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Herald Classic from 2002

The Old Man of Noe Valley

By James Dylan

(The names have been changed to protect the idiots.)

My new place in Noe Valley was a nice 2 bedroom on 24th Street, but right away I could tell there were going to be problems.


That was the name of the nut case who held the lease to the place.

He was an older guy, probably in his 60’s, a health food nut. He usually only ate beans and rice, no spices.

He was a real piece of work, let me tell you. He had lived in the apartment since 1969. He wrote articles about Mexican Art for various magazines, I guess. During the day he worked as an office clerk for a temp agency. As I was moving in he stood in the kitchen preparing his meal. As me and the guys helping me move were walking in and out, he just stood there in the kitchen with a look of great pain on his face, not moving. He was holding 2 Tupperware containers in his hands, and in the 30 minutes it took for me to move in, it seemed he never moved; he just stood there.

After the guys had gone and I was in my room starting to organize everything, he knocked on the door and came in, seemingly in shock. It was if he wanted to speak, but couldn't. His mouth was open, but he couldn't take his eyes off my stuff piled up in the room. Finally he managed to utter something; it was reminiscent of the scene in Apocalypse Now where Col. Kurtz is assassinated, and as he dies, you hear him utter...."so much stuff, much stuff..."

Finally he gathered himself together to say he didn't know I had so much stuff, and if he had he wouldn't have let me move in. I asked what that had to do with anything, as it was all going to be in my room anyway, but he couldn't accept it. It turns out he is a total anti-materialist, and he couldn't even live with someone who had "so much stuff". In my defense, I didn't have all that much, and it fit in my room nicely. I had a queen-sized mattress, a desk for my computer, my clothes, and several boxes of personal effects.
Finally I guess he accepted it.

He had a few quirks, which became apparent right away. He wanted to "show" me how to open, close and lock the doors. I said I knew how to open, close and lock a wide variety of doors, but he seemed to think the doors in his place were "special, one-of-a-kind doors" or something. He insisted he show me.

So I went downstairs to the main door and he showed me how to open it, and close it, and lock it too.

Then he asked me to do it, as if this was a test or something. So I did it. Then he wanted me to do it again to make sure I had it down pat. Then he showed me how to do the upstairs bathroom door, too, in case there was some part of the doorknob that might have thrown me off. Satisfied that I knew how to operate the various doorknobs and door handles in the apartment, he relaxed.

Frank had one room where he kept a small, cheap, wooden desk. He had a really old early 80’s computer on it on which he typed his articles. It had a 5-inch floppy drive. Besides that he had 2 old splintered planks on cinderblocks for a shelf on which he kept several old books, and an old foam mattress in the corner on which he napped. The floor in this room was linoleum tile that was so old and sun-baked that he kept the pieces in place with UHU glue. They would shatter under your feet. The floor was in this condition because of his curtains. Or shall I say what was left of his curtains. His curtains were so old and sun weathered, they were literally as fragile as a spider web. If you grabbed them as if to open them, they would fall apart in your hands. He warned me right away about not touching them.

He had another room that had nothing in it but another foam mattress, where he slept at night. The floor and curtains here were in the same state of decay. The third room is where he kept his papers, files and clothing. He wore clothes that he bought decades ago -- red flannel shirts, etc. Just old, old, old clothes.

One day he knocked on my door with a pair of old ‘60s pants hung over his forearm. I asked him what was up and he showed me the old pants, they were full of holes; they were almost in the same condition as his curtains. Except that the pants had been mostly eaten by months. He was totally lost and confused; he had no idea what had happened. I guess he had never heard of moths. I tried to keep from laughing as he said he was going to take them to a tailor to see if they could be repaired.

Much like Claudia from Hayes Valley, this guy would constantly come to my room and knock on my door, always with a question or a problem. Now that I look back on it, he needed a friend or a companion or something. He would knock on my door and ask in a nasal droning voice, "Jaaaaames?" He would ask me about computers, what does he need?, should he upgrade?, what about the internet?, how much should he spend, etc., etc., etc. And after I told him all I knew, he would come back the next night and ask the same thing.

When I moved in he made sure that I understood he wanted peace and quiet, not to be bothered, etc. Which is what I wanted too. But this guy would NOT leave me alone! I totally tried to arrange my life around his so as to have minimum interaction, but he would seek me out. I would take a shower and 2 minutes into it he would be knocking on the bathroom door: "Jaaaaames. I need to use the bathroom!"

I would be in the kitchen when I knew he wouldn't be in there and lo and behold he feels the need to cook earlier than usual, and then make a big scene about me being there.

I won't even mention when Holly came over to spend the night. Wait, yes I will. She walked in the door the first time and he was sitting in his old chair, and I introduced them. He was all nervous, looking at me and her and back at me. I took her to my room and we talked a bit, and here he comes knocking on the door: "Jaaaaames, can you keep it down a bit, I’m trying to work.”

So we would whisper. Anyway, she spent the night, and around 2 am she gets up to go to the bathroom. I also wake up. I hear her go into the bathroom and shut the door - about 20 seconds later, here comes Frank! I hear him knocking on the bathroom door, "Hello? I need to use the bathroom!"

Just for the record, as long as I had been there, he had NEVER gotten up at 2 am to go to the bathroom, he probably didn't even go to sleep he was so worried about me having a girl in the apartment. He probably lay there awake waiting for an opportunity to do something. Man, this guy was a real nut job, believe me. Finally, Holly got so tired of having to whisper and not make any noise at my place, she quit coming over.

Thanks a lot, Frank.

One time I got upset because he borrowed some soda of mine from the refrigerator. Borrowing my food is no big deal if the person replaces it within a reasonable amount of time, but he had borrowed A&W Root beer, my favorite drink, and replaced it with some cheap generic crap like "Chocolate Shasta".

I was polite about it and asked that in the future he replace my food with the same product, but he made a big scene, as if it was all the same. I said, "Well, first of all I paid about $3 for that 6-pack of A&W, and that crap you bought goes for about .20 cents a can." Of course, we had a big discussion about it, but he said he would abide by my wishes in the future. I think the guy was just plain cheap.

Until I moved in, he hadn't done anything to his apartment since he moved in 30 years ago, or so I felt it was pretty obvious. There were many things about him that were just plain sick. When I went into the kitchen and opened the refrigerator for the first time, I felt my hand stick to the door. I saw that it was coated with food. Simply, he would use his hands to mix and prepare food, then, without wiping them, he would open the fridge. The gunk on the door handle was very old; I guess it had been building up for years. Disgusted, I pulled out the steel wool and cleaned up it. When he saw what I was doing, he seemed shocked. I told him what I was doing, and he was like "why?"

This guy also had a thing for "noise", if you could call it that. I would be talking on my phone and he would come and ask me to keep it down, as if I was talking so loud. About 30 feet and a large bathroom separated his room and mine, but he claimed he could hear me. So I would whisper. Here he came again. This time I got in bed, under my comforter, with a pillow over my head, and I think that helped him. I could hear the floor outside my door creaking, so I knew he was out there, probably with his ear up against the door. Of course, I listened to my stereo or television with headphones.

He was also VERY paranoid about the apartment. He was afraid to do anything that would alter its appearance, even being afraid of putting a small nail in the wall. Once I bought a plant and hung it from a beam in my ceiling, which had a small hook screwed into it. Boy, he freaked out. I told him I didn't put the screw there, it was already there, but he had never seen it, so of course I was "destroying" his apartment.

He was afraid that when he moved out the landlord would sue him or something for "damage" done to the apartment. I told him that after he died or left, the landlord would probably have to do major renovations anyway, as the place was so run down. Hell, the floor tiles were all unglued and cracked, the place hadn't been painted in decades, his kitchen looked like something from a Soviet farmhouse circa 1935 (one small lamp on an old, shaky table). The paint in the kitchen was originally white but was now puke yellow from years of neglect. And this guy was worried about damaging the apartment?

In his obsession to keep the place like it was when he moved in, it had basically taken over his life. He could have had so many nice things - pictures, carpeting, etc. I feel he could have enjoyed life much more if he had only relaxed a little. I had never seen a more nervous, uptight, controlling, lonely and obsessive guy in my life.

The one time I mentioned women and girlfriends, he flipped out! He started ranting about how they would "screw you over!" and how you can't trust them, etc. So I guess we all know what happened. I had never, in my entire life, come to hate any one single person more than Frank. I had also never come closer to actually strangling anybody than I did him.

One day coming home I met the guy who lived in the apartment above - a nice gay guy named Pedro. He was very friendly, and I couldn't believe some of the stories he told me about the guy. He said he had trouble keeping roommates in the place, because Frank was always banging on the ceiling with his broom. I had noticed many holes in the ceiling in his workroom, and wondered what they were. Pedro said at one time he had a roommate in the apartment that was dying of AIDS; he had come home from the hospital to die in his own room. He used some kind of medical device, which was hooked up to him electronically, and it made a soft "beep" every couple of seconds. Maybe it was a pulse monitor. Pedro said this thing drove Frank nuts - as he was continually beating the ceiling with his broom. Frank knew the guy upstairs was dying, that the poor soul didn't have but a few weeks left to live, but he was such an asshole that he even called the police a couple of times to report the guy. Frank had a reputation with the cops of course, and sometimes they wouldn't even respond to his complaints. In the end the guy upstairs went back to the hospital to die in peace.

It was from Pedro that I found out that Frank was the joke of the neighborhood and that there was an actual "pool" among them to see how long I would stay before moving out or killing him.

One time Frank knocked on my door. I opened it, and he just stood there with a lost gaze. I asked him what was up, and he came in, not saying a word, kind of pointing to the wall. I was used to this type of weird behavior by now, so I just sat back to watch the wacko and be entertained. "Do you hear it?" he asked me.

"Hear what?"

"That noise!"

"What noise?"

He walked over to the far wall that was next to the neighbor’s apartment and put his ear up against it.

"I can't believe you can't hear it! Put your ear up against the wall!"

I went along with it to amuse myself.

"Do you hear it!?”

"Yes, now that I have my ear up against the wall, I can hear our neighbor’s television."

"Do you think I should call the cops? I’m gonna’ call them!”

"Well, actually, I can't hear it unless my ear is against the wall. It doesn't bother me at all. Are you out of your mind?"

"What? How can that not bother you? I think I should call the cops!"

"I don't hear anything. The cops aren't going to do anything, you’ll just piss them off."

"Well, if you want me too, I will! Call them, I mean!"

So was life with Frank. He was a despicable old busybody, just looking for opportunities to bother people. He told me that in the past, he had actually walked downstairs, gone around the corner to the other side of the building, and sought out the young couple that rented the apartment next to his, so he would know where to send the cops.

Pedro and Frank were the greatest of enemies, and anything Pedro could do to bother Frank, he did. The landlord was so sick of Frank’s non-stop phone calls, he actually contacted me to kind of "spy" for him so he could get rid of the guy.
By this time I was so sick of him myself, I was willing to risk eviction myself just to see him get evicted.

I think I have mentally blocked out most of what this freak of humanity did to me in the nine months I "lived" there. I put quotation marks there because I would hardly call it "living"; it was more like surviving, or even "enduring". He always made a point of not "wanting a hassle", so I tried, I really tried. All I did was go to school during the day and work my part-time job as a security guard in the evening.

I had the opportunity to move back in with Holly, but Frank had made arrangements to go to Mexico for 6 weeks, and I promised him I would stay until he came back. Despite all that this guy put me through, I wanted to honor my verbal agreement. The main point of irritation was that he just could NOT leave me alone!

All I wanted to do was pay him his damn rent, go to my room, and be left alone.

Usually about 4 times in the evening he would come and tap on my door, with the most stupid and mundane questions, or just to talk. I would interrupt him and say I didn't have time, but he would always come back. If I didn't answer the door he would just stand there and knock until I did. There was no lock on the door. He also had this weird habit of me not keeping any food in my room. Now being a landlord myself, I can understand what he was getting at as I also tell my roommates that I don't want them to keep dirty dishes, open bags of chips, etc., in their rooms, as I feel it increases the chances for getting roaches. Just for the record, we didn't have any roaches there.

But Frank wasn't satisfied with just dirty dishes. He wanted EVERYTHING kept in the cupboard in the kitchen. Even unopened cans of soup, an unopened can of Pepsi - even a Snickers bar. He felt that if a pest could eat it, it needed to be in the kitchen. I guess he thought that roaches carried can openers. One night he knocked on my door, and when I opened it, he opened his mouth as if to speak and gave my room the quick "once-over" as he always did, but stopped in mid-utter.

"Jaaaaames, I thought I told you I didn't want you to keep food in your room."

I looked behind me, scanning the room for "food", but all I could see was an apple I had on my desk, which I was about to snack on.

"What, you mean the apple? I am just about to eat it."

"But it is in your room!"

"Yes, that’s very observant of you. It is in my room, but you didn't say I couldn't ‘eat’ in my room; you said I couldn't ‘keep’ food in my room. I just brought it in from the kitchen. Also, to the best of my knowledge, I don't think roaches go after apples."

"Oh, yes they do! Roaches will eat anything!"

(I can’t imagine a cockroach eating a Granny Smith Apple…)

The whole time he kept looking nervous and broke out in a sweat, staring past me at the apple, as if it was following him down a dark alley. "Well, I just brought it in, and am presently going to eat it, and I will be sure to throw the core in the trash can in the kitchen, okay?"

He stammered a little bit, sweating, looking ready to break down into a nervous wreck. He looked like he was at the $1,000,000 question on "Who wants to be a Millionaire?" and didn't know whether to take the money or go for the big question.

"But… but… well, as long as you are not keeping food in your room!"

"I’m not."

He stood there for a few more minutes, with his finger in the air, and acted as if he didn't know what to do. Finally he left, giving me one last nervous look. I think he just wanted me to keep it in the kitchen so he could "see" what I had.

I guess it was because of all the weird food he ate, but Frank had a chronic case of gas. And he didn't try to hide it.

He would be standing in the kitchen, cooking something, and just shake his right leg a little and let out a huge, wet one. He would be talking to me about something and do the same thing - he would just go right on talking with the stink enveloping him, acting as if he had just coughed or something. I would back away. He would follow me. He always stood in the door to the room, so I couldn't get out. He also warned me that he had something wrong with his "bowels", that they were loose or something. I would be in the bathroom shaving or taking a shower or something and I would hear him come running down the hall "Jaaaaaames, I have to use the bathroom!" I would open the door to find him standing there biting his lip, his hands on his ass holding his butt-cheeks together, so he wouldn't explode. The funny thing is, he only seemed to need to go to the bathroom when I happened to be in there. Sometimes I felt he did it all for attention. I remember one time I was at home lying in bed, and I heard him come in and knock on my door. Sighing with frustration, I opened the door. He was standing there, looking at me, then at the room, then at the room again, his eyes scanning all over. Then he said:

"What is wrong?"

"I dunno', what IS wrong?"

"Isn't there something wrong?"

"No, why do you think something is wrong?"

"Well, when I was walking home I saw your window was open, and I saw a police car parked in the street outside the house!"

I looked out the window and saw a police car, parked in a space; its lights off and no cop in sight. Frank stood there wringing his hands.

"Are you seriously nuts? I mean really nuts? You come and bother me at 11 o'clock for something stupid like this? You see my window slightly open, which it usually is, and you see a cop car parked on the street (the cops are probably at Starbucks) and you freak out? You seriously need help, man."

Then I shut the door.

In the weeks before he left for Mexico, Frank decided he wanted to rent his room out while he was gone. I posted an ad for it on Craigslist, and interviewed several people. Most people, upon seeing the place, immediately withdrew their application, but one young hippie chick really needed a place, so she was pretty much the only one left standing. After she left the interview, Frank came to my room and asked me what I thought of her. She seemed like a nice girl, friendly and all that, so I said, "She’s okay by me!" thinking this would be a sufficient answer. I found out Frank doesn't like "Yes" or "No" answers. He liked degrees. He needed to know exactly how I felt, on a scale of 1 to 1000. So he said,

"What do you mean?"

"What do you mean, ‘What do you mean?’ I said she is ‘Okay by me’. I can live with her for 6 weeks. She seems nice and friendly."

"But it seems like you are hesitant or that you don't like her. What are you not saying?"

"I’m not ‘not saying’ anything! I don't know her well enough to say I ‘like’ her or to get all enthusiastic about her, I only met her 2 times, and she seemed nice, so it is ‘okay with me’ if you decide to give her the room."

"But you are the one who has to live with her for 6 weeks, and if you don't like her we should find someone else!"

"Dude, are you listening to me? I said she is okay and I have no problem living with her for 6 weeks."

"I know, but you said she is ‘okay with you’, but you don't seem very excited about it."

"Well, Frank, to be honest, she is fat and has a mustache, so I am not attracted to her. But she is nice and friendly and I could live with her as a roommate. Therefore I am not enthusiastically jumping up and down. Does that help?"

"I don't understand, does this mean you don't like her?"

And on and on and on. We literally had dozens and dozens of conversations like this, where he couldn't just accept the answer I gave, he had to totally dissect it down into the smallest Freudian possibilities.

You can't imagine how many hours of my life I spent in futile, meaningless conversation with this guy.

I really feel any other person would have accepted "okay" by me and gave her the room and went to Mexico. In the end, just to get it over with so that I could go to bed, I gave him a gushing review of the girl.

Finally he accepted it and left for Mexico. *Sigh*

So followed 6 weeks of the most peaceful time of my life, I was alone in the apartment with Hippie Chick, whom I rarely saw anyway. My girlfriend still wouldn't come over, as she hated the old-man piss smell.

Oh yeah, I guess I should mention that at night, he always pissed in an old mason jar and poured it in the toilet in the morning. He would rinse out the jar and place it in the windowsill. Sometimes he forgot to empty the jar. The bathroom stunk so badly because he had carpeting in the bathroom, around the old bathtub and the toilet, and it was rotten. The water from the bathtub was rotting the carpet around it, and when he pissed, well, I guess he wasn't a good aim, because he pissed on the carpet around the toilet.

The paint on the walls and ceiling were peeling off in big pieces, but he never did anything about it. He was like Nero, just playing the violin while everything burned around him, ignoring it all. I guess it was my constantly getting on his case about it all, expressing disbelief that he lived like this, that he finally looked at his surroundings and agreed with me.

I did a lot for this guy, I went to Home Depot and sought out floor tiles for him (they didn't make his size any more, they had discontinued them about 30 years ago, that’s how old the tiles were). I patched all the holes in his ceiling, I patched up a big crack on the stairway, I stripped and painted the bathroom for him, I pulled up the rotten carpet in the bathroom for him, I went and got new blinds for his rooms, on and on and on. Of course, he had only negative stuff to say about it the whole time. He would come in crying that he found a small minuscule drop of paint of the floor. He complained that the patch on the wall wasn't good enough, he complained that the holes on the ceiling weren't patched well enough, on one big one he wanted "rounded, not flat", I have made it flat, blah, blah, blah; on and on and on; one stupid remark after another.

He was never happy with anything. He was an old, grumpy, inconsiderate bastard destined to rot away in loneliness, anger, and resentment.

Finally he returned and I left. I had vacuumed the hell of the apartment, totally cleaned everything up to better than it was when I moved in. I knew he would try something stupid, so I had Pedro upstairs come down and look at the place, and we even took pictures of the room and all the stuff he wanted "fixed" -- things like small nail holes, marks on the wall, etc. Stuff that was there when I moved in, but fixed because I just wanted to get the hell out of the place.

Finally, Frank said he would "inspect" the room and mail me my deposit.

One day several WEEKS later I got a check in the mail for about 1/10th of my deposit, with a letter stating that there was such damage to the apartment, that he should have kept my whole deposit, but he was being "nice".

I wrote him a letter stating I didn't care what it cost me, but that I would see him in court if he didn't send me the rest of my deposit. I guess the threat of him having to spend his precious money to defend himself in court scared him, so he coughed it up.

After all this, I can totally and seriously say that I considered professional therapy after moving out. I was so nervous and skittish and angry, I felt I was going to have a nervous breakdown. I got to the point where I was walking on pins, afraid to do anything to make any noise. Not because I cared if it bothered him, but because I wanted to avoid him, I have never loathed anything so much as I did him coming to my room: "Jaaaaaames""

I was not able to relax in my own room. I was not able to do any schoolwork. I was not able to have anyone over without having a big speech. I was surprised I was able to make it 9 months without killing him. Even now, more than 2 years after moving out, I still have nightmares about the experience. In my dreams I see a skeletal looking figure, his skin pulled taut over his bones, a few tufts of white hair trailing behind him. He smells like death, and has this annoying, whining voice: "Jaaaaaames,".. Jaaaames!"

So ended my time in Hell with Frank. I've always wondered who won the neighborhood pool.###


All contents © 2011 by Gene Mahoney