Imagine, if you will, a deluxe apartment in the sky, not unlike the one on the Jeffersons, vary similar in many ways – a doorman, a wonderful city view from the balcony and a view of the Pearl Tower from the bedroom’s large jutting picture window, on the 33rd floor, luxury adornments, somewhat magnificent.
For the summer, I went back to America for my annual visit. As usual, to offset costs, I decided to sublet my apartment, the aforementioned deluxe apartment in the sky.
In the past, for the most part, I had always been able to sublet my other apartment with not much difficulty. This time, however, was different. I had moved into a new apartment that suited me better than my last one but was not as attractive as a party pad.
In that, the new apartment – the deluxe apartment in the sky – did not have a yard like my last one. Of course, a yard in downtown Shanghai is rare at the price that I was paying for the apartment so that was a very attractive element to a would-be subletter. And, my new apartment is not in a hip ex-pat area like my old one was. Really, most people - foreigners coming to Shanghai for a month or two - naturally prefer to live in a hip area where there are a lot of bars. With some doubts - three weeks before I left Shanghai to go back to America for the summer - I listed the apartment on craigslist.
Tumbleweeds rolling across main street in Dodge City when the baddest of the outlaws was about to roll into town; that was the initial response to my listing. I crossed my fingers. I said a few prayers. Time passed - one week, two weeks, and no interest, no interest in the deluxe apartment in the sky. Maybe this had to do with the financial crisis.
Okay, sure, there were a few “I need the apartment for a week.” Or “I need the apartment in September.” Or “I need the apartment tomorrow but for only two days.” I got several of these sorts of requests that were encouraging but less than helpful.
Finally, three or four days before I was set to leave, I got an email from a young lady, originally from Shanghai, visiting from Chicago, working in Shanghai for the summer. I sent her my mobile number and some additional pictures of the place. It seemed to suit her purposes.
However, when I told her the location, she balked; the same thing that I did when I was told the location before I gave the place a look. She decided she wanted to look at it anyway. We scheduled a time for her to come look at the place that evening.
Like me, I thought that she would fall in love with the place after she saw it. And then when I pointed out the metro across the street from the complex – two stops to People’s Square, city center – I knew that she would want to take it. Basically, she came to see it and was impressed but not floored. She wanted to think about it over night.
She also wanted to know what I planned to do with my stuff, my clothes and such. The apartment is equipped with two large wardrobes and a large dresser. She would have the dresser and one of the wardrobes. I would box all of my stuff up and put it in the other wardrobe. This was fine with her.
She told me she would let me know the next day if she was going to take the place. I told her this was fine but I also told her the first person to hold the place with a deposit got the place. We agreed to talk the next day. This was Wednesday evening. I was set to leave at the crack of dawn on Saturday.
The next day, I got an email from the young Shaghainese visiting from Chicago. She was ready to give me a deposit to hold the apartment. She told me she would come that evening – after dinner – to put a deposit on the place. This was Thursday. I told her great. At that point, I was not worried.
Evening came. I waited patiently to hear from the young woman. She sent me a text; she was out with friends; she could not make it that evening. Could she bring me the deposit to hold the place during her lunch hour the following day? Really there was nothing I could do at this point so I told her sure. I had not taken the listing off of craigslist, nor did I have any other would-be subletters. There was really nothing I could do but hope that she would keep her word and take the apartment
Friday, at lunchtime, she could not make it. She rescheduled for that evening. I was nice the whole time. At this point, I reached the definite conclusion that the place may or may not be rented while I was away. I was fine with that for the most part though I hate to just waste what would amount to about $1400.
On top of this, there was one other snag this time around. In the past, my pal Michael - who found the last apartment for me; that is how we became friends because he was my realtor – always took care of most of the business transactions with the subletting. This time, Michael was on holiday for a week or so. He had left at the beginning of the week and he would not be back until the next week after I was gone.
Thus, before he left I had to figure out where to leave the extra key to the apartment and door card to the security door by the elevators. If I sublet the place before I left, the subletter might want to move into the place before Michael returned from holiday. And, I knew this would have been perceived as a bit peculiar if I took the money from the subletter for the place and told him or her that Michael would give them the key after I had gone. That seemed like it would sound really fishy.
So this is what I did, I introduced Michael to my favorite doorman, the doorman whom I thought trustworthy. Michael explained the situation to him in Chinese. I nodded in agreement. A deal was struck.
After the deal was struck and we gave the extra key and security card to the doorman to keep, Michael told me maybe this was not a good idea because now the doorman could come and ransack my flat. Needless to say, this made me a bit anxious – new high-end stereo, plasma screen television, camera, macbook. I started to sweat.
“But Michael,” I started halfheartedly, “uh, that is the doorman’s job.”
“Doorman job?” he asked.
“Yeah,” I replied, “he is supposed to keep keys for people. That is one of his many jobs.”
“Oh.” That was Michael’s only response, which alleviated my fears somewhat.
Back to the flaky subletter: at this point, after the lunchtime cancellation, I was worried that this young lady was not going to take the place. Probably, she was just hoping that something else would come along and she was waiting until the last minute to commit. There had been a few really good deals on craigslist that were snagged quickly I assume. My deal was a fair deal - fair for me, fair for the subletter. Really, I just wanted to cover my cost; I did not enter the deal to make money but then I did not want to lose on the deal either.
Evening came again. At 5:30, the agreed upon time, she sent me a text and told me she would be by at 6:30. At 7:30 she showed up with a lot of questions.
Everything seemed fine, going well and all, until she did something that I thought was somewhat bizarre. As she was talking to me, she looked into the bathroom mirror and surveyed her face, which was not peculiar in and of itself but then what she did next was, which I am sure made my mouth drop.
She started popping zits. She did not do this tentatively, shyly or slyly. She did it with the gusto of someone who is totally alone in front of his or her bathroom mirror at home dead set on unclogging some pores. This was a bit unorthodox I thought. Really, I suppose she was just making herself right at home. Nonetheless, I thought it a trifle bizarre.
While she was popping, she asked if I had a shower curtain for the tub. I told her I did. I showed her where I had put it. She told me that she would put it back up if that were okay. This was fine I told her. I had taken the shower curtain down because I never take showers and I am not a fan of shower curtains. So, I took it down. The bathroom looks a lot better without it, just a personal preference.
“Shanghai really breaks my face out,” she told me at one point as she kept popping and talking.
At this point, she started telling me that she would probably keep the same maid that had been cleaning the apartment but she would have her do a much better job cleaning the apartment than I was doing. With this, she ran her finger along the top of the entertainment center to show me the collected dust. Naturally, this was a bit insulting because I keep the apartment clean thanks to my maid who comes and mops and sweeps and dusts and such once a week. In Shanghai, there is construction virtually everywhere so the whole city is one big dustbowl.
Nevertheless, I took the insult and assumed upon my return from America that the place would be as clean or cleaner than when I left. Boy was I wrong. I was so wrong. Wow, was I ever wrong.
After my flight, that was more than four hours delayed, the first thing that I wanted to do when I got back to my apartment was take a bath. Sadly, the flight was delayed because someone had a heart attack an hour or so after we departed from Atlanta where I had had an uneventful layover.
A flight attendant asked the usual “Is there a doctor on board?” over the plane’s public address system. Fortunately there was one. He saw to the patient but we still had to make an unplanned landing, which turned out to be Minneapolis.
The medical crew came on board.
“Oh, we don’t need the gurney?” I overheard a medical crewman ask.
“The patient can actually walk,” a cabin crewmember replied.
I then overheard that the patient had had a full-blown heart attack.
A few minutes later I was surprised to see the patient walking down the aisle past me to the exit. I was surprised because the patient in question was a young co-ed who looked as if she had had a panic attack. Maybe she had had a heart attack. But, from my limited experience with heart attacks, I was surprised to see the victim walking, somewhat unsteadily but walking nevertheless, just a short while after the heart attack.
After the patient was escorted off the plane, we sat and sat. The fuel had to be dumped for us to land so we had to refuel which took some time. After that we had to wait and wait and wait to take off because of other flights departing and arriving.
Four hours later, we taxied down the runway and took off. This time we were heading non-stop to Shanghai.
Michael was scheduled to meet me at the airport. I had no way to contact him to let him know that the flight would be late. Maybe he checked before he went to meet me and found out that the flight was delayed by more than 4 hours. This is what I hoped. Or maybe, he would get there and would not want to wait and would just go back home.
Finally, I made it to Shanghai. And, there, outside of baggage claim and immigration, hooting and hollering was Michael. I smile and waved; I was happy to be back in Shanghai.
I asked Michael if he had called ahead and found out the flight status or if he had waited the whole time. He had waited the whole time.
“What did you do?”
“Oh, I walk airport.”
“You walked around the airport for four hours?”
“Oh Man! I get here. Look. No you. Sign say plane late,” he explained.
“Oh gosh, I am so sorry,” and then I added “Someone had a heart attack on the plane.”
This is his response when he is not really sure what I am saying or exactly what I mean. He probably didn’t know what I meant. That was okay. I was back in Shanghai. I was home. We walked from Terminal 2 to Terminal 1 to catch the bus.
He, of course, was excited to see me and hear about my summer. I was wiped out from the 24 hours of flying. As we rode on the bus from the airport in Pudong back to Shanghai, I tried to be as lively and talkative as I could but it was difficult.
We dropped the bags off at the apartment and took a ten-minute walk to a trendy little area where we had pho at a Vietnamese restaurant. I was back in the Orient and ready to get back into the Shanghai Groove.
After we ate, I walked with Michael to his bus and I walked on to my apartment ready to take a bath not realizing what was in store for me.
When I dropped the bags before going to the restaurant, I had not surveyed the place at all. I had just dropped the bags and went with Michael to the restaurant.
Finally, I could relax in the tub. However when I looked at the tub, I wanted to puke. My once pristine porcelain tub was disgusting to the point of me being shocked that someone could have actually stood in it and showered. There was a yellow streak down the middle of it that actually took a week of fifteen-minute intervals of scrubbing to remove. The bathroom actually smelt like urine like the tub had been used for a urinal for public use.
When the freaking zit popping weirdo had told me that she would keep the place much cleaner than I had kept it, I did not know by clean she meant that she would use the bathtub instead of the commode for a urinal. I did not realize this is what she meant by cleaner.
Nor did I realize that by cleaner she meant that the kitchen would be caked from floor to ceiling with grease. The bottle of oil that was in the cabinet before I left seemed to be placed all over the cabinet and the walls and the counter on my return. Everything I touched in the kitchen – dishes, utensils, canned goods, everything – was sticky with grease. Even the nice new dish towels had fallen into the river of grease that ran through the kitchen. They were ruined.
Oh, and for some reason, unbeknownst to me, the fridge – the sleek new brushed-aluminum façade apartment fridge – was covered with stickers. Why in the hell would someone put stickers all over a fridge? Especially when the stickered fridge does not even belong to her? I am not sure what this nitwit was thinking. “Oh, I am sure he would love to have stickers all over his sleek brushed aluminum refrigerator! They will really jazz it up!” Is that what she was thinking? What an idiot!
I am still scrubbing the front of the cabinets trying to remove the grease stains. Not even bleach is working.
Speaking of cabinets - and this is just weird - dripped down the front of the bathroom cabinet, I noticed what appeared to be dried blood. Should I be scared? Did she kill chickens in my bathroom? Was my apartment made into some sort of devil den? Maybe the apartment had become some sort of haven to a coven, some sort of dark arts to the sacred dumpling. Mao and Sir Brian Jones playing pan flutes and ukuleles in the other dimension while the chicken killer reenacts the Lisa Bonet chicken blood scene in Angelheart. Maybe this is what was happening while I was laughing it up Stateside.
The last bizarre and questionable detail that the bathroom chicken killer left me was a broken peephole. Yes, a broken peephole! How does someone go about breaking the peephole in the front door? At this time, I will be entertaining queries into the matter.
Nevertheless, after scrubbing the place on and off for the last week or two, I finally returned it to its former luxurious glory.
Of course, there are times now when I just have to pause and wonder and ask myself - What sort of chicken killing urine rituals had taken place in my bathroom anyway?