Mirror, Mirror on the Ceiling

Joe Lavin's Humor Column

Mirror, Mirror on the Ceiling

April 12, 2002

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"Um, we're really looking for something without a hole in the wall," I wanted to say. Yet again, I was looking to rent an apartment near Boston, and things weren't going well. My roommate Anna and I were being shown apartments by our new rental agent Lisa, and Lisa's first selection -- with its hole in the living room wall -- was not impressing us.

Granted, the hole was designed for an air conditioner, but there was no air conditioner, and no sign that an air conditioner was to be installed. A cool breeze flowed through the tiny apartment, as Lisa tried in vain to point out all its amenities. Even without the hole, we wouldn't have taken it. For $1500 a month, here was a small one-bedroom apartment desperately masquerading as a two-bedroom. The only bright spot was the included parking spot. Come to think of it, the parking spot was right next to the hole in the wall. If I had wanted to, I could have put a chute in and then slid down into the parking lot whenever I needed to leave. If I ever become a superhero and get a Batmobile, this is where I'll live.

Surprisingly, this was not the worst unit we saw. The worst was a $1500 two-bedroom basement apartment with ceilings so low that Anna's six-foot-four boyfriend wouldn't have been able to fit. In fact, the ceiling fan in the living room probably would have decapitated Adam, no doubt putting a serious cramp in their relationship.

Then again, this apartment did have one definite bonus -- a large mirror on the ceiling of the master bedroom. Not only that, a closet with a mirror door took up the entire interior wall. As if all the mirrors were not enough, the couple also had pictures of themselves strewn about the entire apartment, including an ever-so-tasteful shot of them in a heart-shaped hot tub. Not surprisingly, the couple was abandoning this classy abode because the wife had gotten pregnant.

I was starting to fear that we would never find anything we liked, but then something miraculous occurred. We actually found a nice, affordable apartment in a decent location a month ahead of time. To do so, however, we had to deal with Lisa and Dan, two of the strangest rental agents I have encountered.

They were quite the pair. Lisa was friendly but clearly over her head. Her boss Dan, meanwhile, may have been one of the most annoying people I have ever met. He was the epitome of the overbearing boss. Moments after arriving at their office, as we waited for Lisa to gather her materials, we were treated to one of his tirades.

"Why are the keys not on the wall?" he erupted at his employees. "We can't have the keys on your desks. They need to be on the wall. That's why we have the place for the keys on the wall. We can't have the keys all over the office when we have the place for them on the wall. We wouldn't have the place on the wall for the keys if we were going to keep the keys on everyone's desk, now would we?"

He turned to us suddenly. "Tell me, what are you looking for exactly? Let's run down everything you want in an apartment. Quick, what are your must haves?"

"Well, I'm really looking for something with a mirror on the bedroom ceiling," I said.

Well, actually, I didn't. We simply reiterated all the same requirements we had told Lisa moments earlier -- laundry, walking distance to the subway, decent-sized bedrooms, maybe a porch. Unfortunately, we completely forgot to mention our predilection for a living room without a hole in the wall, and so that's where Dan sent us first. "You're very lucky that Dan's taking an interest in you," Lisa explained.

Lisa's main problem, aside from her sheer incompetence, was her honesty, a trait that may well doom her career in real estate. At one point, she announced, "I had four other places that I was going to show you, but they were all crappy." I think the phrase she was looking for is: "has character." I may be wrong, but I have always been under the impression that in real estate the word "crappy" is never to be used when describing property.

Lisa liked to show me the listing sheet for each apartment as well. "I'm not supposed to show these to anyone, but I like everyone to have all the information," she told me. I agreed that it was an excellent policy. As she drove us to the apartments, I would read each listing, happy to have details I was clearly not meant to see. "Landlord wants $1500 but would be willing to go down to $1400," one listing read. Well, $1400 it is, I thought.

She wanted me to have the listing sheets mainly because I had been designated as navigator. You would think that a Cambridge and Somerville rental agent might have a general idea of how to get around Cambridge and Somerville. You would be wrong. She had no idea where she was going, and her driving was, well, interesting. At one point, she hurtled us the wrong way down a one-way street, and finding a place to live no longer seemed my most fervent concern.

Despite all this, I have to give Lisa and Dan some credit. They did help us find our new home with only one day of searching. Of course, Lisa was still odd. ("I really like that the bathroom isn't close to the bedrooms, because, oh, there's nothing worse than being able to hear your roommate in the bathroom. I just hate that." This is not the kind of thing one expects to hear from a rental agent.)

And Dan was still annoying. Going over the lease with the two was an eminently unpleasant experience, because every little question we asked resulted in a long lecture from Dan to Lisa about how things ought to be done. He would spend forever critiquing every little mistake she made. Considering the number of mistakes she did make, the process seemed endless.

"I'm sorry about Lisa. She's really new," Dan said to me when Lisa had left for a moment.

"I'm sorry about Dan. He's a little high-strung. In fact, he's really tough to work for," Lisa said to me when Dan had left for a moment.

To be honest, there's a part of me disappointed to have found an apartment so quickly. Imagine how entertaining another few days with Dan and Lisa might have been.

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