The Right Coast

April 27, 2005
Death of a landlord
By Tom Smith

I heard recently that my former landlord, whom I'll call George, is sick, and like to die. I met George some twelve years ago, when I came to San Diego to look for a house after I had accepted an offer from my present place of employment. I did not know what to expect of San Diego; I only knew I had had enough and more of DC and wanted to live some place rural, but not too far from the city. I know how to read a map, so I got out a topo map of San Diego and thought this place called Jamul looked horsey and not too far from town. I arrived in San Diego and took a cab to a resort on Mission Bay, picked at random from a guide book. As I walked to my cabana, I was met by six almost naked men sporting six pack abs, carrying another large man in tropical princess drag upon a litter, he complete with coconut shell brazzaire. I wondered what I was getting into with this San Diego thing.

Looking for a house to rent was discouraging. DC has lots of nice houses and condos to rent, it being a city of transients. I could find nothing where I was looking, till I responded to an ad placed by George. He owned five or six nice homes in the exurban development where we eventually bought a house and now live. I accepted the house he had to rent on the spot. It was right next to his tract mansion, where he had his swimming pool, volleyball court, tennis court, Rolls Royce, dilapidated RV, ancient Ford Mustang and about a dozen mongrel dogs. George spoke with an Okie twang and tended to walk around in gym shorts and nothing else, showing his hairy pot belly to the world. He fancied himself an athlete and a sport, and his property was often dotted with athletic young people, especially young women, playing volleyball and lounging about his pool. George was adamantly against drinking, smoking and drugs, but as to that other major vice, I got the feeling he was just fine.

George had made a small fortune in the rough world of promoting rock bands, nobody I had ever heard of. I don't think he could have cared less about music. He was a ruthless businessman through and through. Being a nosy sort, I did an asset search on him once, and found he owned a bunch of apartment buildings in South Pasadena, so I suppose the sorborquet slum lord would not be inappropriate. I have to admit I liked the guy; I suppose there is something about flinty SOB's that appeals to me, as long as they aren't my enemies. He was not a good landlord. Tight as the bark on a tree, he would not spend a dime to fix anything, and always found the cheapest way to do everything. Rather than put in a sprinkler system, he would hire Mexican day laborers to carry buckets of water to his plantings. He finally decided even that was too expensive and just let everything die. When I complained of rats in our garage, he said rats weren't so bad. He had rats in his garage too. In fact, whole families of rats had set up in the walls of his Rolls, the heavy insulation of which is apparently perfect for raising rat families. He said he had to banish his dogs from his garage because they were tearing apart his Rolls trying to get at the rats. I finally got him to do something about the rats when they ate through our phone line and ate the airbag in my car. He did us a favor by declining to fix a leak in the slab below the kitchen. When we wearied of walking through the puddles in the kitchen, we finally overcame our inertia and bought a house, just a couple of doors (but several acres) down, which we did before the steady rise in house prices in San Diego over the last six or seven years. We would have been sorry had we waited longer.

Over the years George's tenants have brought some excitment to the neighborhood. One was a surgeon whose troubled son held another couple in the neighborhood at gunpoint when they interrupted him in the course of a burglary. The couple managed to escape, and the sheriff responded by searching the area by helicopter. The Jamul Kid and his accomplice hid out for a while in the abandoned mine behind our rented house, which absolutely figured. I called the sheriff and carefully explained I did not know where the fugitive was presently, but that his father had been looking for him at the mine. Three black and whites responded urgently and were bitterly disappointed when they realized I was just telling them where the Kid had been, not where he was, and upon seeing that getting to the mine required walking about a hundred yards uphill. So they left and the detectives came, who looked just like what you would expect. They did not seem to mind walking uphill to the mine, which they did, confirming that someone had been holed up in there. The wild west lived on. The rumor went around the neighborhood that there had been a drug raid at George's new tenant's house, and our already marginal status in the neighborhood sank still lower.

George eventually left the State and moved to the Philipinnes, a place where I gathered he could more easily indulge his favorite hobbies. He gradually sold off his houses, which is all for the best as far as my property values are concerned. Before he sold off his big house, his tenants were the subject of an impressive raid by the DEA, complete with SWAT vans, as part of that big nation-wide crack down a while back on the sale of date rape drugs over the internet. It had some pretentious name like Operation Hammer of Justice. When I saw the SWAT van on George's property, and the half dozen or so officers in full combat gear surrounding the house, not to mention the dozen or so uni's, part of me thought that it just absolutely figured. Aliens could land in my neighborhood, and it would not surprize me. At least I no longer lived right next door to the weird karma sink that was George's house. Good citizen that I am, I walked down my driveway and told the DEA agents all I knew about the house, and to ask them how they liked their Glocks. Most law enforcement people hate avid cooperators like me, but one DEA agent seemed happy to chat with me. He sussed me out as someone who would be more that happy to narc out a meth lab if I came across one in my wanderings, and he is quite right about that. He tried to warn me as I blathered on that one of the residents of the house was within earshot, a non-felonious looking woman walking her dog, but I am not that easy to shut up, and besides, I didn't care. A couple weeks later as I was walking my dogs on the mountain behind the house that was raided, I heard a strange whistling/sucking noise as something whizzed past my ear, followed by a pop, and laughter from the good people on one of George's driveways. I inferred one of the narco-losers had taken a shot at me, probably with a .22. While my opinion of people who sell date rape drugs over the internet could hardly be lower, this incident made it sink lower still. Shooting at people in jest is the very worst sort of redneck, low life behavior. I suppose I should be grateful they had not set up a still. I thought about calling the DEA agent who had given me his card to tell him about it, but what good would that have done? I gathered from the laughter that it was more a drunken joke sort of shot, not even an earnest attempt to scare me. I am only too glad that that house has finally sold, however.

So now I have heard that George, who is a diabetic and took terrible care of himself, has a bad "flesh eating" infection in his leg and is likely to lose it, and quite possibly his life as well. He always said that when his health went he would just shoot himself, and I don't doubt it. I imagine the Philippines is no place to prosper after you lose a leg. It makes me sad, even though no one could say George was a nice guy. He was what he was, though, which is more than you can say for a lot of people. These days, you have to be a confirmed enemy for your death not to be regretted by me. Mortality seems to raise its ugly head everywhere. No one seems too rich or mean to die. I feel sorry for the poor rich bastard who dies without ever having had the joys of family, though I guess he traded that in for volleyball playing blondes. None of whom are going to hold his hand while he slides toward death a long way from the scrubby mountains of Jamul.