“Living in LA is expensive.”
I looked up at the gray-haired man sitting across the desk from me, where he watched as I signed my name to the $3,000 check I had just written.
I handed him the check and, as he processed my apartment application, I let my eyes wander the room. Apartment manager’s offices are funny little rooms, and Gary’s was no exception. To my right, three stairs led to what used to be a doorway. The wall, now bricked in and coated with a worn pea green, blocked access to the courtyard of what is now my apartment building. The steps, now defunct, held the results of his latest trip to the hardware store: three boxes of light bulbs, seven packages of off-white mini blinds, a screwdriver, a hammer. A handful of nails lay scattered about the steps.
The rest of the office read less like an office and more like the contents of a filing cabinet. Several filing cabinets, to be accurate. You could tell that at some point in the very distant past, stacks—columns—of files had been created. What purpose this served never crossed my mind—a lamp stood on one, offering light to the desk when the sun had gone down for the day. Columns in the back of the room supported items of less clarified roles, such as a tape player from the 90s, an empty cigarette carton, and a pen collection that lay in want of a traditional pen holder. It was a veritable smorgasbord of practicality if you ask me (though no one has).
“OK, let me just make a call,” Gary said. I brought my attention back to him and the task at hand. I nodded in agreement, though I suppose that had I shook my head in discord, he would have dialed the leasing company anyway.
“Oh OK, we’ll wait,” I heard Gary say into the phone. He held the phone a few inches from his ear as he said this. An associate at the leasing company was yelling at him, yelling words that I, and likely my parents who were sitting in their truck outside, could make out perfectly. Sean—also known as Wash—was momentarily unavailable. Sure. We’ll wait. And as long as no one else asks for a $3,000 check for immediate deposit, my bank account will wait as well.
Gary switched the phone to speaker and laid the handset back on its dock. He rolled his swivel chair closer to my side of his desk. Leaning back in his chair and crossing his arms, Gary looked at me over the rims of his wire frames. He’s Armenian, with olive skin and calloused hands that speak of having previously lived a hard life, but one with a payoff that is well worth those difficulties. He’s the father of two, a teenage son and baby daughter; and the husband of one, a high school math teacher. Gary gushes over his family, and was eager to tell us of his recent trip to Armenia, where he baptized his daughter into the Christian faith. He’s an honest, decent man who drinks his afternoon coffee out of fine China, walks his son to school, and wears ratty socks with his sandals.
“Living in LA is expensive,” Gary repeated.
“Yes, yes it is.” I wasn’t quite sure what he was hoping I’d say here. I had no real idea yet, as the limited time I’d previously spent in the city told me only of rental car prices at Enterprise, not grocery budgets and electricity bills.
Gary continued without acknowledging that I had said anything at all. “I mean, take yesterday, for example. Work hard, then dine with friends. We go to Hooters. Laughs, wings, get the bill. Fifty dollars! Oy.”
My eyes widened in surprise. Gary presented himself far differently than a man who spends $50 at a Hooters on random Wednesday night. How bachelor. How bizarre. How American.
Fortunately, he assumed mine was a reaction to his $50 tab, not his restaurant of choice.
“Exactly! It adds up. All adds up.” He rolled his eyes and gestured to the side, as though pushing the thought away from himself and his belly full of hot and spicy chicken.
I offered my condolences: “You’re right, Gary, it’s a shame it costs so much to live the American dream.”
He closed his eyes and nodded in agreement, letting the heat from his quick rant dissipate in our silence.
“Hello? Hello?” A voice came over the speaker on the phone.
Gary jumped in his seat and swiveled back to the phone.
“Yes! Wash! Are you there? It’s me, it’s Gary. Listen, I have a girl who needs to move in immediately—”
“—yes, well, no, well, listen to me Wash, just listen. I’m sending her to your office right now. Approve her, sign the lease, and send her back with my copies. Right now.”
He slammed the phone down and turned back to me, offering a meager smile before feeling a rush to send me to the leasing office, where Wash approved my lease application immediately, just as Gary demanded, and rescued me from living in a hotel or being forced to ride back to Colorado with my parents.
I think I’ll buy Gary some new socks for Christmas.