My landlord, Mr. Harvey, was a slumlord. He was somewhere in his 70s, had long bony fingers, hairy eyebrows, wore second-hand clothes, and ran a shabby ship.

“He’s bush league,” one of my neighbors told me shortly after I moved in. “I can’t stand that old fart.”

The inside of the apartments were not that bad. The one I lived in had new paint, carpet, and nice clean sinks. I’ve lived in worse. Still, the apartments could have used some aesthetic improvements. For instance, the garage doors were different shades of brown. They looked ridiculous and faced the street for the whole world to see. The first time I pulled up to the property I was like: oh, fuck no.

A simple fix one would say.

Not a roof job.

Just paint.

I didn’t care if the paint was neon pink or periwinkle. Just as long as the doors were the same color. And the same went for the paint on the trim around the windows. They were peeling and faded from the sun beating down on them for god knows how long. Probably hadn’t been painted in twenty years. Hell, the whole complex could have used a fresh coat of paint.

I saw one of those home you-can-fix-it-yourself shows once and the woman that was running the show said that paint was the cheapest way to make a big difference to your property. Be it an entire house or a room. Paint it a different color and poof: an instant new look. But he refused to take on this simple task.

One day I was hung over and feeling a bit punchy and I told him that the garage doors looked horrible and that since he had a couple of vacancies that he might want to paint them to make the place more attractive to potential tenants.

“Curb appeal,” I told him, like if I was a real estate agent. “You have a lot of competition out there, sir. You need to make this place pleasing to the eye. Looks like a checkerboard.”

He looked at me with his old blue eyes like if I was crazy. I sensed this and pushed my stance further to prove to him I was perfectly sane.

“Really,” I continued. “It’s a renter’s market. There’s choice up the ying-yang out there. Of course, this depends on how much cashish you’re willing to dish out. But still.”

“Well, that’s very observant of you, Mr. Romero, and I value your opinion. But right now there’s more pressing issues concerning these apartments. It’ll get done. I can assure you of that.”

I guess one of the more pressing issues was the parking lot that was hammered with large dents and potholes. There was one pothole that was no longer a pothole but a small crater. And when it rained the crater got larger and deeper. Over the six months I lived there I saw a handful of people trip over it. I once saw a woman do a face plant. She thrashed on the ground, kicking her legs wildly and flailing her purse. Poor thing. She never saw it coming.

“Oh, my god!” she yelled as I lifted her up. “What the hell just happened?”

I wanted to tell her that she ate tons of shit in a crater because the landlord was a cheap old man. He didn’t give a fuck about her safety or the aesthetics of his property so he could save some money to buy more stale clothes at the Salvation Army and gas up his decaying1972 Ford Squire. But I didn’t tell her that.

So I lied.

To her face.

“Oh, you just tripped up on this pothole.”

“Pothole?” she said looking down at the crater with befuddled eyes. “It’s a swimming

pool!”

Another pressing issue was that the complex was infested with ants. By nature the desert is infested with ants. That’s where they live. That’s where they steal, sting, and work. Big ants in a variety of colors. Black. Red. Purple. Yellow. For the most part they stay in the desert where they won’t be messed with by ratty-ass desert kids. I’ve seen these little bastards in action. Pouring soda or alcohol down the holes. Blowing them up with firecrackers. Blow torching the lot of them via lighters and hairspray.

But these ants were ballsy and seemed to be hopped up on coke. They created whole cities just outside our doors. They were relentless workers and what were once nice grounds dotted with bright desert flowers were turned inside out. Calls were made to Mr. Harvey and after a week or so we saw him creaking around with a giant plastic tank full of poison of some sort strapped to his back. Like the ants, he worked tirelessly covering every inch of the grounds. He penned us a letter and slipped them in our screen doors. Well, at least those of us who had screen doors.

Dear Tenants:

Thank you all for voicing your concerns regarding the ants. Wow, I didn’t know it was that bad! Those suckers really tore up the place, but I’m confident that my homemade brew will kill them all or at the very least will send them underground. Don’t worry the solution is not harmful to your pets or the native animals of the desert such as squirrels, crows, roadrunners, rabbits, and the occasional coyote. If you have any questions please feel free to contact my secretary and I’ll get back to you shortly. Thank you.

His secretary.

Right.

That’s what she was.

What he meant was his wife fresh from some hillbilly town in Georgia. It was hard understanding her. A yodeling mush-mouth. I called her once regarding my shoddy water heater and her responses were nothing but a warbling batch of muddy yeps and yeses. She was a mess with lazy blue eyes, stringy blond hair, toothpick lips, and dirty nails bitten to the quick. Her name was Sherry.

“Hi, Sherry. Nice to meet you.”

“Yep.”

Needless to say, Mr. Harvey’s ant-killing concoction did nothing to the ants but piss them off. They went underground for a couple of days, gathered themselves, and then came back with cold insect agenda and tore the place up to all hell. Ants were everywhere building hills and zipping around in frenzied patterns. It looked like the ground was moving. I felt like I was on acid. We called Mr. Harvey and he came back with the tank strapped to his back and went at it again.

My next door neighbor, who I affectionately called Bowling Balls because he bowled frequently, got the bright idea to strategically place little poison ant pods around the complex to stop the destructive force of thousands of pissed off ants. What an idiot, I thought. The pods did nothing. The ants crawled over them, around them, picked them up and moved them out of their way.

The longer I lived there the more I noticed what a terrible landlord Mr. Harvey was. His secretary sucked wienies and some of our requests and concerns went unanswered. The water got shut off numerous times. Once he didn’t pay his garbage bill (he hadn’t paid it in four months) and they hauled away the dumpster. Some of the tenants threatened to toss the trash on the roof.

Mr. Harvey also took forever to fix things. And when they did get fixed he hired some two-bit handyman who never did the job right. One of them was named Greg. Greg was some weathered drunk with small bat ears and elephant skin. He was also missing a pinky finger from trying to catch his nephew’s remote control airplane. He always showed up ripped and talked to himself while he worked. One time he was so drunk he fell asleep while fixing some broken sprinklers.

It was Greg who painted the garage doors two weeks before I moved out. I pulled up and saw him slinging paint and talking to himself. Mr. Harvey was pitching in wearing painter’s overalls and goggles peppered with paint. He looked ridiculous.

“Hey, Reno,” Mr. Harvey called me over. “Looks good, huh? Too bad you’re leaving us young man. I sold one of my houses. Gonna use some of the money to fix this place up. Get it all shiny and new. It’s a new beginning.”

I looked at Greg who was rolling the paint like a 3-year old.

“Well, good luck, Mr. Harvey. Wish I could be around to see it.”

I packed up and hauled boxes and furniture passed Bowling Ball’s front door, faded paint, and thousands of ants building and burrowing in the hard desert dirt. Two months later I happened to pass by the apartments and two of the garage doors still needed painting.

So much for new beginnings.

TAGS: , , , , ,

RENO J. ROMERO was born in the badlands of El Sereno, California. A bona fide Las Vegan, he also lived in the dirty South for three miserable years, where he was introduced to depression, grits, humidity, and sweet tea. A graduate of UNLV, the Southern Nevada Writing Project, and seedy bars, he enjoys Chinese food, Tamron Hall, the Trickster, and football. He currently writes poetry, short fiction, and creative nonfiction from the California desert, living among rattlesnakes, old bones, and biker speed. He's been published in various publications including Falling From the Sky (short story anthology), Celebrity Poets, and Central Speak. He can be reached at [email protected]

33 responses to “Mr. Harvey the Slumlord”

  1. Ashley Menchaca (N.O.Lady) says:

    Ok Moose, this one was good.

    Favorite part: “I once saw a woman do a face plant. She thrashed on the ground, kicking her legs wildly and flailing her purse. Poor thing. She never saw it coming.

    “Oh, my god!” she yelled as I lifted her up. “What the hell just happened?”

    I wanted to tell her that she ate tons of shit in a crater because the landlord was a cheap old man.”

    Holy shit! Just reading it again and I can’t stop laughing. Too funny.

  2. Napigzi says:

    I love this story! That reminds me, I better call my landlord to remind him to check out my AC before it warms up. How long do you think it will take me to get a response heh???

  3. Reno Romero says:

    NOL:

    Thanks for reading, Ash. Glad it made you laugh. I think you would have got a kick out of Harvey. He was curious looking. Big feet. Big blue eyes. He actually looked like an old Joe Namath. No shit. I believe to this day the crater still exists. I’m not a gambling man, but I’d put money down saying that it’s still there bigger than ever. If you ever find your way to the CA desert I’ll take you there. We could dump water into it and dunk our toesies. Okay, Ashley, you be good over there and I’ll be bad over here.

    Moose

  4. Reno Romero says:

    napigzi:

    thank you kindly for reading. i’d call the landlord pronto. heed this story. get your work order in now and maybe by september your AC will be up and running. consider buying around seven floor fans (and 25 cases of beer) until said AC gets a fixin’. don’t suffer. it’s simply not worth it. okie doke, thanks again for reading. cheers to you!

  5. Jim Lyons says:

    You jogged some memories for me tonight, Reno. The most memorable being my senior year at CMU. We had a landlord who was a real prick. We decided to re-decorate our place one night during an intense LSD infused session. Glow in the dark stickers on the ceiling and walls throughout the place.
    Well, our landlord liked to make surprise visits, and he made one the next day. That Fucked ripped us a new one, but the joke was on him. Loved it!!

    • Reno Romero says:

      lyons:

      acid. hmmm. i think i may have tried that stuff once or twice. glow and the dark stickers throughout the place? sounds about right. once i did acid and stared at a brick for god knows how long. it was after that trip that i realized how fucking lame that shit is. harvey was probably on acid. or smoking tree. hell, he might have been a drunk with greg, drinking on the quiet. wait! what the hell is gonna happen to next year’s football season? is the end of the world upon us? damn. this is all matt millen’s fault.

  6. In university my landlord was a man whose entire family had at some point appeared on a show called “Crime Watch.” Yes. That’s right. It was a family business and he was the last one who could legally have his name attached. He was a fucking nightmare. A cheap bastard. He was the same way with the bills… we were always getting shit cut off.

    However, revenge came sweetly. Over three years in his shitty house my friends and I caused so much destruction that when we moved out he went to the newspapers to report us. Not the police, the fucking newspapers. After fifty years, he said, we were the worst tenants he’d ever heard of.

    Which goes to show that there are ways to combat a devious bastard of a slumlord.

    Then again, ours never let the place become infested with bloody ants. Yeesh.

    • Reno Romero says:

      mr. wills!

      ha! that’s too funny. that fucker actually went to the newspapers? wow. that’s a new one for me, but oddly a great idea. talk about taking your business to the streets! yeah, i don’t know what harvey’s issue was not paying the bills. but he was a wreck and so was his wife. but i should have seen the writing on the wall. or the painting on the garage doors. to this day i bet the garage doors are not completely done and that the ants have gone from outside to inside. no doubt. thanks for reading, david. cheers.

  7. Simon Smithson says:

    I have absolutely no doubt that you used the phrase ‘choice up the ying-yang.’

    • Reno Romero says:

      simon:

      i did. i also told him that the garage doors looked like doo-doo. that’s how i roll, homey. but you know this. keep rockin’ out there and thanks for reading about harvey the slumlord.

  8. Greg Olear says:

    On behalf of all the Gregs in the world, I apologize.

  9. jmblaine says:

    in the land
    of slumlords
    & Greyhound porn
    Raven dreams
    & all things McBain

    Reno is king.

    “Go to the ant, you sluggard”
    Proverbs 6:6

  10. Reno Romero says:

    11:

    hello, good sir.

    ‘all things mcbain.’

    heh. that’s awesome.

    thanks for reading, brother.

    kiss them green hills and keep cranking the amp to 11.

  11. Vinnie says:

    Reno–Always something memorable in a Reno story, like the guy with bat ears and the woman with toothpick lips. You’ve tapped into an entire universe here, Reno, cuz we’ve all got some wicked landlord and low-end apartment stories. Hell, that’s where all dedicated writers and artists have lived, some longer than others.

    • Reno Romero says:

      vinnie:

      vinnie, no shit, this dude did have bat ears and the woman DID have toothpick lips. when she smiled (which was rare) all you saw was teeth and those choppers were nothing to look at. hey, thanks for reading, sir. go UNLV! see you soon. gonna hit vegas soon. until then take care.

      reno romero

  12. Zara says:

    Reno,
    You are just utterly charming.
    Everything about this piece is charming. The phrases you use, the descriptions you offer, the enthusiasm and cheekiness that always shines through your work.
    Charm up the ying yang – that’s what youve got, Dimples.

    • Reno Romero says:

      z:

      ahh. you’re charming, z. but i’m sure you’ve heard that before. when you get back to the states we ought to pass by this place. sure, we have to hop in the car and leave the smog of LA, but we can do it, take pictures of us jumping over the crater. thanks for reading dear, z. my thoughts are with you day and night. take care of yourself.

      always,
      reno

  13. Irene Zion says:

    Aww, Reno, my pet,

    I was sure there was a happy ending coming here and then
    BOOM
    reality again.
    I’m sick to death of reality.
    Make some shit up next time with a happy ending.
    Please and thank you.

  14. You were right, curb appeal IS everything. That’s pretty much all you need to know in life….
    Nicely done!

    • Reno Romero says:

      robin:

      hi. and heh! you nailed it. curb appeal is all you need to know in life. thank you kindly for reading. here’s to slumlords and wives with toothpick lips…

      okay,
      reno

  15. Reno Romero says:

    mama zion:

    ‘Make some shit up next time with a happy ending.’

    wow. you have some fire going on, eh? i like it.

    wait!

    was the ending depressing? dreary? no! i thought it was funny – that slumlord harvey STILL didn’t finish painting the damn garage doors and still had greg the lush on his payroll. and, AND, i moved on to better pastures to graze on more delightful fruits and grasses.

    no?

    ok, fine. next time i’ll make up some shit!

    your pet,
    reno romero

  16. Joe Daly says:

    I wanted to tell her that she ate tons of shit in a crater because the landlord was a cheap old man.

    Dude… that’s a coffee-spitter right there. Trust me.

    Yeah, there are few things more loathsome than a deadbeat landlord. I had one of those in Chicago. He did a shitty job with the unit and then tried to shake me down when I had to break my lease and move out early. Correction, he did shake me down.

    I paid him off and then ratted him out to his management company. I also peed on the windshield of his car in really cold weather. I felt better after that. Less mature, but better in a way that most people will never understand. It bordered on bliss, standing on the hood of his car, giggling like an 8 year old kid, enjoying the kind of payback that we males were engineered to exact… Wait- where was I?

    • Reno Romero says:

      joe:

      ‘Correction, he did shake me down.’

      ha! too hilarious!

      that cheap bastard did deserve a little piss on his car. im fact, i think you let him off easy. real easy. i think that crap landlords are a universal thing. whether here in the states, canada, or russia, these saps loom, not paying bills or fixing things in a timely manner, shaking you down. fuckers.

      hey, man, thanks for reading. take care, sir.

      heading for a heartbreak,
      rr

  17. Well hell, Romero. You’re one funny motherfucker. But you know this.

    This section just killed me, What he meant was his wife fresh from some hillbilly town in Georgia. It was hard understanding her. A yodeling mush-mouth. I called her once regarding my shoddy water heater and her responses were nothing but a warbling batch of muddy yeps and yeses. She was a mess with lazy blue eyes, stringy blond hair, toothpick lips, and dirty nails bitten to the quick. Her name was Sherry.

    And this also brings back some bittersweet memories of the various shit-holes that I’ve lived in.

    You’re on a roll, sir.

  18. Reno Romero says:

    nico:

    shit-hole dwellings? say it isn’t so! i’ve had a few in my day. but harvey was by far the shittiest landlord i’ve ever had. damn, he was the worst. well, nico dear, you have yourself a great day and muchos gracias for reading. wait! summer’s around the bend. you planning a trip out to L.A for tacos and smog? do it, nico. the city is calling.

    georgia,
    renolution

  19. dwoz says:

    Lighters and hair spray.

    brings me back.

    good times.

  20. Reno Romero says:

    dwoz:

    say, man. yeah, when i was a kid i was INTO fire. you know those ratty-ass kids i mentioned? that was me when i arrived in the desert in 7th grade. many an ant died at my hands. i don’t feel good about this. shit.

    anyhow, sir, thank you kindly for reading. take care, dwoz.

    • dwoz says:

      I never got into the insect/amphibian barbecue thing…

      about the worst I ever did, was light a spray up without looking what I was pointing at, and bubbled up a big patch of paint on a car fender. Oops.

  21. Reno Romero says:

    dwoz:

    hey, that’s pretty bad. burning other people’s property. hell, i just killed hundreds of ants, cockroaches, water beetles, millipedes, etc. did you go to confession for this major crime?

    • dwoz says:

      No, it’s too late.

      Satan has a special place reserved for me in hell,

      where I will turn around to see a couple kids running away from my absolutely pristine vintage 1983 BMW 733i, as quick flames and a noxious odor billow from the rear quarter panel of the formerly perfect paint, and then I will turn around to see a couple kids running away from my absolutely pristine vintage 1983 BMW 7331, as quick flames and a noxious odor billow from the rear quarter panel of the formerly perfect paint, and then I will turn around to see a…..

  22. […] coked-out ants, a drunk handyman, and a landlord who drove around a 1972 Ford […]

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