From the Editor 39: The Talking Cure

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"Communication and cooperation always help avoid problems,” attorney Stuart Saft, a partner at Holland & Knight, once said to me. Not everyone believes that.

I recently recalled an incident that occurred at my 22-unit cooperative some years ago. The sponsor held a long-term lease on a laundromat on the ground floor. It was a dirty and rundown space run by a jovial but rarely seen manager named Carlos. You saw more of his mother, a short, heavily wrinkled woman with squinty eyes and a screechy voice. She didn’t speak, she SHOUTED, all in broken English, as she threw slabs of raw meat to a half-blind German shepherd that lay on the store’s floor all day. In those pre-laundry card days, you’d need quarters, but she rarely had change. In addition, half of the machines seemed to be permanently out of order.

Finally, unable to pay the rent, Carlos and his mom skipped out. Not to worry, said our manager, who worked for the sponsor of our conversion. “We’ll get you a better tenant.”

And, indeed, within three months, another laundromat went in – with new machines, friendly personnel, and no meat-chomping dog. Things went smoothly for about a year. Then, one night at about midnight, I looked out my third-floor window and saw five burly men in t-shirts loading the laundromat’s washers and dryers into a huge moving van. Thinking this was at best peculiar, I called the police and reported what looked like a robbery in progress. (Police dispatcher: “Are they armed?” Me: “I don’t know.” PD: “Can you check?” Did she want me to go down and ask them?) The police arrived and talked with one of the “robbers,” who showed them some documents. The cops left, and the group finished loading the van and drove away.

Very strange. And no one could explain it – except to tell us that our “model” laundromat owner had fled without paying many months’ back rent.

The sponsor replaced the laundromat with a bodega. Its owner ran an illegal numbers operation. We complained to the sponsor, a man named Bernard, that we were angry with the way he and his colleagues had handled everything. “After all we’ve done to increase the value of this property, you go and put a numbers-running bodega in our ground floor.”

“If you knew how many stores we turned down before we put that bodega in,” he remarked, “you’d realize how careful we had been.”

“Well, we didn’t know,” I said. “No one communicated with us.”

“You could have called me,” he said.

“And you could have called me,” I responded, “when you had chosen a store that might be objectionable to us.”

“Back up a minute. You want me to call you on every matter?”

“No. But communication is important in cases like this. It’s a two-way thing.”

“I don’t see what you mean.”

“Well, for instance, when those guys took the laundry machines at midnight. I called the police because I thought a robbery was going on. Nobody told me they were coming.”

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“You called the police?” he said with surprise. “I didn’t know the police had been there.” He added: “We had a lien on the laundromat’s equipment – that’s why they sneaked it out. If I had known the police had been there, we would have had evidence we could have used in court.”

“If I had known about the lien,” I responded, “I would have gone down and asked the police to not let them take it. Do you see what I mean about communication?”

“In this case, yes, but in general, you can call me.”

I shook my head. It was useless, sort of like arguing with a man who had thrown himself into a river ostensibly to kill himself but who had then climbed out because the water was too cold. He insisted that he understood the problem and that he’d keep on trying, and maybe, one day, when the water was warmer...

That’s not a suicide attempt. That’s a bath. 

Habitat, June 2012