“Hello, is this Almer?”, a female voice.
“Yes, who’s this?”
“You mailed me about housing?”
“I mailed a lot of people, what specific housing option is this about?”
“Ah, yes, okay go on.”
“So, I have a room with a separate living room, bathroom, and kitchen for eight-hundred dollars.”
“Okay, sounds good.”
“I can show it to you, but if you like it you’d have to sign right away.”
“You’d have to sign if you like it.”
“Well, I am quite sorry, I can’t promise that: I’d need time to think about it.”
“Okay, it would only become available on the 1st, so if you’re still looking for something around that time, please contact me.”
The same lady calls me back only three or so days later, way before the 1st.
“I have available, in the same house, a room for nine-hundred dollars.”
“That’s a bit steep.”
“So, what price where you looking for?”
I am thinking: what is this a garage sale or something?
“Okay, you can get it for seven-hundred dollars if you pay it all up front.”
“I am not sure if I can do that, but I am willing to come over and have a look,” I say, “but, I am sorry, I didn’t quite catch your name” (… because you didn’t say it yet).
“Oh, uh,” she hesitates, “You may call me Joanne, I am the concierge here.”
“My son can pick you up, where are you?”
We agree to a pick-up location about a block away from the busy street in front of the University, because, for whatever reason, they don’t like to drive on that street. I wait at the corner. Ten minutes after the agreed upon time a gray, big, air-conditioned car pulls up next to me. The driver is a heavily bearded young Jewish chap with a Kippah: not unfriendly, but not very talkative either. He drives me to the place.
The house looks good from the outside. He leads me inside.
“This is it, I’ll go upstairs to fetch my mother.”
I look around, the front section is apparently a living room, about as large as a small office. The place is dusty and looks trashed. The radiators appear like they were placed there when Abraham Lincoln was elected the first time. The carpet is thick and stained. Glass shards litter the windowsill. The adjacent room of similar size is a bedroom with a large, also heavily stained, bed. There is a mini kitchen in the back and a very dirty bathroom as well. The place has a weird scent: this hasn’t been cleaned in a long time.
I hear footsteps: someone is coming down the stairs. An old Jewish lady appears at a wooden door in the back wall of the kitchen. She asks me what I think of the place. I say that I am not sure, and will have to discuss it. The price is way to high for what is being offered, within reason: probably twice over. Perhaps I should have simply said no straight away, as this obviously did not rank high on my places-to-live list. However, I hadn’t found a place just yet, and it’s always good to keep options open when you’re still looking.
There were supposed to be other students living in the house, but I hadn’t seen, or been introduced, to a single one of them. The lady takes a passive stance. She seems very much concerned with just getting someone to rent the place, and very much not concerned with making the interaction pleasant: not a single smile. It’s clear that I have to do the work, so I try to make the best of it. We chitchat as we stand on the front porch, then make our way back to the car. The lady has trouble getting down the stairs since she is carrying a foldable chair. I help her by taking it over, carrying it down, and putting it in the gray family car. They drive me back to the University.
A couple of days later, after several other viewings and making a final choice, I sent an honest mail stating that I’m not interested. The main reason is that it is too expensive compared to everything else I’ve viewed, and not worth half the highest asking price: nine-hundred. I further add that she probably would have more success finding a tenant it if she’d thoroughly clean the place.
I get a response which starts off reasonably:
“Thank you for your feedback. Would you like to give more details about what you mean with properly clean the place?”
Then turns into a rant concerning the entire interaction we had. I read it open-mouthed. Her first point is regarding me explaining to her during the viewing that I am looking at multiple places to compare options:
“… taking your good old time to be snotty and turn off people.”
Uh? Then she continues about a conversation we had about my roots while standing outside on the front porch. Regarding this topic I assume that people do not know exactly where my country of origin is, as in my experience: most people don’t. Apparently, she heard something different.
“And when you mentioned your home country you said something like of course you never heard of it. How patronizing, how disrespectful, how would you expect someone to want you around at any price with that attitude.”
She’s clearly on a roll here:
“You don’t respect people you don’t respect their time in servicing a short term lease with a person behaving with dishonesty and condescension.”
And finally the kicker:
“As you are in graduate school subsidized you have a perceived obligation to review your `notes’ prior to making comments and to express yourself with articulation. Besides representing yourself you represent the sponsors of you and please consider to do it with more grace and honesty.”
I had to turn down a number of other places I viewed as well. However, I never had a single response like this: not by e-mail, not by telephone. People were happy for me that I found something that I liked, some even offered to socialize, and to some others I offered to help them find a tenant by suggesting places where they could put up advertisements.
It never seizes to amaze me how people can respond and treat others: it’s just incredible. By the way: I did not bother to respond to her e-mail, and I forwarded her message to the housing registry here, requesting she’d be removed. Good luck finding tenants in the future …