Sunday, January 22, 2012

And I still don't get it...

You would think, at this venerable age, nothing a person could do would surprise me, that by now I would have experienced enough that little in the human condition would give me pause.

So, when my phone went “ping” repeatedly this morning—at 5:30—you would think I would expect it to be my deadbeat tenant, messaging me that she had her most recent instalment on her arrears, right? Silly me, I thought it might be from a family member notifying us that someone was desperately ill or critically injured!

I do not understand people who become aggressive (or, in this case, passive-aggressive) when they are, by any measurable standard, clearly in the wrong. This woman is more than two months in arrears in both her electricity and her rent. We finally cut her electricity off for non-payment last month, an act that finally had the desired effect of her coming up with about a third of her debt to us in cash. As part of our agreement to turn her lights back on, she had to agree to pay us R1000 per week against her outstanding debt or see the power cut again.

The first week she tried to short us by R50. My husband refused to turn the power back on until the full R1000 (about $125USD) was paid. The second week she paid OK, but in the third week her rent was due and she whined to my husband she could not afford to pay the rent and the back payment so he let her slide and pay the rent only. Then she skipped a payment and ignored our reminder texts, so Hubby turned off her electricity. Three days later, I received a text at midnight that she had the money.

I do not understand her hostility. She signed a lease agreeing to pay rent and electricity and from the second month of her tenancy, it has been like pulling teeth to get money out of her. And she has come up with some of the most inventive lies I have ever heard to explain her tardiness with the rent. She deposited it via EFT to our bank account and the bank put it in the wrong account (yah, right); her ATM card wouldn’t work so she couldn’t draw cash; she has a new job and will get paid next week (we checked—payday was three weeks away). She promises money in a week, three days, tomorrow—all forgotten as soon as the door is closed or the phone put down.

So when she got two months in arrears and Hubby called her, she got hostile and nasty. And she took it out on the maid by being rude to her (and my maid is the sweetest, kindest lady you would ever care to meet) and the tenant who lives in the little studio flat at the other side of the property. But always nice as pie to my face or my husband’s face…just rude and hostile over the phone or to people who have nothing to do with her little drama.

Finally Hubby cut off her electricity. Of course, we sent her a message (in writing—hard copy) that this was going to happen, when it was going to happen, what she could do to prevent it, what she had to do to get it turned back on. She ignored us. He turned off the power. I don’t know what she thought would happen—maybe my good-natured Hubby would relent and restore her power without any action on her part?—but she lasted just short of a week with no lights, hot water, kitchen stove or power for her refrigerator. She brought money and she agreed to pay R1000 per week towards her arrears—and she can’t seem to manage that.

My husband says he doesn’t think she is malicious, just unable to appropriately prioritize and right up to 5:30 this morning, I agreed with him. She told the maid a couple of weeks ago that she spent R2000 for an elective surgery for her cat—this was the same week she cried poverty to my husband and said she couldn’t afford both her rent and the arrears payment. On Monday of this week, she told the gardener that she was moving to a “big house” in our area, which just happens to be one of the most expensive places to live in all of sub-Saharan Africa. “If she can’t afford to pay her rent here,” my maid asked, “how can she afford a big house in Sandton?” Good question, isn’t it?

But the thing that gets me is the hostility and passive-aggressiveness. We’ve been through this before, some years ago, with a tenant in Cape Town. This woman stopped paying her rent, claiming tough times in her business and lack of funds, but the truth was, her lease was about up and instead of paying her rent for her last two months, she used her rent money to pay for the deposit and first month’s rent on a very high-end house in the posh district of the up-market suburb we were living in. For months afterward she insulted us and our lawyers, and indignantly claimed we were accusing her of being a liar when she really, really was broke and just couldn’t pay up. On move-out she did R7000 worth of damage (50% more than her deposit covered) and accused us of “padding” the damages—she offered to have a carpet cleaned (offering about 10% of what a cleaner would charge) when the problem with the carpet was not soil but a hole nearly half a meter in diameter where the carpet had rotted from moisture. She had had a large potted plant sitting in that spot and had allowed the thing to drain into the carpet!

She damaged the walls and although it was a no-smoking flat, nicotine literally dripped from the ceiling light fixtures when we took possession of the flat. Cracks in the walls so bad they required replastering, stains on the paint from thrown or spilled coffee or cola, paint ripped away from the walls, cigarette burns in the wood bathroom cabinetry…and the whole garden dead from lack of water, despite the presence of an irrigation system that took but one turn of a handle to operate. She did so much damage that it took more than a month to set right and not only did she claim she was leaving it the same condition as she got it (she was the very first tenant and the place had been completely renovated just before she moved in), she was the very picture of righteous indignation at our demands that she pony up and pay for the damage she caused.

And she was not without funds. We sued her and she cried “poverty! poverty!” right up to the day the court issued an order to seize her pretty little lavender BMW and sell it to satisfy the debt. Suddenly, large sums of money began appearing in our attorney’s trust account, and within 10 days the debt, which had grown by 50% with the inclusion of legal fees, was satisfied. She had had the means to pay us all along, but not only refused to pay, acted as if there was something wrong with us for not believing her patently false cries of poverty.

I don’t get this. Oh, I clearly understand being short on funds…I was poor for a good portion of my life. But what I don’t understand is getting yourself in an arrears situation when it is not necessary—and then becoming hostile to the people to whom you owe money. When you are in the wrong, isn’t it obvious that you make your situation even worse by becoming hostile (either actively or passively) to the people you have wronged? I have had situations in which I was unable to pay bills—I didn’t handle it by becoming hostile to my creditors!

The good news is, my deadbeat tenant is moving out at the end of the month and new tenants—people with a squeaky clean credit history—are moving in and at a higher rent that the deadbeat was supposed to be paying. The bad news is, we are certain that the deadbeat, as soon as she is gone and we have no leverage (like turning off her electricity) to force the money out of her, will completely forget the debt, expecting us to do the same. I don’t know how she sleeps at night.

Tuesday, January 03, 2012

Happy New Year!

 Our calendars have all come to an end and have been chucked out, replaced with bright, new, unsullied calendars for the next cycle of days. All over the world, obsolete Gregorian calendars (the common calendar in use today) lay discarded and largely forgotten, new ones having taken their place on desks and walls everywhere. A year from now they, too, will be nothing but relics, a chart of time gone by, never to be revisited.

But because the calculators and issuers of Gregorian calendars continue to practice their trade, we have new calendars for the next year. Some include phases of the moon and the ebb and flood of the tides, even holidays important to the location of issuance…but they all have two things in common: they are a chart of days for the next 365 days, and on that 365th day they come to an end.

This has been going on for centuries—in fact, depending on where you live in the world, the Gregorian calendar has been the official time-keeping chart for anywhere from the 14th century to the 20th (Britain and her colonies adopted the calendar in the mid eighteenth century, changing from the astronomically inaccurate Julian calendar and shaving about 11 days off the calendar—the dates between 2 and 14 September, 1752, did not exist!)1

Calendars, then, are the inventions of men, a means of keeping track of the flow of day, both before and after the day we presently inhabit. They are based on time as measured by our planet’s rotations around the sun (years) and divided into relatively equal portions based on our planet’s axial rotations (days). Depending on how sophisticated our ability to read the heavens and calculate our solar and planetary revolutions, our calendars can be both crude and sophisticated, but all contain varying degrees of inaccuracy. Our own Gregorian calendar is inaccurate to the approximate tune of 6 hours per year or 24 hours in a four-year period. It is corrected by the simple expedient of adding a day (29 February) every four years.

Through the use of calendars man can appear to manipulate time by adding days (like Leap Year) or deleting days (like the Julian to Gregorian shift). You don’t really think an “extra” day comes into existence every four years do you? Or that those days in September 1752 actually disappeared? Well, they didn’t—we simply adjusted the way we are keeping track of time by adding or deleting days from our calendars in order for our calendars to stay relatively astronomically accurate. The cosmos keeps on functioning as it always has, regardless of how we choose to keep a record of it.

So, calendars are man-made and adjustable in order to keep them relatively accurate with respect to our annual circuits around the sun (each of which takes about 365.25 days according to the way we measure days). They also give us information about events that take place at given times, but these events are often dependent on location. Holidays, for example, are not universal: Thanksgiving in the US and Canada fall on different dates—even different months—and in the UK and Europe (and most of the rest of the world), Thanksgiving is not celebrated at all. The moon creates the tides and with knowledge of the moon’s phases and its rotations and around the earth, the rise and fall of the tides can be predicted.

We choose to measure time in the form years, broken down one year at a time into days and those subparts of days, hours, minutes, and seconds. We choose to number our years beginning at the time of the birth of a Middle Eastern teacher (something implemented by the Catholic Church centuries ago). And while there are other calendars that predate the Gregorian by millennia (Jewish, Chinese, Hindu, etc), they each end after a period of days and months, only to begin again with a new year, a new calendar, calculated and created by people who know how their calendar is formulated and distributed to those who follow it.

The end of one of these calendars is not perceived as cause for alarm. Nobody thinks that December 31 is the harbinger of doom because everybody knows that when December 31 comes to a close and the clock clicks over to 12:01 am, the world will not end, it will just become a new day—the first in the next new year. Why, then, do so many people take the end of the Mayan calendar later this year as the date which we will all cease to exist and the planet will disintegrate from beneath our feet?

The Mayan calendar, instead of covering a one year period of time, encompasses a 5000 year period And, between the passage of time and the virtual obliteration of the Mayan priesthood by the Conquistadors, it’s pretty safe to say that the guys who created the Mayan calendar are long dead and didn’t have much of a chance to train up some apprentices to take over the job. Would we be so convinced that the world was about to end if it was the Gregorian calendar came up to its last day and nobody around knew how to create a new one? Do we think that time has stopped when our watches stop functioning? My computer’s clock suddenly went crazy a few weeks ago when we had a lightning strike in the back yard—it kept counting the same couple of hours over and over again, never changing the date, never going later than 7 pm or earlier than 5: should I have taken this as a sign that we were repeating the same two hours of the same day ad infinitum, a la Groundhog Day?

Perhaps those who have convinced themselves that December 21, 2012 is the end of the world rather than just the end of a calendar that, sadly, cannot have a sequel as the technology for creating the next 5000 year instalment has been lost in the mists of time, could apply a little critical thinking as noted in the paragraph above. The calendar, after all, is merely a tool created by man, a tool infinitely adjustable, endlessly renewable, which ends at the time its cycle comes to an end. It is the calendar that is ending, not the cosmos or the world.