Winner Winner, Booze For Dinner

He stared at the house as he backed out of the driveway. It was huge. Nothing extravagant compared to the rest of the neighborhood, but still impressive. Plain white colonial, absent stone or brick. Had to be 4,000 square feet. He watched her close the front door as he shifted into drive and eased up the street.

He couldn’t figure this chick out, his Landlord. She was nice, always had been. Married to an ex-cop who didn’t take shit from nobody. He’d seen the guy toss a brat college kid and his mommy out of a rented room when they challenged him over parking in the driveway. Kurt chuckled to himself at the memory. They blocked his car in once and then left together in another vehicle. Assholes. So he called the Lady Landlord and she sent hubby out. Watching from his second story room, he could hear most of it through the open window. Mommy said something about Hubby Landlord being bitter because he wasn’t successful. Then a barreling voice said, “You know, it’s just time for you to go. Start packing. I’ll be back with a 30 Day Notice.” The Big Guy didn’t stop to listen to another word, just slid into his truck and drove off. By the time Kurt got back from the gas station there was a notice taped to their door.

The Big Guy made Kurt nervous. He was nice enough, but intimidating, partly because of his size. But it was his eyes–they seemed to take in every detail, like he knew way more than he let on–that really made Kurt keep a low profile. That’s why he always went to Lady Landlord. She was pretty clueless, but likable, with her squinty smile and nervous chatter, always wanting to keep the peace.

He had rented from them before, a few months back. Until Bryn got pregnant and was able to convince her parents to rent her a house out near them. But Kurt wasn’t supposed to be living there. When the septic tank backed up and left a foot of raw sewage water in their basement, Bryn called her Dad, who saw the obvious signs of Kurt living there, and her parents threw a fit. The sewage problem was enough to get her parents out of the lease and leave him homeless. Again.

But Lady Landlord came through for him with a room back in his old place. That’s when he really started to see how crazy she was. He told her upfront he couldn’t pay her anything for a week and she agreed to make him a personal loan. He almost felt bad about lying to her. Thank God she didn’t check like she said she would. Once he was back in the place, he fessed up to being fired from the limo company. She didn’t need to know it happened months before, back when he moved out the last time. Her fault for not checking.

He turned left onto the main road, passing the club house, then took another left back into the neighborhood. The back of the clubhouse opened up to a patio looking out over the golf course. On the other side of the fairway stood an all-brick monstrosity with a rambling, multi-tiered deck winding down to an in-ground pool. He drifted back to Vegas, when he was selling real estate. He’d been so close, clearing $140,000 in commission his last year. He still owed the IRS for the taxes. He felt a churning in his stomach, sweat on the back of his neck. Instinctively, he reached for his travel mug. It was light; he’d drained the last of it as he pulled up to Lady Landlord’s house, the whole reason he ended up in this neighborhood to begin with. He turned around in a cul-de-sac and headed back to the main road, toward the grocery store he saw on the way. Screw the big, fat brick house.

He still couldn’t believe how easily she handed over $150. He shouldn’t have been surprised, really. Afterall, she basically gave him a room for free. Not to mention the bag of food and $50 cash he hadn’t even asked for. It was around that time that he started to feel better about having to move back into that shitbox of a room in Akron. All because of Bryn’s freaking parents. And Bryn. She was sucking every dime out of him, constantly whining about being sick. Dope sick, maybe. Stupid bitch.

His mood lifted as he pulled into the grocery store and saw the big old sign on the building: State Liquor Agency. For the first time in a long time, he’d be able to get a decent drink. He was sick of watered down gas station booze. He’d rather chug mouthwash, and sometimes did.

He had told Bryn he was getting $100 today, which left $50 she didn’t know about. And Lady Landlord had surprised him again with $50 to Olive Garden. He thought he’d gone too far, venting to her about how sick and nasty sick Bryn was. But then she handed him the gift card. “Take her out for a Date Night.” He was barely able to contain himself. This lady didn’t stop! Not that he was complaining.

He left the little liquor store that was inside the grocery store with a couple bottles of 80 proof vodka in a plain brown grocery bag, stapled shut with a receipt attached. Not your average gas station score, that’s for sure. He was thinking about ripping it open on his way past the registers, when a green and yellow sign caught his eye:

Instantly Exchange Gift Cards For Cash.

Jackpot. He dodged a lady with two kids hanging off a cart full of groceries as he headed for the machine. He scanned the screen, followed the prompts and printed a receipt, which he immediately took to the Customer Service Desk for his $35.

Screw Bryn’s date night. This was just like winning slots in Vegas.

Flipping Switches

The more interaction I had with Kurt, the more I wondered about his story. I was beginning to realize that my initial impressions were off, many of them by miles. I remember commenting to Matt that Kurt “just seems like such a nice a kid.” To which my astute husband replied, “You do realize that guy’s 38 years old?”

Okay, so I’m not the most observant person in Summit County. In my own defense, I do tend to create images of people based on their application data and background check. Kurt first applied for a room with us in 2018 and I didn’t meet him until he came to get his keys. Any information I had before that came from the rental application…that he completed. And I did not look at his date of birth.

On paper, I saw a guy who was earning a reasonable income driving for Uber with a more than decent little Kia, no criminal or eviction history and only one speeding ticket, ever. His current address was local, and prior to that, he’d lived in Vegas. His emergency contact was a cousin who lived in our area. His car told me he was responsible enough to make payments, his squeaky clean background said he was too young to have made much trouble yet, and his emergency contact indicated he had no spouse or parents in the area. In my head, I made him a twenty-something guy who had fled from Vegas to Ohio, where his cousin lived. Perhaps he was exchanging the party life for a simpler one, and maybe a few classes at Akron U. It was a responsible decision for a young man.

Even I can do a bit of basic math (just not in my head) and things weren’t quite adding up between the Kurt I had created and the Kurt I was now getting to know. Driving for Uber can be great for someone working toward more (like an education) but he wasn’t. And the on-again-off-again thing with Bryn was junior high level lust at best. Not to mention he was borrowing money from his Landlord. (Where was this Emergency Contact Cousin?) There had to be more to this man’s story. So when he came to collect his loan proceeds, I gave him a cigarette and got to picking his brain a bit.

I started with Bryn and their love-hate relationship. His recent texts had been riddled with snippets of a self-centered nag who did nothing but bring him down, so I half expected him to tell me they had–yet again–parted ways. I was surprised when Kurt said they’d been together for two years. Their baby was due in June and they were planning to get married as soon as he got back on his feet. With a child-like grin on his face, he pulled out his phone to show a picture of a frumpy, plump faced girl with thick, brownish hair piled on top her head in a ponytail loop. Not even close to the image I had conjured. (She wasn’t blonde and she was not petite). If I hadn’t known she was pregnant, I would have judged her as overweight. She was caught off guard by the picture, a bulky men’s hoodie unfairly adding to her size. Her eyes held years beyond her age, but there were hints of pretty peeking through them.

Kurt said she lived with her parents (so how old was she?) about 40 minutes away. She’d been sick throughout her four months of pregnancy and wasn’t able to work. (So they both had no income.) Her parents were assholes, he said. Despite having the financial means, they offered no help.

But she was living with them...
And hadn't they just been looking at houses to rent?  

Well yes, but then that whole “blow up argument” thing happened and Bryn’s “pill-popping” mother had physically come at her with accusations that she tried to take money from her purse. He said, “Her parents treat her like shit.” Like the flip of a switch, his face scowled and his chest raised a bit, as he spewed details of how they “do everything” for their other kids but “Bryn gets nothing. She has nothing for the baby and no one will even have a shower for her. Her parents can go fuck themselves.” This was not the talk of a 38 year old man. Then his whole demeanor flipped again. And again, it was like a switch. It was as if he suddenly remembered who his audience was and realized he’d been giving the wrong speech.

These ‘flipping switches’ were a pattern for Kurt, but it would be months before I could recognize it. In the meantime, I bought into everything he said and continued to see him as the sweet, innocent ‘kid’ I had concocted in my head. If I was questioning anything at this point, it was about Bryn. Kurt’s ‘flipping switches’ and nasty rants–about Bryn one minute, and the familial injustices they suffered the next–were red flags. And I rushed right by them to pass judgment on Bryn by deciding she must be the source of Kurt’s problems.

I still can’t define the sense of allegiance I felt toward helping Kurt and, eventually Bryn and their baby. At the time, I was so clearly being led by God to be a light and an example; to give something back in a pay-it-forward sort of way, that I virtually never questioned any of my decisions. Everything I did–physically, financially, emotionally–it all felt like it was exactly what I was supposed to be doing. They were in great need and God had blessed me with the time, resources and financial means to meet most of that need. If I didn’t do it, who would? I never stopped to think about why they were in that position to begin with.

Instead, I worked diligently to avoid seeing what I didn’t want to see. And not just about Kurt; but about myself, and my priorities, and my own unhealthy boundaries. But mostly about my drinking. When it was finally clear that Kurt had a deeper problem, it never crossed my mind that alcohol was the source. Not once, until someone else brought it up. And even then, I discarded the thought. I would know if he had a drinking problem.

I would know…Because I had one, too.

Broke, But Not Homeless

read the last post about kurt: Broke & Homeless

It didn’t take long for Kurt to get comfortable back in his rented room on Roselawn Avenue. He kept in touch frequently, mostly by text message. I assumed he and his pregnant fiancé, Bryn had called it quits, otherwise he wouldn’t have been homeless. I expected the old happy-go-lucky Kurt would resurface now that he’d been relieved of the premarital woes that seemed to have plagued his previous tenancy.

You know how we often say, “If there’s anything you need…” ? It’s kind of meant to be congenial from a distance, like saying “good morning” to a passing stranger, or “how are you?” to the Target cashier. You don’t intend to invite an ad hoc therapy session; you’re just being polite. Most people will smile and respond with something like, “I’m fine, how are you?” and probably not even wait to hear your reply. And~if you’re like most people~you’re okay with that. And~if you’re like most people~when someone, like say, the hotel desk clerk, says, “if you need anything…” you have that special little filter that stops you from trying to bum money from her. One would think this “filter” – often referred to as a boundary- would be especially sensitive in someone who had just been given a place to stay, a little bit of cash and some basic human kindness from a relative stranger.

From the start of Kurt Take Two, it was obvious he had found his assertive side, and it was ignorant to social cues. Much like the annoying kid in the neighborhood who never knows when to go home. It seemed that providing an opportunity for Kurt to get back on his feet came with price tags of entitlement and expectations, and I had unwittingly signed up to pay the freight.

Three days after he picked up his room keys, Kurt asked me for a “loan” of $150. He fessed up to losing his dispatch job (although he didn’t say when) and said he had just interviewed with Goodyear, which was “in the bag” just as soon as his drug test came back. In the meantime, he needed to “make some quick bank” until his first check rolled in so he could pay the rent he owed me. My loan would fund car insurance and gas so he could drive for Uber, which he had done prior to dispatching limos, so he was sure that would pan out, too. And everything he made “would be going right back to [me]”. He hated to ask; I had already done so much. But, he reminded me, I did say, “if you need anything…”

“And by the way, THANK YOU!” He had just found the $50 I stashed in his donation bag of canned goods. “You didn’t have to do that!” Oh hey; was there any way we could move the bed frame out of his room and get him a second twin mattress so he and pregnant Bryn could sleep comfortably together in the one-person room he rented but hadn’t paid for? And it was cold as hell in there! Could we come by and check the vents and maybe bring him a space heater? He was heading out right then to donate plasma (he didn’t know you could DO that!) for cash, but he would graciously postpone that if there was any way that I could meet up with him right now to make my $150 donation to Uber For Kurt.

I said yes. Yes. To loaning $150 to a relative stranger. I can still remember staring at my “Yes I can” text on my phone before hitting the send arrow. I’d like to tell you that I thought long and hard, weighed the pros and cons, talked it over with Matt, and prayed about it before mindfully making the decision. But I didn’t. At the time, it honestly felt like the right thing to do, a no-brainer. We have much, Kurt had little. “Of they who are given much, much is expected.” So I said yes and The Bank of Vicki was established.

I really never questioned my decision to loan Kurt that money, which was almost exactly 11 months ago. Frankly, I had forgotten all about it until now. And while going through my notes to write this, my resounding thought has been, “What in the Hell were you thinking?”

Was it the right thing to do, a good decision? Or was it wrong? I’m still wrestling with that question, which is why it’s taken me two weeks to write less than 800 words. But I do know that one small decision set several people on a life-changing path to recovery, healing and forgiveness.

And grace. Incredible grace like I’ve never seen before.

What Happens in Vegas…

He stirred a bit to the steady hum of the air conditioner and a familiar throbbing in his head. He knew better than to open his eyes and reached blindly for the bottle on his nightstand. He was cold and wet with his own sweat, his body working hard to rid itself of the night before. No bottle. Damn.


Last night. What was last night? His head was in a fog, his mouth like a cotton field in a dry, hot summer. Forcing his eyes to open, he tried to focus on the kaleidoscope of unfamiliar surroundings: a ceiling fan torturing his already dizzied head; a sky light slicing through his throbbing temples. Black stilettos on the floor, red ones, too; their respective owners tangled together beside him. Shit.

His last solid recollection was of working. He had ridden with John for the Tuesday Broker Tour, they stopped for drinks. Slowly he turned to find a clock, squinting until the numbers came into focus. It was 12:37; Wednesday afternoon.


He sat up too quickly and felt the tidal wave of nausea in his stomach. Hair of the dog, hair of the dog. His regular morning mantra. With mounting desperation he stumbled toward the door in front of him. Closet. Before he could turn around, the wave in his stomach rose to his throat and splashed onto a pile of women’s shoes. Where in the hell was he? Wiping his arm across his mouth, he turned back toward the bed where the Stiletto Twins were beginning to stir. He weaved a path to a collection of bottles across the room, then leaned against the dresser and into the bottom of a Bombay bottle, barely enough to steady his gaze. He slid down the dresser, knees to elbows, and rested his head in his hands. His phone; shit.


He found his clothes in a pile on the floor, his phone nearby, plugged into the wall and fully charged. Thirty-eight text messages and 17 missed calls shifted his brain into high gear and his fingers began to scroll. By the time he finished he had learned it wasn’t Wednesday after all. It was Sunday afternoon and he had lost three and a half days.


He looked around for something familiar and found nothing. Not even the Stiletto Twins rang a bell. He gathered his clothes from the floor and eased his way through the bedroom door and down a hallway to the bathroom. After dressing, he splashed his face with cold water and helped himself to the Listerine near the sink. He swished and gargled, then swallowed a few swigs, hoping to steady his hands.


Further down the hall he found the kitchen, littered with empty bottles and the sweet stench of liquor and faint perfume. A dusty mirror displayed the residue of last night’s score. He wiped it clean with his index finger and rubbed it into his gums as he slid a rolled up twenty into his pocket. He found two beers in the refrigerator and sifted through some mail on the counter. He didn’t recognize the female name or the address of an apartment in Spring Valley. He was thirty minutes from home. Lovely.


He took a last look around then squeezed through the sliding glass door into the desert sauna of mid-afternoon. He didn’t know where he was going but he sure hoped there was a liquor store along the way.

Broke and Homeless

Christmas came and went without a peep from Kurt. Not even a card. Or a demeaning text meant for someone else. Assuming he was busy embracing impending fatherhood, I had pretty much forgotten all about him.

January in Ohio can be a tough time for filling vacant rentals. Those who haven’t spent every last dime on Christmas generally don’t want to move in the bitter cold and snow. Anyone who wants to is likely being evicted. Having a handful of vacant units to fill, I jumped into action when Kurt reached out on January 8. He was sleeping in his car and wanted to move in that night. He had $20 to his name, he said. At the time, we only had unfurnished rooms available. It was late in the evening and bitter cold outside, so I offered him an air mattress and told him he could come pick up the keys. I threw some spare sheets and blankets into the washer and waited for Kurt to respond, which he did…six days later. It must have been fate; by then we had another tenant who pulled a Kurt, moving out without notice from a furnished room at Roselawn. I asked him, “When do you want to pick up the keys?” Once again, I waited.

Most people would be irritated at this point. But I had a feeling there was more going on with Kurt; I was thinking mental illness and I was concerned for him and for his pregnant girlfriend. If my hunch was right, they needed some time apart. I tend to overthink. I also tend to think I can save the world, or at least some of us who live in it. So I reached out to Kurt the next day around 11:00 am. To my surprise, he said his girlfriend’s parents were helping them look for houses to rent so they could “live together as a family”. Great! I was encouraged to know he and his girlfriend had the support of her family; it gave Kurt and his situation some credibility in my eyes. But by 5:00 that evening, things had, once again…changed. His girlfriend and her parents had a “blow up argument” he said. They were staying with her sister for the night. He threw in that he was “broke” (again) but assured me he had a roof over his head, at least temporarily. Very temporarily, I learned the next day, when–you guessed it–Kurt was again ready to move back in.

This is where things got messy(er). Whether it was from my desire to help a soul in need, or simple desperation to fill a vacant unit (or maybe just be done with this), I’m still not clear. But I bent “The Rules”. I did not run a new background check and I did not verify his employment or income when he told me he was still working at the limo company. Had I done those things, I would have found that he’d been fired from that job in November; right around the time he made his split-second departure from Roselawn. Carelessly, I rented a unit to a tenant with no income and agreed to let him pay the rent and deposit later. When he got paid from the job that I didn’t know he no longer had. Lesson learned. Well, eventually.

Kurt had little money and apparently only the clothes in his car. So, along with his keys, I left a bag on my porch with some canned goods and pasta and a few warm blankets. And $50 of Christmas cash I’d been hoarding. Because I had everything I could ever need and more, and he was just down on his luck.

Perhaps it wasn’t so coincidental that a few days after moving back in to Roselawn, Kurt lost his job. At least that’s what he told me when, instead of contacting me as promised to make payment, he texted me asking to borrow money.

Room for Rent?

I didn’t hear much from Kurt after the incident with Blue Van Tenant, aside from a few texts that were clearly meant for someone else…named Bryn. The texts were nasty and accusatory, laden with profanity and grammatical errors so horrendous that even auto-correct couldn’t make sense of them. But the intentions were clear, even to me. They were meant to demean, hurt and belittle someone. At this point I still had no knowledge of a girlfriend, boyfriend or any other relationship of Kurt’s. As far as I knew, he was still just the hard-working, pleasant college student who had climbed the Uber ladder up to a dispatch job at a local limousine company. Apparently “college student” wasn’t my only false assumption.

Nasty texts aside, things remained pretty quiet at Roselawn, which is why I was caught off guard by Kurt’s “notice to move out thirty minutes ago” text that came at the beginning of November. It was perfectly crafted, detailing how clean and void of “holes or other damage” he had left the room. Not one grammatical error. Even “fiancé” and “pregnant” and “really short on money so please can I have my deposit back even though I’m leaving without a notice and haven’t paid the rent” were all spelled correctly. Four days after he moved out, he started asking to come back.

At first I thought he was following up to see if the room had been rented in hopes of getting some of his deposit back. I felt a little sorry that he hadn’t understood the 30 day notice requirement; many people choose to forget about that when it makes things more convenient for them. I assured him we had the room ready and listed for rent on the same evening he moved out and were actively showing it. “My relationship is pretty fucked (right now). If it doesn’t work out soon, I’ll need to move back in.”

In just four days, Kurt had gone from being the supportive father-to-be who wanted to take care of his family, to being so over his fiance’ and their unborn child that a rented room on Roselawn seemed as appealing as The Marriott. Which, apparently, he thought we were running. But he had been a decent tenant, he needed a place and we had a room. I told him he was welcome to move back in, as soon as he paid November’s rent and late fee. I also encouraged him to work things out with his Baby Mom Fiance’; and then I waited for his response. It must have taken some thought; it was January before I heard from him again.

Kurt & the “Mother Lover”

“So my life has abruptly changed; my fiance’ is pregnant.”

A few weeks before I received his 30 second (as opposed to 30 day) notice of intent to move out, Kurt had been just a bit…off. Up until that point, he had been considerate, respectful and helpful, rarely complaining about anything. When he did have an issue, it was valid and reasonable and he approached it almost apologetically, usually with a lighthearted wit. I often found him to be entertaining. About six weeks before he moved out, a few hints crept out that the easy-going, even tempered, working man who basically kept to himself, perhaps had a little side of mean and nasty. It was just enough to give me pause, but really nothing concerning. I chalked it up to a bad day and forgot about it. But looking back…

“This asshole has me blocked in and he and his mother lover are not here.??” — text from Kurt

The owner of the blue van was another tenant, a young (and very spoiled) college student whose mother spent an odd amount of time at Roselawn, looking out for her adult son. Both Mother and Son had been complaining about Kurt, accusing him of stealing food and several other issues that were nearly impossible to prove. They had apparently left the van behind Kurt’s car and then left in another vehicle; a completely unreasonable and passive-aggressive thing to do. I certainly understood Kurt’s frustration, but the way he presented it was completely out of character for the Kurt I knew. I immediately called him just to be sure he wasn’t in the midst of slashing tires.

I absolutely (big word) never lie to tenants. So before contacting Blue Van Tenant, I asked Kurt if he had somewhere to be. “I’m going out to lunch,” he said. A valid reason to request driveway egress, I thought, as I called Blue Van Tenant. His indignant response to Kurt’s plight: “He probably just needs to go get beer.”

I specifically recall feeling a bit protective of Kurt. He just did not strike me as a drinker. Not that there’s anything wrong with drinking.

At 2:00 in the afternoon.

In the middle of the week.

Unless you, yourself have an alcohol abuse issue that you’re working very hard to ignore. And because we drunks like to stick together, I decided that Blue Van Tenant was making it all up.

The driveway blocking incident was the last in a very long line of straws for Blue Van Tenant and his “mother lover”. The conversation that ensued regarding their disrespect for fellow tenants, as well as for their Landlords, resulted in a formal request for them to vacate the premises. They were gone the following month; Kurt remained.

Mark one down for the Drunk Team.