Saturday, February 10, 2007

Home With A View of the Chinese Embassy

I have a home, for better or worse. It happened in a way I am not comfortable with, and I realize it's outrageously expensive and I was pushed into it, but it is going to be all right. Or it might not be all right, but either way, it's done and that' s the end of it. I do actually regret getting involved in it in the first place... had I a time machine, I'd just stick with my hotel plan.

And then I would have a desk and a towel too. But I'm getting ahead of myself.

I'd decided that staying in the Mayfair Hotel and then switching to the Flamenco for a splurge was the best course of action. The Mayfair was clean, cheap, safe, and they let me use their kitchen. My room--114--was next to the balcony so I got the free wi-fi in my room. Not luxury, mind you, but quite decent for the price, which was about $18 a night for a monthly rental or $26 a night by the week.

But I did like the $1500 flat that I'd seen. I dropped by the real estate agent's office--let's call him Mr. M--and said: "Offer them a thousand a month. If they don't want it, fine, I will stay in a hotel."

He called. The owner--K--said $1400.


I left. I'd go pay a deposit after lunch on my Flamenco room with the Nile view that I'd move into next month. The savings at Mayfair would allow this.

But then my phone rang. Or buzzed. It was Mr. M.


"No, that is too much."

"Look, let us meet with the owner at 8. Maybe in person, it will be easier to negotiate."

Though my internal BS-ometer was screaming to be noticed, I agreed. What harm could it do?

At 8, I showed up at the flat, meeting Mr. M downstairs. I didn't mention it, but I'd brought a month's rent and it was in my bag. If the flat was as nice as I remembered, maybe I'd just go ahead and do it just to have some stability. It was in a great location above a swank cafe and was the nicest place I'd seen.

K was friendly, about 40 and a stylish, wealthy lad. He explained to me that his family had once been one of the richest in Egypt, indeed one of the richest in the world, but all was gone overnight during the time of Nasser and Arab Socialism. His father had worked to regain what he could, and when K had moved to Cairo and rented a flat, he'd stayed exactly one day in it before he called his family to complain about the state of rentals here. The family had scraped together the cash to buy him an old flat, which they had renovated in a modern way. That was where we sat now. He now lived with the family in a suburb, in a huge villa, so obviously their fortunes had turned again.

I nodded. Are you supposed to be sympathetic to people about these sorts of injustices, taken in the name of reform? I really don't know enough about this case to say for sure. But I wanted to be polite.

Eventually we got down to business.

"The flat is very nice. The nicest I have seen. There is no problem with the flat," I said. "The problem is that the rents here are very expensive, and I do not know if I can afford this."

His eyes slanted. "What? I thought we were here to sign a contract for $1200 a month? HE told me this." He pointed at the real estate agent, who was suddenly looking very small on the tiny stool K had placed him on.

"Whoa, wait. I didn't say anything about signing a contract."

"This is a big problem. I would have had the bowab show the apartment instead of coming all the way from 6th of October City. If there is no contract, I will have a big problem with him. Because I have brought my father here since he is the owner and he must sign the papers. He is in his eighties and coming here is very difficult for him."

Mr. M seemed to shrink further. I understood now. He had inflated my interest, talked it up to K to get him into the room with me, expecting that K would see that I looked responsible and lower his price, and I would see the flat, and raise my offer, and all would be happy. Not an unusual tactic, and it probably works in most cases.

But no one counted on the old man, who had just tottered in with his walker and his contracts.

"Nice to meet you," said the old man, extending his hand that he had just lifted off the walker.

The BS-ometer that had gone off earlier cackled "I told you so." I felt a tightening in my stomach, the way you do when you are cornered and the only alternatives are fury or flight.

Tomorrow: Part II

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