The Nice Girl Diet (and one creepy Landlord)

This story happened years ago and I am different now from when it occurred, no doubt in part, from having had to deal with situations like it. The details remain strong.

When I was in my late 20’s I found myself in an isolated area I didn’t know, without a car, in the hull of a boat with my creepy then-landlord. It was not a good situation – which I belatedly realized all too well once I was in it. I still remember how sickened and alarmed I felt in the moment. What had I done? Very fortunately, nothing happened. I felt as if a bullet had whizzed past my head and that the fates would not likely toss me another free pass should I make that kind of mistake again.

There were certainly warning markers along the path that led me to the boat hull. It wasn’t that I’d missed them. Rather, I hadn’t known had to handle them, but even more so I didn’t know I was allowed to. I was brought up on The Nice Girl Diet, which has probably caused untold numbers of women similar and much worse problems.

I was never taught about personal boundaries, how to stand up for myself or how to safely confront authority figures in the wrong. Be nice. Don’t make other people uncomfortable. Your needs don’t matter.  There was hell to pay for that mindset. That deliriously screwed-up mindset.

Maybe I had just enough innate presence of mind and smarts up to the boat hull incident or maybe I’d just been lucky. For whatever reason, I’d fared okay and usually sidestepped or possibly out-smarted potentially hazardous situations. I could absolutely sense danger or trouble when they were afoot, but the way I handled them was probably awkward at best. So what led to the boat situation where I made these missteps?

I first contacted Landlord Creepy on the phone about his rental, which was described in the ad as a studio apartment in a “mansion.”  A bit ostentatious, but okay. He and his wife lived in a large apartment in the old house they owned, which had been converted into apartments with five more in addition to theirs. When I asked who took care of maintenance, he indignantly shot back with, “What kind of maintenance do you think you’ll need?” which struck me as a peculiar way to answer a legitimate question.

I arranged to meet him at the house but at the appointed time, he wasn’t there. Instead, his wife, who did not seem to be expecting me, showed the efficiency. I loved it. It had a 9′ ceiling and sat on the corner of the 2nd floor of the house, which meant it had extra high windows on two walls, which flooded the space with light – how I love light! The closet was small and the bathtub had no shower but the rent was good. My current roommate was getting married and I needed to get out of her house. I’d never lived alone before. This place was it.

I met Landlord Creepy the day I moved in and in my gut I realized had I met him first, I wouldn’t have taken the rental. He had a kind of wimpy quality combined with faux friendliness, an overly familiar sort who seemed insincere. He felt wrong. In time I’d come to feel he was the kind of person who’d read just enough self-help books and had just enough therapy to be dangerous, as he set about using pabulum to manipulate people. He was not stupid. (I’d later see a book in the basement communal storage area titled, “How to Get People to Do Things” and know with dead certainty it was his.) His wife, a more agreeable individual, albeit with issues of her own, struck me as long-suffering and quite possibly depressed.

My impressions were soon confirmed by Landlord Creepy’s comments and ways. He said how great it was to see a “gorgeous blond” taking her trash out to the bins instead of a “wrinkled, old lady.” I hadn’t known he was watching me and worse, one of his current tenants, the one in the studio across the hall from mine, was an elderly woman. Nice.

He came into my apartment once for a small repair (he did minor repairs, however ineptly and, it turned out, hired cheap, fly-by-night characters for larger house repairs). He exclaimed over my decorating, how my apartment looked like a “New York studio” (even I knew that was a stretch) and asked about what I was cooking for dinner, since it smelled so good. It was an efficiency – there was no other room for me to go into to while he was there. Apparently everything was fair game. In retrospect it’s a wonder he didn’t comment on my cozy bed or personal toiletries.

At one point there was a ladder leaning up against the house uncomfortably close to my second floor window during a time when one of his fly-by-night repair people had been doing something on the house. Landlord Creepy soon appeared hobbling with a cast on his leg. The guy I was dating joked that my landlord had fallen off the ladder trying to see into my apartment. The crack was only sort of funny…

He later did something shittier in regard to that elderly lady across the hall. Granted, she seemed a bit off. I was certain she once vacuumed in the dead of night in the common area outside our doors (there was a visible gap under my door which opened onto the hall and she was literally a matter of feet in distance from where I slept), but when I asked her about it the following day, in terms of making noise, she vehemently denied having done so.

One day after that, I don’t know quite what happened but she suffered a sort of mental break and the rescue squad/fire department showed (I imagine called by Landlord Creepy). It was a weird, ugly scene. I opened my door, which led to a fireman staring into my little apartment and commenting on what he saw – he seemed to be hitting on me indirectly. The other team members were hauling my unwilling neighbor down the short hallway. I tried to speak to her reassuringly and she nastily snapped back at me. They took her away in an ambulance as I and the landlord stood watching inside the front double doors on the first floor. I was genuinely shaken and upset. Landlord Creepy feigned concern. He said it reminded him of when his own mother was taken away in similar circumstances. His mother may have been taken away but I didn’t believe for a minute he cared a whit about his elderly tenant.

But the day wasn’t over. A short while later I saw him, through the wide-opened door to the neighbor’s apartment, rummaging around her belongings, taking things away, such as a clothes iron. He even asked me if there was anything I thought should be removed. I had the wherewithal to question what he was doing. This made him light into me; he wasn’t going to have his safety and the safety of his home endangered by allowing his tenant to keep things he deemed dangerous. He’d talked to a friend of the elderly woman and she’d told him the woman was schizophrenic and had suffered these breaks before. He had every right and so on. I left him there and went back to my apartment. I knew what he was doing had to be illegal. What if one day he decided I shouldn’t have certain things in my apartment?

As it turned out, the elderly woman never returned and her apartment was re-rented. One day, Landlord Creepy asked for my assistance with his boat (which I expect he referred to as a yacht). I no longer recall what it was he said he needed but I agreed (I was young, I was if not stupid, too helpful, too easily cowed). Off we went to the boat yard in his car. On the way, he decided to “reveal” that his sex life wasn’t all that because his wife had been molested as a child. He also told me how he had telephoned his wife’s therapist – about what, I don’t remember – and was now indignant because the therapist (rightly, wisely), had taken him to task about the inappropriateness of the call. He was, I could tell, trying to get me on “his side,” but I wasn’t so young or so easily manipulated as to not see the inappropriateness of his raising these things to me.

At the boat yard, turns out there wasn’t a particular chore we’d come to do (imagine), but something like a not-quite well tied rope which he tightened and about which Landlord Creepy commented that he had been right in his “feeling” that something was amiss. This was the first I was hearing that a “feeling” was the reason for the excursion to the docked boat. I took note.

Landlord Creepy went below deck and bid me to come see it. I tell you, I went a few steps down the rungs, said something like “it’s nice” and turned right back around. My feet never touched the floor. Many years later, I remember that moment, that sickening moment, when I realized I’d been baited, conned, into this jaunt. That wimpy jackass knew that asking for my help was the way to go. Once the supposed “emergency” of something wrong with the boat evaporated, it was something else entirely. His beckoning me to come see the boat below deck was a game, a test. He was a weak-spined weasel at heart; manipulation was his operating procedure. It didn’t work on me, not this time, not with these stakes.

When I didn’t go down those rungs, Landlord Creepy came back above, and we returned to the rental house. After that, I knew what I was dealing with, and did my best to distance myself. Soon thereafter, I found a handwritten note from him with my mail, where he tried to excuse himself with commentary about possibly “over-sharing.” The note felt like yet another level of manipulation and did nothing to make me feel better or change my opinion of him.

Not right way, but after two years total in the rental, I gave notice and moved out of the house and the area. I sat tight till Landlord Creepy returned my security deposit by mail. With it, he included a short hand-written, mocking note, to the effect that I had just “run away” and how interesting and fun this had been to watch! (The exclamation being his.) His narcissistic ego amazed me, how he made my moving out, not only from his rental but from the city, not about my life – which he knew little of and remembered less – but about HIM.

I wrote him a reply where I can happily tell you, I let the weasely conniving toad have it. I said his wife might still be interested to learn that he’d been discussing their sex life – or lack thereof – with tenants. I made reference to his faux caring-n-sharing. I wished upon him “unattractive, non-rent paying tenants” forevermore. Oh yeah I did. He never bothered me again.

I tried occasionally, over the years, to see what became of Landlord Creepy via the internet. The only thing I found was recent, and about the house. The “mansion” has been sold a couple times over. That’s all I got.

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