Thursday, September 2, 2010

being inspected by the city of Los Angeles, and losing a friend...

About a month ago, I got a call from a fellow clutter expert and friend. He had gotten a job in Sherman Oaks that was turning out to be too much for him. When I arrived, I found three people in near hysterics. The woman who was in charge, the place was her sister's, who had died a couple months ago; she and her husband had flown in from Chicago for a week to take care of the place and empty it out. But this dead woman, Bonnie, lived in a three bedroom, five story condo in Sherman Oaks, and, while certainly not on the level of a hoarders episode, a well lived in home. But the kicker was her two car garage, which was FULL of brand new merchandise.

It turns out, Bonnie sold things at flea markets for a living, and her garage was full of brand new, in the package merchandise. Her sister was there, with her husband, and my friend Paul. They were just standing amongst piles and piles of STUFF, wandering around and occasionally throwing things into bags, mostly stuff they felt should go to goodwill.

The main crunch of the situation, was that the sister (Teri) and her husband were only in LA for a week, and there was an open house scheduled for the upcoming weekend. So they were all a little tense to begin with, but faced with a house full of stuff and a two car garage full of merchandise, they were on the verge of a meltdown.

Just the perfect situation for me to swoop in and save the day. Fear not, Rocket Man LA to the rescue!

It was quickly apparent that the majority of the goods and nearly all of the merchandise was inherently saleable. So they quickly agreed that I would take the saleable merchandise and sell it (sharing the profits). So I started packing it all in my truck. Garbage bags were the easiest and cheapest mode of transport. Everything went into double lined garbage bags and into the back of my truck.

She also had two walk in closets full of very nice clothes. VERY nice clothes. I called my friend who has a resale boutique in Studio City (nearby). She arrived and quickly realized that the majority of Bonnie's clothes were both quality and clean. So we filled up both my truck and hers with the clothes she thought she could sell in her shop. The rest went into the ubiquitous garbage bags to go to my house for organization and sorting.

As any one who has visited (or seen pictures) of my house knows, there's never a lot of extra room in my house. On some days there is barely a path through. The irony of my helping people deal with their clutter is not lost on anyone.

So all of Bonnie's stuff, clothes, housewares, artwork, furniture and all her merchandise was quickly and randomly piled up on my driveway. After about eight loads in my truck, the situation in my driveway was becoming critical, when we were all done there was barely enough room for my truck amongst all the boxes and stuffed trash bags.
(click on any picture to see full size)

In of course, addition to all the regular stuff I have to sell and am working on repairing, refinishing etc. Not to mention the cds, dvds, records, books, etc.

But at least we had gotten all the stuff out of Bonnie's house and it was ready for the painters to come, and then the open house on Sunday. In fact, they got an offer and already the condo is in escrow.

So the task ahead of me was to sort and organize all the stuff on my driveway, and to get it put away as soon as possible. I live on a small dead end driveway for only five houses, so it’s not like it was an emergency situation, but still it had to be dealt with asap. Also, the vagrants who come up the driveway sifting through the trash and recycling bins would surely take a peek at what was in all those boxes and bags.

So I set aside the next week to devote purely to sorting and packing. At first I considered buying a storage shed, but as I investigated them I realized how expensive they are, and that I didn't really want to spend that kind of money to store stuff that was earmarked for sale, and as soon as possible.

So as I sorted and calculated (I'm pretty good with spatial relationships) I wondered if it could actually fit inside my house. This would also give me a reason to clean through my house and declutter my own clutter.

I went to Home Depot and considered storage options, because clearly the trash bags and dilapidated boxes the stuff was in would not be good for sorting and storage. I decided on clear hard plastic storage bins, with the lids attached (clever! so I wouldn't lose the lids and also I wouldn't be tempted to over fill them. They are stackable.

I totally cleaned out a couple closets (see my recent blog post re my destroyed Rickie Lee Jones poster I discovered in the back of one closet) and I completely emptied my dining room. I also stripped the floor; it's hardwood and it’s painted and it always looks dirty, even when it isn't. I thought, what a great plan, to slowly work though my entire house, stripping the floor and organizing from the ground up.

As it turns out, the stripping of the dining room floor went really well, and all the paint came off, which I honestly wasn't expecting. This, in a way, presented a problem because now the floor is completely bare wood. It looks and feels very cool, but there is an inherent danger in ruining the floors if there was a major spill or a small flood (both of which have happened) or even every day wear and tear.

Not to mention, it took me three days (albeit not working constantly) to strip the floor in the small dining room. And it made my hands hurt and swell. And I used an entire can or stripper on the one very small room. So I subsequently put the stripping project on hold.

At this time, there was a knock on my door. The city of Los Angeles wanted to come in and inspect the house. They were not happy with all the clutter (merchandise and furniture) on my driveway. When the inspector came into the house, he was pretty upset with all the stuff, and the tiny path through my living room. Not to mention the piles and piles of books in my kitchen hallway, coupled with the drying flowers hanging on every doorknob and protrusion. To get through my kitchen I literally had to turn sideways. This didn't go over well with the city inspector.

He was also upset about the state of my bathroom. The ceiling has been leaking for nearly two years, and they've made a couple unsuccessful attempts to fix it, each time leaving more and more carnage. Not to mention the bee incident (see previous blog post) which also left two very large holes in my bathroom ceiling.

So he gave me a month to get it all cleaned up, including the repair of the bathroom. He sent a notice (and a fine) to my landlord, who was decidedly not happy, and he said if I didn't have it all cleared away by the end of the month, he would evict me.

Wow, that's so ironic. Evicting me because I have too much stuff. I have in the past considered moving, and realized that it would take me months just to get moved. Imagine having to clean this all and get it into inspection ready state in a couple weeks!

So I've had a couple very stressful weeks. Trying to get everything packed away and cleaned and organized. My landlord had also not so politely "reminded" me that it is "illegal to operate a business from my home" so I had to make everything look like it belonged there (i.e. not imminently for sale at a swap meet or eBay).

The inspection date loomed, September first, high noon.

I can’t tell you how many trips I've made to Home Depot to buy more and more storage containers. Every day I fill them up and the next day I have to go buy more. But they do stack nicely.

And how many sleepless nights I've had over the past few weeks wondering how I would get all this stuff organized, and whether or not I would be evicted, and if so how would I possibly move!

A deep breath, and the support (and occasional helping hand) of my friends. A reminder from the course in miracles that all fear is based on the future, which never arrives.

As inspection day neared, I started to panic. There simply wasn’t enough time. There wasn't enough room, there wasn’t enough storage boxes. There were far too many clothes! I had two rolling clothes racks set up in the eBay room and there were still bags and bags of clothes!

I had drastically reduced the prices of all the furniture I had repaired and was selling, and I had to give away several hundred dollars worth of stuff because it simply had to go away. The option of renting a storage locker came up, but that's spending more money and it seems like such a waste. Not to mention schlepping all the stuff over to a storage locker and dealing with that whole miserable experience. To me, there are few places more depressing than storage warehouses. Full of stuff that people want but don’t really want, stuff that people can't let go of, stuff from people whose situations have become unmanageable, or lost their homes, etc.

Too much for me.

The day before the inspection I was so upset I considered simply not being home. I had cleared the driveway and porch of all furniture and boxes (I had stashed a couple pieces in the back yard that I simply hadn't had the time to fix/finish.)

I figured the inspector would come, see the driveway and porch cleared, maybe look in the window. And hopefully go away.

But that plan crashed and burned, as my landlord called on Tuesday to say he was coming to meet the inspector at my house at noon on Wednesday. Curses!

I did a lot of praying and meditating. A LOT. I felt pretty safe that the city inspector would be ok with what I had done (gotten rid of) but I was really worried about my landlord wanting to evict me for “running a business” out of my house (which I have been doing ever since I moved in) Several businesses in fact.

The two contractors he had got to repair the bathroom couldn’t do it (ie never showed up) so last week out of desperation, I called a guy I had worked with and asked if he could do it. By Tuesday.

But he managed to get the bathroom fixed. He put in a new ceiling, and patched the roof. We won't know until it rains next whether he was successful or not. (It hasn't rained since about February, but it will probably rain some time in October). He didn't have time to paint, so I said I would take care of that. I didn't think that was really much of an issue. I would rather paint it myself anyway.

So Wednesday noon the clock chimed ominously. I had stuffed everything into the Home Depot storage boxes which were piled up to the ceiling in the dining room, seven high and two deep. I had sorted all the clothes that would fit onto the two racks in the eBay room, and the rest of the trash bags I stuffed behind the racks. Hoping they wouldn't look too carefully.

I devised a "strategic" lie that the clothes were for photo shoots (technically I'm a photographer/graphic designer/artist) and the boxes of stuff in the dining room were art supplies. I took all the hanging dried flowers down and put them in a box, temporarily.
I washed the floors and vaccumed and went over the entire house, stairs and yard with the leaf blower.

In the process I created quite a dust storm and have had the worst allergies for the past three days. In addition to all the stress and panic, I feel like my head is going to explode and I have to have a box of kleenex with me at all time because I can't stop blowing my nose. And still I can barely breathe.

The landlord arrived first and he immediately went to check the bathroom, we talked about what the contractor had done and I expressed pleasure, hoping my casual enthusiasm would be contagious. Then the inspector arrived, kind of like a king, almost hovering as he walked up the stairs, with his little electronic clipboard in hand. He went into the living room, and said, I can see you’ve been working. I had strategically cleaned off the piano and sofa, which are the two main things in the room, even though under the piano was jammed with boxes of books and stereo parts. If you didn't look too closely it at least looked relatively clean.

Then they went onto the bathroom, and he said, ‘this looks ok’. I explained that I would be doing the painting. Then he looked into the kitchen, and the path was cleared, and the counter was cleared, and the floor was clean. So fortunately he didn't actually go into the kitchen, otherwise he would have seen the dining room, filled to the brim with boxes. I'm not sure how well that would have gone over.

He also looked down the hallway, which I had totally cleared out, and he didn't go down it, otherwise he would have seen into the eBay room and perhaps wondered why I had racks full of women's clothes.

But he didn't. (huge sigh of relief).

He said, ‘well, as long as if there's a fire you can get out, and the firemen can get in. You can always get out the window, right?’ I nodded, not mentioning that I had screwed all my windows and the back door shut after last summer's break in. He didn't look closely enough to notice.

So he was appeased, and my landlord didn't say anything. We went outside and the inspector said, ‘ok keep it like this just to keep your neighbors happy’.


I said, ‘so someone reported me to the city? ‘

He said, ‘I can't legally tell you who it was, but yes, it was one of your neighbors’, and he looked towards my neighbor on the left. Which is the house that was empty for nearly ten years (I had my wedding party there). Which is the house that I got my friend Philip to move into. My friend Philip who I consider one of my best friends and have known for nearly twenty years.

I said, ‘it was Philip!??’ He said, ‘I can't tell you that’. My landlord nodded and said, ‘yes, he told me he called them’.

Anyway, the inspector said, ‘OK I'm going to close the case’. and the two of them left.

I am stunned.

One of my best friends, who I worked with at Tower Records in the early 90’s, have known for decades, I even let him live with me for nearly a year when his girlfriend dumped him and he didn't have a job or a place to live. My friend Philip who I DJ-ed at his wedding and he was the photographer at my wedding. He has a key to my house! He is in my will!

And all this time, he never said a word to me about the stuff. In fact, just yesterday, I went over and asked him if he was working. He has been unemployed for over a year because the magazine he worked for closed. I showed him some of the merchandise I have to sell and asked him if he would be interested in helping me sell some of it at a flea market. He just looked down and said, no.

My friend Philip who I have driven to the airport countless times. And helped him dig dead trees out of his lawn. And let him borrow anything he wants from me.

I can't believe it!

I have since talked to a couple close friends about this, they are fairly quick to judge him, offering suggestions as to what to do, but thus far nothing feels right. Nothing feels right. And now I have a cold, partly due to the dust, mainly due to the stress of the past few weeks and especially the last week as the seemingly impossible deadline loomed.

Then to find out it was one of my ‘best friends' who caused all of this. Not one word from him, not one "so, what is up with all this stuff. You know, I'm not working if you need help cleaning it up I'd be glad to help you. After all we’ve been through, I'd be glad to help you out."

No not a word, even yesterday when I mentioned how worried I was about the inspector coming… not a peep.

I’ve been thinking a lot about what Marianne and the Course in Miracles would say about this. In fact, the lecture just last Tuesday was about forgiveness. (well, the entire course in miracles really is about forgiveness). She was saying that you have to forgive everyone. Everyone. You have to look past the things they do to their true nature , the true innocence of each and every person.

She also says that you can love someone, as god loves everyone. But that doesn't mean you have to go to lunch with them. And sometimes the loving thing to do is to leave the room. Sometimes the loving thing to say is "no." Sometimes the loving thing to do is to say, “I can’t see you now.”

So I will ponder this for the couple days, and see how it sorts itself out. I guess, if nothing else, a) I have a clean driveway and b) I learned something about one of my closest friends.

And I stripped the floor in my dining room.

And got the ceiling of my bathroom fixed! after two years!

So it hasn't been a total wash.

©2010 RocketManLA Rod Reynolds Los Angeles, CA USA

1 comment:

  1. Wow, this post had me on the edge of my seat...

    Would he get it cleaned up in time? Only 30 days? How many plastic bins did he have to buy? No wonder he offers so much stuff on Freecycle! OMG, will the landlord evict him? Can't run a business out of your home - selling eBay items is akin to writing closing arguments in your home for a lawyer, no?

    Anyway, glad to see the outcome with the Inspector and your landlord.

    Sad about your friend. Maybe, maybe his wife or girlfriend was bitching and moaning at him about the mess and he finally gave in and called just so he could "get a little" again?

    I'm sure you'll find the right thing to do. Hope you post about it though!!