Rental diaries, vol. 18


Mary Gray
January 11, 2019 - 14:49

I grew up attending an Episcopal church in Mississippi, which felt a bit like swimming on the moon. Our priest once remarked in a sermon that if a Mississippian hears someone say she’s from New York City, he’ll respond along these lines: “Oh, I have a friend there. Do you know x?”

The maddening and inescapable Magnolia state is more like a club than a region. At least that’s the description I once heard in Florence from the former rector of Saint James, a fellow Southerner, now newly repatriated. It’s largely true, if one grows up or plants roots among moon-swimmers. But most of us do learn that projecting the Mississippi club concept onto large swaths of people is at best naïve (“I know this person in New York, do you?”) and at worst offensive (“You’re x, do you know my friend who’s also x?”)

Post-adolescence, in marginally more cosmopolitan environments, I had to do a lot of un-learning of such six degrees of Kevin Bacon-and-grits tendencies. So imagine my surprise when, a few years into renting in Florence, I started noticing a pattern that didn’t appear very PC to point out: all my Florentine handymen seemed to know each other.

“Handymen” here is no euphemism for anything exciting. I mean the workers who have variously helped resolve my running toilet trial, leaking hot water heater, and oppressively tangled jasmine vines.

Before you call me daft, I do realize that most property owners provide tenants with a list of their preferred plumber, electrician, gardener, you name it—and that as such, a sort of favored-Mr.-Fix-It fraternity might emerge over time. This was abundantly clear years ago, when my first long-term landlord refused to foot bills for any messes cleaned up by not-his-guys.

Still, I’ve witnessed considerable “club” patterns even outside the inner circles shaped by landlord-prescribed speed dial lists. In my current place, just before Christmas, a hot water heater leak showed up in one of those slow-to-manifest domestic crises with a series of domino effects. Said effects—including a lack of power—made it challenging, first to identify the root issue, and later, to get a man. On the phone. Hence I deviated from my rental’s Rolodex.

The caldaia warrior who came through was a lone wolf, with no apparent links to my flat’s associated fraternity. When he determined we’d need reinforcement from a plumber, he phoned the very same saint who’d assisted me months earlier when a water bill wiped out most of my savings. Perhaps he’s just the best in the business, but their call and subsequent repair session were peppered with the easy banter of semi-brotherhood, long-term friendship simmered over decades.

If you live in Florence and are not particularly handy, you’ve probably seen similar dynamics amid household disasters. Or maybe you have just one go-to person—you know a guy. Well, so does he. Join the club.






Read all Rental Diaries columns by Mary Gray here

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