June 1999

Part 2/3

Wednesday the 9th: (cont'd)

MacFarlane gives me the copy of an e-mail she sent to Tom, the husband of my niece Eleonore, the daughter of my eldest sister Agnes. Tom is an American and the couple seem to spend half the year in Connecticut with his parents, half the year in Rodez where Agnes lives. I don't understand right away why she corre- sponds with a man I've never met, who's young enough to be my son. All I understand is the humiliation of being the object of correspondence. The e-mail says:

Date: June 4/99
Subject: back rent and mental health.
Brigitte called this morning. She received my letter, with a copy of her mother's, and asked, rhetorically, why you should be involved. Anyway she said that she was owed "back rent" from a building in the 13th Arrondissement; that her mother was a millionaire, etc. Could you get me any additional information, particularly on the Paris building. Also, while we believe that Brigitte has serious mental problems, is there anything you would know about how correct that supposition is? When her sister was here, at the time of Brigitte's car accident, was anything said to her that made you (all) believe that, or were any tests done. I'm still unsure as to whether Brigitte is acting from a sense of desperation because of her financial situation, or is in need of psychiatric help. It's a Catch-22. I could probably force a forensic evaluation upon her through the appointment of a Law Guardian (for your information, that's called an Article 81 proceeding), because then the issue would be settled. Anything you can give me that would strengthen this reasoning would help.

I hand her back the paper and say "It's disgusting," then take it back and ask if I may keep it. She says this copy is for me. Well, there's nothing rhetorical about my question. All the text seems like an attempt to paint me as a loony, but it's true that my mother is a millionaire! And I just proved to her with notari- al documents that all my claims are true. And why is she asking this man I never met his opinion about my mental health? Is that a rhetorical question? And when she says "When her sister was here, at the time of Brigitte's car accident, was anything said to her..." the accident again! She dismisses out of hand, without any proof, my claim that it was an attempted murder disguised as an accident. Plus, none of my four sisters was here at that time, I never told her any one of them came here, where did she get this false info? and finally in 1990 my niece and this man who became her husband in 1997 had not met yet. Am I splitting hairs under the circumstances for protesting against the involvement of my niece's husband?

We all get up and sit a counsel table when the case is called. Steiner states the amount of unpaid rent todate. MacFarlane gets up and states that she is considering an Article 81 proceeding so that a law guardian is appointed to me. Now I know what it is. When I subscribed to the NY Law Journal I read cases of such proceedings. Usually a law guardian is appointed when a wealthy old person suffering from Alzheimer's disease or senile insanity is no longer able to manage his property. But in my case, what property are we talking about? The judge says that such a pro- ceeding would have to be filed in Supreme Court but that is MacFarlane's prerogative to go ahead and do it if she deems it necessary. Then MacFarlane goes into cute explanations about "snail mail" and e-mail exchanges with my mother, apologizes for the coffee smear on the copy she hands to the judge, says that the building that was supposed to be sold at auction in May would be sold only in October. Then the judge turns to Steiner and Ronnie Oved and ask them what they think of it. They both say that they cannot wait that long. Then back to MacFarlane who goes into some convoluted explanation regarding my share of the estate. They are all ignoring me like I'm a vegetable.

Finally I ask for permission to speak and, permission granted I ask to what extent my father's estate is relevant to the instant proceeding. The judge replies that any dispute over the estate is outside the jurisdiction of this court but that my guardian is trying to determine how much, if anything, is owed me. I was thinking that if my father's estate was an issue relevant to the case, I could prove with official documents that I was owed a considerable amount of money, and countersue my mother for the amount. Then it strikes me that the sale of the building is a red herring that my mother and MacFarlane have been dragging all over the plain. "My mother doesn't need to sell a building to send me money. She's a wealthy woman. And anyway," I say, "even if my mother did not owe me anything, she still could send me money to prevent me from being evicted." "Why would she do this?" the judge asks, as if it was a ludicrous proposition. "Because I'm her daughter."

MacFarlane says that I am going to receive a Western Union transfer of $1,500 and out of the blue, like a prearranged agreement I hear the four of them speak of waiting a little longer if nine weeks'rent could be paid in the coming days. Nine weeks, nine weeks, nine weeks they all say. I don't understand. Then they start discussing the modalities of payment of the nine weeks. MacFarlane says that I don't have a bank account, there is more discussion about how to pay the nine weeks, and finally it is agreed that my mother will transfer directly to the landlord's account the money for the nine weeks rent, and Ronnie says that he'll give his account number to MacFarlane.

The judge proposes to adjourn to the 21st. MacFarlane says that it's not convenient for her because that day she has to be in California for her daughter's graduation so the case is adjourned to the 23rd. The hearing is over, we all get up and the judge doesn't write an order. We all leave the courtroom except MacFarlane. Intrigued, I open the door and see that she is still standing in front of the judge and talking to him "ex-parte". He's smiling benevolently. I wait for her and she talks to the judge for a few minutes, which she is not supposed to do in the absence of the opposing party. But which opposing party are we talking about? The official opposing party, the landlord? Or the unofficial opposing party, me? If the opposing party is the landlord, then why does Steiner let her talk to the judge outside of his pres- ence?

When she finally comes out, she explains to me that the nine weeks rent will be taken out of the $1,500 that my mother is going to wire me, so that will leave me with $390! I am stunned by the news. From the $3,500 (FF20,000) discussed in late may, the sum has been reduced to $1,500 in early June and now to $390! They are really mortally afraid of what I would do if I had money, that's all! "So what do you think?" MacFarlane asks me. "Well," I say, "if you give plain boiled potatoes to somebody who is starving, he's gonna eat them, he's gonna say that it's better than nothing!" All these e-mail, faxes, phone conversations for $390! As we walk to the elevators I tell MacFarlane that all my life I wanted to pay my way because I thought that a woman who married just for a meal ticket surrendered her dignity, that I saw how it was between my mother and my tightfisted father, how humiliated she was (maybe after all she was only pretending so that we wouldn't bug her to buy us things) and that I swore that I would never allow myself to be in such a demeaning position. "And look what happened to me!" I concluded bitterly. An elevator opened on the way up and without taking leave of me MacFarlane stepped into it and disappeared behind the closing doors while I stared at her in disbelief and she stared back at me without saying a word.

Thursday the 10th:

Felix invites me to go have sex at his place. I refuse, saying that when he moved to his new place and one day I wanted to go see, he formally told me that he did not accept any visitors, and when I followed him he told me to go away (Ve te! Ve te!") "But I want you to translate a paper for me," he says. I say that he can ask somebody else or bring the paper here.

Saturday the 12th:

Around 6PM I'm playing a tape of Irakere, the modern Cuban band, very loud with the window open. The music is breathtakingly powerful with screaming horns, maybe twelve of them, all playing in unison at breakneck speed, then a few beats of silence, then explosions of percussions and the horns start another variation. Absorbed by the music I stare vacantly outside when Mohammed stops in front of my window. He looks in and I recognize him but I do not move or say anything and after a few seconds he leaves.

Sunday the 13th:

It's Puerto Rican day and I meet Mike's girfriend in the bodega. She's wearing long press-on nails and is going to the East Side to listen to the outdoor concerts. I envision the crowd and say that I don't feel comfortable in big crowds. I should tell her that if she want to play the conga, she'll have to kiss goodbye to long nails because she can hurt herself quite painfully.

Monday the 14th:

Felix asks me again to go to his apartment to have sex. It must be the fourth or fifth time that he asks me, and every time it's for a different reason. This time I protest vehemently. I say that I have a lot of enemies who want to harm me and that I can't go to anybody's apartment. I say that I am afraid and nothing he can say to me will change my mind. I'm afraid, period.

When I return from my walk in the park, a white man and a woman I have never seen before are sitting on the stoop eating and they completely block the passage. I feel like making a spiteful comment but I keep mum. I think they are trying to get me to blow off my top while Mitch is watching from the office window, so that he can say that I behave like a crazy woman to support the so far unfounded allegations of Judge Milin and MacFarlane. So I wait patiently while they move their butts aside and remove, oh so slowly, some crackers that litter the steps. Are they eating these right off the steps?

Later I see Mike and call him "maldito cabron".

Friday the 18th:

In front of my window Ronnie and Mitch talk, loud enough for me to hear clearly. Ronnie is saying that he wants to make a lounge is the basement (to replace the after hours joint I used to complain about) and that he would enlarge it by using unoccupied space that is accessible from the backroom of the bodega. It's funny because not long ago I was just wondering when Ronnie would mention again transforming the joint. Until now he had spoken of making a laundry and I wasn't happy about the idea because washing machines and dryers make a lot of noise, albeit a noise different to the loud salsa, more like a constant low hum. Like trading a toothache for a headache. Well, maybe Ron thought I would like the idea and that's why he talked sometimes about making a laundry downstairs. If that's all it takes to make me happy, talking about a laundry, why not, talk is cheap.

Today however he is expressing an idea I had talked about to this creep Allan Cruickshank when I, stupid me, believed that he was just a failed writer who enjoyed talking about literature and was a little absentminded about the rest. It was in the winter of 97/98 that I had come up with this idea. Given the proximity of the park and the subway and the traffic they generated, I was certain that the location would be excellent for a bakery-deli- coffee shop and I had reasoned that all this empty space in the basement could be put to use. And now Ronnie is speaking about my idea as if it was his own in the hope, I surmise, that I'll have forgotten that I had the idea in the first place and that the prospect of a coffee-shop will make me like him.

Mario asks me to go play with Mike. I refuse and say I'll never play again with Mike because he disrespected me as a woman and as a musician.

Later Glen offers to buy me a beer. He buys me a beer! Glen! Later still, around 9:30 PM I go out to see if Mike is playing outside the bodega. He isn't. As if he was reading my mind, one of the local borrachos tells me that Mike is in church. Oh, so Mike is a good guy then.

Sunday the 20th:

There's a Venezuela who lives in the building, who's in his late twenties and good looking. Although we've never talked, we've always exchanged friendly hellos. Since the beginning of warm days his skin has taken a beautiful tan so one day I called him "Cookie". He asked why I called him this and I said that it was because he was brown and yummy.

Now it's about nine in the evening and I'm on the stoop taking in some fresh air and he comes up the stoop with his mountain bike and two grocery bags. He asks me if I can help him with the bags and I say sure. I thought he only wanted help to negotiate the stoop but no, he wants me to bring the bags to his floor. He lives on the fourth floor and I carry the two heavy bags behind him. He's wearing black shorts but I'm not interested in his body. On the way he asks me what I did today and I say that I cleaned, I cooked, I wrote and I read. He asks what did I cook. I say I cooked some chicken. Yesterday I bought chicken legs and cooked them with green peppers, onions and lemon juice with rice on the side, not following a recipe but using the available ingredients. He asks me if I could give him some. I say that I didn't make a lot of it and couldn't he wait until I make another batch because I still have a few raw chicken legs. But he wants some of my chicken today and he ignores my polite refusal. I am racked with PMS, I feel faint and lightheaded after climbing the four floors with the heavy bags and don't have the energy to stand my ground.

From the fourth floor landing I just look down to the lobby over the bannister wondering why is it that I who am poor and starving, and who haven't eaten any meat for at least a year, the first time I cook some chicken I must share my food with a guy who works and lives a normal life and can eat chicken any time he damn pleases. Shouldn't it be the other way around? The thought plus the physical pain bring me almost to tears. I just did him a favor and now he wants more favors. He touches my hair in the back of my head as if I was a shy young thing, then he leaves his bike and bags in the corridor and says that he's coming down with me to get some chicken.

I'd had the good idea to retrieve from the discards an oval plate I had just gotten rid of and I put a chicken leg and a portion of rice on that plate and give it to him. Now I don't have enough rice left for dinner and I'll have to cook some more. While I'm serving him he asks me how old I am. I say that I'm very old. He says that age is all a matter of state of mind. (Then why did he ask?) He asks me how many years ago I came to the US and how old I was when I came. I say that if I answer the second question he'll know my age. He puts the plate on a table and stays to talk with me about French food, while I feel the blood starting down my thighs. He doesn't know how to relate to a woman my age. Treating me like I'm a chicken myself is certainly not the way to get into my good graces but that's what he does, he doesn't know any better because he's so young. He says some- thing to make me blush, he touches the front of my blouse to close a button. "It keeps popping open." I say. "Does it, real- ly?" "Yes, it just pops," I say with deliberate stupidity. He asks for something, I forget what, that he wants now. I say "Some other time, maybe." He picks up the plate with one hand and goes into the hallway. With the other hand he makes a gesture toward his crotch then he leaves. "Don't forget to return the plate," I say.

He probably calculated that after what I had just done for him, I would exact payment in the form of sex, so on his side he would not only have had me as a porter and a cook but also as a lay. Kind of cynical, no?

Ah, but what am I complaining about? I asked for trouble when I told him he was yummy. Still, admiration and lust are two different matters and you can admire beauty in a thing or a person without necessarily wanting to possess it.

Monday the 21st:

Around 8 AM I hear the splashing sound of water falling from the bathroom ceiling. A few moments later Glen is there mopping up zealously and Mitch is there too. Without my accusing him of any- thing, Mitch defends himself vehemently, saying that he didn't do it but somebody put something in the toilet upstairs that made it overflow. I had intended to ask Mitch to fix the faucet in my kitchen and since he's right there I expect him to come in take a look but he doesn't. I remind him that I asked him three months ago when it was only dripping and now it's a continuous flow and the noise drives me up the wall. I know it's a simple matter of putting in a new washer, no big deal. He doesn't seem to like the idea at all.

Later he knocks at one of my neighbor's door and after he comes out I call him to come in and have a look. He looks fright- ened and says: "I can't come here alone." "Oh, I see," I say, "you need your bodyguard." "You're right about that!" he answers.

Around noon there's another waterfall in the bathroom. I go to the office and tell Mitch that it's happening again. With a tone and attitude of benevolence he tells Glen immediately to go upstairs check out the toilet, and Glen grabs a plunger and goes upstairs. I ask him again to fix my faucet and he comes later with Glen.

Glen positions himself between Mitch and me and while Mitch is busy Glen picks up the excuse of the guy across the street mowing the lawn to say that fresh mown grass smells like a certain snake and from there he speaks about snakes from the South. As I'm eager to show that I have not evil intentions I make small talk with him but then it distracts me from watching Mitch. Still I know that he should open the box and pick out a washer from there and put it in the faucet. But before I see him do it he gathers his tools precipitously and tells Glen to come out with him. He leaves me with a hot water faucet without a knob, saying that the knob is corroded and needs to be replaced. Glen goes to the hardware store and returns empty handed. He had to order a knob and it will be here tomorrow.

In the evening I understand why Mike asked Pepin to play: it was to prevent me from playing and create in me a sense a frus tration, so that I would jump at the first opportunity to play alone with Mike, regardless of the circumstances! So that I would go with Mike at night to Riverside Park, giving my enemies the perfect setting to murder me: the 96th street underpass.

Oh, by the way, Mike: the fireworks of July 4th are on the East River, not the Hudson. So there wouldn't have been a big crowd in the park like you wanted me to believe.

Tuesday the 22nd:

While taking my morning walk I remember the deceitful expression on Mitch's face when he packed up his tools yesterday so I go to the hardware store and ask about the order. The man tells me that he never said the knob would be here today, it would take one week to arrive.

I tell Mitch about it and he's very upset and asks why I don't mind my own business. I tell him that I don't like the idea of having no hot water for one week. Besides the faucet is still dripping like before, so why doesn't he fix the problem today, he doesn't need a new knob to fix the leak. He protests that he did fix it. Didn't I watch him do it yesterday? I say that actually I was distracted by Glen's verbiage. He shows me from a distance the knob that he took out and when I want to take a close look he asks me if I know anything about plumbing and puts the knob away. I say that I don't. Still corrosion is plain to the un- trained eye, so is a dripping faucet.

Later he comes with Tony (a recent hire) who bars me the entrance to the kitchen and puts a new knob, one two three, he doesn't even try it and they are gone. When I need it later I notice that the water comes out at almost full force and that it suddenly stops completely. If I open the faucet more, the water flow decreases by itself, and there is about a quarter turn to give with no water coming out at all to shut the water complete- ly. Moreover, the handle of the faucet is placed at five o'clock instead of three o'clock, so all the adjustments have to be made with the thumb instead of the index finger, on the side facing the water outlet. And the faucet still drips.

There's a flood again in the bathroom and again Glen mops up with commendable zeal, repeating over and over that "these people have got no brain" (those who clog the toilet).

The library on 100th street is closed until July 7. I go to the one at Amsterdam and 84th but the computer I get doesn't work. I go to Barnes and Noble and, as I expected, it's so cold there that I can't stay more than ten minutes. Then I walk home on Riverside Drive, enjoying the walk with all these little kiddies playing. Then I take 103rd and the former neighbor who used to slash the shower curtains and called me a "white bitch" is sitting with a friend near the edge of the walk. She's wearing a wig but I recognize her and anyway, how could I forget her voice? The only way she can speak is at the top of her lungs. As I approach she says to her friend: "Look! Look! That's her!"

Now about that flooding, that happens with unusual frequency: do they really expect me to believe that an overflowing toilet would cause such an amount of water to drip down? If it was a toilet overflow, no more than a tankful of water would spill. But what we get is a cataract that can last up to one hour, and more than this if it happens in the late evening or early morning when the office is closed. Then because the floor is inclined, the water pools in front of my door.

I haven't heard from MacFarlane since June 9 and there's a court date tomorrow.

[Part 3/3]
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