There’s so much smoke that sometimes it feels like someone is in the attic blowing smoke directly into the vents. It smells like a casino and I can recognize that same smell the moment I walk into any casino.
But my landlords, a couple, wouldn’t send a handyman to clean the vents. No, they had to come themselves to dispel me of the notion that there was smoke in the house. Now, if I could do this vocally, I’d use a common Asian dialect to recreate our conversations about this smell, but suffice it to be written in broken English. I tell her I’m glad she came because men usually don’t have as refined a sense of smell as women do.
Her (in understated, quite tasteful, black knee length dress with matching black purse, carried on hand like Sophia on Golden Girls): “What you smell?” She starts off with a direct challenge.
Me: “It smells like it’s coming from the vents.”
Her: Walking further into the house. “No, no smell smoke.”
Him: “No come from vent. I change all [points to the filters in the ceiling for lack of proper words].”
Her: “Where you smell?”
Me: “In the bedrooms, one of them I use as my office, and here [point to my dining table where my computer is].”
Him: Furiously, “We do whole house. We change all [points to ceiling filter]. No carpet, new flo,” [points to wood floors in bedroom], we paint, no smell.”
Her: “No smell heh [points to the living room space]. Maybe furniture smell. You smoke?” She turns to him and they have a conversation in their native language.
Me: “No, we don’t smoke” I say as they finish their exclusive conversation.
Her: “I smell sometin, maybe in hall, maybe some heh [points to dining area]. Maybe give me slight head hurt.” She continues to walk around the house inspecting, he follows.
Her: “No smell in there [points to Andre’s office].”
He: Goes to sink and smells garbage disposal. “Maybe heh,” he explains to my assumed naivety, “you run garbage, sits in sink, smell. Where you run?” I show him where the garbage disposal button is under the sink. He turns the water on and runs garbage disposal.
She turns the water off as disposal is running.
I quickly move towards the sink and say, “No, you have to run the water while it’s on.”
At the same time, he’s waving her hand away from the water faucet and turns the water back on.
He stops the disposal, turns off the water, goes into my bedroom.
I explain that it’s not the garbage disposal, it’s smoke and it’s coming from the vents.
She follows him claiming, “No smell smoke heh,” continues into the master bath. “You have ka?”
Me: Not understanding her pronunciation, I ask her to repeat it. Still don’t get it.
Her: “Ka.” She looks at me as if I’m dense.
Him: Stooping with his hand at about his ankles indicating size, “Dog, ka?”
Me: “Oh, sorry, no, no dog, no cats, no pets at all.”
Him: In the master bath, explains that I need to run the water in the sinks to get rid of trapped debris. “Catcha heh,” he points to the U turn in the pipes under the sink. “You run water to move out,” he gestures in a sweeping motion how the water will clean the drain after debris is washed down the drain. He points to the shower drain suggesting that there’s debris in there causing the problem.
Me: “No, that’s not making the smell of smoke.”
Her: “House closed 1-2 yeh, no smell after that. We come heh weekend while redo, no smell.” She’s empathic and slightly aggressive.
Again, softly, patiently, I explain that there is nothing in the drains that’s causing the smell of smoke. I tell them, too, that if the people who lived here were heavy smokers then the smoke has penetrated the vents and the wood in the attic, all the while knowing there’s no way they’re buying or even understanding the logic in that argument. After all, to them it’s been two years since the house has been occupied, which somehow invalidates any lingering smoke smells.
They walk through each room and come back to the living room. “No smell, maybe heh,” she proclaims. “Maybe time to change filter. Maybe our handyman do, but you pay, or you do.”
He: “Time for change,” [he points to filter in ceiling]. “You see they dirty. Six monf; time to change.”
Me: “The filter?”
Her: “You pay for fillta. Six monfs long time, or handyman change, you pay for.”
She goes to the back door, opens it and goes out to back yard (definitely not in the smoke-filled house complaint), which has just jagged rocks where a lawn used to be and some rose bushes on stakes against the back wall. “Was plant dying…” she mutters as she checks out back yard.
Me: “I have a gardener.”
She: Exclaims happily “Ahhh,” as she looks at the cared-for yard. “Look good,” as if this could part of the reason she was there.
Me: Sighing with relief that I didn’t leave the yard to be overgrown on Andre’s promise to take care of it “one day.” I explain to her that there is no smoke smell in the yard or outside.
She: Suddenly has an epiphany about a solution. “You open fron doo, you open back doo, breeze, no smell!”
Me thinking: There are no screens on either door to prevent flies, gnats, and lizards that I see scurrying about from coming in. Neither can I see if someone comes in either door depending on where I am in the house if the doors are open, but wow, she has solved the f**king problem, WTF didn’t I think of that! [I think pissedly]?
We move back into the house
Her: “You open doo! Air good. Good neighborhood. No one come in. You open front doo, back doo, [makes sweeping motion that I assume is the wind passing through].” She pulls out her phone and hits her weather app, shows me that the temperature is 81 degrees. “Now not hot.”
Me: Not mentioning that our car had been broken in as well as other cars in the neighborhood, so leaving my door open to the randomness of strangers ain’t gonna happen! Quietly, respectfully, I say to her, “I really didn’t mean for this to become [mentally struggling for a replacement for bone of contention continue] an argument, I’m just saying that there’s a [f**king] smell of smoke coming from the vents that is quite [f**king overpowering] strong and I wondered if you would run an ozone machine in here to get rid of it.” I continue to explain that I had already bought a Groupon to have the vents cleaned at our expense, but the AC company told me that cleaning the vents probably wouldn’t get rid of that smell. It was he who suggested the ozone machine.
Her: “We come weekend (last year some time), house make new, paint, change fillta, all new, no smell. No smell after two yeh, I say you change fillta, den no change, you do [insinuating that if there is no change after changing the filters I can use the ozone machine]. No smoke, you pay fo.”
And through all this I believe in my heart that they are well-meaning; that they meant no disrespect to me as a tenant. It’s just a big f**king cultural gap and I’ve heard lots of jokes about Asians (collectively) and their legendary tight fists when it comes to spending money. They certainly live up to those stereotypes.
I escort them to the door and as they leave He sees a tile that has loosened on the roof overhanging the front walk. He asks for a ladder, I provide him a ladder and a rubber mallet, and as he climbs the ladder I steady it by holding the proper side like I’ve been taught eons ago. He says something rapid-fire to her in the native language and she moves to hold the ladder. He fixes the tile, puts the ladder back. I thank them for coming, close and lock the door.
Fade to black.