I don’t remember meeting Leslie. I’ve lived in “senior housing”—HUD-subsidized housing for people who are poor, disabled and/or old—for twenty-two years and the main thing it’s taught me is to not have anything to do with my neighbors. I calculate that I’ve been restricted to living with about seven hundred poor, old, sick people for about a quarter of a century.
Look at your life. Think about it. Think about the neighbors you’ve had and the role they’ve played in your life. Think about the friends you’ve made and things you’ve done together since 1991, which is when I went into HUD and lost all contact with your reality.
My reality is people who are too sick to take care of themselves, too poor to buy coffee, and too old to know how to use the Internet. Day after day, week after week, year after year. These are my neighbors. The nearest I came to having a friend here where I now live was Sharon, who had a master’s degree and came close to having some brains. However, her major concern was appearances, which led her to lie when applying for Food Stamps. Our final falling out came when I pointed out that she was cheating at Scrabble; she couldn’t tolerate the appearance of being a loser.
The closest I came to having a friend at the last property where I lived was Jill. She was smart enough to carry on a conversation with me but she was a Jehovah’s Witness, and judgmental. She stabbed me in the back, I had two beers and said something really, really bad to her, and she never accepted my apology. She was a recovering alcoholic but apparently had missed the step where you extend to others the same forgiveness you’ve asked for yourself.
At my previous property, the closest thing I had to a friend was the manager.
You drive past these big buildings—HUD high-rise apartment buildings—and don’t even notice them. The one I live in is eight stories tall and has 176 apartments and when I give directions to it to people who live in the area, they don’t know what I’m talking about. At best, they say, “I’ve always wondered what that building is.” It is a place where lots of poor, old, sick people live, and you have nothing to do with us, so you don’t know this is our home. We do not exist in your world.
They tell me that Leslie talked to me about something when we were in the elevator together—I do not consider elevator conversations to be memorable—then, when she later spoke to me in the hallway, I went past her without stopping and Leslie’s had it in for me ever since. That’s what I am told; I don’t remember it. She was just one more needy person who wanted something from me that I didn’t have to give on account of my needs not being met either.
Leslie was a big woman, not at all attractive but always very carefully made up and dressed very nicely. Later, a man whose feelings she’d hurt told me that Leslie was a cross-dressing man. Guys always notice these things before women do. I don’t have a problem with cross-dressers; it’s just that it’s a little disconcerting to find out that appearances are not consistent with reality.
Leslie has specialized in hurting people’s feelings. Her particular forte consists of telling disabled people that they are not disabled—the fellow who is legally blind due to diabetes, she loudly announces is not blind at all, just scamming people. The woman who walks fifty feet without the wheelchair which three doctors said she needs, Leslie—again loudly—accuses of not being disabled but being lazy. Leslie denies our reality just as she denies her own.
I met with her for half an hour earlier this week and tried—really tried—to listen and understand her. I tried to see the world through Leslie’s eyes; tried to understand why she is so mean. I couldn’t get a handle on it. I don’t understand people who gratuitously go around hurting others. Leslie moved in here about six months ago and ingratiated herself with the president of the tenants association. The president, a kind woman, supported Leslie in becoming the vice president. As soon as Leslie became vice president she started accusing the president of stealing, abuse of power and all sorts of wrong stuff. None of it was true but Leslie’s harassment was so intense that the president finally quit because she couldn’t sleep at night.
Leslie took over the tenants association and started with “I”—“I want this, I want that.” That’s when she came up on my radar. In the Old Testament, it says that God gave power to the kings so they could serve the people. Abuse of power is probably my number one issue, so I started paying attention to Leslie. It was hard not to. All everybody in the building was talking about was Leslie. Any time three or more people sat together, the conversation turned to Leslie—her ugly harassment of nice people and her manipulation of the miserable people who supported her.
In my twenty-two years of living with about seven hundred old, poor, sick people, I have never seen anyone cause as much trouble as Leslie. Chaos and disorder have reigned since Leslie came here, and I want her out. I want my neighborhood to return to its pre-Leslie stress level. The manager wants that, too. The way it works in HUD is that if you get three lease violations then the manager can evict you. Leslie’s had more like thirty-three violations, ranging from smoking in a non-smoking building to attacking people based on their disabilities to not paying her rent.
After last month’s tenant’s association meeting, the police were called by the treasurer because Leslie threw some books and papers and hit her in the chest. After this month’s tenants association meeting, Leslie called the cops on me. She wanted me charged with causing a disturbance and threatening her and she wanted a copy of the police report. The nice young policeman said there would be no report because no crime had been committed. As he exited the building, I advised him to live his life now in such a way that he would never end up in a place like this.
The problem is that the manager’s boss, the area supervisor, won’t approve eviction proceedings against Leslie. He doesn’t live here. In fact, he does his best to avoid knowing what’s going on here. The manager, who is an extraordinarily intelligent and compassionate person, was having a town hall meeting of the tenants. I asked the area supervisor to attend. He said, “Only if I can sit in the very, very back.” In fact, the hour that the manager was meeting with the tenants to try to put out some of the fires that Leslie started, the area supervisor was hiding in her office. What kind of coward would do that?