Unity

I started part two of Mom’s story, but I need to take a break to tell you another one. 

I have been in property management on and off for a decade. I fell into it by accident, and I genuinely love the job. While I would love to be a professional author, this is my job of choice while I wait for my big break, haha.  And honestly it gives me a lot of writing material. You meet people from all walks of life in this line of work, and experience things that are mind blowing. Some of the shit that I’ve encountered.  . . Well. You can’t make this kind of shit up.

There is one particular story that sticks out over all the rest that I’m going to tell you today. If you have a weak stomach or aversion to creepy crawlies do not read one word further. I had nightmares, literally, about this place. 

I took a break from property management while I was pregnant with Chase, and soon after his birth I found a place hiring. I had dealt only in apartment management, and had limited knowledge about anything other than leasing and communicating with tenants. This place dealt in apartments and homes from all over the city, from bad parts of town where you could rent an apartment for under $300 a month to the best parts of town where a 3 bedroom home rented for $1200 a month. I started there as the administrative assistant. I somehow ended up the maintenance supervisor. I encountered some push back from the crew but eventially conquered the man’s world mentality and had awesome guys who had no problem teaching me stuff and looked out for me, too. I don’t work for the company anymore, but I still stay in contact with a couple of them and I know I can call on them should I have a need. 

My job was not to physically turn these places. I had to go in and determine what needed to be done to make it rent ready again. Sometimes it was minimal, sometimes it was not. Most of the actual owners lived out of state or out of the country. So then after determining costs and getting bids, I sent the combined bid to the owner for their approval. Once that was obtained, with the funds, work commenced and the guys came to me with any issues. Which were many, since we had houses and apartments of every age and size. I also headed up tenant maintenance, making sure that any issues that arose in someone’s home was addressed and fixed. At any given time I had 5+ men working under me on just as many projects. And while it was stressful and hectic, I loved every minute of it. I mean for God’s sake. I got to walk into a place and decide what needed to be done and not spend a dime of my money to do it. People paid me to spend their money, essentially. And I got to tell men what to do. A woman’s dream job, in that perspective. If you ignore the creepy basements and the infestations of various pests and how nasty people can be, verbally or physically, that is. I walked into a 3 bedroom home one time where you couldn’t see the floor for the garbage and dirty clothes, where when you hit a light switch cockroaches scattered in herds up the walls. One basement in particular will always stick out in my mind. The previous tenant had removed all of the light bulbs from it, so I was forced to inspect it with my flashlight. It was daylight, though limited visibility because very little light came into the basement. I walked the basement checking the water lines, the electrical, the furnace and water tank. I rounded a corner and came upon a closed door. Of course it was my job to open closed doors, so I did. Inside, the only window was blocked with a black curtain, and the room was bare. Save the pulpit in the middle of the room, with a large book on it.

I never closed a door so fast. 

You really cannot make this shit up. 

So, onto my nightmare home. 

We acquired a portfolio for a gentleman who lived in California. He owned six properties, mostly single family homes. He had a combination property manager/maintenance man who handled all of it, and he thought maybe it was getting to be too much. So we stepped in and took said guy onto our team to continue to primarily work with these properties. The tenants hadn’t been paying rent, and most of the properties were in questionable parts of town, and in questionable states of repair. First of the month came around and the resident who lived on Unity Walk did not pay. So we issued a 3-day notice. For those not in the know, this notice states that if you do not pay or vacate with in 3 days the company or owner of the property will initiate eviction proceedings. 

I had never had cause to visit this home because it was occupied and new to our portfolio. K was the maintenance man we acquired with the properties and he kept tabs on everything with the homes and just reported back to me. He had placed the 3-day, and knowing the resident told me that most likely she would vacate rather than pay up, and drove by the home regularly prior to those 3 days so we knew when. The 3 day was set to expire on a Saturday, which meant that we wouldn’t actually take action until that following Monday. And sure enough, Monday morning my phone rang.

“What’s up K?”

“You need to come over here.”

“. . . Where? Why?”

“Unity. She’s gone. Oh. And you may want those things to cover your shoes. And a face mask.” 

“Oh, stop. It can’t be that bad.” I said laughing. By this point I’d seen enough that I felt nothing could phase me. People are gross. Big deal. 

“Girl, I’m not kidding. It’s bad. I just had to step outside so I could breath.” 

“Whatever. What’s the full address so I can GPS it?” He gave it to me, and not following his advice I hopped into my car sans the items he had advised for me to bring and headed over. I figured he just wasn’t as accustomed to gross as I was. I thought I had seen it all. Man, was I ever wrong. 

I had a hard time finding the place. I GPS’d it, and the address came up and said it was off of another street. Most addresses, you pull up in front of a house with the numbers on the front, or a mailbox indicating where you are. Not Unity Walk. Unity Walk was unique in that you could not drive down the “street.” It was just that. A walk.

I called K and he laughed at me for my lack of knowledge, and explained how to find it. I didn’t know him well enough to retort that I wasn’t fluent in ghetto street placement. After today though, K and I would have a wonderful understanding of each other, and a new found respect. 

I got out of my little beat up Honda Civic, and noted that despite its very rough state that it still stuck out like a sore thumb. It was hunter green and had one spot of rust near the wheel well, and it was a little loud. But the few cars that dotted the neighborhood were the definition of rust bucket, some windows covered in plastic, at least one tail light on each covered in that red tape that you’re supposed to put on temporarily. Some of that red tape was pretty faded and seemed to have become permanent rather than temporary. This was probably the worst neighborhood I had ever been in. It must have shown on my face, because as K wandered around a corner he started to chuckle. “Welcome to Unity Walk!” He said, obviously amused. It was early fall and I wore jeans, my Lynyrd Skynyrd t-shirt and a white zip up Columbia jacket that dad had bought for me the previous winter to keep me warm on my property management adventures. I wanted to hide the emblem. The beauty of the job was there was no dress code, I was expected to be comfortable and dress in clothes that I didn’t mind if they got messed up. So jeans and band t-shirts it was. I still felt over dressed though. “Where’s your gear?” K asked me. 

“I didn’t bring any,” I responded. 

“. . . Did you forget?”

“Nope. Probably isn’t that bad,” I said bluffing. Looking at the neighborhood I had a feeling I should have followed his advice. I would never tell him that though. He just shook his head and motioned me toward a white and yellow house at the end of the walk. “Let’s go, then.”

“So, Unity Walk is. . . literally a walk, huh? Sucks for people at the other end.”

“Most people ride bikes or walk here,” he answered. Fair enough. 

“Do we have utilities?” I asked as we went up the porch steps. The door was wide open, propped. Apparently there was an odor.

“For now,” he answered. I had grabbed paper and a clip board so I noted to check the utilities when I got back to the office. 

And then the most God awful smell hit me. I have never in my life smelled something so rank and disgusting, before or since. 

“What in the fuck is that smell?” I asked, forgetting all professionalism. I refused to pull my shirt up over my face as K was doing.  I refused to let him see how nauseated I was. The thing of it was, working in the position that I did, I wanted the guys to respect me. So I refused to show weakness. I also didn’t want them to baby me. I had a job to do, and if they thought I couldn’t handle it they wouldn’t tell me things and they wouldn’t respect my opinion. So, no gagging, no showing that the smell was horrid. Just cuss and act like it was no big deal. 

K motioned me forward, into the foyer of the home. He pointed to the living room carpet that had once upon a time been a cream color. Animal feces and urine stains covered it now. “That’s part of it,” he answered. “The heat was on ninety when I got here. It was an oven. I’d say she left Friday or Saturday and the heats been on like that. She did that intentionally.” 

“What the fuck is wrong with people?” I muttered. K laughed. 

“It gets better,” he informed me. 

“Fantastic. Happy Monday,” I laughed. My stomach was churning at the odor. 

The home had once upon a time been gorgeous. Vaulted ceilings with gorgeously trimmed woodworking, a large stairwell with a carved handrail. Once upon a time this had been a prominent area of Toledo. Now it was officially the ghetto, and it made me sad to see such a potentially gorgeous home be in such a bad part of town, with no hope of it ever seeing it’s full potential again. 

K took me through the dining room, which was all hard wood, now also stained with urine and patched with mismatched wood to fill where there had been holes. We walked into the kitchen. 

“Fridge was ours,” he informed me. “She took it. And she left all of the meat that musta been in the freezer. That’s another part of the smell,” he said. He had opened the windows in the room to try and vent it, but screens were missing and now flies were flocking. I glanced in the sink and saw a pile of meat there, as well as on the counter next to it. The meat in the sink appeared to be moving. Roaches. Yayness. 

I have a fear of roaches, which you’ll encounter the why’s in the rest of Mom’s story. I say fear because once it was a phobia, but this job left me with no choice but to face it or quit. So I faced it. But the sight of all of those roaches threw me back to my childhood and I couldn’t help but shudder in revulsion. “What the fuck is wrong with people?!” I asked again. K shook his head. “So she emptied the fridge, took it, set the heat at 90 and split. Bitch!” I will never understand what drives people to be the way they are. It wasn’t our fault that she couldn’t afford a 3 bedroom house at $450 a month. Jesus petes. 

“You haven’t even seen the best,” was all he could say. “Do you need to step outside at all before we go in the basement?”

“I’m good,” I said, taking a deep breath and regretting it immediately. “Let’s get this over with.”

K led me to a narrow door which led to a narrow stairwell. He led the way down the stairs and into the large unfinished basement. 

“I think this is where she kept the dogs mainly,” he informed me, motioning to yet more feces and urine stains. The basement was covered. Being a basement the area was closed up, and despite it being cooler than upstairs, this was definitely the worst of it. It looked like she must have been breeding dogs. No way could just a couple pets do this. I tiptoed through the basement, checking plumbing and electrical lines, the water tank and furnace as usual. I still refused to cover my face, and even though I had only been in the house maybe 10 minutes tops, I knew I wasn’t eating again any time soon. I wish I could accurately convey the smell. Dead things, and shit and piss and rot and body odor. . . Magnified. By a million. 

I found a leak in the plumbing and K turned off the water at the main line to prevent further problems. We made our way back up the narrow stair case and I was relieved to be back up there. It smelled, but at least it wasn’t closed up. We toured the upstairs bedrooms, but it looked like she hadn’t allowed the dogs up there. Minimal damage, a door knob on one bedroom, a door on another. The bathroom was tiled floor to ceiling in blue and white tiles, very dated. Otherwise intact.

“Okay, are you done now? Can we get out of here?” 

“Alright, alright.” I teased. “Can’t hang I see. Let’s go talk on the porch.” In truth if I spent one more minute in there I was gonna probably fall over dead. Had to keep up my tough girl facade though. 

We discussed turning the house on the front porch. First and foremost we needed to get it exterminated for the roaches. “There’s mice, too.” K informed me. “I saw one when I first came in.” Fantasticness. 

“I already see how this house is gonna be to me,” I said to him. “I’m going back to the office to get together a plan. Open it up, let it air out. Come back and shut it up at the end of the day.” 

“You got it, boss lady.” That’s what K called me from then on out. It always cracked me up. We bonded in the stink and squalor it seemed. He knew the home upside down and inside out, and I could respect that. And I think that I had gained his respect as well in my stubborness. I left and drove through the city with all my windows down, despite the cool weather. I couldn’t get the smell out of my nostrils, and didn’t until I was able to go home and shower that evening. My clothes went immediately into the wash, my shoes to the dumpster. And thank God they did, in retrospect. 

You would think that would be the end of the story, but as I said, this was a nightmare home. The owner was very frugal, and the place was in rough shape. It was like pulling teeth to get the funds for the work needed. I had better success getting funds from the Australian owners who had property on the east side of town (for those not familiar with Toledo, this is a rough area). 

First and foremost, the utilities. Before I could schedule to have them flipped from the owners name to ours, they got switched off. And that meant inspections. Which meant paying plumbers and electricians to get the old home’s gas lines, electrical and plumbing up to code. Which meant money. Which meant email after email after conference call after conference call to convince the man to send the funds to do the work so we could even start the turn process. The home went the whole winter without utilities, closed up and cold. You’d think everything would freeze up and die in a Toledo winter. You’d be wrong. 

K called me first thing one spring morning. “Still got roaches at Unity!” 

“Motherfucker!” I exclaimed. I was sitting in the office and heard my co-workers chuckle. They were greatly amused by my lack of filter. Everyone is, it seems. I don’t see what’s so amusing about it. I say what I think. And cockroaches are a motherfucker to get rid of. Period, point blank. K chuckled too, and I told him to hold off until I got the owner to pay for an extermination. 

“Please have K bomb for them first,” was the response I received to my email. Anyone who knows anything knows you can’t fucking bomb for roaches. But all right. I instructed K to do just that, and he just shook his head and walked away. He did as he was instructed, but knew it was a lost cause. 

“Need you to come out to Unity,” was the call I got from K the next day.

“What the. . . Why now? Did it get broken into? Stripped?” Was it bad that I was hoping that was the case? I knew then that the owner would give it up and we wouldn’t have to deal with it anymore. 

“Its the roaches. They’re worse than before I bombed!”

“No way.”

“Come see for yourself. They’re falling off of the ceiling.”

“Why do I need to see that? Ugh.”

“So I have a witness so he’ll let you get a professional out here.”

“Fine, fine. Jeez. On my way.”

I had been out there a handful of times since the initial inspection to check up on various contractors and for the electric inspection. I never looked forward to it. The roads were shit, this part of town was basically Satan’s asshole and pretty much ignored by the city. I was regularly hit up for money or a cigarette or both, and the cat calling was ridiculous. The picture I included with this post shows a peaceful little walkway; that it was not. The Google Maps guy musta been like hey, official business. Clear out. 

So I made my way to Unity, dreading the visit the entire way.

Poor K was sitting outside on the stoop.

“I’m not going back in there unless it’s with an exterminator,” he informed me. He looked tired and annoyed, and I didn’t tell him that he’d do whatever the owner wanted or we’d find someone else who would. But I understood. I didn’t want to look in there, let alone be in his shoes and spend 8 hours a day in there. 

“Let’s see what we’re dealing with,” I sighed. He stood up and stretched, and keyed the door. He pushed it open with his foot, and a handful of cockroaches fell from the doorway.

“Oh. Fuck this.” I said. 

“Exactly.” He said, looking at me pointedly. “Stand here. You can see the ceiling. They’re everywhere.” We switched spots and he wasn’t lying; roaches crawled the ceiling. In all my years dealing with roaches at mom’s, I’d never seen them on the ceiling. Here they dotted the surface, falling now and again to the floor, only to scurry off towards a wall as if to try again it seemed. 

“What in the. . . Way to piss off the natives, K.” Had to have a sense of humor. No other way to deal except through humor. He laughed a little. 

“I didn’t notice until they started landing on my head.” K sported a shaved head at least, but I don’t know what would be worse. Bare skin or them getting stuck in your hair. I shuddered at the thought. 

“Close it up. I’ll email him.” I snapped a couple pictures on my phone for proof and we closed it up and left.

The owner finally agreed to the extermination, and finally we were able to begin actually turning the house. K powerwashed the basement and used chemicals to clean it, finishing it by using a sealant and cement paint on the walls and floor. We replaced windows, tore out the carpet and sealed the hardwood floors. The owner wouldn’t spring to actually have them refinished, but they still came out nice. Paint went up, and appliances in. Yardwork was done,  and finally,  finally I was satisfied enough to rent it. And rent it at $100 more a month than what he had been previously getting. We found a prospect, a single mom with a little girl, and she excitedly moved in. 

You’d think that would be it. You’d be wrong. Not Unity Walk. 

She moved in on a Friday, and a quiet week went by with normal maintenance issues in normal houses. 

And then she was on the phone, and the nice lady was now the most ghetto woman I had ever spoken to.

“This motherfucker has bedbugs. I ain’t stayin’ there one more fucking night with my little girl until you get someone in there to take care of it. I want my money back. All my motherfuckin’ money or I’m calling channel 13.”

Son of a bitch. I assured her we would get on it immediately but that I needed to make some phone calls. I used my best customer service voice and seemed to calm her, some. But under the circumstances, I can’t say I blame her. 

Fucking Unity Walk. I was never gonna be rid of it! 

“There is no possible way that place had bed bugs. She had to have brought them with her!” I exclaimed to a coworker. “I mean for fucks sake, it was vacant without utilities through the winter! We’d all have bed bugs if they were in there before! I went in there the first day! Jesus Christ!”

I called my exterminator friend and that’s when I found out the bad news.

It was a possibility that she did not bring them with her. Because under extenuating circumstances, bed bugs hide in cracks and crevices and go into hibernation until conditions are favorable again. And considering all of the woodworking in there. . .

“What kind of fucked up shit is that? Like what level of hell are these bastards from?”

“Your new nickname is bug lady,” my coworker said laughing.

“Fuck off.” I retorted, shaking my head. He was lucky he was one of my favorite people. 

So I got the go ahead from the owner for the exterminator again. He thought we could bomb again. I sent him fact sheets from the extermination company so he could know the full scope of what we were dealing with. He reluctantly agreed to the work.

And indeed, the bedbugs had been native to Unity Walk. Along with the roaches and mice and God knew what else. We comped the woman for her hotel stay, refunded her money, and she vacated the place with no consequences, leaving most of her belongings behind.

I never did rid myself of Unity, not until I left the company. We did exterminate it, but it seemed as though the place was cursed. The property manager had a couple showings a month, with no bites. I left that following October with the place still vacant. Last I checked the place was up for sale, with no takers. Unity Walk, I hope to never have to cross your path again. 

Published by: A. Elizardo

Single mother to two amazing boys, sister to an inspiration, and the daughter of two opinionated, sarcastic, fun loving individuals that are no longer physically with us. Music, writing, reading, my family - living and gone - are what keep me going as I put on my rose colored glasses and navigate us through this crazy world.

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