SF Apartment : October 2016


A Charactered Career

by Theodore

I enjoy finding the humanity in people, whether good or bad. And so, with my final column, I offer you vignettes of a few of the strange and wonderful souls who have passed through my lobby door. By themselves, they do not offer a full-bodied story; together, they depict the kaleidoscope of people who make up the buildings of San Francisco.

The Bell Ringer
Once a year, that ultra-sophisticated fire-alarm box—with its sensors on all floors of the building, as well as the elevator—gets its annual checkup. The alarm company sends its bell ringer to verify that we are ready for any impending disaster. He rings the alarm bells, and they sound everywhere.

One year, as usual, I’d posted a sign several days in advance of the bell ringer’s visit to warn my tenants. But even with warning, is anyone ever calm or content hearing an alarm bell? It was scheduled for a weekday, so most tenants were at work, but of those in the building, a few came forward to ask to ask if there was a fire.

“Just testing the system,” I answered.

The bell ringer finished his work. As he was about to place his tag on the front of the box exclaiming to all that he had done his job, I asked him to find a more hidden place. The clean lines of my lobby did not need a scrawled testimony to its renewal. Instead, he put his tag on the inside of the box.

“You will have to open the alarm box for the firemen when they inspect your building,” the bell ringer warned me. “They must see the tag.” His voice was ominous, but he stopped short of wagging his finger at me. Then, he left. 
About twenty minutes later, a fire engine quietly disgorged four firemen in front of

my building. They had come, just then, for their annual inspection. They got to see and inspect everything they wanted to see, including the tag on the inside of the fire alarm box.

Timing, they say, is everything.

The Old Man
Then there was the 75-year-old man who I encountered coming off the elevator. He told me he lived in a third-floor apartment. He did not. Still, he seemed harmless enough. He told me he had dropped his false teeth down the elevator shaft. This created a difficult problem for me since only the elevator service company can access the elevator pit.

I questioned him a bit further and learned—to make a long story short—that he had leaned out one of the windows in the common area that opened onto a light well or airshaft. I did not understand how his false teeth escaped from his mouth, much less down the airshaft. It was time to call in the police.

The man was clearly befuddled. I knew the police would decide better than I would how to deal with him. When they arrived, they summoned an ambulance. Over the years, I have found that in cases like this one, it is better for someone trained and official to decide on the proper course of action. My medical background does not extend much beyond putting a bandage on a cut finger.

Everyone was very kind to the old man. I am always quite struck with how gentle and solicitous both the police and EMTs can be toward someone who truly needs help. The old man, false teeth eventually in place, disappeared into the evening, accompanied by the wail of the ambulance siren.

The Young Nerd
For those of you who are challenged the moment you turn on your smart phone, I have a gotcha story. It is not often that we, the sometimes technologically challenged, get the chance to outsmart the nerdy, young types. Here, I will claim my fifteen seconds of brilliance.

A young man arrived at the apartment building at my request to fix a computer problem. I believe, to this day, they sent me their newest recruit. Why do they always look and act so young?

He could not solve the problem, and so, he went to his personal phone to get the answer. Smart phones know everything, of course, except still he seemed to have trouble finding the info he needed to solve my computer problem. At that point, I suggested he use a pencil and paper to write down what he needed to accomplish. That way, when he met up with his boss, the person who could help him solve my problem, he would have the questions ready to go in front of him.

The young man’s reaction was swift and genuine surprise. He had not thought of writing down his questions. In his young outlook, everything could be solved by asking questions in the ether. It was as if I had revealed to him the very latest app from the internet store. He was grateful for this new problem-solving technique I gave him, as he should have been. I handed him a pencil and some paper.

I am now trying to figure out how to own the idea of writing things down on paper, so I can sell it in an app store. There has to be a fortune in this application.

The Fiddler on the Pavement
It had not been a pleasant day, and the ebbing rain made me feel no better. I stood in the lobby, looking out to determine if the downpour was indeed over. The air was clean though, washed by the rain. Outside the building stood a young girl. She was the strangest sight.

She wore no coat on that chilly day. In one hand, she carried a violin and bow. No violin case could be seen. She wore a walking boot no doubt for an ankle injury.

Beside her was a duffle bag that I supposed contained her traveling clothes. 
I soon learned that she was trying to figure out in which apartment her friend lived, so she might let him know she was downstairs waiting, presumably to serenade him.

I helped her inside the lobby; I love violin music. The thought occurred to me also that she just might enjoy the warm, dry lobby. Some days I am very perceptive. 
Her friend who lived in my building appeared at that moment, thanks to the magic of the smart phone. She had phoned him after trying unsuccessfully to ring his apartment from the call box. They greeted each other. He opened the elevator door for her, but he did not pick up her duffle bag.

He is a peasant, I thought. Leave him now. He does not deserve you or your music. But she did not, proving that some people do know when to come in out of the rain.

The Very End 
It is just that; my final column. I cannot permit that event to pass without thanking all my readers who have lived with me through my anger, my indignation, my quizzical smirks, and my wry humor.

I appreciate that you have put up with me for some six years since my first column. Thank you. If you have been somehow enlightened along the way, then it has been well worth the journey.

Matt Sheridan, Emily Landis, and the production staff have been quite supportive, as well as Nora Boxer and Pam McElroy during my last few columns. Thanks to everyone.

It is time to move on. That’ll be all from Theodore. 

“Theodore” is a resident manager with some two decades of experience and has been a professional writer and editor for much longer than that.