Title: The Rooming House Diaries
Life, Love & Secrets
Author: Bill Mathis
Genre: General Fiction
Book Heat Level: 3
BLURB: The Rooming House Diaries
EXCERPT: The Rooming House Diaries
That first week, besides working at the bank, I walked through both upper floors of the rooming house, making notes on the condition and cleanliness, getting to know the guys on the second floor. Almost all had been there for years. I made a list of needed repairs I showed to Hank. He was surprised I’d taken the time to do it, a little embarrassed at my findings, then excited at my ideas.
“I guess I hadn’t realized how much I’ve let the place slip,” he said as we sat in his basement still—he called it his second laundry room—and enjoyed one of his home-brews.
“Nothing is major, though I have some ideas that would make the roomers extremely happy. Things they would be willing to pay more each week for.”
Hank nodded, a curious look on his face.
“They told me you haven’t raised their rates in well over five years, and they’re willing to pay more. They know they’re getting a good deal, but would like to see some upgrades.”
“Such as...” He lifted his hands in question, a worried look on his face.
“Well, they would like a shower on their floor. Sitting in an old tub with a hose to rinse off does not qualify as a good shower. The toilet room should have a sink in it and desperately needs upgrading, their rooms need painting. They would love to have a back porch to sit and smoke on. The landing only holds one or two at a time.”
“What’s your plan? How much is this going to cost me? I ain’t made of dough, you know.” His eyes twinkled at his little rhyme.
I walked him up to the second floor and showed him my ideas. First, paint the rooms, paint or refinish the old dressers, install rods to hang clothes on instead of the old hooks, some were still the originals. Refinish or paint the doors, upgrade the window screens, sand and refinish the wood floors. Next, I showed him how a urinal and small sink could fit into the toilet closet with a partial wall between it and the stool. Plus, in the tub closet, how the tub could be replaced with two shower stalls.
“Really? These guys will get naked in front of the other?”
“For Pete’s sake, Hank, they get naked in front of the men over at the park fieldhouse shower room. Where the hell you think they been taking their showers several times a week?”
“Guess I am out of touch.” He shook his head and leaned against the wall. “So, how much this gonna cost?”
“I’m not done yet, here’s my ideas for a back porch.” I explained how we could add a covered porch across the back, even screen it in. And the roof could be a deck for the third floor. Then I gave him an estimate for materials.
He sat down heavy on an old chair and wiped his brow. “What about labor? Who could do this? I ain’t got time, working full time over at the Ford dealer. More importantly, I ain’t got the energy like I used to.”
“I have a plan,” I said.
“Somehow I knew you would, let’s hear it.”
By the time we were done, he’d hired me to do the work, said he would add my name to the lumberyard and hardware accounts to buy materials on credit. He headed down the stairs, I turned to go up to the third floor. “C’mon,” he grumped, “we need another beer.”
I followed him down, out the front door, around to the side door, and into the basement.
He pulled two more beers out, sat down heavily in his soft chair and was quiet, looking up at the rafters, scratching his crotch. “I’ve been thinking,” he finally said, taking another sip of beer. “I’m tired of this place. Oh, I love it, don’t want to move, but when you said it’s been over five years since I changed the rates, and the fellas been taking most of their showers over at the field house. Well...” His voice trailed off.
I waited, taking small sips of my beer. I couldn’t wait to start upgrading the second floor. Hadn’t told him what I thought should be done to the third. What the hell. He could almost double his income if he filled those rooms and with little added expense.
He tapped my leg with his bottle. “Wake up, boy, you got more plans floating around that head of yours, don’t cha?”
I grinned and nodded.
“I don’t want to hear them. Not yet. Now, here’s what I’m thinking. You seem to know the guys now, why don’t I just make you the manager of this old dump? You collect the rent, take in the new ones when there’s space, throw ‘em out when they’re drunk or sneaking hookers in. What do ya say?”
“I like it, but you don’t think I’m too young?”
He honked and spat a wad into the floor drain. “Hell, no. My dad started building this place at your age and I was collecting rent at age twelve. Hell, no, you’re not too young. Here’s what. I’ll give you that efficiency for free and twenty bucks a week to manage the place. Deal?”
“What about your wife? She be okay with this?”
He struggled out of his chair, rested his hand on my shoulder, tousled my hair and laughed, “Son, I couldn’t live without Mae, I love her to death, but sometimes it just takes her longer to agree with some of the brilliant decisions I make. Don’t worry.”
I followed him up the basement stairs, glad he couldn’t see my eyes. I took a walk around the block, watched the neighbor kids being called in by their parents, the street lights flickering on, heard the water sprinklers in the gardens. I kept wiping my eyes. Hank called me son. The first time in my life a man called me son. Son! I rolled the word around my tongue. Son. My nose dripped. Son. It was as good, maybe even better, then Tato calling me grandson. Son.
I was home. A wonderful man called me son. That meant I had a parent. Only a parent calls a child son, and pats his shoulder and messes his hair. Parents have homes. Now I had a home. That thought went down so deep, I couldn’t tell if it ever came out. Still can’t. I leaned against a tree, lit a cigarette and stared at the gray, weather-worn, three story house and for the first time in my life, knew I was home. I was a son. I had a home.
Barnes and Noble: https://www.barnesandnoble.com/w/the-rooming-house-diaries-bill-mathis/1132572157?ean=2940161330760
Google Play: https://play.google.com/store/books/details/Bill_Mathis_The_Rooming_House_Diaries?id=q1ajDwAAQBAJ