The old woman left her apartment, looking about her as she always did for danger, her mouth screwed into a rictus of anger. In her right hand she clutched an envelope. In it, the culmination of six years' agitation rested, folded in thirds. She grabbed the handrail with her left hand and gingerly let herself down the three stairs to where the postboxes were. Reaching up on tiptoe, she slipped the envelope into the box with the hated name on it. At last! Soon the foreigner would be gone.
As for the foreigner, he was doing what he'd been doing all week: waiting. Waiting to hear if any of the seven publications he'd pitched on the Fes Festival of World Sacred Music, to which he'd been invited by its publicist, had responded. Waiting to hear from a literary agent to whom he'd pitched a book three months ago. Waiting for money to arrive into his American and German bank accounts so he could buy some food, which was running out. Waiting for it to stop raining. Waiting to see if the guy who bought his used CDs was going to come.
Waiting isn't something you have to spend a lot of brainpower on, though, so when he heard the sound of somebody sticking something into his postbox he at first thought the mail had come. Not that, in these days of e-mail, anything of interest ever showed up in the mail, but you never know. More likely, it was yet another pizza menu. When he'd first visited Berlin, back in 1988, pizza delivery had just been instituted. He remembered his girlfriend's about-to-be-ex-boyfriend exulting about it. "The pizza was horrible!" he'd said. "But they bring it to you!"
He cracked the door, looking for the crone, who'd appeared in the middle of the previous night, awakening him with her door-slamming. She wasn't there, so he rummaged for his key and unlocked the box. He knew what was in the envelope without opening it, but he opened it anyway as soon as he was back in the apartment. It was as he'd feared:
"At the moment, you are eleven months in arrears on your rent: €5,547.41. You also owe maintenance costs for 2006 in the amount of €783.57. Total is €6,330.98. Please remit, within ten days of the date on this message, €3,809.43." (This amount is just over $5000 at today's rate). The date was May 10.
He knew what to do from past experience. The first thing to do was not, under any circumstances, to panic. The next thing to do was to get back to work.
Which, admittedly, was easier said than done. But I've got two more radio bits to write, and, once that's done, I can voice them and bill enough to pay off two months' rent. I'd been planning to do that already. One is as good as done: Swamp Dogg, that elemental force of nature whose early recordings -- including a blues he'd made on a disc-cutter at the age of 11 with his mother playing drums -- I'd listened to the night before. The other is a matter of listening to a CD and knocking the elements together.
The bad news was, the Fes thing was now officially down the drain. Of the seven editors I'd written, only one had responded, saying he'd get back to me, and he hadn't. (Another checked in last night, and said no). But in order to pay two months' rent, I'd have to use the minimal money I'd have had to spend for food in Morocco. Possibly this was for the better. I'd wanted to see the place -- hell, even Marie hasn't been to Fes! -- but to tell the truth the bill looked kind of anemic this year. Of course, it was more than just losing a trip to an exotic location; I was really hoping to make contact with a new outlet for my work which I could develop and thus be able to increase my earnings. This may yet happen, though.
The other bad news was that I'm not at all sure what I should do at this point, from the legal side. If I can only pay off a thousand Euros by the end of the month, does that mean the landlord (who's, to his credit, been very reluctant to do this and was no doubt pushed by others) will now instigate legal proceedings? If so, should I just hoard the money against the eviction? Or, if a judgement is found against me, does this mean dealing with the bailiff again? Probably so. At any rate, it's the weekend, and there isn't a thing I can do about any of it right at the moment.
Which makes the injunction against panicking all the more sensible.
Another thought occurred to me, too. This is the start of the season in which the students in the centre historique of Montpellier start to leave and vacancies of affordable apartments start. They'll be gone until late August. Maybe this situation can be turned to good effect in getting me out of here: find an accommodation with the landlord and leave by a given date.
Of course, all of this hinges on work to pay for it all, and that's the sticky part. There just doesn't seem to be any. And the weird behavior of the dollar versus the Euro makes budgeting of even a minimal sort very tricky.
What I'd really like is some good, meaningful, involving work, of course. I'd hate to think that it's all gone forever, and that, at the age of 58, I'm going to be forced to find another way to make a living. Plus, of course, the mental stimulation that working brings means that the creative functions start up again, and I get more ideas, which lead to more work, and so on and so on. Sitting here writing e-mails -- and blog posts -- is hardly the highest and best use of my time and talents, after all.
Unfortunately, if things take a legal turn here, it'll eat up time I could be spending doing what work I get. That will mean a reduction in the theoretical amount I'd earn which I'd need for the move. And I also realize that if I do move I'm going to need a financial cushion to smooth things out until I get used to the costs and rhythms of a new place.
This isn't going to be easy. Or, I suspect, fun.
But, whatever it is, it's going to happen. And the first thing to remember is, don't panic.