Before you embark on this impossible, Columbus-esque journey, know that failure is imminent and guaranteed. Stop being so naive. This is step one. Finding any sort of friendship between you and your landlord will be immediately decimated by a late rental payment. Or having friends over late. Or playing music too loud. Or playing music in general. Best to rip that band aid off now.
Stroll into the leasing office with your hopes up way too high. This is step two to achieving any great, unattainable goal. Not to mention it makes you look mouthwateringly gullible to the hungry eyes of a Landlord. The wet-behind-the-ears, young, careless renters are prey, for they will inevitably trash the place and never see their deposit again. But this time will be different. Tell yourself this over and over until you believe it. This is step three in the five-step plan. This time, you’ll do everything to make sure this landlord loves you. Your last landlord is history, so don’t talk about that. Pray she doesn’t call the last one for reference. Pray harder.
Hunch to shake her hand, because she’s four feet tall and three hundred and nine years old. It’s okay. Don’t panic. Stop fidgeting. Say “Nice to meet you,” but in a way that says “I’m a decent human being and not a complete animal.” She’ll wave you inside her lair, or, office, that smells exceedingly of a litter box and cigarettes. Her three brown-speckled tabbies will twist and weave between your legs, like Medusa’s snakes sizing up their host’s newest meal.
You’ve just interrupted her show, so she’s reluctant to have you, but it’s in her black landlord blood to give a potentially reckless boy the opportunity to move into a brand new, spick-and-span apartment. She can practically smell the unwashed fiberglass shower and crusted-over spaghetti stain on the carpet from there. You make small talk about your job and how safe the area is and about her great grandson in Seattle. Smile with gusto, but not too much gusto. That’s creepy. Just look interested. She smiles at your enthusiasm and hands you a pen to sign, and you walk out with a key.
Step four comes as you pass her gardening the apartment complex flower bed facing the street. She works tirelessly, weeding and pruning and planting at the crack of dawn. Wave, then make a mental note to compliment her choice of flower down the road.
Three weeks in, peel off the passive-aggressive note taped to your front door about your car leaking too much oil and how it’s ruining the parking lot. This isn’t a great start, but it just means you need to do some damage control. Walk over and apologize. This shows manners and that you care about her plight. Another note four days later will ask you to turn the music down. Apologize. Your friends can’t park there. Apologize. You’re washing too many clothes at once in the community laundry room, you’ll break everything. Apologize.
At this point, begin to reconsider your grand mission. This is step five, and you had a feeling this would happen. Stop kidding yourself. The landlord-tenant relationship is fragile, but certain. You don’t need them to like you, you just need them to not hate you. Despite this, you’ll make a last ditch effort in the hopes for a fresh start. Bake her cookies because everyone you ask says that will make her like you. You’re willing to try anything at this point, so why not? Wait for the most opportune time to drop off the cookies, because that’s a casual thing people do all the time. Nope, not weird at all.
Knock on her door and explain that you just happened to have made too many. She’ll brighten like the Sun and her eyes will crinkle. An ocean of hope will crash into you. This is it. You imagine cloudless mornings on your patio where the two of you sit, sipping coffee and chatting; sharing stories only the best of friends share. Now you’re on a tandem bicycle in the park. Her in front, you on back. She’ll laugh, which makes you laugh. It’s the kind of laugh only best friends would understand.
Your landlord will take the saran-wrapped plate of cookies. She’ll say things like “Are those for me?” and “Bless your heart,” and “Do you smell smoke?” Turn to watch gray, lazy clouds rolling out of your open window and remember the second batch of cookies you’d put in the oven. Set off the smoke alarm.
Tyler Martin Pursch is a Washingtonian poet and short story writer with work in The Conium Review, Jazz Cigarette Magazine and Meat for Tea Magazine. He thanks his daring friends for taking on this Bohemian journey, and hopes to give a voice to many yet-unknown artists. He is a scenic builder for the theatre and a member of the infamous, underground, Pacific Northwest writing group, The Post Script.