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  • Writer's pictureGary Gruber

Phyllis is Just As Weird As Me

Before we found our first home in Rancho Mirage, Phyllis and I lived in an apartment in Palm Desert. It wasn’t too bad, if you don’t count the psycho neighbors all over the complex. After a couple of months Phyllis really wanted a house in a somewhat quieter neighborhood, and she dragged me along on all of her adventures – much to my dismay. I just told her to find something and send me the address and a key and when to meet her there. I wasn’t interested in details like property taxes, mortgages, and how big the swimming pool was.

That last item would come back to haunt me several times later on. My initial reaction during our walkthrough on Tangier Drive was negative. I didn’t like this, I didn’t like that. We bought the house, Phyllis twisted my arm with her gentle sweetness. Not being conversant with the technical issues that can arise from certain ‘features’ during initial construction, I ended up learning the hard way, over and over again about which home items should be placed on a ‘no fly’ list.

First and foremost, you should avoid flat roofs, like the one we inherited when we signed the escrow papers on our first home. This was a common design element in many houses built during the 50’s and 60’s in the desert. The two big problems that can occur are leaks and more leaks. With little or no pitch to the roof for drainage – it does rain down here, sometimes torrentially – water gathers in the low spots, eventually eating its way through the roof. This only happens when you have guests over.

Two leaks were worthy of a news story. One occurred during the winter season – we usually get a lot of rain in December. When water started pouring into the garage one afternoon, it was good that I had one of my biker buddies with me. We ran down to Home Depot and got five gallons of cold tar. We then climbed on top of the roof and carefully filled the holes with the tar. This is a messy fix, but we survived, albeit soaked to the bone. While replacing the entire roof was the best option, it was just a wee bit expensive for us at the time. The second leak was far more tortuous. It sprung one evening in the living room. It was late and I had no desire to climb up on the roof in the dark to patch the hole. The rechargeable headlamps that hikers use to navigate dark trails had not yet been invented, so braving the fix alone without someone to hold a flashlight made it an undoable option.

Always an inventor, I began to dash from room to room to grab some items for a beautiful Rube Goldberg repair. From the darkroom I grabbed one of my large plastic funnels used for mixing photo chemicals. Out in the garage I found six feet of gasoline hose. I attached the hose to the funnel, nailed the funnel to the ceiling, and snaked the free end of the hose into the sink. There was something genuinely calming seeing gallons of water from the roof wending their way through my contraption into the sink.

Phyllis decided to put her designer self in action and had me repaint the house, our fence, and swimming pool several times. Back in the late sixties, the ‘wand sprayer’ professional painters used was not available at local hardware stores. This wand made it easy to paint walls and ceilings without breaking your back due to the 18 inch aluminum tube with the spray nozzle at one end, and a fitting for you compressor at the other. Unfortunately, they could only be found at professional supply houses in Los Angeles and the cost was exorbitant (well over $250, which was a lot at the time).

I opted for simpler technology. Which ended up turning the job into a nightmare. If you’ve ever painted a room, the old saying ‘prep is 90% of the job’ is quite accurate. Taping the trim, covering the carpet, etc. was tedious at best. And then there were the colors Phyllis chose. The hallway was to be a green so dark it was easy to lose your way walking down it at night with the lights on.

She decided the bedroom should be red, illustrated in the lead photo. It was hard to get used to. It was really quiet in the house after I finished painting. I think the color scheme finally sunk in on Phyllis and we had to find some way to live with it.

But I wasn’t done yet.

Phyllis wanted our back fence painted, all 135’ X 115’ of it. I took out my electric paint gun with a small canister and filled it with stain. I calculated that I did 1500 deep knee bends the day it took me to paint all of it. I don’t think I could walk for a day or two after that – and I was in the best shape of my life back then.

Having recovered, Phyllis wasn’t done with me yet. The 36’ X 18’ pool was next. Back then, a special rubber-based paint was used to add color to the plaster used to build pools. That paint was toxic, and the chemical masks we use today to protect ourselves from the fumes were not available back then.

Also, the decorative tile surrounding the top of the pool had to be taped off to prevent paint from splashing on it. The problem with the tape at the time was it dried out in a day or so and then the only way to remove it was with a single edged razor blade. The ‘blue’ painter’s tape we use today – that is easy to remove and does not dry out, had not been invented yet.

So after the Herculean, three day task of putting two coats on the pool without succumbing to the fumes (after having clean prepped the plaster with more special chemistry), I tried to remove the 108 feet of tape an inch at a time with a razor blade, which took about 4 days.

I was in the best physical condition of my life at this time. I had been recently awarded my Shodan (first degree black belt). I was running 8 miles a day three days a week. In spite of this, I was rode hard and put up wet. Phyllis set my nose in the dirt with these ‘honey do’ tasks. My body ached worse than the beating I took when I tested for black belt – fighting 12 high ranking black belts, one after the other for two-minute bouts with no rest in between. Phyllis whipped me into a seriously fit condition by pushing me beyond any previously known boundaries humanly possible.

“I coulda been a contender”.

But she was just getting started. Women…

While we were building our new home in Bermuda Dunes, we decided to rent out the Rancho Mirage house to bring in a bit of income – and a whole bushel of ‘sturm und drang’ (German for turbulent stress) followed. The rental agent we hired was a dolt, providing us with two clients, each of which brought a level of lunacy heretofore unobserved among you humans by us.

I fully understand California law regarding the rights of tenants, even when they are unrepentant slobs; yet I almost always have chosen to ignore those laws and enforce my own level of justice whenever necessary. The first tenant decided to bounce rent checks on us. I figured that the best way to get my point across to them (that we wanted them out) was to walk into the backyard and open all the electrical breakers in the house so they had no power. After doing this several times they got the hint and vacated the property.

They damaged one wall so badly I kept their security deposit – and he took us to Small Claims Court to try and recover it. The tenant showed up with a big green garbage bag with something long in it. Phyllis and I got a wee bit shaken watching him watching us. The shape of the thing inside was precariously similar to a shotgun, and we were more than spooked when he got up and pulled out – his electric carpet cleaner. He wanted to show the judge what a good boy he was by cleaning the carpets before he and his family moved out – and that he couldn’t have possibly done any damage to the house.

The next tenant paid our agent six months rent in advance – in cash. The agent didn’t give it a second thought, we did. Turned out this malaca (watch the movie “Weird Science” if you want to know the meaning of that word) was a drug dealer; he was pedaling cocaine to the construction crew across the street. He had a Ferrari in the garage and I accidentally broke both his door handles once, trying to convince him to leave when he stopped paying the rent – I wanted cash, not cocaine thank you very much. On one occasion I entered the house when no one answered the doorbell. There was cocaine all over the glass table in the living room, and both of them were passed out in the bedroom.

Instead of calling me when a toilet overflowed, they chose to cut the wet carpet up into small pieces and hang it on a clothesline to dry, thinking they were doing us a favor. It’s a good thing I wasn’t susceptible to high blood pressure back then, I would have definitely popped the cork.

Naturally, between and after each tenant I was tasked with repainting the house again, and again, and again. Our agent tried to calm us down by telling the story of another agent who found an abandoned, fully grown, male lion in one home, eating through the drywall. I have no idea how they listed that as a casualty loss on their taxes.

After two tenants from hell we decided to sell the home – two a serial scam artist who tried to steal the house from us. Fortunately enough, after a gut wrenching couple of months, he and his son both landed in prison for their felonious behavior, but not before us taking a beating on the sale.

We made it out alive, Phyllis being considerably less ruffled than me by the activity. She has an uncanny ability to ride the wave and sail into shore with a smile each time. I don’t know where she gets the stamina, she certainly ain’t no black belt.

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