West Dorothy

Mid-Century Modern

I almost didn’t take the apartment on West Dorothy. There was another place downtown that I liked, a brown brick late Victorian that survived Dayton’s 1913 flood even though it sat just uphill from the Great Miami. The Victorian stood alone on a dead end, half-block street, so it was quiet for such an edgy neighborhood. “Edgy” meaning on the edge of the border between a crack house and a Pottery Barn, I guess. The inside of the apartment had bonuses like thick walls and floors from the pre-central heating era and a vintage lavatory complete with the claw-foot tub and broomstick shower head in the center of the room. The toilet and vanity were tucked discreetly in a corner and needed only the folding screen with flowered glass to make it a setting from a Judith Krantz novel.      

But Judith Krantz never wrote novels about people like me, and the mid-century modern studio on West Dorothy was only two miles from work. West Kettering was safer and less glamorous than the downtown river corridor, but it had plenty of decent-sized trees with breathtaking fall foliage that the poet Paul Laurence Dunbar might have described as the silent daytime fireworks of October. A red leaf maple grew directly outside the single, east-facing window of the apartment on West Dorothy and turned the color of ripe strawberries in the autumn. Bourgeoisie that I am when push comes to shove, I moved there and set up my first home at the age of thirty-four. “My” being the operative word.

Robin Hood, the Bipolar Realtor, and Cyril

Robin was a friend of the landlord’s at West Dorothy who supervised the building’s maintenance and kept an eye out for tenants whose behavior was stepping on toes. She tried to be reasonable and never had seizures if she smelled pot in the hallways on weekend nights, since there were almost never any children around and besides, she’d been young once. Staying on Robin’s good side was easy enough and she never got snarky with people who made jokes about her last name being Hood, at least not to their faces.  

The realtor who was officially in charge of the building and collecting the rent was a skinny, uncomfortable man who reminded me of Dennis Weaver in Duel, Steven Spielberg’s first feature film. Weaver’s character was a young, middle-class, white-collar any-man who didn’t stand out too much and always played by the rules. The realtor must have been shocked at some point to realize that he’d turned into a cokehead just as much as Dennis Weaver’s character was stunned to find himself caught up in a drawn-out battle for his life after a minor incident of road rage. The realtor told everyone that he took medication for bipolar disorder and was sometimes a little off-center because of it. We all believed it—at least until Robin caught him digging a screwdriver into the coin receiver on one of the dryers in the laundry room, a plastic bag sitting next to him that was full of quarters already liberated from the washers. 

“He’s probably cleaned out his kid’s piggy bank already,” I said. “Coke’s not cheap.”  

“Or maybe it was that other thing everyone’s into now, that stuff they make with pseudoephedrine,” Robin said. 

“Crystal meth?” 

“That’s the one.” She nodded. “Now every time you want to buy some daytime cold medicine, you damn near have to show your birth certificate.” 

Robin took over the realtor’s job, which she said wasn’t too difficult when there was no one cooking the books to hide a habit. Maintenance issues started getting resolved and problem tenants were settling down or moving out. The realtor left and was never heard from again. This wasn’t so strange in a building full of single adults and the disappearances always gave me and Robin something to talk about whenever I dropped off my rent checks. 

Cyril gave everyone something to talk about from the moment of his arrival on the second floor. He was a small, mostly bald white man in his early sixties who suffered from paranoid schizophrenia and was supposed to be taking medication for it. Cyril was never violent or even belligerent but he was always afraid that everyone in the building was conspiring to have him killed, with the possible exception of me. 

“I know I can trust you,” Cyril said once. “You have angel eyes.”

I didn’t have the heart to tell Cyril that being his angel was a responsibility I wanted no part of, knowing it would lead me down a familiar path of trying to solve problems for someone else that were lightyears out of my league and then feeling sick and guilty when I failed.   

Sometimes I saw Cyril at the mailboxes and he always pressed me for details about any possible plots being hatched against him. I tried to be reassuring even though my friend Malcolm was always doing mean little things to torment him, like waving his arm broadly and saying “HELLO, CYRIL” in a booming voice, knowing full well that Cyril would see a gun in his waving hand and the words he heard in his head would be something along the lines of “hellooo Cyril, I’m coming to get you reeeaaal soon.” Cyril had once called the police to report Malcolm for making bombs in his apartment two doors down from mine. Just as it was no use urging Cyril to feel safe and take his medication, it was also a waste of time for me to remind Malcolm that Cyril couldn’t help the ideas he got. 

“He could damn well take his meds,” Malcolm said. “You try having six guys in Darth Vader suits show up at your door wanting to talk.”  

Cyril disappeared two months into his lease and his family found him hiding out at a homeless shelter in Middletown, where he told everyone that he was running for his life from West Dorothy Lane. Cyril’s family found an assisted living spot for him on St. Paul Avenue where someone could supervise his medication. I hoped he’d stop feeling afraid all the time because I knew that was no kind of life. 

Wal-Mart and Yinyang

The Wal-Mart on West Dorothy was built on the sight of a gutted auto dealership and was supposed to be open twenty-four hours at first, but people kept complaining about the late-night crowd it was creating and Bentonville gave it a midnight curfew. The location was only a couple of miles from a neighborhood known as Philanthropy Row, a small strip on the southeast side of downtown where people went for the daytime shelter, the Salvation Army rehab center and thrift store, a bakery thrift, and the newer and larger St. Vincent Hotel. This meant hundreds of people with empty stomachs, empty pockets, and any number of things on their minds were within walking distance and Wal-Mart was always there for them.        

No one in the building could say for sure when Yinyang started hanging around. He was a tuxedo who looked almost exactly like Diablo, the leader of the feral cat gang that ate communal dry-food meals down by the Rumpke bin. My neighbor Rudy was the one who put the food out. He volunteered with a catch and release program for feral cats and the food served as a trust builder. 

“That’s not Diablo,” Rudy said as we were talking in the parking lot one evening in late February. Not-Diablo—soon to be Yinyang—was approaching us. “Diablo’s got a pink nose.”

I gave Yinyang some ham the next night and checked him for a collar but there wasn’t one. A look at his genitalia said castrato and his front claws were gone. I sighed and opened the door of my building to see if Yinyang wanted to come in. He did. 

“Cue the music,” I said as I carried him up to my apartment on the third floor. 

I bought the litter box at Wal-Mart since it was the closest place to shop and time was obviously a priority. So the whole story does actually tie together, in a way. Yinyang was my first pet as an adult. I was thirty-six and you could say I had commitment issues.