By Brandon Everett
As I pulled up to the apartment complex I took a moment to take in what exactly I was seeing. In a word, the place was a dump. The boring brown paint on the front of the building was peeling; the windows were grungy and full of cobwebs. As I drove up to the parking garage, a rickety old automated gate swung open. Sputtering and screeching as it moved, I was surprised it didn't fall off and smash my car as I drove in. Waiting for me to arrive, the complex manager stood off to the side. A seasoned gentleman, bald, slightly hunched over; he smiled as if he recognized me and showed me where to park. I had only talked to him on the phone and I had never been to this complex previous to this visit. He waved as I pulled in and pointed a long, bony finger to an open parking stall.
I parked my car in the near by spot and got out. Immediately exiting my vehicle, I noticed the smell of burnt rubber, oil, and sewage hitting my nostrils like a left hook from Rocky Balboa. It practically knocked me back into my vehicle, out of the garage and back down the way I came. Shaking off the smell the best I could, I walked over to Hank the manager.
"Glad you could find the place," he stated.
An impressively large smile stretched over his wrinkly face as he shook my hand. For a man in his seventies, he had one hell of a grip. Totally took me by surprise. His raspy voice, complimenting his rough, leathery exterior and hardy demeanor, continued to thank me for coming.
"When I got a call that someone was interested in the assistant manager job I thought 'Hallelujah, I can golf again!'" he exclaimed with a chuckle. I answered him with a courtesy chuckle back.
He seemed so happy. This baffled me. We stood in an apartment complex parking garage that smelled worse than most mechanic shops I'd been to and had the similar feeling of despair I imagined would accompany a medieval dungeon. All I could think about was when I could get out of there. Yet, there was Hank, standing there happy as a clam. While trying to mask my discomfort, I came to the conclusion that either Hank had no sense of smell or that he'd lived here for a hundred years and had become immune to the stench of the garage and that's why he seemed unaffected. I was inclined to think it was both.
Hank pulled out a large key ring from his grease stained pants and began to fiddle with them, searching desperately for a key.
"Ok, so shall we begin? We'll start with the office," he informed me as we ventured on to this job interview, or tour, or whatever you wanted to call it.
After about a minute or so he found the right key and we exited the dungeon of a parking garage. We entered a common area with an extremely old elevator, which was more like an oversized dumb waiter. Hank pulled the door open, its hinges squealed like dying pigs. As he gestured that I should enter first, I couldn't shake the feeling that I was being led to the slaughter, soon to add my own squeals of death to that of the elevator door.
The smell of curry, bad body odor and marijuana filled the elevator completely. I was both instantly sick to my stomach and high. Hank pushed the first floor button and the elevator jolted hard as it began its climb. I grabbed onto the sides as it jolted, fearing that the elevator would explode. Strangely though, I wasn't too frightened by this. My guess is because I was probably so high by the time we reached the first floor.
The elevator stopped and I flew out of it as if my life depended on it. Hank followed and walked briskly towards the small office. The first floor common area seemed actually pleasant; once I gained some sense as to where I was and that I was no longer in fear for my life. The dark green carpet looked as though it had recently been vacuumed, which was an encouraging thought when you consider what was just below this floor. The walls were a nauseating yellow color. They were caked with grime and accented by curtains of cobwebs. To my right were the all too familiar golden mailboxes, dull and full of bills, magazines and junk mail galore. Above the mailboxes hung a list of the tenants' names and what apartments they were in. How convenient I thought, for the mail person. In the corner of the room by the mailboxes was a sad attempt at natural décor. A depressing tree stood alone surrounded by dirt and crumpled up coupon ads; the ones you would typically find in the Sunday paper. The scent trifecta we were graced with in the elevator had dissipated, at least most of it. This first floor primarily had that bad body odor smell; absolutely disgusting.
I walked into the office behind Hank. I was not the least bit surprised to see the condition of that office. Immediately walking in, you were bombarded with that staleness you find in an old attic. Stacks of papers lived on every square inch of that room. Old musty paintings desperately tried to bring some type or decorative pleasantness to the chaos. Order forms, maintenance sheets, rent checks and other important documentation with highly sensitive and personal information was strewn about for any and all to see. If you wanted to know, I could tell you that 209 owed $3,560 back rent, that 302 ordered maintenance on their dishwasher two weeks ago, that 104 is in need of a final notice, and I could tell you all of the residents' social security numbers of 210. Not only that, but the layer of dust covering all of the surfaces in this office showed that this room hadn't been touched in quite some time and that for whatever reasons this manager had no sense of organization whatsoever. The only small ray of sunshine in this office, which was ironic since there were no windows or any source of natural light to be found, was the brand new computer hiding on the cluttered desk. Like a shiny, new penny lodged in a cow pie. I couldn't stop starring at it.
"So, the job is simple," Hank said as he furled his brow. "On paper the assistant manager job is two days. Really, I just need you to work Fridays. I golf Fridays, so ideally I don't want to exist that day, if you catch my drift. All that really needs to get done is the cleaning of the laundry rooms on each floor, doing the books and answering the phone when it rings," Hank explained, standing in the midst of the colossal mess of the office.
"Sounds simple enough I guess," I replied, still taking in the anarchy before me.
Hank sat down at the desk and shuffled some papers out of his way. A cloud of dust shot straight up and he swatted it away like an annoying pack of flies. He pointed to the other side of the desk.
"Have a seat," he said, between a few coughs.
Looking around I had no idea where exactly he wanted me to sit. I finally found a ratty old office chair. It was covered with dust, books, paperwork and some old jackets. I emptied the chair and hesitantly sat down.
Over the next half hour or so we discussed my working background, the qualifications Hank was looking for in an assistant manager, and a few other things that honestly have since slipped my mind. Within that time, I believe I may have had an out of body experience or something. I knew my physical body was sitting there talking with Hank, but my consciousness was wandering about the office. I couldn't get the paintings out of my mind. On the wall were two paintings. One of which was that of an American Bald Eagle swooping down and catching a fish. I had seen similar paintings and photographs before. Honestly it was pretty spectacular. The eagle seemed majestic and strong, contrasted with the mountain range and blue sky behind it. Clutched in its talons was a helpless fish, its demise I'm sure was running through its mind. Similar to the feeling I felt earlier in the day in that horrific elevator.
My attention drifted towards the other painting, when suddenly my out of body experience came to a crashing halt.
"Does that seem fair to you?" Hank asked.
Completely lost as to what he was referring to and a bit dazed from the glare of the florescent office light bouncing off of his bald head, I said nothing.
"You know what?" hanks said, "Let's take a look at what would be your apartment first before you make a decision. Sound good?"
A bit more aware of my surroundings, I agreed and proceeded to follow him to the elevator of death once more.
Upon arriving to the second floor, the elevator door opened and like running into a brick wall, the smell of marijuana hit me in the face. The third floor must smell like curry then, I assumed, if the aroma trio stood true from earlier. I later learned that I was right.
Hank led me to apartment #201 and opened the door. My jaw dropped upon entering the apartment. The freshly painted walls, the recently cleaned carpets, the aroma of bleach and I believe lavender filled my nostrils and danced about gleefully. It was as if the heavenly aroma roundhouse-kicked the lingering marijuana and all around nastiness I had been plagued with for the last hour completely out of mind. No sign of cobwebs, dust, or filth. I couldn't believe it. I walked immediately over to the back glass door that led out to the balcony. I closed my eyes and soaked in the sunlight. I could feel the warmth fill my pores and rejuvenate my soul. I opened my eyes and stepped out onto the balcony. The breeze swirled around me, almost lifting me up into the amazing blue sky above. The eagle from the painting in the office soared into my mind and I felt majestic and full of hope. This wasn't the first time I had obviously experienced a sunny day, but in the midst of so much dark, so much filth, even for only an hour, this moment was life saving. I turned to Hank, who was squinting to see something on his phone, and I said, without even seeing the rest of the apartment, something that a half hour ago I wouldn't have.
"I'll take it. The apartment, the job; if you feel I qualify then I'll take it." I was almost surprised that I said that. Hank smiled.
"Well," he said, "let's go back to the office and fill out some paperwork!"
He exited the apartment and I continued to stand there on the balcony. The scent of lavender lingered as I reminisced the events of the last hour. Before I knew it, I was signing the agreement and Hank's old leathery hands dropped a pair of keys in mine.