Nicholas Parson was a short term tenant of mine and he stayed at Lebaum St for a few weeks here and there while he worked for a law firm doing labor and employment research. He found my house on Airbnb and although all I had available was a lumpy futon shoved in the corner of a musty basement, it did the trick.
Since he was hired by Legal E, an attorney staffing firm, his job could last one day to several months.
On a week that he wasn’t staying at my place, he was staying at the Capital Comfort Hostel, a barebones hostel that offered little except its proximity to downtown.
The rooms were barren and the double bunks offered little privacy. There was however a book library, a terrace and there was always hot coffee or tea in the lobby.
The patio was minuscule and dimly lit but it was perfect for grabbing a cigarette without facing the noisy street and the onslaught of panhandlers bumming a buck or a smoke.
This was exactly the place where Nick met Kevin.
“Howdy gov’nah, it’s rather nippy today, isn’t it”
“Yes indeed. I’m Nick, by the way. Are you new in town?”
“Hello Nick. Delighted to meet you. I’m Kevin, and I surmise from my Queen’s English, you can tell I’m not from here.. I just got off a Greyhound from Ft Lauderdale – 20 hours of pure horror.”
“Haha, Decided a little change of pace? This town is getting too big for its britches. Ain’t nothing like sleepy Lauderdale.”
“Well, yes, after five years, I finally got tired of the touristy beach life. But the reason why I left Florida is because of their unfriendly treatment of immigrants.”
“Really, I thought Florida would be friendly. Heck with its proximity to the Caribbean it has a large population of Hispanics.”
“Yes, you’re right, but they’re starting to crack down on the undocumented and those who have overstayed their VISA.”
“I see, but why did you choose DC?”
“Because like Chicago and New York, it’s a sanctuary city. Not only does the police not cooperate with ICE, they are also super progressive and provide lots of programs to help the undocumented.”
“Right on Brother.” Nick lit his menthol and offered one to Kevin. They continued to make small talk and before long they had put a large dent in Nick’s daily ration of half a pack.
Hey Chito, I met this Englishman today at the Hostel. Older guy, but down to earth – must be in his late 50s. Just arrived from Florida and a little down on his luck. Looking for temporary housing in a pinch. Got anything?
I read and reread the text then chuckled loudly. People in the subway turned their heads to see what the matter was. This was right up my alley.
Well you know the futon in the basement is spoken for. So the only thing I have is the loveseat in the attic.
Nick so happened to be on his phone and quickly responded back
Well that would be perfect. He’s looking for a place for just a couple of weeks until he can find something more permanent. I’m sure he’s happy to do some work for you in return. He claims he’s pretty handy.
The next day, the phone rang – an out-of-town area code. What took him so long?
“Hello, is this Kevin?”
“My Lord, it very well is. Hello Chee-to. Nick is totally smitten with you.”
We chatted for a few minutes to break the ice.
Then I dived right into it.
“I’m going to small claims court next week. My contractor who painted the house is suing me. I want you to go as my witness.”
“My gosh. Suing you? What the hell did you do to him? Not pay him for his work?”
“No, I did not have to pay him. We signed a contract that I would design and create a couple of websites for him in return for painting the house.”
“Well then who didn’t hold up his end of the bargain.”
“Yeah, he painted the house, but did a shitty job, There’s no uniformity in thickness. When you open the door and let light in, you’ll see the sheen differences – it’s as plain as day.”
“And did he like your websites?”
“I’m surprised he didn’t – I spent hours building him a content-rich site for his contracting business on WordPress. And he just sloughed it off like it was some malicious spam. He told me he never wanted to see me again, so that meant I wouldn’t be able to complete his rap portfolio website.”
“That’s real dodgy. So what exactly do you want me to do ole’ chap?”
“As a housemate and tenant you’ll be able to provide credible testimony to the utter conditions of the paint job throughout the house.”
“I really don’t want to visit the magistrate though.”
“I can understand how uncomfortable you are with this task. But I wanna win this case and you’re the only sane person I have in the house who’s able to serve as a reliable witness.”
“How about Nick?”
“Nick no longer stays here, and he’s too busy pouring over legal documents. Even though the testimony will only take a few minutes, you would have to spend several hours in court waiting until you’re called.”
I was surprised that Kevin agreed to serve as my witness. There was hesitation but there was also desperation. And in this case the fear of the gavel was trumped by the fear of the streets.
As with all civil cases, the judge insisted that I meet with the plaintiff first before we went to trial.
Charles was suing me for $5000, at that time the limit for small claims cases.
During mediation, I offered to give Charles half. I knew he didn’t deserve it, but in the interest of time and temperament, I was willing to cut my losses and meet him halfway.
“No way!” exclaimed Charles. “I want the whole Five Grand or bust!”
I looked at Charles incredulously. What a greedy, stubborn idiot. There’s value in coming to terms. Guess we’re going to trial after all Charlie.
And on the day of the trial, Kevin provided credible testimony to the quality of the paint job.
I printed out large screenshots of the homepage and provided expert explanation to the amount of work I had put in.
The judge then agreed that we both did our respective parts but because the contractor had severed ties and thus preventing me from completing the second site, I had to pay him a petty $900 judgment which paled in comparison to the $5,000 he had asked for or even the $2,500 I had offered him during mediation.
On the way home from the small claims court house in Judiciary Square, we stopped at my beloved stomping grounds, The Irish Channel, for a pint of sweet malt and roasted stout.
It appeared that I had made the right decision to welcome Kevin to my humble abode. He would get free room and board, and in return he would be my assistant, taking care of household chores and pinch hit here and there.
Kevin stayed engaged. Besides keeping the house clean, he fixed the unevenness in the paint job, removed the tiles in the attic floor and then applied a coat of poly to the wood flooring.
“Say are these tiles asbestos?”
“Dunno, but it’s best that we assume that it is, so we should wear N95 dust masks. And don’t let any of the dust go airborne.”
But it became abundantly clear almost from the very beginning that Kevin had two vices. He smoked like and an old English chimney and he drank like a rum-soaked Seaman.
So the room and board that we agreed to also meant subsidizing Kevin’s substance use and addictions.
Two vices that were wrecking havoc on a body that had already taken quite a beating, and two vices that a penniless man couldn’t afford to partake in.
I posted a rental ad on Craigslist. Not even an hour later, a man by the name of Joseph Smith responded and brought his wife to see the attic. I was out of town for my truck driving training, so Kevin showed the attic to the affable couple.
“By George, I have some wonderful news for you mate,” Kevin exclaimed over the phone. “The couple loves the attic and will co-sign a lease immediately for their 19 year-old son!”
I was struck by how quickly the room got rented. Perhaps it sounded too good to be true.
“Great job Kevin,” I replied exuberantly. “You’ve definitely earned your pay this week.”
Joseph moved in during the weekend and almost immediately things began to deteriorate. Although the room was only for him – not even overnight guests were allowed – as specified in the lease, we started to see Joseph’s friends come over, stay up late and then sleep over. This happened Sat night, then Sun, Mon & Tuesday the same faces and more – it became a revolving door.
“Kevin you gotta put a stop to this. This is clearly a violation of the lease and unfair to the other tenants in the house,” I proclaimed.
“You got it Gov’nah. I’m gonna pull this chap by the knickers and talk some sweet sense into him. It’s an attic, not a whole bloody apartment.”
It was Kevin’s goal all along to get a job and become financially independent. The handful of jobs he had held in Florida and before that California was in the hospitality business. His latest job was the lead bartender and assistant manager of a Ft Lauderdale beach bar, so he had customer service experience and definitely the personality to charm both long-term Floridians and sun-seeking snowbirds. People just didn’t love his personality. They were enamored by his thick London accent and his way of making the most benign things sound exciting.
But everywhere I took Kevin to get a job, he would get turned down. Without a social security card, most eating establishments would not give him the time of day. Still, there was no harm in trying. One day, after completing his daily chores, I dropped Kevin off at the Navy Yard. His plan for the day was to walk around and visit local watering holes and see who might turn a blind eye for a charming Englishman with a thick accent and a strong handshake. I gave Kevin instructions to catch a metro back home once he completed his cold calls.
Three hours later, I started getting worried. Four, Five, Six. Then suddenly my phone sprang to life.
“Hello Gov’nah,” it was his typical cheerful voice, though it sounded a bit subdued.
“KEVVIIN, I’ve been worried sick about you. Where are you?”
“At the George Washington Hospital. I passed out on the street in the Navy Yard. Didn’t even make it to the first pub on the list. A good Samaritan caught me as I was about to fall and dialed 911.”
“Oh my Lord. I can’t believe this. Are you going to be ok?”
“Don’t know yet. I had a mild aneurysm. The doctors want to do some more tests and monitor my condition for a couple of days. In the meanwhile, I’m under medication and just resting.”
“Oh thank Heavens. So glad to get your phone call. Please keep me posted and let me know if there’s anything you need.”
“Sure thing Mate.” With that Kevin signed off and I breathed a sigh of relief.
When Kevin returned from the hospital two days later, we ensured he got plenty of rest. We took care of his daily chores and we stocked the pantry with his favorite Special K cereal and whole milk in the fridge. We ensured there was no beer or liquor and he would not be getting any allowance for his favorite Marlboros.
The doctor didn’t recommend surgery because that would be too risky. After all the aneurysm was rather small. The best advice was to not overwork and to stay healthy.
The doctor did say it was ok to work on the computer. So, I gladly trained Kevin on basic front end skills to create simple WordPress sites. There were a couple of restaurant sites such as the Irish Channel that needed to be updated, and Kevin’s beginner skills was more than sufficient.
I also got a request to shoot some pictures at a Bethesda sports bar called Brickside. We brought our friend, Erica, who would be modeling the shoots. Since Kevin was bored, he asked to come along. Sure why not, it would be good for him to get some fresh air and sample some of the food.
The proprietor, Brian, laid out a bunch of dishes and cocktails on the bar for us to photograph. Some of the more attractive dishes, we had Erica pose pretending to eat healthy food. She had a pretty smile and her reddish brown curls complemented the decor.
Jason was taking the photos and I was assisting with the lighting. Meanwhile Kevin was free to walk around and mingle. Since we didn’t get paid a killing for this gig, the owner gave us a small tab for dinner and drinks. As soon as I turned around to look for Kevin, he was already making friends with the bartender and a frosty pint in his hand. Beer wasn’t the only thing Kevin consumed that day. He also helped himself to the tasty cocktails that were arranged neatly on brightly-lit bar.
Yup, Kevin was at it again. Before long, he had bummed a smoke from an unsuspecting patron. Probably persuaded him with his thick Anglo-Saxon accent.
Kevin’s only job that evening was to watch my car to ensure I didn’t get a ticket. Not only did he fail miserably, but he drank a mixture of beer and cocktail fervently like there was no tomorrow.
We would be dragging his drunk ass home tonight.
Hours later, when the shoot was a wrap and we were hanging out at the bar with Erica. Kevin went out to the patio for his obligatory smoke.
“So what’s with that douche bag of yours?” asked Erica?
“Yeah, why is snaggletooth flirting with me all night, whispering Shakespearean stanzas into my ear like I would be impressed. Staring at my boobs like I’m some piece of meat?”
I rolled my eyes in utter disgust – this would be the last time I bring Kevin anywhere. And thank goodness I wouldn’t be seeing Kevin or visiting Lebaum for several days. Next week, I would be leaving on a jet plane to Dallas, Texas.