I’ve been driving my brother’s car to work a lot recently (to maximize painting time/energy at home), and I seem to have a tradition now of saying “good morning” to two guys who are always sitting on the front steps of the southernmost house on the block across from mine. Wednesday the older of the two asked me what that “thing” was on top of the car. I showed him how the strange-looking arm stands straight up to secure a bicycle in place. Next time you think we all live in the same culture, consider that there are old guys on front steps in Baltimore who don’t know what a car-top bike rack is.

On Tuesday I had located a three-bedroom house in Missoula that (1) we could sort of afford and (2) allows pets. I contacted someone A. knows in town, who had volunteered to check places out for us, and he said he would take a look. Meanwhile, I tried to glean as much as I could from Google Maps. When you look a place up on Google Maps, the little arrow is never on an actual house, but out in the middle of the street, and not always definitely directly in front of a particular house, either. So it took a little detective work to figure out which house was potentially “mine.” First I called the Missoula Department of Public Works to ask which side of that street was odd and which even; the house, with its odd-numbered address, turned out to be on the south side of the street, but this still wasn’t enough information. I studied the photos of the house displayed on the rental web site. Most of these were interior shots but there was one useful one: a photo of the front of the house that showed a bulbous-shaped fir tree. I could also tell the house was a long rectangle, with the approximate proportions of a dollar bill. Back on Google Maps, only one house matched this shape and had a large, round tree in the front yard. I promptly set about convincing myself to love it. Sure, it was on a major thoroughfare, but it was set back from the road, with a screen of trees in the front yard. Sure, there was a small apartment complex next door, but that, too, was set off by a hedgerow or maybe even a fence. Meanwhile, the yard was large (I purposely didn’t think about the mowing), as was the house itself: 1,700 feet of living space, plus a basement.

Plus it allows pets, so I figured we just had to take it.

On Wednesday, our Missoula contact, Carey, checked in. He hadn’t set up an appointment to see the house yet but had driven by the place on Tuesday night and had run into the tenant. The tenant had seen him turning around in the driveway and rushed over, apparently eager to talk to anyone who might be considering taking the place. As it turned out, he hates the house and has no other reason to move. The apartments next door are full of college students, who are extremely loud. The apartments’ dumpsters are always a mess, and the house is downwind of them, not to mention the animals that frequently raid the dumpsters and end up leaving half-gnawed, maggot-riddled pieces of meat on the house’s back patio (so much for that fence/hedgerow). The house gets too hot (I get the impression that houses in Missoula often don’t have air conditioning because the weather is so mild, but that doesn’t mean you can’t have a house whose design/location just isn’t ideal for the climate), and the gas station that is catty-cornered to the property – in addition to prominently displaying the kind of magazines that come in plastic bags – is the kind of place that does a lot of walk-up trade in single cans of beer and lottery tickets. The tenant also expressed some disdain for the management company, although Carey didn’t go into specifics.

“Well, forget that one,” I said. I told Carey never mind about setting up a viewing appointment.

Now what? The attraction of this particular management company is simply the volume of rentals they offer. Having once applied (and paid the application fee), a large company like this would let me have my pick of the largest possible number of rentals, something I figured I would need since so few rentals in Missoula seem to allow pets. [FN 1] Now, the only rental of the type we’re looking for that allows pets was out, and the company itself had been maligned by someone who should know. What to do?

I checked some other listings. The next-largest management company – at least judging by their web site – had just posted a bunch of new rentals. No luck on the three-bedroom houses, but many of the new two-bedroom ones allowed pets. A couple of the places didn’t look too bad. Excited, I called the company to see about applying.

“Well, that place is vacant, so you can go by and take a look,” the grandmotherly woman who answered said. I explained that I was house-hunting from Baltimore and that I’d be sending a friend to do that.

“That creates a problem,” the woman said. “We won’t rent to you until you take a look at the place in person.”

“Ummm…. so you’re saying you don’t want to do business with me,” I said.

“I’m sorry you feel that way, but we’ve had problems where people renting sight unseen find that the place wasn’t what they needed. We want you to go see if, like, the refrigerator and the lighting meet your needs.”

Maybe you should try renting to grownups, I thought.

“I don’t understand,” I said. “I would have signed a lease, so, if I didn’t like it, wouldn’t that be just too bad for me? I mean, my friend will have looked at the place, I understand I’m gambling by renting long distance before seeing it, but I also understand that’s just the way this has to work. I mean, what am I supposed to do? Show up, move into a hotel, hope that you’ll have a suitable listing before too many $65-dollar nights roll by, and move from there? I can’t do that. My movers need an address to drop my stuff off within six days of picking my stuff up.”

“I’m sorry, we just won’t do it,” she said.

“Well, I guess I won’t be renting from you.” I hung up without waiting for a reply.

In despair, I turned to the classified ads in the Missoulian, the local paper. These are much less user friendly than the rental-company ads, as they often don’t include an address and never show pictures. Also, with people paying by the word, the descriptions tend to be on the concise side. But as I scrolled through, I saw one or two possibilities. And, certainly, the ratio of pet-allowing landlords seemed larger. One place seemed promising (four bedrooms, although only one bath, fenced yard) and didn’t look like it was in too awful a spot, at least from the satellite’s-eye view of Google Maps. I called the owner, who said it was still available. I explained my situation, and he told me to have my friend stop by the house. Cats were fine, he said. He was just worried about dogs.

“It’s open,” he said. “The applications are on the kitchen counter.”

I called Carey, interrupting him at lunch.

“That’s okay, though,” Carey said. “We’re going to get you a house out here if it kills us.”

I thanked him and described the next prospect. He said that the general neighborhood was a good one – “it’s the new hot neighborhood,” he said, whatever that means, other than high prices – and promised to take a look later in the day. Then he would fax me the application.

Suddenly, things on the rental front were looking up again.

Now on to the home-improvement front. I called Elmer at noon to confirm that he and his brother were still coming at 4 p.m., to do the tub-surround job. (He had said he would call at 11 a.m. to confirm. He never calls when he says he’s going to, though, and Wednesday was no exception.) Yes, still on. I left work around 3:40 p.m. to be home in time to meet the crew. While I waited, I started with the painting in the sun room. I’m starting to think I’ve been wasting my time trying to do a “cover-up” level of work on this job – frankly, it looks like crap to me. But the part that I would need to do over is relatively small, so I guess I’ll get all of the painting in the house done and then have the manager over to see what she thinks. If I have to redo that one part, it shouldn’t take too terribly long.

Anyway, I painted and waited and painted. Finally, about 5:20 p.m., Elmer called to say that they wouldn’t be able to do the job that night after all. His brother was being kept late at his day job, as a plumber, in Silver Spring, but would stop by later that evening to take measurements, at least. We went back and forth negotiating a day to actually do the work and settled on Friday evening. I thought this would be a nice, relaxing way to wind down after a busy work week.

When Marvin, Elmer’s brother, arrived, he explained that the job isn’t as simple as Elmer might have thought. Apparently, our tub is a “custom order,” meaning it’s not a standard size. (It’s tiny, really, from the sound of it, which is I guess why it looks to me more like a large salad bowl than like something I can really fit into, sitting down.) So Home Depot is unlikely to have the right size of insert on hand and it would have to be ordered specially. This can take up to ten business days. That puts us in the beginning of move week. He told me he would check at Home Depot later that night and let me know. If the tub insert isn’t available, maybe we could do tile, he said, and – while warning me that it would be expensive – quoted me a rough estimate that was $200 less than what Elmer had quoted me for the insert.

And, of course, he never did call back. I’ll call him during the day today, but I am starting to panic a little about getting this done. I think it may be worth just going and asking Home Depot to do it; they have a stable of contractors and can no doubt do something like this in a pretty timely manner.

But who are these people? Why don’t people just do what they say they are going to do? If they can’t do it, why don’t they just say so? What is so hard about that?

To deal with my feelings of frustration and anger, I sanded and painted the dining-room and kitchen windows. The thinner and paint fumes wafted soothingly through the room, and soon I was able to see something other than the color red….

At the end of the evening, just before turning in, I switched on the television. I was just in time to see the Armorall commercial in which all of the runty suburban men are basically salivating at the sight of cars that are glistening from Armorall treatments, including one man, standing in his garage, who is so unable to take his eyes off of his sports car in the driveway that, as the garage door goes down, he assumes a pushup position on the ground to keep the car in sight a little longer. Or was it the missionary position?

Meanwhile, on So You Think You Can Dance, a panting dance team was being congratulated by the host, who explained to the viewers what number to call in if we wanted to vote for this particular couple. “Phone lines will be open for at least two hours after the show,” she said, which sounded kind of fishy to me. Shouldn’t it really be a more definite, set amount of time? I mean, for appearances and all? How will the voting have any legitimacy with this loosey-goosey approach? That’s no way to run an election.



FN 1: I rethought the whole prospect of lying about Zuzu after doing some research with the woman who will be managing our rental property. “What happens if a tenant lies about having a pet?” I asked her, casually. “The way our leases are written, if a tenant brings in a pet without written permission then the lease could be voided due to a breach in terms. Sixty day notice can be given and damages sued for in court.” “Okay, good to know,” I told her. “That’s the way to do it: don’t take any guff from these scum.” Inwardly, I immediately decided that I didn’t want to be in the position of having lied about having a pet to get a rental. I take a sort of “fail-safe” approach, when it comes to all the bad things I can imagine happening. There are people who like to think positively, i.e., think that things will always turn out okay (another word for these people is “fools”), but I prefer to have my bases covered for when they do not, in fact, turn out okay. Leaving myself open to having my lease voided is not what I like to think of as “having my bases covered.”

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