Man of Great Principles
By Todd Levin
Cobb was a redneck son of a bitch. He was also my first landlord,
in my first apartment, and meeting him marked my first lesson in
learning how surprisingly rewarding it can be to shrug off responsibilities
until the very last minute.
I've always had a lot of ambition, but I've never really been much
of a go-getter. A lot of people mistakenly believe there is no difference
between being ambitious and being a go-getter, but there is. Here's
an example. A go-getter is that teenager with a part-time, after-school
job at Hot Topic or The Mayor of Pretzelville or some other soul-chipping
shopping mall kiosk, where he swallows his pride to sock away enough
money for a used Hyundai. An ambitious person will slave away at
the very same part-time, after-school job, perhaps even for that
very same Hyundai, but then he'll get distracted and squander all
of his money on the world's largest Nestlé Crunch Bar. I
remember reading a story about a man in Germany who placed an ad
in a local paper, seeking someone to murder him and then eat him.
The guy who placed that ad was extremely ambitious. And the guy
who answered it? He was a real go-getter.
my small town college the off-campus housing was very limited, which
meant the go-getters got bragging rights on all the great apartments
while the ambitious-yet-lazy people, like myself, were saddled with
the dregs. But who cares, because the shitty apartments come with
all the great anecdotes. Think about it: when someone tells you
how they lucked into a cheap, rent-controlled apartment in the West
Village with a working fireplace, located above a delicious free
pie shop and kissing booth, you don't want to hear the story, mostly
because all you can think about is how much you hate them and their
good fortune. But when someone tells you they found a family of
possum living in their ventilation system and their horrible landlord
insisted on removing their rotted corpses with a plastic shopping
bag and a Rubbermaid spatula, suddenly you're all ears.
the time my friends and I finally got around to hunting for living
arrangements, most of the apartments still available were either
several miles from campus, or built over Indian burial grounds.
The ads for these places were pathetic, as they tried to compensate
for their egregious shortcomings with impossibly Pollyanna sentiments.
The ads would include statements like, "No windows. Perfect
for Draculas!" or "Great neighborhood. Almost no one is
old enough to remember the child murderer who used to terrorize
this block." Some of the apartments had even less to recommend,
but that didn't stop the crooked landlords from trying. For instance,
an ad for one place we looked at just said, "Toilet!!!"
followed by three exclamation points, without bothering to qualify
after a dismal search, we found a place that wasn't prohibitively
far from campus and, more importantly, its ad was refreshingly free
of bullshit. This is how we met Bill Cobb. Bill was a wiry little
guy, maybe in his late 30s, though it was hard to tell as most of
his face was hidden behind a full, ginger-colored beard. His eyes
were intensely blue, and danced around in the sockets like a couple
of tabs of ecstasy. And he greeted us with a beer in one hand, and
a cigarette in the other. We'd learn much later that the presence
of these items was not a coincidence - they were Bill's permanent
accessories, and were sometimes worn in combination with a handgun
tucked into the waistband of his blue jeans on what I suppose was
Bill's version of "casual Fridays."
surprisingly, the apartment was a dump -- a ground-level add-on
with construction paper walls, attached to the back of Bill's residence,
where he lived with his wife and three young daughters. As Bill
walked us through the apartment, he spoke very little, motioning
with his cigarette to a sink or the Salvation Army couch that came
with the place, whether we wanted it or not. And, after our quick
tour was complete, Bill tugged at his beer and said only this: "I'll
be honest. You guys seem like a decent bunch of shits. So if you
want the place it's yours." I loved this man. He made me hold
his beer while he co-signed the lease.
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