Oscar the Grouch Was My Landlord…Until He Died

From April 1915 and over the next year, Turkey carried out a genocide of some 1 to 1.5 million Armenians living in Turkey. This was the latest and most significant of a series of smaller scale events that led Armenians to flee Turkey, and eventually, many arrived in the United States. This is considered in many history books (quite incorrectly) to be the first genocide of the modern era.

The generation of Armenians that survived this event as young children and grew up to be the denizens of colorful and strongly ethnic Armenian enclaves–such as the one in 20th century Watertown and Belmont, Massachusetts–was deeply pissed, which is understandable. It is well known but widely denied that an organization formed in this and other enclaves of Armenian assassins intent on killing one (or two) Turks for every Armenian who had been killed in the genocide.

I lived in Little Armenia for a year. During that time, a Turkish-American jeweler with a shop in Somerville was driving his car somewhere around Medford (these area all towns just outside Boston) and was ambushed. Several bullets were fired into his car, killing him and totally ruining the Cadillac. The Armenians partied, and the secret organization of assassins took credit. This brought the count to some number in the three- or maybe four-digit range. They had a long way to go. And when that news broke, that is how I learned about the whole Armenian/Turkish thing.

Living where I did meant that I knew a lot of Armenians, including a lot my age. These Armenians were not part of the deeply ethnic community with such strong hatred for “The Turk.” One man I knew, born forty years after the massacre, had become a political scientist because of this history his family had experienced, but instead of joining a secret organization to kill several million Turkish people, he was a diplomat. This was typical. The “next gen” of Armenians were basically Americans with a bit of extra sensitivity to international politics, having been raised by people from families riddled with death from a holocaust, and who had taken refuge in America.

But the first gens were all mad and vengeful, or at least, this was true of all the older men that I knew there, all the men who had themselves come from the region as children and who still remembered the broken families and, in some cases, the massacres themselves.

I’m pretty sure they are all dead, so I can talk about it. Oscar’s family that is. Oscar is dead for sure. The others, I’m only guessing.

Oscar was nearing 90 when I met him in 1981, so he was well old enough to have vivid memories of his family and neighbors being killed by the Turks and of the flight to the United States. Those events made him bitter and mad. Being a member of an angry enclave of angry people made him bitter and mad. Being 90 seemed to make him bitter and mad. Oscar was an unmitigated bitch.

Oscar and his wife and his son lived on the first floor, and I lived on the second floor. Oscar was the landlord. The very first day I lived there, my friend came over with her baby. The phone rang.

“You’re moving out.”

“Who is this?”

“Oscar. From downstairs. You have to move out. This is not a day care center.”

I hung up. I thought about it. I called back.

“Oscar, talk to my lawyer.” Click.

And that’s how it went for the next several months with Oscar. Danny, the vacant son, sat on the porch and stared at me when I came and went. Mrs. Oscar fussed about Oscar’s health. Oscar went into the hospital for a day. Then a week. Then a month. Then they sent him home because there was not much more they could do for him.

One day, Danny came upstairs and knocked on my door. That was scary, because he had never done anything but sit on the porch before. He had never talked, never moved. Just a small nod as you walked by. His mother had explained that he had been dropped on his head as a child.

“Oscar wants you,” he said. It is very strange to hear someone’s voice for the first time after knowing them and seeing them daily for eight months. “He wants to talk to you.”

So I went downstairs. I went into the room where they kept him and sat on a chair next to the daybed where he lay. He reached out and took my hand and implored me to come closer.

“My family,” he said, barely audible, gasping.

“Your family?” I repeated, leaning in close.

He nodded.

“Yes, my family.” A pause. “Danny is an idiot. She dropped him on his head.”

I nodded. I knew about that.

“They need a man to take care of them. You have to take care of them when I’m dead. Promise me you’ll do that.”

“Sure, Oscar, no problem.”

His grip strengthened on my hand for a moment, then fell loose. His eyes became vacant and he let out one final breath. He was dead. Probably.

I walked away, and as I passed Mrs Oscar and Danny, who were waiting anxiously in the next room, I said, “Call 911.”

Later that day, after the coroner came and picked up the body, the Widow Mrs. Oscar came up stairs.

“Did he say anything? What were his last words?”

“I don’t know. It was in Armenian, I think.”

“Oh, well, he was pretty crazy at the end. It probably didn’t make any sense anyway.”

“You’re right. It didn’t.”

A month later the house burned down and I moved out.


One Response to “Oscar the Grouch Was My Landlord…Until He Died”

  1. September 24th, 2009 at 12:48 am

    Bob says:

    The Genocide messed up a lot of people. The dead may be the lucky ones, with the psychic damage still echoing through the enclaves, hopefully waning with each generation. I know of this by marriage; I’ve learned half a dozen words in Armenian much to the amusement of my mother-in-law. Sometimes I’ll impersonate a well-known and fairly boorish and unpleasant Armenian Orthodox mucky-muck (the previous Surpazan, now retired) and that’ll crack her up, especially if she’s feeling down. My wife’s immediate family and a few random cousins seem ok; the rest are some degree of rich, evil, and batshit crazy. A lot of the crazy is attributable to the Genocide, directly or indirectly.

    For as cranky and crazy as a lot of Armenians are, I can mostly give them a pass mainly because the Turks are simply worse. Not all, obviously, but the Turks have holocaust denial down to a fine art. All those Armos that disappeared during WWI? Must’ve got lost in the woods or something. Mass graves, eyewitness testimony? Never happened. And don’t dare entertain the thought if in Turkey. If the cops don’t run you in for mentioning the Genocide, you’re likely to get a cap in your ass from a civilian. If you’re up for some fun, hang out on a large US college campus during the remembrance of the Genocide and watch the Turkish exchange students behaving like berzerk fuckwit assholes. I’m sure both sides do their part to further the acrimony, but ethnic Armo hate is a state-sponsored institution among the Turks.

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