Just Plain Deb

“New beginnings are often disguised as painful endings.”

-Lao Tzu

One thing I learned from the last 7 months was that Debbie cannot stand for anyone to be sleeping while she’s awake.  She will make as much noise as it takes to wake you up.  I should have known this.  Over the last 9 years, I’ve collected anecdotes of her crazy life for a possible book titled Just Plain Deb, and I noticed that frequently in these stories she would wake her mother up, whenever she slept while Debbie was awake.

I have hundreds of stories about bizarre things Debbie did, but I could never figure out how to string them all together into one story.  Last night, as I was drifting off to sleep, I thought about one of the incidents and it triggered the idea for a short story about her.  As a writer, I usually make things up, but this story is true.

Debbie and her mother shared a house.  Debbie lived downstairs, and her Mom lived upstairs, in the apartment I would later occupy after her mother went to a nursing home.  The story starts one morning a year or two earlier, when Debbie walked into her mother’s bedroom and woke her up.

“What are you doing in my room?” her Mom demanded.

“You were having a nightmare, so I woke you up.”

“I wasn’t having a nightmare.  As a matter of fact, I was having a terrific dream, the best dream of my life.”

“What was it about?”

“I dreamed that you ran a red light, and got broadsided by an 18-wheeler.  Your car just kept rolling over and over, and over again without stopping, until you woke me up. Why’d you have to wake me up?”

“That’s a horrible dream.”

“Not for me it wasn’t.  It was funny.”

Maybe you don’t believe that a mother would think such a dream about her daughter was funny, but you never lived in the same house as Debbie, and had to put up with all her antics.  I swear that story is true, and I know for a fact that Debbie’s Mom, Marilyn, once told her, “My life has been a living hell, since the day you were born.”  Marilyn was not using hyperbole.  She meant it.  Debbie was a rotten kid, who turned into a teenage junkie.  She pulled all the stunts that you might expect and drove her entire family crazy.  Her siblings hate her to this very day.  At Marilyn’s funeral somebody slashed Debbie’s tire in the funeral parlor parking lot.  She says it was her brother Kenneth, but I suspect that she slashed her own tire, so that she could blame it on her siblings.  That’s the kind of stuff she pulled.

When the new owner of the building where I lived on Queen Street, let the tenants know that he would not be renewing the lease, Debbie offered to rent the top floor of her house to me, because her mother was now in a nursing home, and was never coming home.  Plans were being made for Marilyn to go into hospice care.

I thought twice about renting the apartment.  Actually, I thought three, four, five or more times about it.  When I was unable to find another apartment and the expiration of my lease was only a week away, I agreed to renting the apartment.  I would have the top floor, but we would share the kitchen, because she didn’t have any electricity in her kitchen – some problem with the circuit breakers, that she never bothered to have fixed, because she liked going upstairs to have breakfast with her Mom.  Marilyn wasn’t as enthusiastic about being awakened for breakfast, five minutes after Debbie got up each morning, especially since Debbie was an early riser, but, even though she knew that her daughter was a total pain in the ass, she was still her daughter, and Marilyn endured it.

Debbie had no electricity in her kitchen, but she made no effort to correct the problem.  A red flag should have been waving furiously in my face.  Bells and whistles should have been triggered, and maybe they were, but I only had two choices – take my landlord to court or move into Marilyn’s apartment.  I made a bad choice.  I figured that Debbie would stay downstairs, and except for mealtimes, I would be on my own.  My bad.  What was I thinking? Was I even thinking?

She came up to my apartment whenever she felt like it, and she would wake me up, if I was sleeping.

“What are you doing up here?” I would ask her.

“It’s my house, and I’ll go wherever I want to go.”

“But, I’m renting out the upstairs.”

“So what?  It’s still my house, and I’ll go wherever I want to go.”

I started to stay up later and later, so that I could have a little privacy while she slept.  It was winter, and I wasn’t going anywhere, but I knew that in Spring I would start looking for another place.

Another thing that annoyed me was that her mother’s stuff was still all over the apartment.  The living room and dining room were unusable because they were piled high with her mother’s clothes, and the entire apartment was filled with Marilyn’s two obsessions, owls and Jesus.  I am not exaggerating when I say that there were at least 100 owl objets d’art in the house, and Jesus was only a tiny bit behind.  But if you add up the pictures of angels, maybe Jesus was in the lead.  In addition to a huge portrait of the Last Supper, there was even a 4-foot-high statue of an angel, and another huge statue of an angel sitting in the living room.  I once dated a girl who had hundreds of strawberry ornaments, and her mother had an equal number of frog knickknacks, so I didn’t really mind all the owls, except that they took up a lot of space.  Even though I’m an Atheist, all the Jesus pictures didn’t really bother me either.  The two giant angel statues were a bit much though.  I asked her if maybe she could put them in the backyard.

You can guess the answer I got.  “It’s my house and I’ll put them where I want to put them.”

After that, the topic of my “stupid Atheism” and how I should turn to Jesus became almost a daily ritual.  She considered me a nut job because I didn’t believe in God. I considered her a nut job, because she was a nut job.

Then, after Marilyn died, and Debbie inherited the house, she told me that she wanted to sell it.  I was actually a bit relieved.  This was the push I needed to finally go find another place.  No “For Sale” signs went up, though, so I didn’t think she was serious.  She had a habit of changing her mind and personality frequently. (Her deceased ex-husband, Kevin, nicknamed her Switch Bitch, because she changed into multiple personalities and very few, if any of them, were nice.) So, suddenly in May, she announced that she was selling the house, and that the closing would probably be July 1st.  The roofer, who had replaced her roof a year earlier, offered her a cash deal.

I started looking for a place and purging myself of the things that weren’t worth moving.  I had some trouble, though.  All the Real Estate companies wanted you to have a monthly income at least 3 times the rent.  My monthly income from Social Security was little more than the monthly rent most places were asking.  Plus, I had more junk than I would be able to sift through in six weeks. I was in trouble.  Then my troubles increased.  Forget July 1st.  She wanted to close on June 1st.  So, I had one month less to look for a place.  Then, I caught a break.  I had a doctor’s appointment at the V. A. and the nurse, who conducts the preliminaries before the doctor walks in, asked me if anything was bothering me.  I mentioned that I had to find a new apartment in a hurry, and I wasn’t able to find one because I didn’t earn 3 times the rent for any place on the market.

The V.A. takes a lot of flak, because many veterans, especially those suffering the effects of Agent Orange and war, did not get the extensive care they needed.  This has benefited me, though.  Because they are now being so closely scrutinized, and because of recent changes in the law, I, who got out of the Navy over fifty years ago, am now receiving excellent health care there, absolutely free.  The V.A. itself still has problems, but the people working there are dedicated to providing the best service they can.  This nurse went above and beyond the call of duty to hook me up almost instantly with a social worker, Lucy, a housing specialist, Jen, and a lawyer, Brenda.

So, Debbie moved up the date of the sale to May 26th.  Now, she wanted me out by noon on the 26th.  “Maybe if you believed in God, you would find another place to live.”  She told me that she already had a new place.  She bought a two-bedroom home in Conway, South Carolina, and she showed me a bunch of pictures of the house.  She actually asked me if I wanted to go to South Carolina with her.  I told her that there was no way I would do that.  Fool me once, shame on you.  Fool me twice shame on me.  I told her that living with her made every day seem like an episode of I Love Lucy, if Lucy was on crack.  She like that idea, went downstairs, and reappeared an instant later.

Then, when I turned her down, she decided that I should be out by noon on the 25th, instead.  “You wouldn’t have this problem if you believed in Jesus.”

I told her that she was being unreasonable, moving the date closer and closer, and her reply was simply, “We don’t have a contract.  I can do whatever I want to do.”

Brenda, my lawyer, didn’t agree, but I told her that I didn’t want to fight to stay there.  I wanted to get out as quickly as possible.  I just needed to find a place.  I was fortunate again that Lucy, the social worker, had hooked me up with some great people.  Jen found a real estate agent, Wanda, who would waive the 3 times the rent rule, if I got good references from previous landlords, and showed that I paid my rent on time.  I would also have to pass a background check.  Then John-Michael in Jen’s office swung into action and went all out to get me into a new apartment.  He came to where I was living to help me with the paperwork, and he checked out apartments.

Finally, on Monday at 1:30 p.m. it all came together, and I signed a lease agreement on my new apartment.  Thanks to the help of my friend and retired furniture salesman, Joe Becker and the 4 people he rounded up to help me, a friend, Nelson, his truck, my old upstairs neighbor Shawn, his friend JR, and my Scrabble nemesis, Cat with her truck, and JR again, I managed to get most of my stuff out of Debbie’s house by Wednesday evening.  I still left a bunch of stuff that I wish I could have taken, and stuff that I should have thrown out years ago – T-shirts, books I’ll never read, and an assortment of other junk.  As I was leaving, I handed Debbie the key, and started walking out the door.

“You can’t leave all that stuff behind.  I’m going to closing tomorrow and the house has to be completely empty and clean.”

“Well,” I said, “it’s your house, so it’s your problem.  We don’t have a contract.”  She was still screaming at me and Cat as we drove away.

So, I’m now settling down in my new apartment, and I finally got a full night’s sleep with nobody waking me up.  Then, last night, in addition to a full night’s sleep, I also had a wonderful dream.  I dreamed that while Debbie was driving to South Carolina, she ran a red light and got broadsided by an 18 wheeler.  Her car rolled over and over and over again.  It was still rolling over as I woke up.  I smiled and thought, “Maybe there is a God.”

Peace & Love, and all of the above,


America, there’s an English Problem…

…And it’s not King Charles.

As a writer, I try to be grammatically correct most of the time.  Sometimes, I take a good bit of poetic license with the language, but I still try to stick fairly close-by to the rules.  Lately, I’ve been noticing that one of the rules of grammar is being almost completely ignored, by almost everyone.

I noticed it, because it is one of my grammatical pet peeves, but it is becoming so ubiquitous that I’m afraid it’s going to wind up in the dictionary as acceptable slang soon.  At first, I just heard a few people on TV use it, but now, it’s even popping up in commercials, news broadcasts, and I even heard an eminent scientist use it in a YouTube short video.

What’s the problem.  The problem is the use of the contraction, “There’s.”  As you all know, it stands for “There is” so it should be followed by a singular noun, as in There’s a problem in English usage.  Nowadays, however, it’s being used no matter if the noun is singular or plural.

When it refers to something that is plural, it should be “there are,” as in There are problems.  Nobody would say There is problems, but it seems that a lot of people are saying things like “There’s problems.”  It is especially glaring to me when it appears in commercials, because they are written by professional writers, and the copy is scrutinized over and over before it’s approved.  Yet, in two different online commercials for Thriftbooks.com they said things like, “There’s millions of reviews…or…There’s over 5 million of them.  I point out Thriftbooks, because they cater to people who read, so I would think that they, if anybody, would use proper English.  However, they are not alone.  Many commercials make the same mistake, and now that I’ve pointed it out, I’m sure you’ll hear it quite frequently.

I knew it was time to say something about this sad trending, when I watched a YouTube video short in which Neil deGras Tyson, a science educator, said, “There’s tens of millions of stars…”  This incorrect usage of the contraction is spreading too far, so I’m trying to do my part to convince people to stop using there’s when there are should be used.

While I’m at it.  I’d like to also talk about another problem and a word that is not spreading, though with all the pronoun talk we’re having nowadays, it should be.  Decades ago, while writing a short story.  I didn’t want to give away the identity of the person I was writing about until the very end, so to hide even their gender from the reader, I coined the word hirm to mean either him or her, a gender unknown pronoun to replace the awkward “he/she.”  It amazed me at the time that we have a gender-neutral plural pronoun, them, but, to the best of my knowledge, the singular case gender-neutral pronoun was yet to be invented.  So, I invented one.  It turned out to be useful for me in that story, but “hirm” never caught on with anyone else.

Nowadays with so much debate about which personal pronouns to use to refer to a person, I would like to submit to dictionaries everywhere my word hirm as a useful gender-neutral pronoun.

Peace & Love, and all of the above.