Thursday, August 2, 2012

Life-long Learning


I've led a sheltered life, I must admit. I believe people are basically good and that given a choice they will do the ethical thing. I walk in the world without fear and security of any kind often seems a form of neurosis. That is why it has hit me particularly hard to realize that someone living in my building is a thief.

None of us have very much in the International Apartments; all of us live from paycheck to paycheck, as the cliche goes. Many of us are on fixed incomes and live here because it's a no-frills option--clean and basic studios and efficiency apartments in a 100-year-old building that range from 400 to 600 dollars.

When items that tenants no longer need appear in the hallway, they are usually more pathetic than they are useful. Laundry that I occasionally have to remove from a washing machine in the building is faded and threadbare. Tenants are long-term for the most part, usually men; they grow old here and die. For them this is home.

Then there are the younger tenants who are attracted by the low rents and the convenient location on the edge of downtown. Some of the residents are clearly suffering from mental disturbances which they control with medication. It isn't a spot that appeals to everyone but I'm on my second bout of tenancy here, drawn by the light that has flooded into my two different apartments, the quiet of the place, and of course the rents in a city where the cost of occupancy has soared in the past decade.

It's a strange little community but it has always had its own ethical code, which is why I'm badly shaken by the knowledge that somewhere in this building is a person who stole my money.

Mail carriers make mistakes, no matter where you live, and in my building, misdelivered letters are routinely pushed under doors or are pinned to the bulletin board above the mailboxes. That's why I was horrified to find that a check which was laggard in reaching me had been cashed--and not by me.

It's not a fortune, but it makes the difference between bare-bones living and a sliver of real pleasure--buying a book or two, giving a present, meeting a friend for Happy Hour. And it represents a lot of work on my part--hours of turning someone else's unreadable prose into something that can be published. Having just suffered a bout with a writer whose ego far exceeded any trace of talent along with the usual rewrite of poorly translated Chinese to English, I earned that money--which went to someone else.

This can happen anywhere. It's not making me move and it's not making me bitter. But I do feel foolish. I knew mistakes happen with delivered mail and I was certain that people in my building would do the right thing. As I practice the art of austerity a bit more diligently than I had planned, I feel sad that my view of a small part of the world has been tarnished, while wondering how I kept from learning a need for caution for such a large part of my life.

2 comments:

Judy Dent said...

Oh Janet,

I can relate. I recently suffered a similar awakening. I trusted the residents of all of Melbourne with my bicycle a few weekends ago. It is (was) a classic American road bike, small, women's, lightweight, with moderately priced components and frame. I'd seen it leaning against a terrace house on my way home from work a couple months ago. I knocked on the door of the house, spoke to the owners and yes, they were getting rid of it. They'd been told by experts that it would cost more than it was worth to repair it. I saw a diamond in the rough. It was dirty and the tires had absolutely no life in them but the bike was lightweight and just my size, and a nice shade of red. I told the owners I'd come back and pick it up in a couple hours and they kindly offered to put it in their garage for me. When I came back they'd generously given it a hose down and couldn't conceal my excitement at my find. The next day I took it to the bike shop for a once over, and they told me the gears and brakes were fine. I bought new tires for $60, asked them to install some better brake levers (they only cost $30) and the labour on the tires was about $15. All up $115. Not bad. So anyway, i rode it to work one day, locked it of course, and instead of riding it home in the rain, I left it locked up, as one does when it rains. it was the weekend and as past experience with leaving basic bikes locked up overnight in the city suggested, it would probably be OK to leave it over the weekend. It wasn't. Oh, man, on the Monday, I got a shock to find it sans tires and wheels laying like a crippled thing where I'd locked it to a bike rack. Closer inspection revealed that it was also relieved of its front light and back light, which I'd purchased new, and was missing one pedal. I thought of a deer that had been shot and left to die a slow death. In the cold. I recalled the time when I was out with my daughter, and went to remove the new front light, and my daughter said not to worry, this is Melbourne, they don't steal bike lights. Well honey, sorry, but things have changed. I assumed a philosophical attitude about the loss and told myself that the bike had some features that made it a little unsafe compared to my heavier less favorite hybrid-style bike, which I had intended to get rid of, and I should be grateful that thanks to the theft serious injury was avoided. My daughter says I'm taking it very well. But in truth I still feel a sense of assault 3 weeks later when i look at the frame which is still locked to the bike rack (I've lost the key) and I feel suspicious of (and angry at) Melbourne for allowing this to happen to me. I know that I should have been more careful, but just saying, even knowing that it could have been avoided doesn't erase the feeling, right?

janet brown said...

No, it doesn't--especially when you rescued something, brought it back to a useful life, and then had it violated that way. And it's distressing that trust is being broken down in irrevocable ways, all over the world. I still remember forty years ago how sad I felt when a rash of burglaries in Fairbanks, Alaska made all of that town's residents begin to lock their door.

Such a sad story, Judy.