Sunday, August 6, 2000

Herodotus Weighs In On Rent Deposits

Ever since the property markers showed up in our front yard, we at Classics Corner have wanted to lynch our asshole landlord.

The trouble started last fall, when the crackhouse across the alley got torn down. Being the hopelessly confused liberals we are, we felt bad about celebrating. Crackhead squatters need housing too, but that doesn’t make them good neighbors.

But things went from bad to worse. A 3-story, 6-unit box grew in its place and herds of SUVs began grazing in the driveway. Soon after, big ugly condos sprouted like dandelions, and you couldn’t swing a dead cat north of 85th and Aurora without hitting a damn yuppie.

That’s when we found the property markers in the front yard.

Our landlord, let’s call him “Harry,” said we “probably” didn’t need to worry “at the moment,” but our lease “might” not be renewed in four months. We at Classics Corner were good as gone.

Incredibly, “Harry” looked to us for sympathy. Being a landlord, he said, had “taken him places” he never thought he’d go. The logic of capitalism overpowered his will. He became as a leaf, floating lazily downstream. He looked forlorn, like the weight of the world rested on his shoulders. The natural process of our displacement occurred just slightly outside his comfort zone.

But he soon recovered sufficiently to screw us on the security deposit, which brings us finally to Herodotus.

It seems there was a certain Spartan named Glaucus, who was known far and wide as a just man. A stranger from Miletus traveled to him and said, “I want to profit from your justice.”

The Milesian proposed that Glaucus accept half his fortune for safe-keeping. His own land in Ionia was subject to all sorts of disruptive activity, but Sparta, known for its stability, and Glaucus, known for his justice, offered the perfect solution. Glaucus could do him a great service by holding half his fortune until he again came to call. Glaucus agreed.

When the Milesian’s sons came back later on with receipts for the fortune, Glaucus lost his memory. He probably said something lawyerly; something like, “I have no recollection of that transaction at this time.”

He bid the sons to return in four months, when his memory might be restored. They unhappily left. Meanwhile Glaucus’ conscience reasserted itself, and he was off to the oracle at Delphi to ask whether cheating was fair.

The oracle inscrutably predicted all sorts of dire consequences to Glaucus’ ill-gotten gain. Glaucus asked forgiveness, but the oracle replied that “to tempt the God and commit the sin are the same thing.”

In other words, “Harry” earns major bad karma for even thinking about screwing us, with or without follow through!

Glaucus sends after the sons and gives back the money, but the damage is done. No trace of Glaucus’ family is left on the earth.

“So good a thing it is,” says Herodotus, “not even to form a thought about a deposit, save only the giving of it back when people ask for it.”

Sounds like good advice.

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