Wednesday, December 27, 2006

Which Way to Waterloo

The Napoleonic allusion is a bit obvious -- perhaps even cliché -- but under the circumstances, I find it simply irresistible. A 170-cm (5'8") Frenchman trying to push my solid frame over the threshhold, nervously pushing buttons on his mobile phone and crying out: "Gyet out! Gyet out! Zis is my a-part-a-ment!" He did not care if it was as cold as the Russian tundra outside; he was determined to maintain his heading at all costs.

After a brief moment of resistence, I decided that it wasn't worth the struggle -- though I must confess that I momentarily considered how enjoyable it would be to manhandle such a thorn in my side. In the end, I chose to step deliberately and carefully out into the hallway. After all, I had just been trying to do a simple check-out -- a business formality, really. And if the diminuitive French tenant was going to handle things like this, then so be it.

The troublesome business relationship with this particular renter was symbolic of the greater struggle experienced by the non-profit organization for which I work, over the course of four years in trying to navigate the real estate market of central Amsterdam. Although the stichting had been set up to provide the legal framework for establishing a church in Amsterdam's city center, we also found ourselves enmeshed in the business world when the church ended up renting a space that happened to include a number of extra apartments intended to be used as short-term rental space for business clientele. It was a brilliant idea, really, to creatively generate income for the notoriously high start-up costs of a new ministry project... but unfortunately, the idea backfired on us. We quickly found ourselves in over our heads, under declining market conditions and general inexperience. And even now, as we're nearing the completion of our unentanglement from the situation -- which I can only hope and pray that we are -- nothing ends up coming easy.

In the matter of this particular check-out procedure, I had come at the tenant's request -- his urging, as a matter of fact. He didn't want to wait for our originally-scheduled check-out time; he wanted to depart for Paris immediately. So I obliged him... And the check-out was actually going relatively smoothly. The apartment was in decent shape. We were good to go...

Until the question of payment came up.

We were fully prepared to settle up with the moving costs, as had been (albeit reluctantly) agreed. But when I asked for verification of payment for his last three months of rent -- a routine request, really, given that the man was about to slip across the border and disappear into his native French society -- Monsieur Bonaparte threw a hissy-fit. His face turned the color of spoiled tomatoes, he paced dramatically while waving his arms in the air, and he just - kept - yelling. The cacophony was terrific: he was complaining to his friend en Francais, I was talking on the mobile phone to my colleauge in 't Nederlands, we were going back and forth with each other in English... And, well, the situation just kept escalating. If I do say so myself, I managed to stay incredibly cool, and calm, and collected while the angry Frenchman raged -- but my composure seemed to only fuel the tenant's rage. And I could see that we were rapidly approaching the threshhold scene, both literally and figuratively.

So under the hurried counsel of businessmen and lawyers, I walked away from the situation. Napoleon may be choosing to lay siege to the empty apartment -- and I can imagine that there may be more fireworks in the future. But it seems that our position is quite fortified: a veritable Moscow in January (or, if Biblical analogies are more your thing, you can think of it like Jehosaphat's Judah up against the Ammonites and Moabites, i.e. 2 Chronicles 20).

And even though the present situation presents some hassles and hindrances, I can't help but hope that Waterloo is just around the corner.


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