The Fear Year (Part 3)

[Last of three posts.]

“This is still the greatest country in the world, if we just will steel our wills and lose our minds.”
Bill Clinton, on the campaign trail, 1992

On Sunday, Nov. 15, 1992, I steeled my will to the sticking place (and maybe lost my mind)—and moved to St. Paul.

With the help of my parents, a couple friends, and a Ryder rental van, we had my apartment in Hopkins cleaned out by early afternoon. I drove the van alone to St. Paul. Everyone was to meet up with me at the Summit Avenue mansion where I was renting a room.

When I arrived, the street was lined with cars—the German Kulturhaus next door was having an open house—and there was no place to park. I tried to pull into the mansion driveway and, while attempting a wide turn, I hit a car parked near the drive. Because my father urged taking out insurance on the van, I was covered. But the woman whose car I’d hit was really upset. We couldn’t move the cars until she showed up. And I was getting depressed having to deal with it all on my own.

My new landlord, T., was there but wasn’t much help to the distraught woman because he kept telling her in his frantic New Jerseyish way: “I don’t understand what you’re so upset about … the insurance will handle it.” Later, when the police came and the car’s owner and I were filling out our accident reports, she told me: “Your landlord is an asshole.”

She was right. It was an evil omen.

***

Ahmed didn’t bother me at first.

A Moroccan guy with a room down the hall from mine, Ahmed was a production chef at the Town & Country Club in St. Paul. He took a bus to work in the morning and hung around the mansion at night. He liked to knock on the other tenants’ doors to see if they were home. Then he’d ramble on about this or that, seemingly uninterested in anything but his own opinion. He smoked cigarettes in his room, drank beer alone, and watched TV. He didn’t seem to have any friends.

He did seem to have money. One night we went out to the Cathedral Hill bar Cognac McCarthy’s and he pulled out a wad of cash—some looked like hundred-dollar bills. I had driven that night and we went out because we were bored. We first went to Sweeney’s on Dale, then walked down to McCarthy’s where he got to talking with a doctor, his wife, and a friend of theirs sitting at the table next to ours. I remember feeling out of touch with everything and mindlessly ate my shrimp cocktail and sipped red wine. Later I wrote in my journal:

“…the old Depressive Mind has a tendency to kick in…That happened briefly Friday night when Ahmed and I were at Cognac McCarthy’s…He left the table for a moment and I sat there glaring down over the sudden precipice of my old horror: self-doubt and despair so palpable it nailed me right to the spot and I was torn between the social and internal worlds…when he came back he snapped his fingers in front of me and I could tear myself away. But for a minute I was ‘in there.’ I felt fearful and small; I felt if I were to die, I knew it would be soon.”

Afterwards we stopped at the Lexington on Grand, where some woman bought us drinks. Then we went to Mancini’s on Seventh, where Ahmed got so drunk he threw up at the bar. I had been sitting alone in a booth drinking tepid coffee and had to pick him up off the floor and haul him back to the mansion. He’d been trying to pick up women twice his age.

***

My 33rd birthday was over and I had quit my job. And my new living situation was becoming shadier by the day. I tried to keep myself entertained by attending friends’ holiday parties and not thinking too deeply about the future (I threw my own at the mansion, Front Burner image at right). It was cold during those days in December, through year’s end.

Then, on December 15, after coming back to the mansion at 8 p.m., from my room upstairs I heard shouting and fighting downstairs. At first I thought the landlords were having a domestic outside their office. But as I ventured out to the top of the stairs, I heard T. shouting at “Shad,” a 20-year old kid they had moved into the penthouse apartment just two weeks earlier.

Shad didn’t have the money to pay January rent and the landlords were evicting him. He’d come back with a friend and started a fight. From what I was hearing, it sounded serious; I heard scuffling and didn’t know if weapons were involved, so I went back to my room and called 911. When the police showed up, I went downstairs. According to T., Shad had T.’s wife G. in a headlock and was punching her, saying “Let’s get ’em!” while his friend looked on and T. tried to pry them apart. Then G. picked up a trimline phone and beaned Shad on the forehead with it. Shad and his friend ran out of the mansion. Later he and his buddies sat in their car out on the street, watching the house.

Later I talked to T. about how upsetting it was to be in that sort of dangerous situation, in a place I thought was safe. He tried to assure me it wouldn’t happen again.

***

The holidays were hard.

Most people have family and friends to fall back on. My folks went to Florida to recreate and settle things for their move there later in 1993. Friends went on vacations with their families, and my brother entertained his old college friends. I was on my own, so I condo-sat for my parents most of the time.

I used the time to strip paint from the closet door of my mansion room, hauling it in my truck to the folks’ abandoned farmhouse in Minnetrista. I worked in the well-lit dining room, listening to the radio, and thinking about the past, present, and future. One Sunday it was so warm and sunny that I took a walk down to the frozen lake.

While stopping off at the mansion before New Year’s Day, Ahmed informed me the night before New Year’s Eve he’d caught a former tenant in the foyer. Apparently the tenant had made a copy of the house key and let himself in to rifle through the mailboxes. Ahmed surprised him and called the police. The former tenant was charged with burglary. That night I wrote in the journal:

“I’ve been fighting a melancholy lately—but it’s different than depression—which is like a raging blackness that freezes you in your tracks. This is wistful. Leaning backwards—lingering backwards, perhaps, but I’m sure a lot of it has to do with the place I’m at. I need to really move on, be around positive people who I can really help and who can really instruct me that there is a way an honest, positive & vital human being can ‘make it’ in this—quite—twisted world.”

***

“It’s time to make people just as important as owls.”
George H.W. Bush, on the campaign trail, 1992

Things changed quickly after the year began.

I dawdled out in the country and spent more time at the folks’ condo than at the mansion in St. Paul. There was too much instability there—as if stability were the first thing I’d expect after uprooting my life for the first time in nearly eight years.

When I returned to St. Paul Saturday night, Jan. 9, I was surprised by how quiet it was. The answer came Sunday morning when Jenny called me from her parents’ place. Ahmed had committed forcible rape early Jan. 8 and was hauled away by the Ramsey County Sheriff. She also told me Eric had served the landlords notice and was leaving at month’s end. It was odd because the last time I saw Ahmed was the previous Thursday afternoon. He thought I would drive him to the grocery store and he’d cook dinner that night. I was on my way to the condo. He looked disappointed.

After that, everything was on automatic. Monday afternoon I personally handed the landlords my letter to vacate upon finding a new place. It was war. They convened a meeting, during which there was much shouting. We tenants just stared at each other in disbelief.

I found a new apartment days after giving notice, moving all my possessions over three hard days at the end of January. On Thursday, Feb. 11, 1993, I was served summons to conciliation court by the landlords seeking damages of $10,800 in future rents, plus late fees and $100 cleaning costs. But in order to afford conciliation court, they had to lower the damages to $5,000, plus filing fee.

“Welcome to St. Paul. Enjoy the ride,” I probably thought.

I wasn’t alone. Fellow housemate Eric was summoned to court in mid-March of ’93. In the end, I lost … and I won. The landlords didn’t get the damages they sought, and I got the majority of my damage deposit back.

What did I learn from the start of my Fear Year?

That change is always hard.

But things did get better by autumn of 1993—way better.

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~ by completelyinthedark on March 29, 2019.

2 Responses to “The Fear Year (Part 3)”

  1. Wow Mike-what a nightmare of a place. Glad you got out of there 😵

    Liked by 1 person

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