I moved to Berkeley in 1997. For the first year, I lived in a sort of communal house in El Cerrito by the BART station. It was a 5 bedroom house painted a butter-white stucco with a one-car garage that the owner had finished out into a 6th bedroom. I lived in that 6th bedroom.
The owner’s name was Burt. Burt was hippie of about 60 years old who had the dream of buying houses and letting rooms out to young people in the hopes they would create their own society. It worked, mostly.
Our society started out with 6 of us.
- Kristi. A 30-something woman with 2 children who lived with her parents. She had a checkered past that included the occasional collect call from someone at the California State Prison. Burt had put her in charge of taking in tenants, collecting the rent checks, and getting the phone bill sorted out.
- Sarah Beth. Our highly caffeinated, bleach-blonde, vegetarian barista who would bring us leftover sandwiches people didn’t buy out of the deli cases by the end of the day. She had a sarcastic and dark streak buried underneath that good cheer.
- Will. A giant of a man who looked older than 18 years old. 6’7″ tall and built like a brick house. He barely spoke and preferred working on his computers. He was employed at the local game shop.
- Duncan. A sage with flaming red hair and small handlebar mustache. Wise beyond his 26 years. A sub-manager of some kind at the game shop and our resident pagan.
- Joel. A thin, pale, pinched looking boy of 19 who had aspirations of being a singer. Once you heard him, you knew he would be inevitably disappointed and end up being a bitter accountant.
- And me. A naive 22 year old white girl fresh from the fields of Iowa.
We all got along quite well. And one of the things that bonded us together was our general amusement about Burt and his landlord abilities.
Burt was a firm believer in the all-powerful magic of caulk and duct tape. If you couldn’t duct it or caulk it, then it couldn’t be fixed.
Our house was an old classic from the 1940s. Large and stucco in a sort of Craftsmen meets Spanish style. It had these wide wooden stairs leading up to the front door that tried very hard to be grand. They went up to a deep front porch where we liked to sit and smoke. My garage room was just to the right of the foot of the stairs with its own private ground floor entrance so I rarely went up the stairs.
It had been raining and given that my ground floor room had a history of flooding (thanks to some creative duct tape drainage fixes), Burt decided to pop by for a visit.
He always came by before his afternoon nap. This had the advantage of making his visits short and increased the likelihood that Sarah Beth, Will, or Duncan would be around to watch him and make sure he didn’t do any serious damage.
The report when I got home from the veterinary clinic was a disinterested shrug and a mumbled comment about how quick his visit had been. He’d barely come inside.
Thoughts of Burt were quickly pushed aside in favor of a walk down to El Salva, a hole-in-the-wall burrito shop where we could get a burrito big enough for 2 meals and were 90% sure we wouldn’t get food poisoning. Plus it was right next to the liquor store ensuring a good evening would be had by all.
The next morning my alarm went off at 6am as usual. Rain overnight had made the morning especially chilly. Not uncommon in March. I poked my nose out into the frigid air and decided I was going to need a sweater.
I had an ample closet. One of the only benefits to living in the garage. It had a normal rectangular closet space and then a storage area that fitted under the stairs up to the front porch. I had finished dressing and reached into the storage area for a sweater.
It was wet. Soaking, in fact.
I pulled out another one.
They were all wet!
I stepped further into the closet. Everything was wet. Water started seeping into my socks.
I looked up to find out where all this water had come from and found constellations of sky winking down at me from one of the steps.
I checked the other steps and found there were holes in all of them.
Burt had come by and seen water pooling on the stairs. Afraid of the stairs rotting away, he had gotten out a drill and drilled holes everywhere there had been a puddle of water. He must have been very satisfied as the water drained away and he had single handedly saved his stairs from rot.
I rang him up from work to explain how I had found the contents of my closet soaked with rain water. He was apologetic in his own way (we did get free use of the laundry, after all) and promised to fix it right away.
When I got home I saw that the stairs were indeed fixed. They were polka-dotted with caulk. Every step was caulked to within an inch of its little life.
Well, I thought, At least he hadn’t used duct tape. And the caulk wasn’t flush with the stairs. All the polka dots were mounded up providing texture to the stairs.
I went inside and found that my closet was once again water-tight.
With caulk stalactites hanging down from the ceiling towards my racks of clothes. If I squinted and tried real hard I could pretend I was in an ice cave.
I sighed and went upstairs. It could be worse.