Not sure how or why this memory from back in the day popped up, but this morning it did. Here goes.
my first apartment
When I was 27 years old I had just started my first business–cleverly named, at least to me, Do The Write Thing. Spike Lee’s same-named-differently-spelled movie had been released a few years prior, so, yeah, it was, in part, a play on that. I was offering the incredibly nascent service of desktop publishing and had the capacity to change the size and font of type, center it, justify it … even add a piece of clip art or two. I even had a Windows operating system on my state-of-the-art PC, 40 whopping megs of RAM and even ink-jet printer–things many smaller companies didn’t have back then.
I also got my first apartment a few months after hanging my proverbial shingle out for business. It was on the third floor of a townhouse in a community where a number of the homes had built-in, one-bedroom apartments on top of two-story townhouses. Each of these add-on units had a separate door and a dedicated stairwell (albeit one with bare-cinderblock walls and no fanfare in the least) which lead to the top-level apartment.
It wasn’t much.
The A/C barely worked, the carpet was the exact same avocado swirling-pattern design that covered all the carpeted areas of my childhood home (who didn’t have avocado or burnt orange or mustard yellow or brown carpet in the early ’70s?); and my landlord was an unkind, grouchy person. (His son, who lived below me, would–and did–say the same of him); but, regardless that the unit would never fully cool in the summer, or that the carpet was over 30 years old (and seriously dated for at least the last 20 of those years), or that my landlord really wasn’t a kind person, it was mine. My first apartment. Just for me.
I hadn’t planned long and hard to move into my own place. It had been a sudden decision (a story unto itself). As such, I didn’t own a lot of typical apartment-filling possessions: things such as chairs, a dining room set, a couch, lamps … that kind of thing. I didn’t have even a bed to call my own, as I’d been living with my parents after graduating college and getting measly-paying, grunt jobs since then. (GenXers never got the red-carpet treatment when we arrived in the workforce, nor the welcome-to-the-company kits filled with branded mugs, pens, T-shirts and the like which Millennials have come to expect as baseline acknowledgement for their simply showing up at a new job. But I digress.)
Turns out, the previous tenant, a married couple, had a double bed–just the mattress and box spring, mind you; no frame or anything–that they had left and were hoping to sell to the next tenant: to me. I told my landlord I was interested in the bed, and he gave me the husband’s name and phone number.
They were asking $300 for it, and while I had my suspicions that price was high (there wasn’t any internet then to do a quick price check), and though I could have gone to a mattress store, or maybe called around and attempted to price-shop by phone, I accepted their offer, as it gave me a place to lay my head and was one less thing to worry about as I moved into my new place. I paid them the $300 and called it good.
But the mattress sucked, and friends told me $300 was a ridiculous amount of money to spend for a used double-bed mattress, and a low-grade one to make things worse. I checked around at some stores, found a mattress I liked much better (I remember, it was about $600 for the set) and called the husband to tell him I didn’t want the mattress; but as I had used it for a couple/few weeks, I would be happy to pay $75 for the convenience it had afforded me.
He said that was fine; he understood, and he told me he and his wife would come by soon to get the mattress and refund me the remaining $225.
did you get it?
Meanwhile right after moving in, the husband called me, asking if I’d received any mail for him, particularly an envelope–a check–from his employer in New York. He told me his employer’s name and asked if I’d check the pile of mail I’d been holding for them to see if his paycheck had arrived.
Why he hadn’t changed his mailing address with the USPS was beyond me, but I told him I hadn’t received anything that looked like a check, which was true. I’d gotten junk mail in his name, but he didn’t care about that. He called a couple more times in the next week or so, again asking me if I had received any mail for him. Anything that looked like a check or had his employer’s name as the return address.
“Nope, nope. Nothing has shown up,” I told him.
A few days after I’d called the husband to say I didn’t want the double-bed boxspring and mattress, unannounced, he and his wife showed up at my place to retrieve it. They were both sullen and, it seemed, quite pissed. With barely a word spoken to me, they first removed the box spring from my apartment and took it to their vehicle.
I made some cheery comment at that point about getting the refunded money we’d agreed upon: the $225 ($300 minus the $75 usage fee I had felt was reasonable compensation for the couple/few weeks I’d used the bed). The husband said, “No problem” and that he’d get it for me after they’d loaded everything in their car.
They came back in, got the mattress, and again I made a comment about the refund. (My spidey-sense was picking something up.) Again, he said he’d get my money for me in a minute after they finished loading everything in. But he didn’t.
They walked out with the mattress and never came back.
I was pissed. And poor. That $225 was a lot of money for me at the time. (For reference, I was charging $35 to write someone’s résumé, and two résumés a day was a good day for me.) I had been planning on using that money to pay in part for the new mattress and box spring I’d picked out. Instead, I had now paid $300 to use a so-so mattress for a couple/few weeks, and I still had to buy a new mattress and box spring, let alone a frame. (I never did get the frame for that bed. It was an expense beyond my budget.)
With a personality quick to feel injured and a bank account and income level causing low-, medium- and high-grade anxiety daily, I felt quite harmed and vulnerable.
I left a message later evening asking him to pay me the $225 he’d agreed to refund me. He never responded.
But you know what happened the very next day? Yup, the check he’d been asking about finally arrived. I decided in a split second that he would never see that check. I opened his mail to confirm that, indeed, this was the check he’d been waiting for. It was. Oh, yes, it most certainly was!
I didn’t know then what the fine or charges were for opening someone else’s mail. I knew it was wrong. I knew it was something you weren’t supposed to do. Didn’t care. (For this post I looked it up and discovered opening someone else’s mail is a misdemeanor and one where, if found guilty and convicted the lawbreaker (that’d be me) would be “subject to imprisonment for 6 days and a fine of $15.”
Who could prove that I had done so? And, heck, if we were going to start talking about wrongs done, I was sure going to bring up that he’d agreed to refund me $225 but hadn’t.
Now, this event happened in 1991. No one had an online account to sign into to check the status of a payment. Nor were electronic bank transfers to individuals much of a thing. There weren’t great databases for tracking information, and the computer revolution was only barely and just touching the average corporation. (As testament, earlier in that same year I had worked for a company with 70+ employees that had just one server supporting 18 terminals, allowing the 18 secretaries–I was one of them–to type and print documents from the terminals at their desks.) Lame, but it was what it was.
So maybe–probably–in 1991 it was a bit of a challenge for the husband to get his mailing address changed with his employer, or to get a check “lost in the mail” re-issued any time quickly. I don’t know how hard he tried to get things fixed on his end with his employer. I don’t know what troubles he encountered. And I don’t care.
What I do know is not only did that much-anticipated check arrive, but a couple weeks later another check arrived; and a couple of weeks after that, yet another one arrived.
You know it! They each and all went into my trash can–without even a smidge of a guilty conscious. (Also, what was up with him not changing his address at the post office? I mean, after having moved out over two months prior, why was I still getting his mail? SMH.)
thinking things through
I’m guessing the husband and his wife hadn’t considered the consequences and resulting dynamic between us when they’d decided to take my money and renege on their promise of a partial refund. They kinda forgot that I was the only one with access to the mailbox where the husband’s paychecks were being sent. Yeah, they didn’t think that one through very well.
I didn’t care then, and I don’t care now.
I never got my $225 back, but I sure as heck enjoyed hitting the ball they served me back into their court. Silence and a smirk were my revenge.