“La Casa de los Munsters”
A Griswald Family Adventure.
It is early Wednesday morning. The rain is pounding down and the thunder sounds like cannons going off in the backyard. Stinky isn’t leaving my side, nor has he yet since we moved in. As I go upstairs to the office, I hum the tune of the theme song for ‘The Munsters’. I haven’t completely decided if this place is haunted, but I do know it needs an exorcism – or at least a good electrician and plumber. The surprises keep coming…
No ghost-sightings yet, but Stinky is acting weird. But I guess he still thinks we are not living here permanently and we are going to abandon him at any moment. He stayed here by himself before we moved in; we commuted from the hotel to feed him every day.
Our appliances from Miami haven’t arrived yet and we are using a refrigerator in the basement. Stinky doesn’t like going down there. It’s the only time he walks behind me.
One of the funniest things is how he barks at the plastic chlorine holder in the swimming pool. It is one of those free-floating jobs that scoots around the pool. Stinky would stand out there all day and bark at it if I let him. We have never observed such peculiar behavior from him. Vicky says there’s probably a ghost sitting on top of it and making faces at him…
I plugged a WeedEater (a 220V one, mind you) into the wall late yesterday afternoon and the electricity went out in various parts of the house. There was power in the basement and the third floor; The first and second floors had basically none. This was the icing on The Cake of Horrors.
Mr. Brown, the Pablo-Picasso-look-alike electrician arrived after dark on his moped. He spoke English with a British accent but says he is Argentine. His daughter lives and studies art in Sarasota, Florida. After surveying all of the electrical boxes scattered throughout the house, he muttered, “This is really very strange…”
Turns out a breaker in a box I hadn’t yet discovered was tripped. But I wanted to know why it had done so in the first place and why our electricity was periodically cutting off and why was there an uneven flow of current and the resulting dimming of lights. I think Vicky was expecting a signed affidavit that the house was uninhabitable. We are, after all, loading the company lawyer up with ammunition [I’ll get to that in a bit.] Mr. Brown offered no answers – only a puzzled look and his beeper number for future problems.
The move certainly hasn’t been easy. It’s classic Griswald stuff. First, there were the paperwork problems and hurricanes in Puerto Rico. Then there was more paperwork problems and more waiting in Miami. The delayed flight to Buenos Aires that left us waiting for hours [30 – I counted ’em] and the voucher-hotel-hopping in Miami to get some rest by 6:30 AM was completely exhausting. Then more hotel life in Buenos Aires for another TWENTY DAYS! Can you believe we have been in seven hotel rooms in three cities for over forty-three days? We’ve shared hotels with The Young Rascals, Crowned Prince Maha Vajiralongkorn of Thailand and his entourage [I loved one of the many trunks that arrived in the lobby labeled, ‘Cooking’], Xuxa, the Brazilian pop star [still don’t know if I spelled her name right], and The President of Bolivia [guess he was here to borrow some money.] If I see another room service club sandwich, I’ll barf!
But not to go without humor! Like in our last day in San Juan when I was frantically trying to get all of Stinky’s papers for his doggie visa: Back and forth from the vet to the Department of Agriculture (Stinky is insulted that he’s labeled as a “veggie”), to the Post Office and finally the State Department. We were supposed to fly out at 6:30 PM (we didn’t make it) and I was in high gear. I parked the white Mitsubishi rental car in a small parking lot on Calle San Jorge to go to the Department of Agriculture. That was around 12:15 PM. The parking attendant told me to park in a particular spot. I gave him the keys and ran to discover the entire Department of Agriculture was on lunch break.
I got the necessary papers signed and stamped when they came back from lunch. My nerve-weary stomach didn’t seem to mind skipping lunch and I dashed back to the car sweating bullets. I asked the attendant for the keys; He said they were in the car. I paid the guy, jumped in the car, started the ignition, and sped off to Old San Juan to what I figured would be a long wait in some government line. As I drove off, I smelled either men’s cologne or car wash air freshener inside the car – whatever it was, it was a bit on the obnoxious side: The radio station had also been changed from the news radio station I was listening to – to some station playing old Cuban ballads. The volume had been turned up as well. Those parking lot guys have been partying in my car, I thought. But what-the-hell… it was a hot day in the tropics, the car’s air conditioner seemed to be working better, and I rather liked the Cuban music. It was soothing as I sped down the road.
I parked in la Puntilla parking lot; locked the Mitsubishi rental car; stepped out into the glaring midday heat and with sweat drenching my shirt, ran to the State Department. With a mountain of paperwork in tow, I stepped up to the counter as the guy in front of me had stepped to the side to gather his papers together. The government employees didn’t look as though they were in the same rush I was in. It was now 2 PM. I mentioned that I had a 6:30 flight, could they please do it as quickly as possible. As I heard the guy next to me slide his car keys off the counter and exit the building, the State Department employee behind the counter told me to come back when the paperwork would be ready, maybe around 3:00 PM. Stunned by this time-consuming revelation, I looked down to gather the remaining non-essential papers I had in front of me and my car keys beneath them. The sight of a nautical motif key chain and NOT a little round, numbered, Budget Car Rental key chain really stunned me!
I immediately reacted: “Hey! That guy who was just here accidentally took MY car keys!” My voice bounced all over the room. The government employee’s face momentarily showed animation. He followed me as we ran out of the building, into the street to find the guy. He was nowhere in sight.
The State Department employee would not divulge any info on the guy. He took the keys and put them in a safe place behind the counter. “He’ll be back,” he said. “Yeah, but I have a plane to catch!” I responded. There was nothing to do but wait. I called Vicky: “Some pendejo has my car keys,” I fumed. We discussed alternatives – like me sacrificing and taking a taxi to the airport to deliver the papers for Vicky – I could deal with the car problem later and catch a flight to Miami the next day. But we both figured it was best for me to wait there in the State Department. In the meantime, Vicky would call the rental car company to see if they might have a spare key. I alerted all State Department receptionists and clerks in the lobby that if a guy came back with some “mystery keys”, they were mine.
It was humorous and my anger settled as I waited in the office of the State Department. It’s only human…shit happens… it could happen to me. . maybe it’s not in my destiny to take that flight, I thought. I savored the moment and enjoyed the extra-cool air conditioning at tax payers’ expense.
Ten minutes later, a woman walked over to me: “Sr. Leedy, your wife is on the phone.” I followed her behind the counter to take the call.
“Hi,” Vicky said casually and laughing, “did you park the car in a parking lot in Santurce?” she asked.
“Uhh…yeah… I did…how did you know?”
“I called the rental car company. I told them what had happened. Then they called back to say that the car was in Santurce. I told them, ‘No, you are confused – that’s NOT what has happened – someone has taken his keys, not the car.’ They said that, in fact, your car is in that parking lot at this very moment. Someone called from there. It looks like you took someone else’s car!”
“That can’t be,” I said, “it’s here in Old San Juan.”
“Go check the license plate number.”
“Well, I will later, but some guy has still walked off with the car keys – whose ever car it is – I need to wait for him to return.”
I got off the phone and told the expressionless face of the State Department employee my (at least I thought so) funny predicament. Not only had I mistakenly taken another rental car, but some guy had mistakenly picked up my keys. What a mess! I sat down to wait further and digest what Vicky had just told me…
Wait-a-minute! I thought, those were someone’s personal car keys I had… maybe that Mitsubishi is NOT a rental car after all; maybe there is NO mystery man with my keys…
At that moment a vision came to me – speeding along the highway to the background music of Cuban ballads with cheap, cologne-scented air-conditioning blasting in my face… That was NO rental car!
I have hijacked someone’s automobile!!!
I felt really stupid. But I silently defended myself thinking that the wrong car had been in the exact spot that I had parked in. It was also the same make & model – as well as same color. And – HEY! – the parking lot guys let me drive outta there!
“Ughhhhh ..heh-Iwh…heh-huh…,” I said in a Butthead tone of voice, “I think like…ughhh…heh-huh. hehheh .ughhh, maybe I better have those keys just in case they…like__.ughh… do fit the rental car I’m…ughh, like… driving. I doubt they will fit, but let me check them nonetheless.” The guy handed me the keys and I carefully snuck by all of the State Department employees on my way out of the lobby.
I called Vicky. She evidently had come to the same realization. She was still laughing but a bit concerned as the parking lot people were threatening to call the police. They wouldn’t let the rental car [mine] leave the lot “And the really funny thing is,” she said, “that the rental car people thought I was nuts – they must have thought I was off my rocker when I told them, ‘But no, you don’t understand – someone has taken his keys’.” She had spoken with the owner. He had to take a taxi back to work. We were supposed to pick him up and drive back to the parking lot for the rental car.
Fortunately, the guy was very nice and understanding about it. We even laughed about it on the way to the parking lot. He was an insurance agent. He gave me his card. He wished us well and hoped our adventure in Argentina was a good one. Maybe I’ll send him a Christmas card this year.
OK, back to the original story…
When we arrived in Argentina, the house that we agreed to rent beginning September 1, was in not-so-welcoming-shape. We had seen it in June while it was being renovated. When you see a house like that, you automatically assume the sawdust and previous inhabitant’s junk will be gone by the time you move in. Not so. Well, it wasn’t exactly sawdust – the house just needed a good cleaning. Some of the owner’s furniture was left behind. Some of it is really nice antiques; a lot of it is junk. And the pool was a slimy green eyesore.
The owner is in Italy. We never met him. We only dealt with our Realtor and the Realtor from another company that listed the house. Supposedly there was a woman acting as a representative of the owner whom had power of attorney. She signed the papers when the house was turned over to Vicky’s company back in September. We were not present at that time.
We didn’t want to move in until the place was cleaned up. Vicky threw a fit and the owner, through his brother, Hector, agreed to pay for someone to come thoroughly clean the house. Hector became the unofficial person to register complaints with. Hector is a nice guy though – he’s been very good about doing what needs to be done. In addition to cleaning and removing junk, banisters needed securing, lights put back in (generally in Argentina, major light fixtures are your responsibility, but it seemed all lights were gone), floors needed waxing, leaky toilets, leaky windows, leaky radiators, etc.
Our driver (yes, they won’t let us rent a car – $100 + per day and dangerous) talked to a security guard who patrols our neighborhood. [OK, off the subject again:] Security guards are in these little kiosk-like structures that look like portable toilets. You can see them on just about every block or so in the nicer neighborhoods. I think during the Dirty War of the Seventies and Eighties, kidnappings were common and this is a result of that. Someone told us that we might be safer in an enclosed neighborhood. We can’t seem to reason that – things look ten times safer here than in the States. Crime is not as common. And coming from Puerto Rico, streetsmart is in our veins.
Anyway, the driver came back and said that the guard mentioned that the previous person renting the house had a lot of problems with the house. In fact, it was why he moved out. We tried to get the guy’s number (got his name) but the guard seemed to back off once he realized he may be giving out knowledge without permission. We tried locating him but had no luck. All we knew was the man’s last name – Hermanson – and that he was Swedish.
The owner of the house sent us a letter in a somewhat ill-tone saying that he had dropped the price of the rent to accommodate us and that he wasn’t going to do anymore than a basic cleaning of the house and pool. The pool needed painting badly and he wasn’t going to pay for that.
Vicky has all along secretly wanted to get out of the lease so that we could look for an apartment closer to the city and the wonderful parks and everything that goes with city life. Originally, I felt the same way. Now, I think a house will be better. It will mean more room to paint, more room for the Griswald’s ‘stuff’, more room for Stinky…plus it’s nicer, brighter. I have become attached with suburban Argentine living. One really nice feature is the Argentine parilla – a huge barbecue pit in just about everyone’s back yard. A pool is pretty standard too. A summertime Argentine tradition is the all-day asado, poolside – inviting friends over to lounge by the pool and smoke a pig, beef ribs, chicken, etc. (Hmm…I smel1 margaritas & Jimmy Buffet.) Of course the down side is all of the household maintenance – pool cleaning, yard mowing, etc..
I didn’t want Vicky to become tainted with simply the idea to get out of the lease. Then she got in touch with the company lawyer and the next thing I knew, we were meeting with Hector, the two Realtors involved, a notary, and the lawyer to go over and create an inventory and to list the condition of the house and agree on anything further that needed doing. At this point, I was tired of the complaining and just wanted to move in and get on with our lives.
Vicky had a theory that the owner is a member of the Mafia and that he and his girlfriend (power of attorney mystery woman) killed his wife and split for Italy. Supposedly, the woman told the Realtor that she would sign the papers (back in September) then she had to leave the country indefinitely. We have heard nothing from the socalled wife whose name is the sole name on the title of the house.
We were very eager to move in. Our stuff was about to clear Customs (well, some of it anyway) and one day found Vicky at Customs’ with a representative of the freight forwarding company and myself at the house to handle the arrival of plumbers, pool guys, and electricians.
We both made interesting insights into the Argentine culture and had money slipping between our fingers, perhaps at that exact same moment. Mine was scandalously amusing, although not as much so as Vicky’s story was:
She said the Customs’ bit was an eye-opener. All walks of life were there. The representative had picked her up at the office and together they went to clear the container. The man was in his sixties and kept talking about how it would be a good idea to give – the Customs’ agent in charge – a ‘gift’ since “the gentleman has been kind enough to provide such an excellent service.” He claimed the container would not be opened. Vicky, as usual, is not quick to catch onto such innuendoes and I can imagine the guy saying, “maybe slip the guy a ten…help things move a little faster… you know…grease the wheel a little… “
“…OK! LADY, COULD YOU PLEASE GIVE THE GUY A COUPLE OF BUCKS SO WE CAN GET THIS OVER WITH?”
“But I don’t have any cash with me,” she pleaded, “Does he take American Express? Visa?”
“I could give the gentleman $100 pesos for you today since he has been kind enough to provide such an excellent service…you can pay me back tomorrow.”
“$100 PESOS? Can you give me a receipt for that so I can expense it?”
“I don’t think that will be possible – but the gentleman has been kind enough to provide such an excellent service…”
Vicky agreed and the representative gave her the $100 pesos and told her to remain in the waiting room while he took care of things. He moved back and forth between the waiting room and office several times. He told Vicky he would queue her as to when to slip the guy the bill. Finally, he nodded for her to approach to sign papers. The Customs agent didn’t say much and did his best job at looking obliviously innocent. The representative spoke as Vicky made a final signature:
“The gentleman has been kind enough to provide such an excellent service…”
Vicky slid the hidden bill underneath the stack of signed papers. “I know that bastard probably got his cut too!” she later told me. Ironically, on moving day, the same guy who initially pointed out, when the van pulled up, that the container seal had been broken was the driver whom she was to give the $100 pesos to return to the representative.
Meanwhile, back at the ranch, I was waiting for the electricians to finish when the mailman rode up on his bicycle and pressed the buzzer at the gate. I have been a bit stressed about all of our mail finding it’s way here and I saw this as an excellent opportunity to introduce myself to the mailman and give him both of our names written out so that there would be no confusion.
“Are you our regular mailman?” ! asked him in Spanish. He said he was and that his name was Enrique. I started explaining that we had moved there from Puerto Rico and gave him our names written out. He seemed more interested in asking me something else. He was selling raffle tickets for the Postal Workers Union. They were $50 each. He wanted me to buy two of them. I got a puzzled look and said I didn’t understand in Spanish (this is something that works well for gringos in Argentina!) He didn’t buy that so I told him to come back tomorrow as I didn’t have cash. I forgot that I had a fifty in my wallet as I opened it up to prove the fact.
“Bueno, Usted tiene cinquenta pesos para uno…por favor, senor?”
Oh what-the-hell, I thought…maybe it can act as mail insurance. I gave him the money.
“No hay problemas con mi correo?”
“No senor.” He smiled and shook my hand.
The next day:
The buzzer rang. It was another mailman, a younger guy.
“Buenos dias y bienvenidos!” he said with an outstretched hand and a warm smile.
We introduced ourselves. His name was Adrian.
“Are you our regular mailman?” I asked him in Spanish.
“Si, senor,” he replied.
I gave him the names and the specifics.
He hit me up for the very same raffle tickets. I refused and explained that his co-worker had been by and already capitalized on that issue.
“Would you like to subscribe to some magazines or newspapers?” he asked.
We now have la Nacion and Buenos Aires Herald delivered daily. And the maxed-out, The past-due Visa statement still hasn’t arrived yet..
Moving day was pretty smooth. A lot of work and some very sore joints. However, moving day is still under way and unfortunately, may happen all over again in the near future.
Vicky got the movers to assemble our big desk/credenza. I couldn’t believe she did that. It was purchased right before we left and it never left the original box. It must have been in a thousand pieces. I really wanted to assemble it myself, especially since I might have to disassemble it one of these days. The movers did a good job with it. It took two of the guys over a full day to complete it.
There was no noticeable damage although not all boxes have been opened – we have 30 days to do so. When it came to tipping them, I consulted with the supervisor to figure out who was there all day and who was there for the half day. I figured the tips accordingly and passed it on to him to give to the guys. I watched carefully to see if he gave it to them. He stepped behind the van where some of them were and neither Vicky nor myself could see whether he did for sure…
The neighborhood guard buzzed the gate yesterday. I went out to introduce myself and say hello. I knew he was going to hit me up for “guard” money. He asked me if I wanted to buy any newspapers or magazines. I declined. I played stupid gringo when the guard part came up. He didn’t come right out and ask for money – I guess he figured I was a stupid gringo. I don’t mean not to pay him for his services, I just want to find out from the neighbor how much it is and if it’s reasonable – beforehand. He asked if I needed someone to clean the house or do the yard… it seems everybody here is trying to get somebody a job. The maid who has been coming to help us for the last three days is a reference from the guy who gave us an estimate on the house who was a reference from the Realtor of the apartments we looked at in June – not the lady we leased the house through. One of the movers sent another woman over to talk to us about housekeeping.
The utility bi11s have arrived. One in dispute was a $500 gas bill. How, I ask, can we have a $500 gas bill if we haven’t even lived here? Hector says the normal monthly amount is $200. The electric was also $300 which he took care of. Thank goodness Vicky’s company will pay the electric, gas and water.
Water. Now here’s some more horror: The second day after we moved in, when the paint was drying in the empty swimming pool, the water cut off suddenly. The paint in the swimming pool was not supposed to be exposed (without water) too long – no more than several days. We called Hector. He said his brother had had a small problem with Aguas Argentinas (the city water company.) “Damn right!” I said, “and they just cut it off.” “No,” he answered, “you won’t get a water bill – you’re on a well.” What happened was that the pump went out. Hector sent the electricians over to fix it.
That same day, a man called from Sweden asking for a Mr. Hermanson. Vicky told the man that he no longer lived there but she would be glad to contact him and pass on the message if he could tell her where Hermanson worked. She got the company name and looked up the phone number to call him. She spoke with his secretary and told her who we were and where we lived:
“Oh my God!” she said, “I don’t mean to sound negative but there’s nothing positive to say about THAT house!”
“I heard they had problems with the house?” Vicky asked.
“Did they ever!”
Hermanson spoke with Vicky later that day. Turns out that the owner is in a lot of debt and has an incredible debt with Aguas Argentinas alone – $34,000.00 he said. The owner had to leave the country. The house is in his wife’s name.
Hermanson said that he and his wife have lived and traveled all over South America – Ecuador, Colombia, Peru, Brazil, Venezuela, Paraguay, etc. and that his experience with the owner of this house has been the only disaster they encountered.
He said their lease was $7000 per month. He said that the electricity was always acting up, they never had water from the province, the walls had serious moisture problems, and a leak in the jacuzzi in the Master Bedroom caused the ceiling to collapse in the room below. He said worst of all, the guy [owner] is a real asshole. They broke their lease and moved out in April or May…
We got a final notice for legal action against the owner’s wife in regards to the water bill. But according to the invoice we received, it is only in the neighborhood of $500 for 5 or 6 months.
The owner will be here next week. He says he will take care of most of the problems while he’s here. Vicky will not be here so I pray he can speak English. Nevertheless, the lawyer does and I am sure he will be in the middle of it. If things don’t go well, we will split. Vicky’s boss has the feeling that we should not get too comfortable here. He wants us to start looking at other houses just in case this one doesn’t work out.
The real pisser is that the Realtor representing the house knew about all of these problems, according to Hermanson. She never mentioned a word. If we have to move to another house, I’m sure our Realtor will not charge a fee. Either way, it’s not for us to worry about.
I hope we can work things out. Despite the problems, the house is nice. It has a nice feel. It will be a great place to entertain. It’s almost a hotel. There’s even a “restaurant” downstairs! I kid Vicky that if she loses her job, we can open a Caribbean restaurant. The backyard is quite private with a lot of daily sun. Stinky loves the space too. The kitchen is nice and large and is easy to work in. My studio is a pretty magical place on the third floor with an adjoining terrace. Plenty of space all throughout – too much, in fact. Mr. Brown, the electrician, asked us the inevitable embarrassing question last night:
“Excuse me for asking…how many are there of you living here?”
[FOOTNOTES: Although the article is dated September 19, 1998, it was most likely written in October of 1997 as I believe it was the first one written when we moved to Buenos Aires.
The house & owners were such disasters, we were eventually able to break the lease (not easy in Argentina) and move into an apartment in the city. As you can imagine, we got a quick lesson on Argentina business practices and Argentine culture. Life was much more enjoyable in the apartment but it was not without its own problems: During Christmas vacation while we were traveling in the States, a water pipe broke in an unoccupied apartment above ours and flooded our apartment. As for the ghost in the problem house, we named her Linda Canziani and she visited quite often. That’s another story in itself…]