Changing names to protect the innocent is a concept that was introduced way back in the Dragnet days, when stories were based on genuine police cases and detective shows were a lot more interesting because they didn’t have to have a murder every single effing episode to keep their audiences.
It’s a courtesy, when you’re writing about real events and real people, to change names. My first brush with this was in the sixth grade, when I wrote a story that included some characters that very coincidentally had the same names as a few of my classmates. Never mind that I had known people in other schools and that some of those characters were named after people I knew elsewhere, those classmates found out about it and took umbrage. So I had to change the names out of courtesy to them.
In the workplace I would change as many names as possible, so that if those people came across my blog they wouldn’t complain about me to the HR, or the store manager, or the corporate brass. With friends that I’m on good terms with but not explicitly intimate, I change names to keep the whack jobs from possibly harassing them. I mean if a blog troll is going to make disparaging comments in my blog, there’s no telling what they might do if their parents ever tell them to leave the house for a couple of hours while their basement apartment gets fog bombed.
So where is the gray line in all of this? When is it okay to use someone’s name in a blog post, or newspaper article, or any media that others may read and come to a conclusion about?
If the person is a criminal who has already been mentioned in the news, they’re fair game. They made their own bed and now they have to lie to it. If that person is the owner of a business, like maybe a boarding house or something in the service industry, then they are also fair game. Because if I send someone to that business to spend money, then it would equally fair to warn people of that person before they spend their hard earned dollars. I’d like to say that it’s nothing personal, but any word of mouth business is going to be driven entirely by personal experience, so lets not beat around the bush.
Arlene was my first land lady. Although I paid Aunt Cat Lady a hundred dollars a month to live in her disease ridden cat shelter, she doesn’t really count. Arlene was the first person I met who rented to me because I had a steady source of income.
There is a bit of history here. My mother babysat Arlene’s son, Howie. Not in 2003, because that would be weird. No, when my mother was in her teens and Howie was just a boy, she was his baby-sitter and this is one of those times when I like to tell people that I don’t believe in coincidences. To round out the theory that destiny guided my path here, my stepfather once rented an apartment in the house next door to us. But if you think familiarity with my family is enough to get me a room in Arlene Manor, think again.
Arlene still owned the house she once lived in on Beech Street. I don’t know where she lived at the time, but it must have been less of a hassle to own the house and rent out the rooms than to flat out sell the place. Unfortunately, as my mother once said, Arlene is the kind of person who will “Step over a dime to save a nickle”.
She would rent out to anyone just to get the cash flowing. And as a point of interest, the only reason a room opened up for me was because the guy who lived there before me was taken out of the house in handcuffs the week before she put the ad in the paper. If I weren’t so desperate to get out of my aunt’s trailer, and my only source of income wasn’t the dredges of Price Chopper, I might have taken that as a sign of things to come and held out for something better.
Let me start off with some of the good things about the house and this particular part of Bennington.
There was a genuine kitchen and a stove. Since spaghetti and ramen made up the bulk of my diet for most of ’03 and ’04, having a fairly spacious kitchen and a stove is a luxury to a guy that can’t afford his own place. Also, there were times when a ‘treat’ for me was a Mama Celeste pizza from Stewart’s, which was just around the corner. So again, the stove was like a gift from Prometheus.
There was also a nice front porch with a decent overhang. I have not yet found a place to live that has a porch quite like this. The reason I loved it so much was because it gave a great view of the road during a downpour.
Beech Street itself is a mostly rural road that eventually leads up into the mountains. In short walking distance from the house, there is a baseball field that stretches out to the woods. Cross the little stream and there is a nice path through those woods that gives you a breathtaking view of an untouched swamp area. If you’re a wildlife nut like me, you may even see a garden snake in this little patch of forest. Also, at certain times of day, you very well may see wild deer in the baseball field, which are a staple of Vermont.
The closer you get to Main Street, the more drama you will come across. It’s not exactly what Steve Hofstetter would refer to as a “ca-click” neighborhood, but there are some interesting elements there. But that’s okay, because if you keep going, there’s a nice walking route that goes across the river and eventually leads you to School Street, which is where the Mount Anthony Union High School running track is located. If you can get past the trauma of having been a student there, or having just moved to Bennington, if you can get past the fact that the majority of the morons you will meet in this town were educated at this establishment, the race track is actually a decent place to stretch your legs.
This concludes the positive aspects of living at Beech Street.
Now let’s talk about Doug.
When I came around to look at the place, Arlene was just eager to get a body into the empty room that the jailbird had once occupied. And being that I was just eager to get out of Aunt Cat Lady’s place, I already had the money order in hand for the first week’s rent and the security deposit.
A bunch of people will be reading this with their Hindsight Glasses on, so let me clear something up. I was twenty years-old at the time and had never gone through the process of renting a place before. So it didn’t occur to me at the time that this was not the normal process for renting any place, much less a room in someone’s house. Unless you were physically present at the time, keep your comments to yourself about what I should and should not have done over a fucking decade ago.
I gave Arlene the money, but the room was not yet available because they were still going through the process of getting rid of the other guy’s things. So even though I had the key to the place, I couldn’t move in yet. But I went around with a couple of family friends to bring some of my stuff in so that I wouldn’t have to go through a big exhaustive moving day.
Doug was sitting there, in the living room. Like the Jailbird, Doug’s time at Arlene’s house was running short, but you wouldn’t have known it from the way his ass was practically glued to the chair. The only other person in the house at the time was a guy I had once met on the bus, who was a good friend then and I hope considers me a friend now, enough so that I will refer to him as Drizzt, for reasons that will be made clear in my Mother’s Day Post.
It was the presence of Drizzt that probably kept things from being too awkward. Having someone already living there who knew me from a previous encounter, made Doug more comfortable with meeting a complete stranger. While bringing some of my totes into the living room for eventual transport up the stairs to my room, it was my pseudo-cousin Steve (I have more Steve’s in my life than a Minecraft Server Admin) who made the most accurate assessment of Doug from the start, “That guy is a fucking goofball”.
An example of Goofball Fuckery came when I had been living in the house for about a week. It was late one night and Drizzt and his girlfriend Hart were there. By this time, I had become somewhat known in the house for buying the Lunchable snack packs, because they were dirt cheap at Price Chopper.
Doug, a recovering drug addict who was not recovering so much from alcoholism, was so wasted that I could have earned this post a cleverness credit by changing his name to Drugged or Drunk, but I didn’t think of it until now. I’m not sure what set him off that night, but it could have been the fact that I finally managed to pry the remote out of his emaciated hands long enough so that I could watch The Golden Girls. Drizzt’s girlfriend was enjoying the episode too and maybe Doug was feeling a bit indignant at having his place in the pecking order so effortlessly usurped.
He staggered into the kitchen and opened the refrigerator.
“Hey, did you see what Nate buys for snack?” He pulled out one of my lunchables. “Look at this. A grown man is eating lunchables.”
He proceeded to laugh like a moron for twenty solid minutes while the rest of us sat there in uncomfortable silence. I’ve never in my life been at the point where I could get vicious with someone that I was living with, so I didn’t put him in his place for messing with my stuff. But needless to say, he put a real miasma over the other occupants of the house.
Russel, who also rented a room and incidentally worked at Price Chopper for a short amount of time, wouldn’t even spend a minute in the living room. For a while, I followed Russel’s lead, going right up to my room as soon as I got home. Doug ran his mouth again.
“Oh there he goes, hiding in his room like Russel.”
Understand that Doug had not paid the rent in a while. But he tried earning his keep my cleaning the kitchen up and making nice with Drizzt. And for the record, I think Drizzt just did his best to tolerate the guy as much as humanly possible. Drizzt would later confide in me that he suffered from OCD among other things and that living in a house with an ex-con (Jailbird) and a drug addict only exacerbated a lot of his symptoms.
Doug would fall asleep in the living room but he would leave the inside door of the kitchen open and lock the screen door, presumably to let some air into the house, or to possibly tempt a dangerous drifter, I couldn’t tell you. The kitchen door was the only way to enter the house, because for some reason none of our keys would unlock the front door. We could open the front door from the inside, but if the screen door was locked, we could be stuck out there all night until someone woke up to let us in. Russel had this problem once or twice and there is nothing like being awakened in the middle of the night by someone who is just trying to get into his own home and has to resort to shouting.
Finally, Arlene sent her son in to kick Doug out. I wasn’t there at the time, but I imagine a baseball bat was involved, only because I had my own reasons for wanting physical harm to befall Doug. But I returned home after a hard day at work and I was looking forward to seeing my mom, who had been living in Alabama at the time and was preparing to return to Vermont. So Doug’s leaving the house would definitely qualify as being in the win column at that point.
Unfortunately, Arlene’s good judgment of character would make an even bigger splash on our lives later that year.