Austin (Grey) Gardens

May 18, 2017

We moved into Austin Garden Apartments at the suggestion of two friends who already lived there.  “It’s cheap,” they said, quickly adding the local mantra: “Well, it’s cheap for Austin.”

It was a small, cluster of buildings set behind a steel fence, like a mansion in an old movie where some long-forgotten actress watched silent films in her living room and held funerals for pet chimpanzees in the backyard. There was a cracked swimming pool scuzzy at the edges with algae and the dumpsters were fortified by stained mattresses. On one side of the fence there was a mechanic/salvage yard and on the other a pawn shop with a handwritten sign out front reading “Cash for Guns!” Feral cats roamed free and at night you had to slow down as you drove through the parking lot or risk making a mess out of a waddling opossum.  The laundry facilities were cheap and always contained a stack of ragged romance and mystery novels for you to peruse while you waited for your underwear to dry.

It was perfect.

The lady who managed the place was a chipper fiftysomething-year-old with the requisite short permed hair and flowery frocks that covered her ample body. She fed all the feral cats, and when a new one arrived in the Austin Gardens domain, she coaxed it into a carrier, drove it to the vet, had it fixed, and then brought it home to live on the property. It was unknown whether the owners knew of her activities, but even if they had, it was doubtful that they would have questioned Sandy. She ran the facility with efficiency and aplomb, processing leases and maintenance requests so quickly you’d have thought she had a ten-person staff at her disposal. But no. It was just Sandy and her cats. Several months after we moved in, there was a big storm during the night, and the next day there was a chicken wandering around the facility. No one knew where it come from, but we figured it got blown out of someone’s backyard and into Austin Gardens. Instead of getting rid of it, Sandy bought some corn and put up a chicken-crossing sign in the parking lot. We named her Drumstick. The cats were fine with it. Everything was great.

And then it happened.

One day we received a note in our mailbox saying the property had been purchased by a new company. The mysterious writer of the note promised nothing would change. Everything was fine. Nothing to be concerned about.

The first thing to change was the name. You don’t want to get too judgmental in situations like this, but when you suddenly have to make your rent checks out to “Gold Standard Asset Management,” that’s usually a red flag. After that, it was the laundry room. Suddenly the romance novels were replaced by glossy copies of Forbes and Entrepreneur. They put up cutesy signs on the walls with stupid puns. “Laundry is LOADS of Fun!” The opossum disappeared. So did Drumstick. Another note showed up in our mailbox asking us to please not feed the stray cats and threatening a monetary penalty if we did so.

Sandy left soon after.

She was replaced by a series of pretty twentysomething-year-old women who dressed like lawyers in a bad movie and were constantly trying to get better cellphone reception. Maintenance requests were received first with confusion and then hostility. The front gate broke. The hot water was inexplicably shut off for days at a time. The pool was drained and a sign placed on the gate denying entry.

Meanwhile, the new staff spent its time putting balloons out front and repainting the office in some kind of postmodern sorority girl motif. After this, they decided it was only fair to increase the rent by thirty percent.

Most of the cats were chased off, but a stubborn black male named Jack remained. He had a crooked tail and there were ugly bald patches all over his body. His right ear had been chewed away, and he had a festering sore on his neck that was always oozing pus.

At night Jack stood outside of Sandy’s old office and yowled mournfully at the door. A door that now read “Welcome to Your New Home!”

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