I think I've got your number

Our apartment is falling down. I'm choosing to find it funny.

Wednesday, March 23, 2005

The man

Gloria told me that the man would come by to paint my ceiling on Monday. "The man, and not Walter?" I ventured hopefully.
Yes, the man and not Walter. Walter said he didn't want to do it. (I'm very proud of Walter for finally putting his foot down after 107 long years of servitude.)

So I stayed home all day Monday, and of course no man came by. Tuesday I spent the morning at the library, where I got a call from Gloria announcing that the man had come and wanted to paint my ceiling. I called her back outside.

"Man is here to paint another apartment, so he does yours too," said Gloria.

"I'm not home," I said. "You told me to be home Monday."

"OK, he paint another time," she said.

"Fine with me. Give me a time, and I'll be home," I said.

"I will. Later, miss," she said.

The man often promises to come by and then doesn't show. He's always very nice about rescheduling, though he generally fails to show up at the new time, either. Gloria tells me that this is the way of the man: no one can control him. Apparently, he is like the wind, fluid, intangible, and completely invisible to the naked eye.

Monday, March 21, 2005

Ukraine in the membrane

My grandfather was from the Czech-Hungarian border (it switched halfway through his youth due to World War I). He failed to pass much Hungarian on to my mother or uncle, but he did instill in them a veritable encyclopedia of baffling old-world ethnic stereotypes. These generally have to do with small Carpathian towns that specialize in horse- or child-thievery. The one about the Ukrainians, though, is less specific. Basically, a Moldovan might try to put your puppy in a stew, but while you're trying to wash the paprika off poor traumatized Rover, those wily Ukrainians will steal your wallet.

Obviously, I think this is all hogwash (also the sort of thing a Ukrainian might steal, if you don't keep your hogwash barrels sealed nice and tight). But I do feel like I'm acting out some sort of ancient ethnic tension every time I vie with Gloria. We only even know that she's Ukrainian because Natasha, the tall Russian who used to live downstairs with her girlfriend Amy, recognized the language in which Gloria shouts at poor old Walter. Then one day Gloria took it upon herself to shout in English at Natasha. She repeated the charge to me recently: "They are two women who sleep in one big bed, and one is going to have a baby? What kind of people are these I am renting to? These are not good people!" And then Natasha and Amy moved out, but not before trashing their former apartment.

So maybe it's not an ancient ethnic tension. Maybe she's just a bad person. Though I do recall once, as a child, being told at an elderly relative's knee the following old-world adage: "Everyone knows that the old ladies of Kiev like to rent to lesbian couples, then become horrified about the nature of their relationship despite having owned a brownstone in a historically lesbian neighborhood for the last FORTY YEARS."

Ukranian onion cutlet (serves 3-4)

6-7 big onions, chopped
5-6 eggs
6-8 spoons semolina flour
1 can sardines (optional)
salt and pepper

Mix above in large bowl. Shape mixture into patties and fry in oil.

2 onions
2 carrots
1 liter tomato juice
sugar and salt to taste

Chop and fry onions and carrots. Add tomato juice to pan. Boil cutlets in sauce for 15-20 minutes.

(recipe courtesy of Svetlana, foxy Ukranianne and short-shorts enthusiast)

Friday, March 04, 2005

Lyrical Ballads

About a month after we moved in this summer, we threw a party. It was named "Gloria! Gloria!" and our invitation was all about raising the roof without waking up the landlady, who lives in the apartment next door to ours. Luckily, our walls are thick: we heard no complaints, and I'd like to think that this is because we actually didn't disturb them.

I can't remember whether we played Laura Branigan's "Gloria!" at the party, but for the rest of the summer it was our theme song. My roommate and I were going through a karaoke phase at the time, and some of my fondest memories from August and September involve the two of us in various bars, belting out the following, incredibly appropriate lyrics. For the sake of readers new to the Gloria T phenomenon, I'd like to perform a close reading. Comments in brackets, as follows:

Gloria, you're always on the run now
Running after somebody, you gotta get him somehow

[To be honest, Gloria has only run after us about the rent once, so the start of the song maybe isn't so apt. But they lie a lot about their background, have mysterious accents, and moved here from Austria in 1952, so we think they might be hiding from some sort of Nazi war crimes tribunal -- "always on the run now" indeed.]

I think you've got to slow down before you start to blow it
I think you're headed for a breakdown, so be careful not to show it

[This is clearly a reference to her constant threat "You want to make me have heart attack?" which is an all-purpose response to such questions as "Can we do something about the brown stuff coming through the bathroom ceiling?" and "Why do I need to consult with you every time I want to take a shower?"]

You really don't remember, was it something that he said?
Are the voices in your head calling, Gloria?
Gloria, don't you think you're fallin'?
If everybody wants you, why isn't anybody callin'?

[Yesterday, in a discussion about our building's lack of heat, we told Gloria that she had fifteen apartments full of angry tenants. She replied, "So let them all move out!" We asked if she really wanted her entire building to empty itself, and she said, "I find new tenants! This is nice building! Easy to find new tenants!" But babe, if everybody wants you, why are so many of the units in this cheap and lovely pre-war brownstone so often empty? And more importantly, why is everyone always so eager to move out of here?]

You don't have to answer
Leave them hangin' on the line, oh-oh-oh, calling Gloria

[This is a nod to her practice of shouting "Leave me alone!" and hanging up when you call her about maintenance problems]

Gloria (Gloria), I think they got your number (Gloria)
I think they got the alias (Gloria) that you've been living under (Gloria)

[Why did she tell me she was Austrian if she and her husband speak to each other in Ukrainian?]

But you really don't remember, was it something that they said?
Are the voices in your head calling, Gloria?

[As in, "Gloria, can you please put the hot water back on? Gloria, why is it so cold in my apartment? Gloria, my ceiling fell in!" Seriously, that's a lot of voices]

A-ha-ha, a-ha-ha, Gloria, how's it gonna go down?
Will you meet him on the main line, or will you catch him on the rebound?
Will you marry for the money, take a lover in the afternoon?
Feel your innocence slipping away, don't believe it's comin' back soon

[Gloria is married to a little old man named Walter. He looks like he died two or three years ago and speaks in a querelous falsetto. Every so often, when you catch him in a the right mood, he's rather charming, but for the most part he's as mean as his wife. Walter sleeps in the basement and pees in a bucket, which we often catch him emptying onto the snow pile in front of our building. Because Gloria doesn't appear to allow him to sleep in her apartment, people have speculated that he isn't really her spouse, but perhaps her brother. And there are those who think he's her brother/spouse, as if they are some sort of evil Babylonian god-couple.]

And you really don't remember, was it something that he said?
Are the voices in your head calling, Gloria?
Gloria, don't you think you're fallin'?
If everybody wants you, why isn't anybody callin'?
You don't have to answer
Leave them hangin' on the line, oh-oh-oh, calling Gloria
Gloria (Gloria), I think they got your number (Gloria)
I think they got the alias (Gloria) that you've been living under (Gloria)
But you really don't remember, was it something that they said?
Are the voices in your head calling, Gloria?

Are they, Gloria? Are they?

NB: I feel a little weird and morbid adopting poor Laura Branigan's name as my handle on this site. But I don't want to use my own name, and the song is just such a major part of the Gloria mythos. Laura, if you're out there, just know that it's a tribute, not a slander.

Thursday, March 03, 2005

Back in the USSR: A Mission Statement, of Sorts

It started out a funny joke. Gloria, we told everyone, was our ker-azy landlady. She was a hundred and eight years old and had been squired around by Stalin back in the old country. When we first visited our fairly big, fairly sunny two-bedroom, it was occupied by a pair of Russian grad students. They seemed unaccountably frightened of Gloria, but we took that as a result of their post-Soviet upbringings. After all, Gloria had hugged us when we signed the lease! She'd settled us in her kitchen and told us about the hardships of making a new life in America in 1952! Obviously, she was nothing but a sweet old lady with a cute, if vaguely menacing, Slavic accent.

Obviously. It's nine months later, which means it's March, which means it's regularly 30 degrees out in Brooklyn. Which means that an unheated brownstone hits 59 degrees in the sunlight. I know, there are much, much bigger housing violations in this city. We live in on a tree-lined street in a neighborhood full of lesbian moms whose three-year-olds want to grow up to be civil rights lawyers. Everybody in this building other than the landlady and her ancient husband is a young, urban professional; as indie rock or as relatively broke as some of us might be, we're technically all yuppies. But yuppies get cold just like anybody else.

Ultimately, though, the point of this blog isn't just to whine. There are other landladies who fail to adequately heat their apartments. But Gloria is unlike any landlady -- or any other old lady, period. She yells. She slams doors. She threatens heart attacks. She called the girls upstairs sluts and my roommate a "wild jungle beast." We once witnessed her assault the guy from the first floor.

As such, welcome to the Gloria T blog. Especially if you're in any way connected to the Brooklyn housing authorities.