Thursday, August 2, 2012
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.