Letters to the Summer Tenants
Renting to the wrong people.
As the summer heat approaches its hellish apogee, thousands will flee their jobs for vacation spots near the ocean. Ten summers ago, Jodie T. Allen's "self-martyred landlord" wrote to the destructive summer tenants who had just left her house: "I did find a minute to relax in a rocker on the porch this morning, to watch the seabirds and admire what's left of the garden." Her article is reprinted below.
Aug. 30, 1997
I'm so glad you enjoyed your stay on the island. We were delighted to arrive after our long trip yesterday and find everything in such fine shape. It is always such a pleasure—after the fuss with the boat, the baggage, and the groceries—to walk the porches, and to watch the sun set behind the lighthouse to the west, the moon rise from the tinted sea to the east, the water darken and cap with white in the south. Of course, you probably didn't spend much time on the deck looking south because of the smell from the garbage cans.
Well, they're all clean now, though it did take some scrubbing. Next year I must make sure to leave you a larger supply of the 39-gallon can liners. I know I've left you notes about the others being too small, which means the lobster shells and fish juices spill over and mix with the chewing gum and pasta in the bottom of the can. You can buy the liners right in the harbor at the supermarket, though I suppose it is easier to grab the 30-gallon size. And with all the guests you have while you're here, I'm sure time must be at a premium!
I did find a minute to relax in a rocker on the porch this morning, to watch the seabirds and admire what's left of the garden. (It's amazing what a little watering will do for the flowers in a dry summer like this one.) Unfortunately, I didn't realize until it was too late that one of the spokes holding the left rocker had come loose, and that someone had tossed it away. (You know, it's really easy to reglue that sort of thing before the whole frame collapses and the rattan tears—but I suppose it does make handy kindling. I noticed there were only a couple of beads of the carving left when I cleaned the fireplace.) But I didn't really hurt myself—one always picks up a few bumps and scrapes around the house.
Many thanks for the bottles of wine. I can see from all the empty cartons that you must have enjoyed it too. Hope you're having a great summer's end.
As ever, etc.
Aug. 31, 1997
It struck me this morning that you can see water from every window of the cottage. I noticed this as I was moving the furniture on the second floor back into the bedrooms. It's easy to sort out—as you've probably noticed, when restoring the paint on all the old pieces, I color-matched them to the bedspreads and rugs. Oh, and don't worry, I did finally find all the rugs. No doubt they'll dry out in time and be as good as new. You know, it's not a bad idea to close the windows when it rains.
Oh say, I don't want to be intrusive, but if your guests do get into another knife fight or whatever, it's really easy to get the blood splatters out of the white frilled curtains if you wash them in cold water right away. (You can just throw them in the washing machine, if the kids' sandy clothes haven't stripped the gears yet.)
All the best, etc.
Sept. 3, 1997
I just thought I'd drop another line to remind you for next year that the cottage is made of wood. The shingles, the tongue-in-groove paneling, the polished-pine floors are all old wood. That means they burn very easily. So: Do not lean the pleated shade on the bedside lamp against the bulb while it is lighted. As you have no doubt noticed after two such experiments in consecutive years, when you do that, the shade melts and finally burns. Left long enough, the burning shade will set the house on fire. I assume you leave the house when you conduct these little trials, but there is always the chance that someone else may have lingered.
By the way, if you think of it next year, don't let the kids remove the front legs of the pedestal sink in the east bathroom and fill them with Q-Tips—children are so imaginative these days! And if they must do it, try not to discard the peculiar bolt fittings, so that I can put them back—they don't make that kind of sink anymore, so parts are hard to find. Ditto the handles on the bureau drawers. I know they are old and can come unscrewed. But the nut will always fall inside the drawer, so all you have to do is thread it back on the screw and then tighten it. Well, I suppose that's a bother on a vacation, but wouldn't it be just as easy to put the whole thing inside the drawer as in the wastebasket? Speaking of screwing—no, no, I'm not concerned about the mattresses—but did anyone ever show you how to replace a light bulb? There are lots of brand new ones in the sideboard in the dining room, and I would have thought you'd find it inconvenient to read or wash dishes in the dark.
And, speaking of washing dishes in the dark, the Italian cook you brought with you this year must be a great chef. Of course, great cooks don't usually make great cleaners. But not to worry, I'll get the grease off the pots and pans before we close the house for the winter. What a good thing, though, that I happened to look under the cast iron stove while searching for the corkscrew. Otherwise I'd never have found the six bags of garlic and onions. They'll help fill up the composter, which is really very empty after such a busy season—I guess you didn't have time to mind all those recycling rules posted at the town hall.
Well, have a great winter.
P.S.: The mail just came. How thoughtful of you to have paid the rent a whole year in advance. And the timing couldn't be better, as I've just got the bills for the taxes and insurance and the chapel and library and conservation society appeals and the down payment on the roof re-shingling. I always tell myself how lucky I am to have such wonderful guests as tenants.
Jodie T. Allen is the senior editor at the Pew Research Center.
Photograph of slob on Slate's home page by Digital Vision.