Monday, June 20, 2011

No Good Deed Goes Unpunished

A couple of months ago we moved from an upstairs apartment to a downstairs unit.  Even after having both knees replaced a couple of years ago, Teresa still has a lot of problems.  Walking up and down the stairs each day was a burden she didn't need.  It eliminated a lot of travel and we love it.  A side effect was inheriting a new crop of neighbors.

We now live near the end of a long hallway on the south end of the complex.  All doors open into the hall, halfway down is a covered link that connects our building to the office, post office and pool area.
Each day I check the mail and in most cases never encounter anyone going or coming.

There is a man who lives in an apartment on the first floor near the link whom I've only seen a few times in the past year.  He is disabled and is confined to a wheelchair most of the time.  He has only one leg, and although he has an artificial one, I've only seen him wearing it a couple of times.  I'd spoken to him each time we passed in the hall and he usually just said hello and gave me a brochure from the church he attends. 

Last month, on a rainy Wednesday things changed.  He was standing outside the door to the link in the rain with two small grocery bags in his hands.  Entry to the building requires a keycard, and he was frantically looking for his.  I rushed over and opened the door for him.  He stepped into the dry hallway and thanked me. 

As I continued my journey to the post office boxes I heard him ask, "Could you do something else for me?"

"Sure," I said, "what do you need?"

He said, "I'm going to take these bags to my apartment.  I have some more in my truck, but I'm too tired to go back out in the rain to get them.  Would you get them for me and bring them to my apartment?"

"Be glad to," I said.  He handed me the keys to his truck and headed for his apartment.

I ran to his truck through the pouring rain and retrieved the other bags.  I delivered them to his apartment and asked, "Is there anything else I can help you with?" 

"Yes, there is," he said.  "I have a five drawer cabinet and a computer desk in the back of the truck I need brought in.  Will you do it for me?"

"I'll be right back," I replied.

Well, the five drawer cabinet was in a big box and weighed almost as much as me.  I was whipped when I finally got it to the apartment.

"The computer desk is a lot lighter, but it also needs to be assembled," he said.

I should have seen it coming,  but I was trying to be helpful.  A few minutes later I put the box containing the computer desk on the floor and started for the door.

"One more thing," he asked.  "Will you come back tomorrow and put both of these together for me and haul all the older stuff out to the dumpster?"

I'm sure I had a stunned look on my face, but only mumbled, "Uh, sure."

I didn't really want to, but he needed help and it would only be this one time.  Ha!

He said he took a lot of medications and didn't get up until early afternoon.  I told him that was fine since we had a lot of things to do the next morning anyway.

At seven a.m. there was a loud knock on the door.  It was him.  I opened the door and said, "Good morning."

"I couldn't sleep," he said.  "Are you ready to get started?"

"No, we have an entire morning full of chores to get done.  I will try to be at your apartment around one o'clock."

He shrugged and rolled away.

I had other things to do, but also knew it would be a daunting task for him to do alone.  At two p.m. I knocked on his door and he let me in.

I decided to assemble the five drawer chest first.  After it the computer desk should be a breeze.  I couldn't believe how many parts there were to a piece of Chinese furniture with the appearance of a giant jigsaw puzzle.

There were racks and cabinets throughout the living room and bedroom.  I wasn't sure why he needed another one, but it was none of my business.  All the work had to be done on the floor, which brings me to the carpet.

The carpet was nastier than words can describe.  He had a nice vacuum cleaner in the kitchen, but apparently he didn't want to risk burning it up by running over the carpet.  My feet felt like they were going stick with each step on the carpet, and getting down on my knees or sitting down to put pieces together sent chills up my spine.  I felt like the need for a tetanus shot after the first five minutes.  The smell was even worse.  I soon found out why.

There is no smoking allowed in our complex.  He had disabled the smoke alarms, and most of the day was spent chain smoking with a towel placed along the bottom of the door to hide the odor from the outside.  My eyes and lungs were burning.

As soon as I started he went to his room and turned up his stereo full blast.  This was just before the predicted rapture, so he was mostly listening to Amazing Grace over and over, and singing along at the top of his voice.  Every ten minutes or so he would come back to the living room and tell me the rapture was going to come the following Saturday.  I was tempted to ask him why he needed more furniture if he would be gone in a week, but I didn't.

Pretty soon I adjusted to the poisonous atmosphere and was making progress.  He entered the room once again with a fanny pack in his lap.  I looked up in time to see him pull out a .45 caliber pistol, which almost made me soil his carpet ever further.

"Look what I have!" he said.  "If you ever need any help down the hall,  you just call me.  I'll be right there."

He took three clips from his bag to show me how prepared he was, then he got a look of horror on his face.

"Oh no!  I'm missing two clips!  I hope none of my sorry buddies came to to steal my medications and took the clips!  Can you go to my truck and see if you can find them?"

Of course I jumped at the opportunity to get the hell out of there and get some fresh air.  I opened the passenger door of his truck and there were two fully loaded clips on the seat.  I took them inside and gave them to him.  It settled him down considerably.  He returned to his room.

A little later he asked me to come to his room and meet his fiance whom he was talking to online.  I struggled to my feet and went in for an introduction.  The connection was bad and I said hello as instructed.  After a couple of minutes I excused myself and went back to work.

He came in a few minutes later and told me about his fiance.  She is a twenty-five year old living in the Philippines.  According to him she is going to come to the U.S. when he can come up with enough money.  In the meantime she has all his credit card numbers and pin numbers so she can buy bibles.  He held up his hand and showed me a huge scar.

"See this!  My first wife tried to kill me with a butcher knife."

By late afternoon I had almost completed the chest.  I said I would finish it up and put the computer desk together the following day.

He handed me one of his key cards to his door and said, "I will probably sleep late, so just let yourself in and finish."

I said, "No thanks.  I will wait until you are up."  There was no way in hell I would walk into his apartment and have him wake up and blast me with his pistol.  I went home.

As soon as I walked through the door Teresa said, "Oh my God, you stink!  Get out of those clothes and take a shower now!"  Crawling around on that skanky carpet had taken a toll on my clothes.

The next afternoon I finished the cabinet and was about to nail the particle board sheet on the back. 

"What is that thing?" he asked.

"It is the standard board that comes with all of these things."

"No, I won't use that flimsy thing.  Take the legs off of my dining table and nail the top onto the back of the cabinet."

"Sure!" I said.  Later I found out he rented a furnished apartment and the table I took apart wasn't his.

I then turned my attention to the computer desk.  Unfortunately he had decided to start working on it the night before.  He had studs and screws in the wrong places.  To secure them he covered each one with a generous amount of Gorilla glue.  It took me an hour to scrape off all the glue and start over.  I was finished in fifteen minutes.

Did I mention that on several occasions friends of his would wander in to visit with him and watch me work at the same time.  They were all much younger and more capable of doing the tasks at hand.  I had felt at first that he didn't have anyone around to help.  At that point I felt a little bit used. 

On the way out the door he handed me a bottle of sparkling water from his refrigerator and said, "I'm going to give you this for helping me.  You and your wife can drink it."

When I got home I put the bottle on the counter and told Teresa it was our payment.  It had a slimey feel to it.  She frowned and said, "I hope you don't plan on drinking that!"

"No way in hell!" I said.  I picked it up to toss it out.  It stuck to the counter.

A couple of weeks later he caught me walking down the hall.  "Come see what I bought," he said.

I steeped into his apartment and saw a big canvas bag.  It contained a frame, shelves and a canvas camping closet.  I knew what was coming next.

"This is a good project for you.  Can you put it together for me?"

I said yes and began putting it together.  It took about twenty minutes.  He went to his bedroom to get some catalogs so he could show me some more things he had on order.  I had a feeling they were going to involve my help when he got them.  I quickly sent Teresa a text saying "Call me now.  Tell me to come home!"

Her call came just as he rolled back into the living room.  I told him I had to go and hauled ass out the door.

Since I have been made the unpaid Minister of Special Construction Projects, and he seems to have a lot of friends capable of standing around watching me work, I decided it was time to pay better attention and not be caught out in the open.  I started going the long way around to check the mail and doing the laundry upstairs.  I was successful until last Wednesday night.

We went out to eat after work and got home a little after nine p.m.  The neighbor is rarely out that late.  Just to be safe I took the long way to the mailbox, but getting overconfident and cocky I decided to go directly down the hall on the return trip.  I made a right turn and there I was, face to face with my nemesis, Rolling Thunder.

He smiled and said, "Jimmy!  I've been looking for you.  Let me show you what I just bought!"

We were at the door of his apartment, so I stepped in to take a look like the wimp I am.  There was a section of steel shelving assembled, probably incorrectly, and a pile of pieces on the floor.  That could only mean trouble for me.

"I've got a project for you!" he said.  "I need the other half put together, then the old shelves taken out of the closet and these put in.  I just bought a two wheel dolly off the internet so it will be easier when you take stuff out to the dumpster for me."

I mumbled something about needing to go and I would talk to him later.

Early Thursday morning there was a loud knocking at the door.  I had a pretty good idea who it was.  I went into the other room and Teresa opened the door.  Sure enough it was Rolling Thunder.  He had been asleep and heard someone knocking on his door.  He naturally assumed it was me wanting to get an early start on the latest construction project.  She told him I was busy.  He left.

All day I never left the apartment without her checking the hallway first.  We went out to eat that evening.  We entered the building from the side entrance to the hall so we wouldn't be readily visible.  A woman and her kids were coming from the pool and we talked to them for a minute.  From the corner of my eye I saw movement in the hall.  I whispered to Teresa, "Is it him?"

"Yes," she said.

"Do you want to go riding around for awhile?" I asked.

"Let's go!"

We left for an hour and all was clear upon our return.

Now I feel I'm being stalked by Rolling Thunder.  I peak around every corner.  I need to get a mirror to cut down on the chance of getting caught while checking the hall.  I just came from Goodwill where I picked up a disguise.  I have a pith helmet, sunglasses, checkered shorts, army boots, long black socks and a pink boa to wear around my neck.  So far I haven't been caught.  I did get an offer to be in the over forty production of Rocky Horror Picture Show at a local theater, but I can't dance, can't sing, and I'm only thirty-nine.