner, looking sad and confused, Janice diagnosed me. After several rounds of placing tiny vials of minerals and elements on my belly and pushing my raised arm to test my resistance, she says, “You’re reading like you’ve been exposed to mold. Has something changed in your life recently, like at your house?”
M and I look at each other. “Uh, yes. We just got a new roommate who moved in a whole bunch of old furniture and rugs and stuff, from his dark and damp basement.”
“Oh, well, you’ve got to get rid of that stuff. You are allergic to mold, and it’s destroyed your immune system. You won’t get well until you’ve got the mold out of your body.”
M and I look at each other again. “That’s gonna be really hard. Our roommate has nowhere else to go. He’s got a ton of stuff, and even if he could leave tomorrow, where would he put all his stuff?”
Luckily, we were coming up on two house-sitting gigs we had arranged. We were house-sitting for a week at my friend Howard’s house out in the Redmond hills, followed by a week house-sitting around the corner at our friends Paul and Beth’ house.
While M drove me home, I called Dale.
“Dale, my doctor says I’ve been exposed to mold. She says we’ve got to get rid of it or I’ll never get over this infection.”
He didn’t fight it. He knew right away I meant that it was stuff that had the mold in it.
“Okay, well I’ll go thru all my stuff and give it a good cleaning. I’ll spray all the cloth stuff with Lysol, and the wood with wood cleaner. We’ll get it all cleaned up,” he says.
“Okay, that’ll be great. And my doctor is also lending us her air de-ionizer. She says to use it for a few days in each room.
He’s actually very good about it. It seems like he really wants to work this out.
In the meantime, our friend Traci agrees to let us spend the two nights until our house-sittings start with her in her one-bedroom apartment in West Seattle. Thank God for Traci, we say. Little do we know how thankful we will be for Traci in the end…
Anyway, our two weeks away are good. I recover, and in two or three days, I’m feeling human again. We have a nice Christmas at Paul and Beth’ house, in which we invite over a few friends for dinner.
And two or three times a week, I drop by our house to check on our cat (who Dale has agreed to feed and clean up the litter box after) and pick up our mail. And the first time I stop by after our week in Redmond, I walk in to discover a completely different house. It smells like cigarette smoke. The kitchen’s got a bunch of new stuff in it. The living room has been completely rearranged and there’s a huge Persian rug under everything. There are little pieces of furniture everywhere and in every available space there’s either a cat statue or a Christmas decoration. It feels like somebody else’s house altogether. Creeped out, I sneak out of the house, snag the mail out of the mailbox out front, and drive off.
And every time I made my way back to the house after that, the house was even more redecorated, more alien.
Along in here, M and I decide that we just can’t see ourselves going back to our house while Dale is still there. I definitely don’t want to be sick like that again, and M just doesn’t want to be around a guy who has a black cloud hanging over his head all the time. We decide that the Feb 1 re-evaluation should just become Dale’s move-out date. I call him up.
“Dale, M and I have talked about it, and we’ve decided that we’re going to need you to move out by February 1. This just isn’t working out like we’d hoped it would.”
“It’s nothing personal, man. We just didn’t want a roommate in the first place, and now all this stuff with the mold has happened. I mean, none of us knew I was allergic to mold.”
I hear a tiny “yeah” on the other end. He is obviously not happy.
“Are you okay?”
“Yeah. Yeah, okay.” Click.
So again, Traci comes to our rescue. We spend a week with her, and then spend three nights with our friends Rennie and Nellie over in Bellevue. We really wish we could stay longer with them, to take some burden off of Traci, but unfortunately they have to have at least one day to clean up their spare room for their own new roommate who is moving in.
And, once again, Traci agrees to let us stay with her until February 1. We love you Traci!
So. a couple days after I’d called Dale to tell him he’s got to be out by Feb 1, he calls M’s cell phone. I’m with her, and she doesn’t want to talk to him, so I answer it.
“Hey,” he says. “I’ve been making my calls, and you guys are the last ones. I just wanted to let you know that I’m gonna call it quits. You guys have been really good to me, and I wanna thank you for that. So I just didn’t want you to think it was your fault, if you happen to hear in the next couple of days that I’ve stepped out in front of a bus.”
“What?!?” I scream into the phone. “Are you saying that you’re going to commit suicide?”
“Well…” he mutters.”If you have to put it that way…”
“What way???” I scream. “Here you are telling me you’re gonna step in front of a bus. You’re saying you’re going to kill yourself.”
“Well…,” he stammers again. “Yeah, I guess so.”
Well, I don’t know what to say. I know that he’s politically conservative, so I’m thinking maybe the religious tack might reach him. “So, what does your God have to say about this?”
Pause… Long pause. Looks like he’s not thought about that. “Well, I’m not sure. I think He’ll understand.”
“You think He’ll understand? How do you know that?”
“Well, it’s just a feeling I have. I guess He’d not be too happy about it, really.”
“You guess He’d not be happy about it? Sounds to me like you need to do more soul-searching here.”
“Yeah I guess so.”
“M’s going to be really upset when she finds out. However she finds out. Whether I tell her or she finds out on the news.”
“I know, I know. And I love M. She’s so great. And that’s why I’m calling you guys, to tell you that if you hear that I’ve jumped out in front of a bus, just know that it’s not your fault. You guys have been really good to me.”
“Okay, well, it sounds to me like you need to go to your God some more here, see what He has to say about it.”
“Well, I’m not gonna do it right now. And I’m open to seeing a counselor.”
“Well, I’ll see if M wants to call you here in a little while.”
“Oh, yeah, I’d love to talk to her. No offence, man, but she’s just a really good listener, and I can tell she’s very sympathetic. Have her call me, yeah.”
Anyway, so after a long, drawn out, dramatic, half-hour conversation, I hang up, confident that he’ll be okay for a little while. I tell M and she says, “that’s exactly why I didn’t want to talk to him! I would totally not know what to say. I would tell him ‘that’s okay, just go ahead and stay in our house for as long as you want.’”
So we decide that we should call the Health Department. They say they’ll go out and visit him first thing in the morning, and then call me afterwards.
So, next day, they call me back and tell me he was very receptive, happy that somebody came out to see him, and that they made several appointments for him to come in and talk to a counselor, and that they would even help him look for a job and a place to live.
Yay! We were happy that we seemed to have done the right thing here.
And that’s pretty much it. The rest of our little sabbatical went off pretty well. Dale found a place to live, and got almost all of his stuff moved out by Saturday afternoon, Feb 2. And Saturday night we spent our first night in our own bed for over 7 weeks! We’re still working on clearing the cigarette smell, but we’re feeling at home again. Home sweet home!!!