I want my cat back. You are a murderer and a liar!
These two sentences were part of a thank-you note I got from my former roommate Steve who had gone on vacation for two months and left his cat on its deathbed with vague instructions about force-feeding it food and medicine. Not surprisingly, the skeletal cat died of whatever it was sick with soon after he left. At the time Steve didnt seem that upset. It was only six months later, when I was trying to collect back rent, that Steve began to truly mourn the cat.
Collecting rent from Steve had always been a challenge. His checkbook was apparently a living and mobile being that was afraid of him and hid whenever he came home; but before he moved out, Steve managed to write me a check for $2,200. He asked me not to deposit it until hed deposited another paycheck. I agreed. When he actually moved out, Steve took my blender and reclaimed the check. I hadnt hidden it well enough in my room.
At first, I pretended Id lost the check and emailed him, asking for another. After two months of being ignored, I finally left a phone message implying small claims court. Thats when the fun really began.
The email response I got included the lovely sentences above, along with about 1,500 more words of praise. His thesis seemed to be that I was a cat-slaughtering devil, and he was a saint exempt from paying rent. He declared hed done $2,200 worth of cleaning, despite the fact that the apartment was dramatically cleaner once he was gone.
He also accused me of orchestrating a past break-in, though I had been out of the country at the time. He claimed his room was half the size of another bedroom in the loft so he should have had to pay half that persons rent or about $450 including utilitiesquite a deal in a South Williamsburg loft that costs $3,200 a month and is shared by four people. Moreover, he claimed I owed him a $3,600 rebate because his 8-by-15 room was so tiny. I began to suspect that he didnt intend to pay me back.
Small claims court was like one of those nightmares where you need to run or say something to save yourself, but youre paralyzed. I was stuck in slow motion, unable to argue effectively. Nothing went my way. The arbitrator began by asking for a rent log as if I was an actual landlord. Lacking this, he wasnt interested in Steves emails or my bank statements or any other proof I offered. Steve wasnt even required to answer under oath whether or not he had lived rent-free for nearly three months. Id been hoping for some Judge Judy moment where Steve got lectured about honoring his commitments. I got nothing.
Well thats not completely true. I got a lesson about trust and human nature. Steve was your typical Brooklyn dude: Liberal, sometimes funny, a bearded vegan. He was a teacher and an anti-capitalist. But like a rabidly homophobic Christian caught in a bathroom with another man, Steve seemed to think that denouncing capitalism and eschewing honey allowed him to screw somebody who trusted him. Extremists are all the same.
I also learned to let it all go. If I die with at least $2,200 in the bank, it was money I didnt need. And Ill die knowing I always tried to do the right thing. Steve wont have that comfort.
Laramie Flick lives in Brooklyn and drives a pedicab in Midtown. For more information visit [LaramieFlick.com].