I have just paid the monthly rent for the thirtieth time to the same landlord. This means that at the end of this month I will have lived in the same apartment for three and a half years. This is mildly depressing. I thought I was more adventurous than that.
A chat with a friend this evening reminded me about something I have never understood: Why do landlords hate tenants hanging pictures on the walls?
I come eminently qualified to hang pictures. First, I am the child of a builder. Second, I know how to use a drill. If left to my own devices – my preferred state of being – I could manage a hammer drill with a bit half an inch thick. I know about rawl plugs (that’s fisher plugs for Americans). I can even make my own out of whittled bits of wood if I run out of the ready-made plastic ones. They are stronger, by the way. Don’t tell your landlord. I have a life-long collection of screws for every occasion – although I did have to relinquish most when we migrated from one continent to another.
And what is a screw without a screwdriver? I have a nice selection of those too. My favourite bears the indelible tooth marks of a Labrador puppy we had back in 1991.
I believe the tool in question originally belonged to my father. (Lesson No. 1 in acquiring tools: if you want something to become yours, get your puppy to chew the end of it.)
My father taught me a neat trick. In order to minimise the spread of brick dust, affix a small plastic bag with some masking tape just below the place on the wall where wish to drill your hole. All the brick dust falls into the plastic bag as you drill. No mess, no fuss. When you have finished drilling the hole, remove the plastic bag and masking tape and use them under the next hole you drill. Use a dry, preferably new, paintbrush to brush away any residual dust from the site of your new screw in the wall.
Perhaps because I love drilling so much, and because once upon a time we moved five times in seven years, I soon learned that the worst thing you could do is buy so-called “picture hooks”. Why?
Because you are never going to rent a place that actually has dado rails. Because the picture hooks never work. Those ridiculous, skinny little nails are not strong enough to pierce through the plaster, never mind the stubborn bits of brick and cement behind it. You end up with a handful of bent nails, and handful of useless picture hooks without skinny little nails to fit into those miniscule holes in the picture hooks. You end up with blood blisters on your thumbs. One theory is that landlords are averse to hanging pictures because they have had bad experiences with blood blisters on their own thumbs.
Screws are the best picture hooks. If done properly, you can hang on them with all of your own weight, and they won’t budge.
When we moved into our current apartment I had the great advantage of speaking very broken Portuguese, having emigrated to Portugal only six months before. We had not yet unpacked our many pictures which followed us via road and sea. The package in question looked deceptively small. While pointing to the corrugated board package, I got permission from my landlord to hang my pictures I do remember that I could say “screws in the wall”, so, in essence, he knew what I intended to do.
I did this a total of 27 times. After twenty-four screws had made it securely into the various walls in our apartment, my landlord came down the stairs from where he lives and told me to stop. I said I only had three more to go and would take less than 10 minutes. He was cross, because his daughter-in-law had been nagging him about the noise of the drill all the time I had been using it.
I begged him to let me finish the job, and promised not to drill another hole in the wall after that. I showed him the one wall with all my academic certificates and photos of my family. I said I had to travel from very far away with very few possessions. I said that this wall of pictures was “my whole life”. I even cried. He relented. I drilled three more holes, plugged them, and screwed in three more screws.
And that was that.
I did promise to make good the walls one day when we move out and move on. Surely, this cannot be the reason that we are still here?