A Foot In The Door

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Status: Finished  |  Genre: Non-Fiction  |  House: Booksie Classic


Sometimes, the weirdness of real life exceeds fiction.

Submitted: October 27, 2017

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Submitted: October 27, 2017

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The other day I drove to Huntsville and kicked in Harold’s front door.  I’m not a violent person.  I wasn’t angry at him.  It seemed like the right thing to do at the time.

 

It all started in September, 1976.  I was a college freshman, away from home for the first time. Moving into apartment B-13 at Windsor Hall in Auburn, Alabama.  Harold was the sophisticated, multi-year senior living in B-14.  The first friend I made in college.

 

Sometimes you have to wait until the end of the story to get the moral.  I’ll throw this one out now.  Alcohol might be the shittiest drug ever discovered by humans.  I’ve seen it destroy lives in an instant.  I’ve watched people fuck their lives up slowly, one drink at a time.  

 

If you are a young person, and you’ve never consumed alcohol, my advice is to keep it that way.  You don’t want to find out if you’re one of the people who can’t say no.

 

But I didn’t understand that forty years ago.  All I knew was that Harold was the coolest person I’d ever met.  Everywhere we went, people knew his name.  He was a Big Man On Campus.

 

I also didn’t understand that my entire life was ahead of me.  Eventually, I would earn a degree, get a job, make friends, do important things.  Now, I feel like I am standing on top of a pile of accomplishments.  That is how your life is supposed to go.

 

Life didn’t turn out that way for Harold.  He peaked in college.  It has been all downhill for him since.  He was never able to hold a job very long.  A marriage ended disastrously.  Throw in a couple of attempts at suicide, wrecked cars, a DUI, and a stint at Bryce, a mental institution.  That is what happens when your navigator is a bottle of Jack Daniels.

 

Over time, Harold and I drifted apart.  I had to get serious about studying.  He continued to party like it was 1999.  I graduated and got a job.

 

============

 

Move forward to 1983.  I still had a few friends in Auburn.  I was visiting and we were about to go to a football game.  Someone mentioned that Harold was living in a cheap apartment near campus.  I decided to look him up.

 

Imagine a tiny one room apartment.  The floor is covered with dirty clothes, empty pizza boxes, and assorted trash.  Everything smells of stale cigarette smoke.  Harold’s appearance is shocking.  He is 32, but looks 60.

 

I asked, “What do you want out of life?”  His reply:  “A carton of Kools and a case of Budweiser.”

 

When I said goodbye, it occurred to me.  I may never see him again.

 

============

 

Amazingly, that was not the case.  Fourteen years passed.  My phone rang.  It was my mother.  

 

“I’ve just met someone who knows you, I’m handing him the phone.”

 

Despite everything, Harold had not lost his natural charisma.  He was just past the divorce and the suicide attempts.  He’d moved to Huntsville and was scraping by on money from odd jobs.  At the grocery store, he struck up a conversation with another shopper.  When she told him her name, he said, “I went to college with a Wlodarski.  Do you have a son named Serge?”

 

We spoke and agreed to get together.  I invited him to my house to watch football with some friends.  It was an early game so I wasn’t worried about Harold getting drunk enough to embarrass me.

 

Things went okay.  Harold’s behavior wasn’t a problem.  But I got the distinct impression he was uncomfortable.  I thought for a while and figured it out.  Everyone watching the game was in their 40s or early 50s.  During commercials and halftime, we talked about our jobs, our families, whatever was going on in our lives.

 

When Harold spoke, it was about things that happened in high school or college.  It was as if his life had been on hold for two decades.  A constant drunken haze does not give you much to talk about.

 

Ironically, the best part of Harold’s life was about to begin.  He inherited some money and bought a house.  And, someone convinced him to adopt a Shih Tzu puppy.  I would have never guessed a tiny dog named Jasmine could have such a profound effect.

 

After that, every conversation I had with him involved Jasmine.  He would not stop talking about that dog.  One day he told me, “I’m quitting alcohol and cigarettes.  I want to live long enough to take care of Jasmine.”

 

I didn’t believe him.  I didn’t think he had the discipline to give up two powerful addictions at the same time.  I was wrong.  He has managed to keep those demons at bay ever since.

 

He did what he said he would do.  He had Jasmine for 15 years.  When she got old, he did an amazing job of taking care of her.  Out of a lifetime of disappointing the people around him, being a pet owner was the one thing he got right.  Jasmine hit the jackpot when Harold adopted her.

 

Unfortunately, people usually live longer than their pets.  I was worried about how Harold would react when Jasmine was gone.  I brought up the idea of getting another dog later on.  He was adamant.  “There will never be another Jasmine.”

 

My worst fears were not realized.  When Jasmine died, Harold did not revert to his old habits.  Instead, he began to gradually withdraw into a shell.  When he was young, he was the life of the party.  He relished being the center of attention.  That ended when he buried his beloved pet.

 

For years, Harold and I had lively debates.  He is very conservative and a Catholic.  I’m a liberal and have no use for religion.  We disagree on everything.  Some of our arguments lasted for hours.  

 

It wasn’t long after Jasmine died that he stopped answering the phone.  We’d been in the habit of watching football games together.  Rooting for our old college team was about the only thing we agreed on.  He started coming up with excuses why we shouldn’t get together.

 

After a while, I figured out the new pattern.  I would call some time during the day.  He wouldn’t answer the phone.  I’d leave a message.  If he felt like it, he would return the call.  But not until late at night.  He knew I turned the phone off when I went to bed.  Since then, I’ve been communicating with Harold by voice mail.

 

Then, just over a year ago, I got a panicked phone call.  The money he had inherited was gone.  He was behind on the house payment.  In typical Harold fashion, he’d been ignoring the letters from his mortgage company.  Now, he had three days to come up with a big chunk of cash, or they would foreclose.  He didn’t ask, and I didn’t offer.  There is no way I’ll throw any of my money down his black hole.

 

He had one thing on his side.  His house, although falling apart, was in a desirable neighborhood.  People are buying the old houses, tearing them down, and putting up McMansions.  He convinced the mortgage company to give him some time.  He sold the house to a builder.  As a condition of the sale, Harold could rent the house until the buyer was ready to redevelop the property.  

 

The mortgage was paid off, he had some spending money, and he could stay in the house for at least another year.  

 

============

 

This past Labor Day, I got a call from Harold.  His time was up.  He had to be out of the house by Saturday.  He’d rented a cheap apartment and had some people lined up to help him move.  I have a pickup truck and had volunteered to do some hauling.  He would call me when he was ready to move.

 

Saturday came and went.  I didn’t hear from him.  I was busy at work and about to travel to Russia.  I knew he wouldn’t answer the phone if I called. I assumed he had enough people to help him move and didn’t need me.

 

Since Harold isn’t on the internet, I’d set up online accounts for him for his health insurance, phone, and cable.  When I returned from my trip, I had an email from AT&T.  It congratulated him on his move and assured him they will be right there if he has any connection issues at the new location.  I took that as evidence he was now at the new apartment.  I wasn’t surprised that he hadn’t called and let me know.  

 

A few more weeks pass.  Still no word.  I was at work and my phone rang.  The lady said she and her husband own the apartment Harold rented.  She’d been by several times and Harold never answered the door.  This morning, she’d gone in the apartment.  It was empty.  Harold had not moved in.

 

She called his home phone and left a message.  Did the same with his cell phone.  She drove to his house and knocked on the door.  No answer.  Harold had listed me as his emergency contact, so she called.

 

I told her I had a key, and I’d figure out what was going on before the end of the day.  I left a message on his machine.  “If I don’t hear from you by the time I get off work, I’m coming in.”

 

I called when I left my house, and again when I parked in his driveway.  It was after 5pm.  I knocked as loud as I could on the front door.  I waited, then knocked again, even louder.

 

By then, I was wondering if the smell of a decaying corpse will greet me when I opened the door.  I inserted the key, turned the knob, and pushed.  The door didn’t budge.  I leaned on it hard, and it opened an inch.  It wouldn’t go any farther.

 

Patience is not one of my strong points.  Instinct took over.  I took a step back, and gave the door a good kick.  The bottom hinges broke free and the door swung open.  Harold had wedged an axe handle against the door.  I took a deep breath.  No dead body aroma.

 

Then, a pajama clad Harold stumbled out of the bedroom.  Confused, but not dead.

 

“Dude, where the hell have you been?  Your landlady has been trying to get in touch with you.  Have you forgotten how to use a telephone?  I thought you were dead and I just kicked in your fucking door.”

 

He explained.  The developer hit a snag on his current project, he wouldn’t be ready to tear the house down for two more months.  Harold had a temporary reprieve.

 

I asked, “So, you couldn’t pick up the phone and let people know what is going on?”

 

“Yeah, I know I haven’t called.  But you haven’t called me either.”

 

WTF?

 

So the second moral to the story is, effective communication might keep your door from getting kicked in.

 

I inspected the damage.  No wonder it was easy to kick open the door.  The screws were only an inch long.  “This will only take five minutes to fix.  I’ve got longer screws at the house, I’ll put the tools in my truck and I’ll fix this tomorrow after work.”

 

============

 

The next afternoon, I left him a voice mail.  “I’m leaving work in 15 minutes, let me know if you want me to come by and fix the door.”

 

He called back.  “Why don’t we do this some other day?  I’m just waking up.  I can open the door okay, as long as I’m careful.”

 

I knew what Harold meant by that.  I drove home, and put my tools up.  For years, he’s had buckets under the kitchen sink drain and in the bathroom.  When they fill, he dumps them in the bathtub.  That was his solution for clogged pipes.  I’d offered a dozen times to bring my plumbing equipment over.  He was not interested.

 

I could tell by the tone of his voice.  The door will still be broken when the house is torn down.  

 

Is there another moral to the story?  How’s this…

 

Never let me have a key to your house.

 


© Copyright 2018 Serge Wlodarski. All rights reserved.

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