Sunday, April 14, 2013

unintended consequences



* Having made the decision to live in rented accommodations long ago, it's been my experience there are certain signs to watch for when you begin to suspect the current arrangement may no longer be conducive to a peaceful lifestyle. This is one of those stories.

At the time we'd been living in Portland for nearly three years, residing in a type of complex known as a California courtyard apartment, where a pair of two storey buildings faced one other across a heavily planted median. The eight ground floor places, four in either building, were spacious two bedroom apartments with broad windows looking out at the garden. We lived in one of those. Above them were twice that number of studio apartments accessed by stairways and long balcony decks. The place was quite old as evidenced by the age of the plantings - huge camellias, thick clusters of azalea and impenetrable rhododendron bushes - which masked, but didn't really hide, the opposite building.

Time passed with us mailing the monthly rent checks and rarely talking to the guy who'd owned the place for decades. One day there was a knock at the door. I opened it to find a small well dressed woman holding a briefcase standing next to a respectable looking middle aged man wearing a suit. They looked like insurance agents or active proselytizers for some religion except for the fact the man was also wearing a brand new tool belt. The woman introduced herself as the new owner, gave me copies of the legal documents and a card with information about where to mail the rent checks. She also said she had no experience with rental property ownership so had engaged her next door neighbor (the now smiling man) who had often thought about being a contractor. He would be hiring and overseeing a crew that would make necessary repairs to the buildings..

One of the first things he and his crew did was to remove half of the support columns for the studio apartment access deck for the building across the way. They probably intended to replace them but left for the day without doing so. That night the whole midsection of the structure fell down. Happily nobody was hurt but the fire department had to be called to rescue the people stuck in their second floor places. I have no idea what kind of fines were levied but that didn't stop the renovations taking place. Their next plan was to redo the plumbing in all the studios, a disturbing enough process to listen to in the first place, but made so much worse when it turned out that every time someone upstairs used the shower, sinks, or toilet, water cascaded down the walls into our kitchen and bathroom. By then we'd begun to search for a new place but didn't find one that suited us quite soon enough. It was February by then, a cold wet month just about everywhere as you well know. We came home from work one afternoon to find our bedroom windows boarded up and broken glass all over the bed, bookcases, night table and floor.

The man hadn't quite made it back to his car when we found him making ready to leave. 'Oh, that?' he responded to our outraged protests, 'We had a little accident with some lumber but we'll get new glass for you in a few days.' Although he affected surprise when we insisted he clear up the broken glass he did call over a couple of his boys to help. So it got fixed, mostly, but a week later we found a new temporary home.

It wasn't the first or last time we witnessed renovations go wrong but it reminded me of a weakness often found among people. That man might have been a well trained and skilled member of his chosen profession but he was no carpenter or plumber. What he had was the mistaken confidence that he could master anything. What troubles me is that same unfounded confidence that leads people who know nothing about the environment to make even worse mistakes.

It's a problem of scale.

* Apologies but some images aren't worth more than five minutes of drawing time.


29 comments:

  1. A sobering ending of what was a very entertaining, fun read! I love the green in the otherwise colorless drawing. Will you be filling it in more?

    I think you would good at writing a travel book, along the lines of A Year in Provence! This is just as good, if not better than, anything he wrote in that book. It seems that Portland, Oregon and Provence, France have a few things in common when it comes to renovations, except that in Provence the tenants have to provide booze for the contractors and workers, as well as endure their mistakes!

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    1. I hope the ending didn't spoil the entertaining part of it for you, my friend. Oh no, that picture came and went as soon as I'd finished scanning it.

      I've never read A Year in Provence but the reviews make it sound quite hilarious. I'm not so sure many people would be as interested in Portland as the south of France though. Nevertheless, I'm very flattered that you think I could write one too. :-)

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  2. Sigh! There is no accounting for what some people can and will do. The people who produce the chemicals will likely deny the problems until someone sues them and wins. Then they will pay a relatively small fine (though it be in the millions or billions), and then just keep on keeping on. There are companies which have done just that.

    Interesting; my post for tomorrow in the A-Z Challenge deals with this problem from a more philosophical viewpoint.

    Blessings and Bear hugs!
    Bears Noting

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    1. The problem with that of course is who do they pay the fine to at the end of the game? It's a deadly one they're playing with everything we've ever known or hoped for at stake.

      I promise to come by to read yours tomorrow.

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  3. Oh, the idiocy of mankind, whether in carpentry or renovations or the environment!! If there is a greater power above us, he/she must be in tears all the time. I'm grateful that you can make a great story and drawing out of these foibles in order to draw out some smiles from us while shaking our heads.

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    1. I feel the same, Marja-Leena. We have gained so much access to information but so little wisdom to use it well.

      Thank you for your very kind words about the story.

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  4. I had read about the latest pesticide findings and wow did you ever use that as a zinger at the end, a most fitting analogy.

    I lived in a court apartment in Portland (three, single-story apartments facing three more with an overgrown courtyard in between) and I have some real horror stories about that experience. But nothing compared to yours! Your description and drawing bring the stress back as if it happened yesterday!

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    1. When I read that article I knew immediately which story was lurking to illustrate my conclusion. It's just sad there's so little we can do to affect change.

      That was my only experience with a court apartment too but nothing the neighbors did ever matched the new owner's renovations.

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    2. I have driven by the place where I lived and it is in dire condition. The landlady just didn't care. She rented to weird people, too (I was weirder then than I am now)....one being a young, single dad who had just been released from prison. He was doing his best, I think, but he had a temper. One evening he knocked at my glass/screen door and asked to borrow an egg. I was a pauper and I did not have an egg. "No eggs" just didn't fly with him, however, and he began kicking out the glass in the door. I was scared and closed the main door in his face while he continued his fury. When I called the landlady to report it her reply was, "Oh well." Funny to look back on!

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    3. That sounds like a pretty scary incident to me. I'd probably have been more inclined to call the police than the landlady but then again, I guess you didn't want to get him back into trouble. I hope you've remembered to always keep eggs on hand since then.

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  5. Arrogance is still our Achilles heel. You never know who's going to suffer for it, either.

    That is a wonderful drawing, by the way. It has a real dynamism and sense of movement to it.

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    1. In general it's not them who do the suffering.

      Thanks :-) - glad you like it.

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  6. This is only more proof that we must let Monsanto's Super Seeds be our only source of food, it's almost as if it's a big conspiracy but that's just silly talk.

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    1. Keep moving. Nothing to see here.

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  7. I fear I may have more in common with your renovator-in-a-suit than I'll admit out loud.... I do tend to consult w friends wiser than me before making structural modifications, though..... It's probably a girl thing..... And I usually remember to change out of the suit before donning a tool belt. Dunno if you've ever worn a toolbelt, but an interesting thing happens when you buckle one on. Suddenly your walk changes. You feel a bit like a gunslinger from the Wild West. There's a kind of cocky swagger that kicks in. The bigger and heavier the tools in the belt, the greater the swagger.

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    1. Well, I'm not going to talk about how many holes I made in walls trying to hang pictures. What I can say is the local hardware supplier always gave me a deal on Spackle.

      I love your analogy here. It works on multiple levels, doesn't it?

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  8. ha! I do remember re-doing my bathroom.....broke the toilet at 10 at night.......gees it was a long story and even longer two days before I could replace it. Say, isn't there a pesticide that will get rid of Fox News?

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    1. Ha! I accidentally flushed the toilet roll holder once (don't ask). Thank goodness my father had a great sense of humor.

      If there isn't, there should be.

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  9. Neonicotinoids’ toxicity to bees and other insects has brought them the most attention thus far and has dominated recent concerns of regulatory institutions worldwide. The serious risk to bees should not be understated, as one-third of the U.S. diet depends on these insect pollinators. The ABC assessment makes clear, however, that the potential environmental impacts of neonicotinoids go well beyond bees. The report urges EPA to expand its registration review of neonicotinoids to include birds, aquatic invertebrates, and other wildlife.

    How about the EPA do the job of evaluating how these poisons will impact all of life before letting these companies amass their fortunes with which they then use to fight off lawsuits! Ugh! Head meet desk!

    My experiences with renting have been mainly positive but now I understand that I may have been merely lucky :)

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    1. You're absolutely right. It's true we wouldn't have half so much trouble if the regulatory agencies were doing their jobs.

      Well, that was one of the worse experiences :-)

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  10. hmmm, after reading gfid's comment, maybe i should strap on one... i cannot move tonight after doing something to myself. i hardly ever know what provokes my wonky body... maybe strapping on one of those will give me a new way of "seeing" .. :)

    wow that's some story. what did the whole balcony falling down sound like? what an amazing mess that must have been. you have certainly had your issues... do we call them issues? ... over your years of renting. seems the CA trials have taken you to whole new realms but maybe not!!

    i knew nothing about the pesticide and birds, btw. i read that article but perhaps they aren't available here even tho it's calif. who knows, i never buy stuff like that since i'm so allergic to everything. good for the birds and bees too!

    lovely little drawing. you somehow managed to impart some of your emotion into it [i presume]! i CAN feel it!

    much love xox

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    1. My husband said G-fid's right about how it feels strapping on a tool belt. Personally, I'm not ready.

      The balcony crash sounded like the whole building had fallen down. Rental living space is always tricky but so too is home ownership. You just never know, do you?

      The part of the article about neonicotinoids that shocked me is that they've only been in use for twenty years but have been having terrible environmental effects all along. I'm glad you guys don't use them but many farmers and agribusinesses do.

      It's funny you noticed that about the drawing. I do seem to pour a lot of emotional energy into some of them that I only notice later. There are still some untold ones that would be totally black :-)
      xoxo

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  11. The good thing about renting is, when the basement floods, you just have to call the manager or rental agent. If you own a home.....glub glub...you're on your own. I'm watching the streets around me flood and the water in the back yard working its way closer to the house and hoping the sump pump won't konk out. I may be dragging stuff up from the basement soon....or just gonna move my lap top and pot of coffee to the second floor. :-)

    Nunly

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  12. That sounds like quite this disaster you have going on. I'd vote for moving the necessities upstairs out of harm's way.

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  13. Fine drawing and fun words as ever

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    1. Sometimes silliness seems best.

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  14. The overconfidence of mastering one thing. It's so true! It didn't matter what kind of professional trade organization I worked for, every one of them had members who were convinced that they could do my management job better than I could. Most of them made the mistake of assuming that association management was the same as managing apartments or lumberyards.

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    1. What's really scary is the people who've made billions doing one thing suddenly deciding to use the power that money gives them to do another - like geoengineering the earth's atmosphere.

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