How does one graciously decline food from their landlord? I would like to know. It’s a problem.

Sorry, lemme back this story up a bit… Los Angeles is a city that does not lack in particular areas. We got the sunshine. We got the traffic. We got the interesting characters. Both in the figurative and literal sense. This is Hollywood, baby. Thousands of aspiring actors flock to this town, pinning their hopes and dreams on that one breakout role that will catapult them to stardom. Everybody wants to be the next Julia Roberts in Pretty Woman or Leonardo DiCaprio in Titanic. But you can find captivating characters outside the movie theatre as well. To be exact, outside Grauman’s Chinese Theatre. Darth Vader, Captain Jack Sparrow, SpongeBob SquarePants – all these larger than life figures and many more troll Hollywood Boulevard everyday for your entertainment pleasure – and maybe a buck or two if you can spare the change. Hey, Stormtroopers have mouths to feed at home, too.

And then there are the characters you can find in your very own backyard. My landlord happens to be one of them. I’ve been living in the same building for over three years now, and I still don’t know his name. His first and last name anyway. When first introduced, I assumed the name he gave me was his first name. It’s French, like Pierre. So I thought his name was Pierre. He next introduced me to his sisters – they also live in and help manage the building – by their first names. Makes sense. But then he said that I could write out the security deposit and first month’s rent checks to just Pierre. “That’s weird,” I thought, “Will banks actually accept checks made out to just a person’s first name?” I didn’t press the issue. I was too excited to have found an apartment within my price range that didn’t remind me of a prison cell. If he had some special arrangement with the bank that was fine by me. But as time went on and I got to know my neighbors, one of them revealed that Pierre was actually his last name. Or that’s what she thought. Wasn’t sure, though. She’s been living here for over five years. Needless to say, we’re all a bit confused.

So let’s get back to the problem at hand – the food. Pierre/Mr. Pierre just loves to give me food. He loves to give it morning, noon and night – and it doesn’t matter if I’m home or not. He’ll knock on my door at eleven o’clock at night with steaming plates of beans and rice. He’ll surprise me at our building’s front gate with containers of freshly baked cookies. I’ve even come home to bags of food just waiting for me at my door. And though I swear I’ve never disclosed this information to him, he somehow found out that I’m a vegetarian. So now he makes sure all the meals are vegetarian-friendly, too.

Yet the strangest food encounter I’ve ever had with Pierre/Mr. Pierre occurred when we crossed paths just after he had returned from the grocery store. I tried to zip past him as if I was a very important person with very important things to do, but he wasn’t buying it. Reaching into a Ralph’s bag, he offered me a family-sized bag of premixed salad. I kindly refused. He said he couldn’t eat all the salad by himself. I countered, “Then why would you buy a family-sized bag of it?” He next offered me a mango. I again refused. He forced the mango into my hand. “Okay, okay. Thank you.” He then tried a second time with the salad mix. Words I never thought I would utter: “Look, I’ll take the mango, but not the salad.”

Now I know what you must be thinking. This dude is desperately fishing for compliments on his cooking. Or he’s just a sketchy old man trying to seduce me via fruits and vegetables. But I think both of those scenarios are wrong.

Pierre/Mr. Pierre and I are on opposite sides of the spectrum when it comes to personal space and privacy. Like most Americans, I want my peace and quiet. I don’t care if you smell something so bad it makes you gag when you pass by my apartment and no one’s seen me in a month – leave me alone. Also like most Americans, I am supremely suspicious of other people’s motives, especially when someone appears to be giving me something for nothing. What’s the catch? What do you want in return? But I think in Pierre/Mr. Pierre’s case, he’s just being nice. Strange, eh? I know his family emigrated from Egypt decades ago, and he was raised within a culture that considers this type of generosity normal. I also know that I’m not the only one in the building he kills with kindness. Plus, it’s his building; I’m just living in it. He probably doesn’t think it’s a big deal to knock on my door at eleven o’clock at night – after all, it’s his door. And I have to admit that sometimes I actually appreciate his intrusive behavior. More than once, I’ve overheard him kicking out strangers who somehow had made their way past our front gate. I’m pretty sure they were just friends visiting my neighbors, but that doesn’t matter to Pierre/Mr. Pierre. Your ass will be back on the street if he doesn’t like the look of you. It’s kind of nice.

And a double-edged sword. Sometimes he’ll knock on my door, but I just don’t feel like answering. Three more knocks and two doorbell rings later, he’ll finally leave. And then the phone rings. I let it go to voicemail. He tells me he made too much food for him and his sisters – it’s a vegetarian meal if I want some – and did I realize that I left my apartment with all the lights on? Sigh… Or moments after walking through the front gate, again I’ll hear my phone ringing. Of course it’s him just calling to say they need to fix a leak and the water will be off for ten minutes. Sure, no problem. And ten minutes later? Another call to confirm that they did indeed turn the water back on. “Thank you… Mister… Pierre… No, no. Thank you. I already ate.”

Image: Salvatore Vuono / FreeDigitalPhotos.net

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2 Responses to “Come And Knock On My Door”

Love your writing style, Anna! I have a lot to learn from you.

September 23rd, 2010

What kind words, Dave! Thank you! And I wish you could teach me your awesome designing ways… 🙂

September 23rd, 2010