Chloe Sevigny and my landlady are both very complicated people.

I want to like them both, but liking them means ignoring a lot of stuff that makes me feel icky. Chloe is a great actress, and I’ve liked her in everything I’ve seen her in. She seems really humble and low-maintenance for an actress of her caliber, and she takes lots of roles in independent films. She doesn’t complain when people put her umlaut in the wrong place (and she probably wouldn’t mind that I’ve just left it off altogether). She was so good in “Shattered Glass” that it got me thinking again about how talented she is.

So why does she have such a thing for untalented losers? Quick, who are the two worst independent filmmakers working today? Did you say Harmony Korine and Vincent Gallo? Well, Chloe has dated them both. I don’t care if she goes out with lousy directors. If she hooks up with Brett Ratner, you won’t hear me complaining. But Korine and Gallo are really awful human beings. Korine is the nicer one, only because he never told Roger Ebert to get cancer or took credit once he did. It’s not my place to judge somebody’s taste in men, unless it’s Vincent Gallo. Chloe, what were you thinking?

And Chloe not only dated Gallo, but she gave him a bl*w j*b on camera in his unreleased Cannes bomb “Brown Bunny”. Not a simulated bl*w j*b. A bl* j*. (My #1 google for the last several weeks has been people looking for pictures of this act, due to some mention I made of it on this blog ages ago. Let’s see how many “Chloe Sevigny acting” googles I get off this post.)

My landlady, on the other hand, is a shrinking old lady in her 80s with a strong Polish accent and squeaky voice. She’s about four feet tall, and five years ago, she was probably four foot six. She speaks in mildly broken English and does adorable foreign old lady things like refer to Drano as “medicine” and a refrigerator as a “frigidare”. In her fifty years in this country, she’s picked up a few Americanisms, like dropping the word “whatever” into almost every sentence. (i.e., “I receive you rent check whatever.”) As far as I know, she’s never blown Vincent Gallo, but who knows what he’s planning for his next movie.

Last week, I gave my landlady my one month’s notice that I was moving out, and she insisted that I come over to her house “to talk about you future”. I had been to her house before, so when I went over last night, I knew exactly what I was in for. Talking about my future actually meant talking about her past. She told me about how her husband bought the apartment building in 1962, then left it to her when he died. She told me about how, as a young woman, she worked in a “sanitorium” for “people with the lung problems – you know?”. (Yeah, I know. Whatever.) And she also told me about Auschwitz.

My landlady is an Auschwitz survivor. As far as I’m concerned, if you were in Auschwitz, you get to talk about Auschwitz as much as you want, and the rest of us have to listen for as long as you choose to talk. Still talking about Auschwitz? Okay, fine. I’ve got nowhere to be. You get to talk about Auschwitz for the rest of your life. You can bring it up in the checkout line at the supermarket. You can remind your great-grandchildren of it on their birthday cards. You can write a TV miniseries about your experience and all the networks should fight over who gets to make it a sweeps event. I’m still listening. You’ve earned it. And if an Auchwitz survivor doesn’t want to talk about Auschwitz, that’s their prerogative as well, and anyone who brings it up in their presence should go to prison for exactly one year. If you went to Auschwitz, the floor is yours. Do with it what you will.

So, as much as I respect and admire my landlady for what she’s been through, I knew I was in for a long night of talking about my future. Auschwitz first came up when we were discussing whether the “last month’s rent” I paid when I moved in actually covered my last month’s rent. My landlady reminded me of how good she’s always been to me. How she operated as if I were under rent control, even though the rent control laws in West Hollywood were lifted just before I moved in. How she didn’t raise my rent at all the first year I was there. It’s true that she’s been good to me, although it means a little less when she’s using her kindness as a tool to get something out of me.

Then she explained her theory of goodness. With all she’s been through in her life – her husband’s death, the sanitorium, Auschwitz – she’s often struggled with the issue of why she’s been allowed to live such a long life. Why was she spared when others weren’t? The obvious answer, she says, is that she’s a good person. “If you do good,” she told me, “God is good to you.” I was stunned that an Auschwitz survivor couldn’t see the idiocy of this logic. I was pretty sure that of the millions of people who died at the hands of the Nazis, at least a few of them were good people. But she actually knew some of those people. She talked to them, lived with them, suffered with them. Hearing my landlady imply that everyone she knew who died at Auschwitz must’ve been receiving God’s punishment really disturbed me, but I reminded myself of my feeling about letting Auschwitz survivors talk. I decided that the rule still applied even if they were nuts.

Later — I think it was when she was asking me if I could move out earlier so she could come in and paint — she brought up the war in Iraq. She softly told me how strongly opposed to it she was. I was so relieved to be on the same side of an issue with her that I told her I agreed. Bad war; good landlady; happy Jerry. She nodded and leaned in. “We can talk about this because Bush is not here right now,” she said. She turned up her nose when she said the name “Bush” and then looked over her shoulder, as if to make sure that Bush wasn’t hiding behind the stove, taking notes on her every word. “Nobody ever wins a war,” she said. “You know this?” I kinda half-shrugged. “Nobody!” She said this was true even of World War II – “my war”, as she called it. Millions of people died, and what was accomplished? (Well for one thing, you got to leave Auschwitz.) She’s an Auschwitz survivor, Jerry. Say nothing. Say nothing…

My landlady really is a good person. She kept asking if she could make me some dinner. When I was a kid, I always had to drink sour milk at my grandmother’s house to keep from upsetting her, so now, I always politely decline old lady food. After about fifteen dinner refusals, she offered to order me Chinese food. Nice, right? So why does there have to be a part of her that’s so unpleasant? I like my Auschwitz survivors to be humble and inspiring, just like I’d prefer that Chloe Sevigny wasn’t consorting with scummy poseurs.

But every story can’t be perfect. Everyone we admire can’t be flawless. I let my landlady talk and didn’t challenge her crazy opinions. And likewise, I’ll continue to see Chloe Sevigny’s movies even if she starts dating – I don’t know – Ted Bundy next.


Because I’m a good person.

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