What's It All About / A Rant about Landlords

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We drove the long and dismal trip from Washington DC to Amherst, Massachusetts on Monday, August 20. It was overcast and rainy, matching our moods. It had been a long and difficult ninety days on the road promoting my book. I wondered if it had been worth it. True, the book has done well in terms of new books published by a small and left-wing press like Monthly Review. There has been a second printing, just five months after publication. And the book is in stores no Monthly Review book has ever been and noted in sections of newspapers probably very few books by a radical have ever been noticed. But still, a book like this should have a much wider audience. Unfortunately, it is really not possible to reach such an audience absent the greatest good luck. So, you have to ask yourself – what was the point of it all? Ego gratification? Yes, there was a lot of that. But that doesn’t last long or make you happy either. The hope that you will get a few people to think more critically about their country and the environment? Maybe, but more than a few are needed to bring about any kind of meaningful change.

After nine hours, we reached the apartment complex where we would live for the next five months. It was a nice enough looking compound, lots of trees and greenery, very close to town and the university where I would teach. (I was also thinking about why I had decided to teach again. I couldn’t come up with an answer except that I would accumulate some money and maybe we could put this to good use later. I certainly had no feelings of joy that I would be in front of lots of students again. Just like my book will make a few people think, so too will my teaching. But so what? As Marx said, this entire society bears down upon our breasts like an incubus. Most of us are crushed and will be into the foreseeable future). We parked the car; I found the key in a storage shed under some pots; and we opened the door.

Words cannot adequately describe our dashed expectations. The place was a mess: dirty, cluttered with junk, not an eye-pleasing thing in sight. The living room couch and love seat were ancient, badly worn, and could not be sat on. There was a board under the dirty cushions of each, making them as hard a church pew. When I removed the boards and sat down, I sank to the floor. And things got worse after that. I won’t bore you with the details except to say that we called the landlord and managed to get a few things done. Hopefully we’ll get more done this next week, and the place will be barely liveable. I almost walked away from the whole mess and would have had I been alone. It is going to be very difficult to teach and live here. At least we are conveniently located, near school and town and grocery stores and the like. We’ll have to make do and vent our anger by planning our future.

Landlords are, for the most part, a particularly vicious lot. They act like they are doing you the favor by renting a place to you and they demand all sorts of information about you. However, when all is said and done, caveat emptor. But then what can you expect in a society where private property is king, and the mere ownership of it conveys all sorts of rights and marks the owner as a specially placed person. Those without property, on the other hand, get what they deserve, a thorough thrashing! Righteous historians and social commentators ask why Chinese peasants injured and killed so many landlords after the 1949 revolution. Such violence! I think to myself, why didn’t they kill more. Of course, we are not propertyless. And we won’t ever kill anyone. But if I were king, landlords would have to go before a special renters’ court and prove themselves worthy of staying out of prison. To make matters worse, the treatment of renters helps fuel the pipedream of home ownership, where you trade one set of predators for another.

8 Responses to What's It All About / A Rant about Landlords

  1. Ron O'Brien August 28, 2007 at 11:01 pm #

    Hey Mike, We are looking at RV’s as an alternative to cheap motels etc. We think they offer more control over your day to day environment and there are RV parks everywhere. We are renting a house right now but plan to try this RV theory out on our next book tour by leasing one. If it works we will travel the country and write our travel guides. Keep the faith. Ron & Troy

  2. Chris Townsend September 1, 2007 at 11:24 pm #

    Hey, Mile and Karen: you gotta scrape around for an old (1980?) punk rock song “Let’s Lynch the Landlord” from the Dead Kennedy’s. Sing and repeat. When I was living in Florida in a variety of derelict “apartments” around south Pinellas County the lyrics sometimes inspired me. On my garbageman’s wages I did my best. You guys will do fine. See you next time you wander through Washington, D.C. Chris Townsend PS: I just saw the book featured on the AFL-CIO web page. Some things have changed. There IS hope for this labor movement after all.

  3. Mike September 2, 2007 at 2:04 am #

    Sean, Thanks for this notice. I checked it out. CNA is a great organization! Michael Yates

  4. Sean Prendiville September 2, 2007 at 10:50 am #

    There’s also a favorable review of Cheap Motels and a HotPlate in the current issue of the CNA/NNOC publication, Registered Nurse. Page 18 in the following link. Good publication by one of the most vital, innovative unions around:

  5. Carolyn Baxter September 6, 2007 at 4:37 am #

    Gee Mike, I was about to seek publication with Monthly Reveiw. A Prison Memoir I just completed “Assata and The Baby Gangsta”about my 6yr. Prison Bid with Assata Shakur and the influence she had on my Life at 17.We are in a few Anthologys together WallTappings /Feminist Press 20th Century Prison Writings/ Penguin Putnam press and others.I feel your lack of motivation and reading your post was like hearing my own words in my head after trying to deter Urban Violence after a 15yr old took 3 in the chest pointblank and died a few months a back. My new first time “self Published” short story’s and poetry about REAL street Hustlas/Playas that have lost their live’s in the street game, with an excerpt of the prison memoir, I wrote it for the Youngins and It is a first hiphop political book for the “teens” as for promotion I sell them in Bootleg shops with the mixed tapes and I cant sell them fast enough but by myself..It is impossable.. I’M in the UFT United Federation Of Teachers in NYC and they are always talking about Crime and detering it etc etc – I wonder if it’s real?I want to have a group of people who served time and have written/Rap to go to the schools and kick alil science to the if the Violence continues at this rate..the classrooms will be alot less students. I wonder how I can single handedly do it even though my book it is well loved/appreciated. Black on Black crime is my Crusade full force right now,I dont think I’ll do a self again as I am just not a good Business person..but just stopped by to show you that I feel your pain and that there is someone else out ther in the struggle! one love Carolyn Baxter

  6. Gary Johanson September 21, 2007 at 1:00 pm #

    Mike, I am a Union rep who travels the Midwest, from the Upper Peninsula of Michigan to new Orleans and west to Texarkana. One of my favorite techniques is to pull into a motel late at night on the outskirts of town, or on the old highway that was bypassed by the interstate, and negotiate for a better price. It works quite often. I carry a sleeping bag and government pop-up tent when this method does not work or I just feel like camping. My Impala has a roomy back seat which works ok for sleeping too. I rarely plan ahead and get a hotel, I just sleep where I end up that day. Much better than when i lived in my house in a Nevada suburb and life was boringly predictable. Gary

  7. Mike September 24, 2007 at 8:17 pm #

    Paula and Gary, Thanks for writing. Paula, send me some of what you have written. I’d like to see it. Gary, keep up the good work. Which union are you with? Michael Yates

  8. jjack October 28, 2007 at 9:01 am #

    Not to be too much of a smart-ass, but I knew you were in for a surprise as soon as you said that your key was in a storage shed under some pots. That’s a pretty clear signal that your landlord is a loose character! Anyway, I’ve lived in a few former meth labs so I know where you’re coming from. Hopefully you’ve gotten it straightened up a little bit by now.

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