Part 2 -- Cons, cons, and more cons
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Alton's a handsome fella, about 5'8" tall, about 175 lbs., very well put together. Like me, he has a strong interest in bodybuilding and on him it showed. He's also very Nordic looking, despite having grown up in Portugal, with close-cropped, extremely blond hair and bright blue eyes. Mostly smooth except for the tiniest bit of facial hair (skimpy mustache and soul patch) and quick to get a tan. There's the perky bubble butt, too, but that's a different story.
Plus extremely charming, quick with a joke, playful. Smart and handy but not at all well-educated; in fact, in the end it became apparent that he was functionally illiterate, at least in terms of being able to write a sentence. His story, which seemed to add up, was that he was born in the Netherlands, the illegitimate son of Dutch businessman and a Portuguese dancer (call girl?), who took her 2-year-old son back to her native country when the boy's father died and the father's wife kicked the mistress and the bastard out onto the street. Who knows?
At the time Alton was working for a company in Houston that built displays for trade fairs and expos. He said that he'd been in Houston less than a year, having arrived the previous fall from Phoenix. He made it sound as though he'd left Phoenix because of a failed relationship and that his ex-wife had gotten everything, including his beloved English bulldog, Isabela. Before that he'd been in DC where he had spent several years renovating a townhouse in a rundown but gentrifying neighborhood, purchasing it for $200,000 and turning it into a $500,000 showplace by the time he sold it. Before DC he'd been in South Florida for years and years as a hair colorist, before that Portugal.
He offered to perform minor repair chores around the house if I were willing to knock $100 a month off the rent. Considering I barely know one end of a screwdriver from the other, I leapt at it.
A couple of weeks later, in early June, there was the hall bathroom disaster. The tile in the bathtub enclosure was pulled loose from the wall (this was identified in the inspection report before I moved in) and needed to be repaired. Before this could occur, Alton wound up putting his hand (accidentally?) through the tile, leaning his weight against the wall while turning the shower on.
"Do you know how to fix it?" I asked. "Sure," he said. I told him that I would be willing to forego his rent for June if he would do the repair job and that, yes, of course, I would foot the bill for all the materials.
All through May and June Alton was perfectly happy and charming and we wound up doing a lot of stuff together. We both had pretty similar 9-5 M-F sorts of schedules, unlike my other roommate Don, who worked long hours (generally 7 a.m.-7 p.m.) at a local country club and who really didn't have much interest in socializing. Alton and I went to dinner, to movies, to parties, met my friends, went clubbing, and meanwhile I was hosting a series of pool parties, the kind of thing I'd been wanting to do for a long, long time. People who hadn't met us previously routinely asked us if we were a couple, to which we laughingly replied, "no, not at all, just friends!"
And that was true.
Even though I was definitely interested and he seemed interested back, Alton made it clear that he wasn't ready for another relationship, that what he'd been through the previous year had left him bruised and scarred. I certainly could relate to that, of course, and I gave him plenty of space while make it clear that I was definitely interested in seeing if things might progress.
There were only a couple of flies in the ointment. One was that Alton seemed to be having some difficulty with his previous roommate, also named Richard, and it became clear as time went buy that the truck Alton was driving was actually listed (including registration and lien and whatever) in Richard's name.
The other was that he seemed to be getting increasingly more frustrated with his work for the trade fair construction company, claiming that his boss was a really insufferable old coot who was treating him like so much kaka. Which considering the state of labor relations in the construction trades in SE Texas wasn't really too much of a stretch to believe.
At the end of June, Alton quit his job. "How can I help?" was the first thing I asked. I worked with him to create new business cards and a resume and I pointed him in the direction of my friend John Calloway, who has been doing high-end renovations of River Oaks mansions and other upscale properties in Houston since the mid 1980s.
It was only AFTER he quit his job and I started offering to help him out that Alton revealed to me that the truck really belonged to the other Richard and that he hadn't paid the bi-weekly note on it since the middle of May. I agreed to help him out, getting him caught up on the note and giving him some extra to pay off other debts he had outstanding with Richard.
Everything else seemed to happen by degrees.
I agreed that he needed some reliable form of transportation and pointed out that my Subaru Outback, which was in great shape and only three years old, was paid off. Maybe I could sell it and buy us each a small pick up?
He convinced me – wasn't really too hard – that since what I really wanted was a convertible, I should get one for myself, then sell the Subaru and buy something else for him. So while I was in Dallas for the 4th of July weekend, visiting my dear friends Thom and Patrick and observing the 1-year anniversary of Jeremy's death, I went to CarMax and found the 1998 Mustang Convertible that I'm still driving.
Back in Houston I let Alton drive the Outback while he was figuring out what he was going to be doing. As it turned out, he spent most of July in bed. Literally. He would be awake for 2-3 days at a time, then he'd sleep for an equivalent amount of time. I was beginning to suspect something really wasn't quite right but I wasn't sure what.
It was also the case that our "get along" ability was significantly going down hill. He wanted to argue about everything, and he was quite willing to say really quite nasty things about my friends and my relationships with them.
All along he kept telling me what I goldmine I had in the house, that he could do for it what he'd done with the townhouse in DC. After the kids came and went in early August, I finally agreed with him that, yes, he should be my full-time, live-in home renovator, that in exchange for free rent he would turn my house into a showplace and that at some point in the future I'd sell it for a lot of money and he would get part of the proceeds.
Of course, he wasn't in any way contributing to household expenses so my credit card debt kept going up and up, and my ability to make ends meet from one paycheck to another was going down and down. Finally, in early September, I sold the Outback to CarMax for a little more than $11,000, and gave Alton $8,000 of it, and used the remainder to cover the bills that accumulated just that month.
The bills, of course, never stopped. For example, I had told him that I wanted to do something with the overgrown bushes in the back yard (the ligustrum bushes looked like trees, for all practical purposes, most of them easily 20 feet tall or more.) He found a guy who was willing to whack the bushes, mulch the front flower beds, etc., all for $750. I told Alton, "cool, that's fine, but he's gotta be able to take a credit card, I don't have any cash." No prob, Alton said.
Except that when push came to shove the guy, it turned out, would NOT take a credit card, nor would the nursery to which they had gone to pick out $500 worth of plants for the front yard. So I wound up doing a $1500 cash advance against already rapidly melting credit card to pay off the gardener and the nursery and whatever else.
Then there was the fact that Alton didn't really have any interest in listening to what someone else had to say about his projects. If he came along to me and said, "What if I do this and that?" and I said, "great!" he did it. If he came along to me and said, "what if I do something else instead?" and I said, "well, no, that's a problem," he did it anyway.
Hence the retaining wall and the 20-foot posts in the front yard.
I'd told Alton that I wanted at some point to buy a load of flagstones and build a low (no more than 12 inches tall) border in front of the front flowerbeds. I came home one day to find that Alton had spent several hundred bucks on a really ugly collection of bricks with which he had constructed retaining wall that in some places was more than three feet tall. It was ugly, plain and simple, and it wasn't at all correctly proportioned, even to my untutored eyes.
Same thing with the posts. He decided he wanted to build a lanai or trellis or arbor in front of the living room and dining room windows. "Uh, now, wait a minute," I said, "I'm sure you have to get approval from the home owner's association first." (In Texas, or Houston at least, the Home Owner's Association is GOD; you don't do anything without permission.)
Naturally, he did it anyway. At least the 20-foot posts. And, yeppers, less than a week later there was a letter from the Home Owner's Association saying, "cease and desist, and if we decide we don't like it, you're gonna have to take it down."
So what did I do?
Spent more money, naturally. This time buying a 1998 Isuzu Trooper so that he would have something to drive while renovating the house.
All along, Alton was becoming more and more emotionally and verbally abusive. There wasn't anything I could do right, and every concern I raised about what he was doing and the fact that I couldn't afford it was treated as psychological abuse on MY part. I became more and more depressed, and the more depressed I became the more he took it out on me.
Eventually he wound up telling me that my dearest friend in Houston had slandered – in a really vile sort of way – my relationship with Jeremy. This had occurred while I was out of town, during a weekend Alton spent hanging out with said friend and friend's boyfriend. There was really know way of knowing whether what Alton said was what Steve had actually said, but there were too many things that Alton said that ONLY Steve could have told him to know that the conversation must have taken place.
I was devastated.
Eventually I decided I had to act.
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