Monday, June 25, 2007

The Book Keepers

Somewhere along the way, we decided at one of our long drawn-out meetings to assign house jobs at Big Gray.This was a controversial decision owing to our anarchistic nature. As with most things concerning the house, we went through many changes until ( around our 6th or 7th year) we settled on a system that worked best for us. Before that though (for survival), we always had someone who acted as the house Book Keeper. As it turned out, this would become the most important and the most powerful position in the house. Sylvia was our first. It was her job to collect money, figure out what everyone owed (the telephone bill was always the worst part of it), and write out checks from our Big Gray Community check book. It was a thankless task. Cornering everybody and begging them to figure out which long distance calls they made, then getting them to cough up money was a pain in the ass which Sylvia soon grew weary of. I think I did it next, then later on with Donna (I had the job two or three times over the period of 21 years). In those first three years, we were in trouble with the oil company, then with Brooklyn Union (the gas company) and always with the landlord. It wasn't entirely our fault, exactly. With the oil company, the problem was the storage tank in our front lawn was broken so the damn thing had to be always full in order to work.Right from the start then, we had a huge bill to fill it. Then during our first winter, after the furnace belched up huge clouds of soot and grime through all the radiators in the house (for the second time) , the landlord replaced it with a gas furnace. (At the same time, he put aluminum siding on our first floor which ruined the look of the house, but saved us from freezing our collective asses off.) Anyhow, the gas company put us on an "estimated usage"pay plan, which meant we paid the same amount every month. That was fine until the end of our first year with them when they hit us with the overage charge which, of course, we couldn't afford to pay. Things were looking bad then, because to pay everyone else, we kept putting off paying the rent and Monsignor S. was getting more and more impatient (or so George told us; I was chicken to call him, myself). Finally, I negotiated a deal with some vice president of the gas company whose name we got from somebody. He agreed to let us pay our current bill and a part of what we owed till the whole thing was paid off, but we were still a couple of months behind with our rent.

That's how it went till Barbara arrived to save the day. When a member left in those early years especially, it caused an immediate crisis because we had to give them back their share of the deposit and that put us in a hole for the time it took to fill the vacancy. As I mentioned in the last post, I knew Barbara from the craft store which had moved into the neighborhood at the same time we did. She was living with the guy who owned the store and his monster of a dog who would attempt to eat anyone who came into the store. Barbara was the only person who could get near this monster without getting attacked, (if you can call getting jumped and slobbered on by a crazy dog "not getting attacked"). She also was part of a group who met in the city at an organization called the "Creative Quest" where Jaime, Donna and I had done therapy with Marilyn.(Small world, no?) So, when Barbara parted ways with Lou, the store owner and his dog, I was quick to sponsor her for a place at Big Gray. Steven had some reservations about her middle class values, but I think even he was charmed by Barbara's easy going manner, and besides, we needed the money. Thank God we got her. She took over the books and organized them so that we stopped, by and large getting threatening letters. She also started the idea of collecting more money from those of us who could afford it to make up for those who were behind on their obligations. (Why had no one ever thought of that?) Most significantly though, she began calling the Monsignor directly to tell him, for instance that we were sorry we could only send him part of the rent, but we would send another check in two weeks. Not only was he willing to accept the arrangement, he was completely won over by Barbara's manner. It was a great move forward for us, because it pushed George who was a cantankerous little worm, out of the picture and led to a wonderful relationship with the Monsignor. Monsignor S. later told me that he admired our little community because "Jesus lived that way with his Apostles." I doubt if Jesus ever tripped with the Apostles or grew pot in the back yard, but from that time forward, Monsignor S. was a friend.

So the Book Keeper became a very important figure in the house. Eddie, a guy who moved to Big Gray a few years later, further defined the role. By adding additional money to everyone's bill, he kept the people who were behind on payments (we always had them) on their toes. So, for example, if you owed $75, but Eddie said you owed $125 (no one ever checked), you scrambled to pay rather than fall too far behind. If you went over what you owed, it was fine as long as Eddie knew what the real numbers were. He also started the Big Gray Brown Box, a box we kept in the Office where anyone who bought supplies would simply leave the receipt with their name. He would add all the receipts at the end of the month and divide the cost among us. We had the "milk, butter and eggs" club too, for those of us who ate them, which saved a lot of room in the refrigerator where everyone had their own shelf. All these little nuances could be made without going to the house for a consensus vote which saved enormous haggling time.

There were always people at Big Gray who were contented to go along with the "flow" and not concern themselves with how things ran. Thankfully though,there were also those who took a hand at trying to steer our unwieldy ship.


Cheman said...

This post actually should come after "Changes on the Second Floor" I started it at an earlier date, but thought "Changes" should come first. Because of the earlier date however, when I published it, the program put "Book Keepers" first. No biggie, but just so ya know.

Michael said...

I'm the luck guy who married Barbara. For 25 years she scrupulously hovered over our bank accounts and carefully monitored our expenditures. She took over shortly after our relationship began an I impulsively bought "The Blue Myth" an old VW bus that was to take us to California. Soon after, it burned up on the Belt Parkway. No one but my ego was injured. She took over the books and only recently decided to let go and have me oversee our money. God help us!!

Cheman said...

It can only mean Barbara has succumbed to senility. Either that, or she has managed to ferret away her own private slush fund so she can bail out on you if the going gets tough.