To a Landlord by Zak Block
Dear Mr. _____,
You’ve received this letter before. Neither it nor its author has anything original to impart to you through this mode of communication. You’ve read these words, I’m sure, thousands of times, and I’m sure you’ve received this call on as many occasions. …Have entered into this dialogue in as many; have had leveled at you this selfsame look…
And surely, Mr. _____, you are by now impervious to such letters,—such calls, dialogues and looks. And in many ways I respect this imperviousness; for that it vaguely suggests, on your part, some acquired strength of character; a spiritual intelligence in your possession, the upshot of the career of a landlord who has for thirty-five years borne the ravages of a seemingly inexhaustible virulent hatred on the part of his tenants.
But this is, as I stated, only what it “vaguely suggests.” …And I suspect that it signifies something different—that your strength of character is more a misapprehension, or even a failure to apprehend what might compromise that strength or impel you to call upon it. That it may be a willful vocational naivete.
Because surely to be hated by as many people, for as long, in as many unique and innovative ways, through as many mediums, in as many dialogues; telephone calls—surely to be as hated as you are is to at the last acquiesce to the many and tendentious arguments of your very many detractors. To finally know, and know without equivocation,—and accept, as such,—that you deserve to be hated as you are. And that you hate yourself with as much if not even more vehemence than they.
But how could such a person live with himself for as long as you have,—how, persist in the career, in the lifestyle, the which he,—he must know as well as they—incurs that debt of hatred,—a debt which grows the more staggering with each passing day—each passing business day—of letters, of exchanges; telephone conversations, looks…
…How could such a person persist for as long …For half as long …How, a normal person,—a person not brimful of bile, not pulsing with black blood, not tumid of grossest cysts and rotting guts—how, an adult—how, one capable of love,—how, a human being, able to feel pain, able to engage in any meaningful way with another human being,—able to regard as anything better than ugly, foul-smelling, disgusting, slobbering idiots, other human beings occupying positions one might imagine able to be occupied in a master-slave relationship—how might any thing that could be fairly described as human, sentient, feeling, intellecting, empathizing, communicating; cuing…
…How might such an individual live as you live—for more than a year… More than a month… More than a few days, a few hours…. More than the amount of time it would take such an individual to apprehend his merest reflection, more than a minute,—without ending his life in the most violent and grotesque manner worldly conceivable.
Perhaps it is too generous of me to commend you for this “strength of character”; to imagine that your imperviousness to the hatred felt for you, and felt legitimately,—is anything but obliviousness.
No, not obliviousness to the gestures of hatred,—be they professional correspondences, polite greetings around the office and the like—as you can’t possibly be that oblivious,—but to the nature of that hatred. And at whom, in truth, is that hatred truly directed. Which, I believe, is key:
You may suspect that it’s “the landlord” they hate (that we hate, I hate; everyone). …That someone has to do your job, and who but you could approach its offices with more diplomacy, sensitivity, empathy and human feeling, the training for such things; the management intelligence prerequisite and superior inheritance—and that these letters, these scripted conversations, these telephone calls, these looks and polite greetings are somehow misdirected,—are really more about the abjection of a slave than the maliciousness to be found in some masters but not others.
In very few masters, but not others.
In you,—and more unabashedly grievous in no other.
I feel now charged with an office of my own, in whose execution I will, I assure you, show great malice—only I won’t deny that I do so:
That office: being, to convince you that there is no landlord. There is only a Mr. _____
And there is no general manager either. There is only a Mr. _____.
…Nor is there President… nor, a Chairman… nor, Associate… Executive… nor Director… there is only a Mr. _____.
You are hated on your own terms.
You are hated for the malicious manner in which you execute your many and vital offices. For the many and vital disgusts you are known to feel for your slaves,—known to exercise gingerly and not ungenerously in the motions of their abjection…
…Hated for the joy you are known to extract from their abjection. For the joy that you can extract in no other way, in no other dynamic, in no other capacity, in no other office, in no other sphere of influence, in no other area of jurisdiction, in no other province, in no other building…
It is Mr. ____ whom we hate. Whom I hate. Who is hated.
I would like for you to know why; but unfortunately to articulate, in simple terms, that why, may be an impossibility. It would be easy enough to say it’s your nature, or the manner in which you execute your offices; the manner in which you live…
But could I easily provide you with examples of that nature and manner? And what would those examples mean to you? Of course, no one is more attune to your nature and your manner, to the kinds of things you do, than you.
And, of course, is no one more sure of the unimpeachability of those things you do. Even I can assent to their unimpeachability.
But what you must understand is that it’s your unimpeachability that makes you so baleful, so monstrous; so small, depressing and insignificant.
It is the unimpeachable upper middle class credentials of the general manager of a housing project. It is the unimpeachable comfort and repose of the master of the filthy hemmed in poor, the living cheek-in-jowl poor, the low breeding working class.
…The cleanliness of him. For this too is key:
In all my life, Mr. ____, I have never met anyone as clean as you, as impeccably scrubbed, as spotless; as squeaking, shining and glistening; as odorless, as sterile, as clean-smelling, as gleaming, as neutral-smelling, as well-groomed, as manicured…
…As pampered, primped and preening; as slick, oiled, greased, lotioned, pomaded, moused, tousled, plucked, waxed; as perfumed…
…As finely dressed, as fine-toothed, as finely turned, as fine-tuned,—as immaculate, Mr. _____.
And I will admit, Mr. _____, that I am not nearly as clean as you. I doubt that I even bathe as often as you do. But I should tell you, Mr. _____, that not once in my life have I smelled poorly. Or even had a smell.
And albeit that those I’ve met, who have had the opportunity to smell me, might have suspected that my lack of a smell was attributable to the hygienic regimens you appear to follow, they also might have suspected that I naturally had no odor, and the key difference between us is that everyone you’ve ever met knows exactly how much time you spend cleaning yourself, every day; knows the importance you place upon your hygiene. And knows, as well as I do, that you engage in these practices for one very simple reason:
That you must.
Zak Block’s short fiction appears in Gadfly, and is forthcoming in Paper Darts. He is the founder and editor-in-chief of (the) Squawk Back, a semi-weekly online literary journal of transgression and alienation, baptized by fire in May of 2011. At age twelve, he became an events reporter for Disney Adventures Magazine. He holds a BA from the State University of New York at Purchase, having written a senior thesis on “the unstable semiologies of the compilation soundtrack in postwar American cinema.” Excerpts of his ‘novel-in-public-development’, The Dream of Never-ending Heaven, can be read here.
© 2013, Metazen.