February 3, 2013

The Popcorn Chronicles

When I first moved in to my apartment, it was a D-U-M-P.  

I had just begun to settle in to my rented room with my former roommate when we realized that our styles of crazy were incompatible.  I’m a clutter bug and he’s an overbearing control freak.  When asked if he wanted me to move out because of our differences, he said that he didn’t think it would work long term for me to live there.   When I said that I understood that, but did that mean he wanted me out sooner rather than later, I got the same answer.  So much for being the guy who can “tell it like it is”.  In the interest of avoiding playing games and having to address passive-aggressive emails about how he couldn’t believe I’d pack up his snack food with the rest of my kitchen stuff (when in fact I’d just taken the bag into another room and forgotten to put it back.  No better than what I was accused of, but if you’re gonna lay blame, lay the right blame.), I set about looking for a place the very next day.    

I knew I was going to have to look for a place to live in a cheaper area of town based on what I’d have left after my garnishments.   I knew I’d probably have to steer clear of the larger property management companies since I have an active bankruptcy on my credit report and wasn’t going to have the 6 months rent in security deposit they might ask for.  My wish list was to find something old, in midtown, where I could keep my dogs, that had central air and grounded outlets.  It might have been shooting for the moon to hope for all three, but dammit if I didn’t find what I thought was perfect!

A good friend of mine had moved in to a 2 bedroom apartment that was right across the street from a new, high falootin’ development in Midtown.  She wasn’t paying an extraordinary amount for her place, could keep her animals, and the landlord worked more on a referral basis than a credit check.  She gave me his number to ask what he might have available.  As luck would have it, he had a 1 bedroom garden level place currently open, and soon to have a 2 bedroom available in the same building, for less than what my friend was paying.

I was over the moon, and really crossing my fingers that it was everything I wanted as I waited for an appointment to tour the building a few days later.  I mean, it was blocks from several of my friends, within walking distance to many shops and restaurants, and cut my commute to work from 13 miles to just over 1.  Not only would I be living in a place all of my own, but I’d be spending MUCH less on fuel every month.  I crossed my fingers that it would have central air and grounded outlets and was cautiously optimistic.

On the day of our appointment, I might have done what looked like the pee-pee dance from the time I clocked in till the time I skipped out of the building.  I was ecstatic to see the place. The commute was a short one.  I arrived out front of the building a little over 5 minutes after I pulled out of the garage at work.  I parked on the street and waited for the landlord to come to let me in.  We toured the empty garden level, and I didn’t love it.  I was worried I wouldn’t have enough space.  I asked about seeing a 2 bedroom while I was there, and the landlord was able to oblige.  One of the other residents that lived in the building was kind enough to let me see her apartment so I could get a feel for the 2 bedroom layout.  The one that was becoming available was just like it, just the floor plan was a mirror image.  I figured that would be perfectly ok, so I took him up on it.  In hindsight, my spidey senses should have been tingling.  Why couldn’t I see the one I’d actually be moving in to?  Oh, you’ll soon learn why.

While the one bedroom unit seemed a bit too small and dark for me, the two bedroom was a different story. Every room in the place had a wood floor, the kitchen was plenty large, the living room had a gigantic picture window, and I would have my coveted grounded outlets and central air.  Sure, the bathroom looked a bit like it was out of truck stop as imagined in the Saw universe, and had a window with a wooden frame in the shower.  But really, given the age of the building, it would be unreasonable to expect updated, well, anything.  I wasn’t too put off by it.  Heck, I could even make a joke out of it.  Works for me.

The cherry on top was that the 2 bedroom apartments got a garage in the back parking lot.  It wasn’t beautiful, and the actual lot was mostly gravel, but it had a roof and a lock.  Who cares if it’s pretty?   I had mentally signed up for what I was already envisioning to be a cozy nest all to myself before I’d even left the zip code.  My sleep was fitful that night, I had a place where I would be king.  Now all I needed was a moving company, friends with strong backs, a truck, clear weather, and the money to put it all in motion.  No problem.  I’d find a way.

It was right around two weeks before I was set to move that I was driving home and noticed the swarm of police cars on my commute home.  One block to the west of my new place was blocked off and there was a disco of flashing emergency vehicle lights.  I turned on the news after arriving home, to discover that there had been a murder earlier in the day about 10 feet from what would be my new garage.  My deposit check had been cashed already, and I didn’t want to have to find another “perfect place”.  I was a little unnerved, but I decided to go get my dog a spiked collar and wear my studded gloves when I walked her and soldier on.  

After the crime scene tape was cleared away, another challenge reared its frigid head.  Mother Nature wasn’t about the let an opportunity to throw wrenches into works pass her by.  Every radio and TV station in town predicted a snowpocalypse of epic proportions for the weekend I’d chosen to move.  Bread flew off of shelves by Thursday!  My moving company called asking if we could change weekends, or at least the day we had scheduled.  I was dismayed since I’d been slowly coming to an energetic and steady percolate in the days leading up to the move.  I was afraid I’d have to pick a new weekend.  In the end, we settled on having them come and pick up the furniture to be moved on Friday, store it in the truck during the storm, and deliver it after the roads were cleared on Sunday.  Not too terrible.  I’d just be couch surfing for a night or two.  I went to college, that’s nothing new.  

I had scheduled to start moving in to my place on the 4th of Feb.  I know my friend who had given me my new landlord’s name had said that she’d hit a couple bumps in the road with her move, so I wanted to avoid that if at all possible.  I decided that since I had the keys, I might as well make sure that they worked before showing up with a truck full of stuff.  So, I took a little detour to the building on Feb 1 to make sure everything was on the up and up.  When I got there, I discovered that the previous tenant hadn’t gotten out when he had said he would, and that the landlord was at the apartment and helping pack the guy up in his own truck right then and there.  Also, I learned later that he wasn’t moving because he wanted to.  He had been evicted.  Well, there’s a surprise for you!  

While that might be a tab uncomfortable to watch, I’m glad that I did make the stop.  Turns out, I hadn’t gotten the security door keys.  All I had was the key to my apartment.  Had I not showed up that afternoon, I’d have been stuck at the outside door when it was time to move in with a couple of guys with strong backs and egg yolk dripping off my face.  When I told the landlord why I was there and asked if it would be be ok to test the keys, he mentioned that I’d still need the one for the external door.  He turned to the former lady of the house and asked her if she had hers with her.  She handed me her copy of the key and I left them to continue their work.  

On Friday, myself and a rag-tag group of friends woke up early to start loading my dad’s borrowed truck and moving my boxed items before the storm had the streets in its icy clutches.  AT 7:00 AM, I rolled out of bed to the sound of my ex-husband honking his horn in the driveway.  Never one to sleep in, he was there to get started at the literal crack of dawn.  So much for the  idea to get breakfast first.

As we started loading the boxed possessions I had piled in the corner of the computer room, rain started to fall.  Not just any rain either, it’s that frigid February rain that is treacherously close to snow and could potentially freeze on quiet streets.  It didn’t rain enough to soak you to the skin, but enough to make the ground slippery, warp the cardboard of the boxes, and pool in the truck bed.  Thank goodness we grabbed the tarp and bungie cords from my dad when we picked up his truck.  We shall overcome!  I mean, I think Dustin Hoffman’s character in Wag the Dog said it best; “No problem.  This?  This is nothing.”

I was smart and had made a couple sets of keys in advance.  I know me.  I’d have lost them on the first day otherwise.  It made it easy for us to get in and out of the truck if you didn’t have to wait for one person to open the doors.  When we arrived with the first load, I wanted to be the first across the threshold.  I had several friends with me, and I was just about vibrating in my shoes at the excitement of a totally new beginning in the apartment.  In a way, it was a new beginning for my adult life.  Previously, I’d lived in apartments, but the last one I’d been in was part of a complex that my family owned.  I was treated differently since I was the owners’ kid, and I didn’t pay rent.  Then, I’d bought a house with my then boyfriend, who became my husband, who I've since divorced.  This was really the first place that was mine from top to bottom.  It was one of those special moments to me.  It was like getting that acceptance letter from Dickinson College in the mail.  I was both nervous as hell to open it, but ready to pop if I didn’t.  That might have been why my hands were a little shaky.

I took a couple of light boxes with me and my friends walked up the stairs behind me to survey my kingdom.  I took a deep breath stepped over the threshold into the hallway, and walked into the place I would be calling home.  That’s when I think my heart’s engine stalled and plummeted into a tailspin towards my feet.  

I’m not known for my neatness.  I think there are pigs that live a neater life than I do.  Steve Jobs had a reality distortion field.  I have a clutter warp engine.  It’s a gift.  If you have a bare horizontal surface, give me 15 minutes and I’ll figure out a way to cover it so that you can’t even see what color it is anymore.  Knowing this, I think it’s safe to say that my place was already a dump, even by my standards, before I even unpacked a thing.  This realization smacked me upside the head like a freshly thawed catfish.  I had seen the floor plan and loved it after touring the apartment across the hall.  But, I hadn’t factored in that the guy they had to kick out had a standard of living a hair’s breadth up from the Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles.  What made it so bad, you ask?  Well, let me just give you the cosmetic reasons.  As I stood there, I took in the following facts:

Living Room:

  • The front windows are sealed with plastic, but they’re secured in place with caution tape.
  • The gigantic window in the front room has vertical blinds that are missing several slats, and bowing so badly that you have to struggle to get them to slide on their rails.
  • There are a total of three holes of varying sizes in the walls.  The smallest was about the size of a dollar bill, the largest could be the size of a doll’s head.
  • The front door has had the frame taped off with duct tape to seal drafts out.
  • One of the panes of glass in the side window has a long crack running through it.
  • There are missing slats in the blinds on the side windows.
  • The phone jack is in several pieces.
  • The coax jack is pretty much just a hole in the wall with a faceplate with one screw half heartedly holding it on.

  • Every surface of the kitchen is covered in a thick coating of grease.  It’s as if someone tried to fry a frozen turkey right there on the stove.
  • The floor is covered with a yellowed, ripped, burned, and gouged linoleum that probably needed to be replaced in the 80s.
  • The ceiling fan is completely inoperable. It won’t turn on the light or spin.
  • The dishwasher had no knob to start the cycle.  Instead, the hole has been stuffed with plastic bags.
  • The sink drips steadily, and the sprayer hangs there limply like a freshly spent cock.
  • When you turn the knob for the hot water, nothing comes out.
  • There is a crack in the running the width of the room, and a shoeprint on the ceiling.
  • The window next to the stove has no lock.

The Spare Bedroom
  • There is a large burn on the floor in the middle of the room.
  • Along with the burn, there are several marks in either red crayon, or sharpie under the still-tacky urethane coating.
  • The closet has no door.
  • One of the outlets flakes out if you look at it funny.
  • The cold air return grate is barely holding on with one screw.
  • There is another hole in the wall by the light switch.

  • There is a hole the size of the lid of a trashcan that has been “repaired” with a honeycomb of masking tape and white house paint.
  • The smoke detector looks like Gallagher was in a foul mood when he mistook it for a watermelon.

  • The HVAC vent looks like the weeping angel of tetanus.  I was afraid to blink in its presence.
  • There is a hole in the tile under the sink that has been expertly repaired with cardboard.
  • A leak in the ceiling has been previously repaired by screwing a piece of plywood over the hole and throwing some paint at it.
  • The tub is stained so badly it looks like a used oil collection barrel from Jiffy Lube.
  • There are exactly zero lightbulbs in the fixture above the medicine cabinet.
  • In lieu of a ventilation fan, the bathroom has a window with a wooden frame.  It looks to be in only slightly better shape than the current condition of the grand staircase on the Titanic.  
  • There is another crack in the glass of the bathroom window, causing it to leak like a sieve.
  • The sink dripped steadily and the toilet ran quietly and consistently.
  • There is a residue in the medicine cabinet that I can’t identify, and that scared me.

Master Bedroom
  • There is a hook and eyelet lock on the outside of the door for locking someone or something in.  
  • The door is secured to the wall with nails, rather than screws.  
  • The paint is flaking off the wall down to the sheetrock.  
  • There is not a single window covering in the room.
  • There was another boot print on the ceiling.  (WTF were these people doing?!)
  • There is another hole in the closet wall that has been repaired with masking tape and house paint.

I’m not sure if it’s my ability to handle anything you throw at me, or if my muscles were a victim of vapor lock that kept me from dropping everything I held in my hands right then.  My first instinct was to turn around and tell everyone behind me not to bother coming in.  I wasn’t sure I wanted anyone to see what I was seeing.  However, they had heavy boxes in their hands, and it was cold, so that didn’t seem practical.  I just had to suck it up and own it.  I was moving into a place that was going to need Florence Nightingale levels of TLC.  

Three trips between both locations later, we had all of the boxes, bags, and handfuls of my possessions piled up in what would be the spare bedroom at the saddest little apartment in midtown.

Friday night and all of Saturday passed without major incident.  We did get the snowfall that the meteorologists predicted Saturday night.  As per usual, drivers forgot what to do when the ground is covered in snow, so I was biting my nails until the moving van pulled up into the parking lot Sunday morning.  

Thankfully, there was no possession related trauma to be had Sunday.  The movers showed up with their truck full of my earthly goods on time.  We were able to cram all of the boxes, furniture, bags, and loose items into a temporary space in about 2 hours.  I thanked them for their help, paid them, and took a moment to look at where I’d be calling home for the foreseeable future.  First things first, I had to document the mess.  Not that I assumed that my landlord would do such a thing, but I wasn’t gonna get stuck paying for damages the last guy caused when it came time for me to move out.  The sooner I could get those time and date stamped photos taken, the better it would be for me.The good news was, I was prepared for it.  I’ve lived in enough apartments to have had the foresight to pack my small digital camera in my purse.  You never know when you’ll need to document damage caused by movers, or what was in the unit before you took ownership.  

If there was a flaw or a scratch, a chip or a dent, I snapped a photo of it and sent it off to the landlord as a CYA insurance policy for both of us.

As I remember, it took less than a week to get the boxes unpacked and the majority of my flotsam and jetsam secured in the new space.  One of the first things I made sure to do was find something to cover the windows in my bedroom.  Single pane glass and windows with brittle glazing tend to be as effective as cheesecloth at keeping out drafts.  That, and I wasn’t all that keen on the idea that I might be responsible for anybody’s therapy after they’d seen what they mistook for the actor that played gluttony in Se7en getting ready for bed.  Luckily, I was able to find my assorted linens the first day of unpacking.  So, using the pre-existing curtain rods, I hung one table cloth, and one small fleece blanket in front of the windows so I would at least have some privacy.  I added curtains to a list of items I’d need that would end up proving quite long.

Now, keep in mind I had recently sold my home and was moving in with someone who had an established household.  I didn’t take much by way of cleaning supplies with me.  I also didn’t keep my hardware like brooms and mops.  I was going to need to get a few in a hurry since there were some places in the new apartment that looked as if they needed a HAZMAT team.  

All of this had to happen sooner rather than later, and I’d just forked over the cash for a mover.  Oh, my aching bank account.  

Over the next week or so, I pieced together most of what I needed.  I found several heavy curtains for the living room, the kitchen, and the shower at the goodwill.  I managed to catch a break at the dollar store because they’d had a sale on their window treatments the week before, but had left the signs up in the aisle.  I was able to cash in on the buy one, get one half price deal and that let me get the rest of the window coverings I needed.  But, I also stocked up on the other supplies I needed like a broom, a mop, a toilet brush, dish soap, and all the other sundry items I hadn’t had at the last place.

Let me tell you, if you haven’t discovered the wonder that is a dollar or discount store, take a moment out of your day to stop by one.  The only drawback to my area of town is the lack of a target or a walmart in the immediate area.  Since I was on a budget, and because it’s quite literally 10 blocks from me now, I stopped into the Family Dollar down the road.  I can tell you, I’ve managed to save a metric ton of coin on cleaning supplies and consumables for the house in the last year because of my FD habit.  I got most, if not all of my chemicals, a runner for the hallway, some basic tools like a hammer and nails, and several packs of stick on hooks there just to get me started on a few projects.  What I weren’t for sale at the dollar store, I found secondhand many other places.  One thing I’ve learned because of bankruptcy is that you don’t always have to have new.  Plus, it gives my place an eclectic look that I think suits me just fine.

Slowly, I was able to fill in the gaps.  I got more items out of boxes and on to shelves.  I got my rooms situated, art up on the walls, curtains hung, and I was starting to feel like I was home when I walked in the door at night.  I put out a call about needing a microwave since there wasn’t one in the apartment, and was lucky enough to have a friend who was getting rid of one.  I made several trips to the hardware store to get insulation to plug the gaps in the windows, filled the crack between the door and frame so I could sit on the couch without my hair blowing like I was in a car commercial, and put lightbulbs in every fixture that was missing one.  (Which, as I counted, was more than half of them in the apartment.)  

I was even lucky enough to have a coworker at the time who had recently upgraded his TV and was looking for someone to buy his old one.  I got a sweet deal on a big ass flatscreen, and even managed to get it in the Mini for the trip home.  Though, I did bring it in the house when it was dark.  I didn’t need to advertize, you know?

There were irritations though.  The maintenance guy had to have me in the apartment for him to do work on anything.  Which, I came to decide I was ok with, even if it meant he had to work in 90 minute bursts and stretch out the job over several days.  What was really frustrating though was when he blew me off a couple of times, and other times, he showed up smelling like he’d gone a round with a hockey team.  I wasn’t so happy that it seemed like every time he left, I was stuck with cleanup.  But, he was sober, and we got the holes patched, the sinks fixed, the dishwasher replaced, and the walls painted.  Just when I thought we were on the home stretch, the apartment redcaps realized it was their turn for mayhem watch duty and stepped up their game.

First, the hot water in the kitchen sink stopped working altogether.  Cold worked like a champ, but nary a drip of warm flowed from the tap.  In replacing the entire faucet, the maintenance guy took the aerator.  Not the end of the world, but I had a very clean counter from all the over spray until I replaced it a week or so later.  

Then, we had a warm snap in March.  I remember, because that’s when Thunderhead and I went to see his family in his home town.  Our first road trip.  Aaaaw.  

When we got back, the apartment was well over 85 degrees.  Thankfully, I didn’t lose any computer equipment, but the air conditioning sure wasn’t working.  Let me tell you, there was no way I could live without the AC.  I’m far too accomplished at being an olympic caliber channel surfer to make it through summer in that kind of heat.  

Being a creature who requires refrigeration, I was prepared and wheeled out my two portable air conditioners.  Once we had them hooked up, I made a call to the landlord.  It took a few days, but we eventually figured out that the thermostat had gone bad and needed to be replaced.  I did get a nice, new digital one, but I also became a proud owner of another hole in the wall.  They had to knock out a section in the hallway to run new cable to the furnace.   I’ve done my best to disguise it by putting the old molding in front of it, and pushing my two tiered storage shelves in front of it.
 I was told the maintenance guy would come back and both fix it, and put the molding back, but I’m still waiting.

The more time I spent looking at some of the oddities in the apartment, the more curious I got about the former tenant.  I mean, footprints on the ceiling, a lock on the outside of a bedroom door, and burn marks on the floor?  Was this guy cooking meth and testing it on the raccoons living in the sewers out back?!  It wasn’t long before I got an answer to my question.  

As the weather warmed up a little, I started having my doorbell ring at random times in the late afternoon.  It was Jose, the guy they evicted from the building asking if I’d seen any mail for him.  The first few times it happened, I just told him no, that he hadn’t had anything addressed to him show up.  As it got to be more and more common, I started to get really annoyed, and more than a little concerned.  

The best I could figure is that he’d see my car parked in the garage out back and know if I was home or not.  My garage had a door, but I didn’t have the key to the lock, so I was wary about shutting the door.  I’m the type that would lock it out of habit and remember as soon as I felt the tumblers turn that I couldn’t get it open again.  

As time went on, I heard more and more about the guy.  He had been suspected of breaking into the other apartments in the building, had a serious drinking problem, and didn’t keep savory company.  I started to wonder if he was trying to get a sense of when I’d be home so he could then break into my place.  I decided the first thing I could do was get the lock to the garage re-keyed so I could use it.  If he couldn’t see my car, he wouldn’t know if I was home or not.  I called the landlord and told him my concerns, and he agreed with me.  I asked if he’d prefer to change the lock, or have me call a locksmith.  He told me to call the locksmith and just take the cost off my rent.  I just had to get him a receipt and a copy of the key.  He also said he could look into what it took to get a restraining order on him so he can’t come within a certain distance of the building.

Did I mention he had a drinking problem?  Well, maybe a month later, one of my upstairs neighbors and I were talking, and she told me that she’d heard that Jose had died.  He’d drank himself to death.  She reminisced about how they’d sit on the front porch during the summer, wasted out of their minds on cheap beer, shooting the shit.  In fact, I think she told me she didn’t remember seeing him sober very much.  Not that I’m celebrating the man’s death, but I could sleep a little easier knowing I didn’t have to suspect his motivations for his visits since there wouldn’t be any more in the future.  

It was about this time when I had what seemed like a really good idea.  I’d tried gardening in the backyard of my house and had some success before the tree grew too tall and blocked the afternoon sun.  I thought it might be worth a try to start a container garden on the roof of the garages in the back of the building.  It would be easy to get to, and several other residents were interested in the idea.  If we all pitched in, we could all have fresh veggies in the summer.  

So, a couple of us went looking for containers to use for our garden.  That’s when I had the discussion with my mom about pot theft.  No, not that kind of pot.  I’m talking the kind made out of clay that you put dirt, plants, and water in.  She said I should go buy cheap ones and leave the nice ones I had from the house in the storage unit.  My thinking was that was stupid.  I’m not going to lose my mind with grief if someone steals a container, and it made no sense to own something and not USE it.  (Which is why I keep threatening to start using my “good” dishes for everyday meals.”)  What ended up happening is that I had a friend who had just bought a house that came with some rather interesting ornaments in her backyard.  Some of which were plastic pots, which she offered to the cause.  Everybody won.  I think.

What I hadn’t anticipated was the heat wave we’d have that summer.   I can’t remember a time when we had 100+ degree forecasts that often, and I don’t remember many days where the mercury dipped below 90.  The roof of the garage is black, and if we’d have had any tomatoes, they’d have started life as sun dried.  We couldn’t keep up with their water consumption, and all we saw by the end of the season was two small cherry tomatoes and maybe a pepper the size of a large crabapple.  Next year.  There’s always next year.

The next in a long line of things that wanna make you go ##%$  #%$^! came in late May.  The Wednesday before Memorial day, the local gas company shut off my service without telling me.  It took me until Monday to figure it out.  I went to light the oven to make a pizza for the friends I had over for a board game night, and there wasn’t even a click of the igniter trying to fire.  Now, I know what you’re thinking.  I just must have been late, or didn’t pay my bill.  Nay nay.  I was completely current.  It took me three more days to discover the problem.  My downstairs neighbor has smelled a leak and called the emergency number around midnight the week before.  When they came out, they discovered there was a problem with my furnace that was so severe that they couldn’t do anything but turn the service off at the meter until the landlord fixed it.

On its face, none of this is a problem.  I understand safety.  I certainly don’t want to light a candle and get more than I expected with an exploding pocket of gas.  What had my temper on defcon 1 was the fact that the gas company tech didn’t tell the landlord about the problem, nor did they tell the affected customer.  They told the gal who called in the leak.  That’s all fine and dandy if they’re the same person, but in this case, they weren’t.  My landlord was going to be unavailable for the weekend, so I had the inability to prepare meals in anything other than a microwave or a crock pot to look forward to over the weekend.  When I called the gas company to complain about their procedures, I got the runaround from their CSR who didn’t seem to understand why I had my panties in a bunch about not knowing that my service was off, or why.  

Don’t get me wrong, I know it’s a tough job being a CSR.  I have been a phone jockey for the better part of the last 10 years.  But our gas company has a sort of reputation for being the place where all phone people go when they’ve fallen from grace.  Eventually, after repeating myself several times, she put me in touch with their manager of the field techs.  I told them that even if it was after midnight, I would have wanted to know my service was disconnected.  He countered with the fact that most people wouldn't want to be woken up that late.  Besides, he said, I wasn’t likely to need my heat since it was June and all.  

Ah ha!  There we had it.  They didn’t know I was without a stove, so of course I was just being hysterical and unreasonable.  Once I told him that I had gas appliances and hadn’t been able to use my stove for almost three weeks, it’s like the lightbulb went on over his head.  Never mind the fact that I would still be charged their ridiculous $14 service fee for a month when I had service for just over a week.  Grrrr.  Still chaps my ass.

Not long after the furnace leak that had my gas shut off for nearly two weeks happened, my kitchen sink started to back up.  And it wasn't something that just a little plunging could help.  I went out and bought some draino and a hand crank drain snake, but wasn't able to get it cleared.  After calling the landlord, he came over with a bottle of sulfuric acid to dry and burn the clog out.  Instead, all he did was stain my sink, fill the unit with toxic fumes, and burn a hole in the pipes and ceiling of the apartment below me.  Finally, we he gave in and called a plumber.  They came out and ran their industrial pipe snake through the pipes to clear them up.  This however, caused part of the ceiling in the basement unit to collapse.  Sadly, I went thought a few instances of having to clear a very slow drain before we got it entirely taken care of.  However, I'm still in the market for sharper blades on my disposal.  It seems that was part of the problem.  That, and the former occupants fried everything and frequently dumped their waste grease down the drain.

Remember the neighbor who told me about the death of the former tenant, having drunk himself to death?  She and her boyfriend are the inspiration for the name, The Popcorn Chronicles.  Part of me almost regretted signing up for cable, those two were their own brand of entertainment.  If by entertainment you mean experiencing them either blissed out on weed, or balls to the walls full on domestic disturbances.  I saw more of their broken belongings on the curb on trash days than any relationship should suffer.  Every window in their apartment was broken at least once.  A couple of them weren’t fixed until after the summer heat wave was over.  The girlfriend took the fights outside by throwing a brick through his windshield and broke his passenger side window, each on separate occasions.  They fought over anything, but mostly it was because he wanted to settle down and she still wanted to be young and play around.  

Once, while we were talking, he asked me what I thought.  I pondered, and asked if he thought he was in love with her as a person, or just the idea that he was in love.  He looked at me with his black eye and swore it was her.  She was the one.  I wished him luck on his journey, because it would most certainly be rocky.  I thought for sure he’d wised up when he called 911 during one of their fights and had her arrested.  He said there was a warrant for her and she wasn’t allowed to come back.  His brother was coming over to stay the night with him and he’d find a way to move on.  Three days later, her car was back in the parking lot, and the lights flickered when they stomped around upstairs.  

It was after a very good friend of mine moved in across the hall from me that we started talking about what to do when they’d fight.  I couldn’t hear them unless I was in the hallway, and they’d often race up and down them, threatening to leave or hauling armloads of the others’ stuff out to dump in the gravel parking lot.  My neighbor could hear them loud and clear, and we’d go back and forth on whether to call either the police or the landlord.  It was such a common occurrence, I joked once that we should get lawn chairs, pop some popcorn and sit in the hallway to watch the show.  I mean, they weren’t trying to keep it down out of respect for the people around them, why on earth would we have to keep our schadenfreude under wraps?  

I remember the day that gave me the idea to call my memories of living in 118 Place The Popcorn Chronicles.  My neighbor across the hall and I had been joking about how the domestic disturbance twins above her were both louder and more entertaining than cable.  One Saturday, as I was leaving to run an errand or two, I hear them at it again.  It was the same emotional extremes - “I love you.  This is and always will be your home. *pause for about two beats, and the same voice screams*  Get the fuck out!”  *stomp stomp stomp . . . slam*.  I heard this and sent a text to my neighbor saying “They’re at it again.”  To which she replied something to the effect that she knew, she had to turn off her movie because she couldn’t hear it above them stomping around.  It was so bad, her ceiling fan was shaking, and one picture had fallen off the wall.  I asked her if she was going to call the cops, and she said she’d wait to see how long this went on and make a judgement call.

When I got back from running my errand, the hallway smelled like a movie theater, and the argument was down to a dull roar of door slamming and and the occasional “fuck you!”.  I asked my neighbor if she had indeed popped popcorn and sat in the hallway to watch the show.  If she had, I would have come home sooner rather than lollygag around for a while.  She said she hadn’t.  That the popcorn was to go with her movie that she could resume watching now that they’d broken out the pot and calmed down a little.  (Seriously, I don’t know how you can smoke that much weed and still have your shorts in that tight of a twist all the time.)  But that moment in time where I imagined her sitting in a lawn chair, wearing her comfy sweats, wearing a smile one thrown collectible away from a cackle, eating popcorn out of the bag was internal monologue comedy gold.  And this is why I love this building.  All the world IS a stage, but I happen to live in the President's circle.

I was a little sad that they moved out eventually.  Without her around, the guy was really a nice kid.  Once they were gone though, our free entertainment dried up and we settled into a rhythm of life in Midtown.  

Over the summer, I decided to make a few inexpensive, but cosmetic improvements to the place.  My curtains worked great for privacy, but not so well at giving me much light.  At the same time, I didn’t want to just leave my windows open for the entire world to see.  I live on the ground floor, no sense in using a 6 foot window to passively brag about all the stuff you’ve got.  So, I had to find a way to get the best of both worlds.  A trip to the hardware store gave me the inspiration and solved two problems for about $20.

I don’t remember specifically what I was looking for at the time, only that I was in the plumbing aisle.  I saw the contact paper rolls for sale, and immediately thought they’d be perfect to dress up my kitchen counters.  The ones I had were rather bland, more than a little chipped and stained, and a nauseous 70’s yellow floral pattern.  Spending a couple bucks to make them look a little nicer wasn’t too much of an expense.  I picked up a couple rolls of wood grain, and a couple of white to cover all the surfaces on and around the counter/backsplash areas.  It wasn’t designer, but when you’re on a shoestring budget, you’ve got to be real about what will get the job done.

When I had some leftover of the white contact paper, I thought it might work as a window covering on the front side windows.  So, with Thunderhead’s help, We cut out and stuck squares of the stuff on the panes of glass in the side windows.  It worked, mostly.  It did let light in, but not as much as a clear frosted would.   I remembered when we put the new windows in at the house, frosted glass was an option, so off to Amazon I went to see if frosted contact paper was available.  And glory be, it was.  I ordered a couple rolls and set to work replacing the white for the frosted.  (You know, for having thought owning a t-square in college was a waste of money, I sure have used that sucker more than I thought I would in the last decade or so.)

With the work complete, I can leave the curtains drawn partially so I get some light from the side windows, and privacy from the curtains.  Perfect.  Just another step in making a low rent apartment feel like a cozy boudoir that I always wanted.  

Aside from spending under $10 for a new vent cover for the bathroom, (The old one was so rusty, I thought I might get a nasty case of tetanus just by looking at it.) the most recent improvement has been re-doing the floor in the kitchen.  Now, I know what you’re thinking.  What kind of fool spends good money on a place to live that they don’t even own?  A lazy, dog owning fool, that’s who.

The 70’s had an orgy in my apartment, and they used the kitchen as their jizz towel.  The floor was this pastel yellow and white trailer park linoleum that was cut off a roll before Carter was pimping Billy Beer.  There were cuts and gouges and stains from many an unknown meal embedded in its surface.  Though, most offensive was its ability to show the slightest accumulation of dog hair.  Great billowing clouds of it swept across my apartment like Kansas in the great dust bowl.  I think I saw two roaches twitching to be the first to draw in a recreation of the OK Corral on a tiny scale.  It was the wild west in there!  Which is kinda funny to think of 70’s orgies and cockroach cowboys in the same paragraph, now that I think about it.  The short version was, it was an old, busted up floor that was disgusting, and needed to be put out to pasture.  This might be the only time that the Dollar Store has failed me.

I saw they had the peel and stick floor tiles during one of my many trips down the hardware aisle.  I figured, they were less expensive there than an actual home improvement store, I don’t mind saving a few bucks when I didn’t care so much what the replacement looked like.  It’s not like I had a theme to work with.  So, Thunderhead and I picked out a pattern that looked like a parquet wood floor and set to work.  We cleaned as best we could, and spent an entire day peeling and sticking gooey squares to that floor.  Since the floor is about as level as Britney Spear’s grasp on reality is strong, we had to use heavy pots and pans to keep a few tiles from bubbling up.  We moved appliances, narrowly avoided amputating fingers, and managed to avoid the kinds of arguments that end relationships.  By the end of the day, we had a bright and shiny new floor to call our very own!  And it was great for about a week.

After that, tiles started slipping around.  They’d push against each other when you walked over them, or come up if you slid a chair rather than picked it up to move it.  Dog hair stuck to the spaces between the tiles and made it both disgusting to look at and harder to get the tiles to adhere if you tried to readjust them.  I mean, I get that I’d used the analogy that the 70s had an orgy in my kitchen, but I draw the line at reenacting it, complete with the bush.  

Eventually, when three tiles had come completely off the floor and lost any ability to be re-stuck to the space they used to occupy, I gave up.  We went back to the home improvement store where we should have gone in the first place.  Luckily, they were clearing out peel and stick tiles in the exact same pattern my neighbor had in her kitchen, so we could save a bundle AND have it look like the floor was the landlord’s idea.  What’s a bit of a kick in the teeth was that after we did all the math, we spent less at the big box store on better tiles than we did at the dollar store.  Live and learn.  

We did all of this in November, I think.  I’m happy to announce that Thunderhead and I are still together, despite the mess that day was.  And by mess, I mean that literally.  We had to scrape up or wipe up all of the greasy, nasty, not good enough adhesive the old tiles left behind.  We went through more razor blades, shop towels, goof off, and elbow grease than I thought my marriage could have handled.  But, we made it through.  All of the previous gunk came up, and the new tiles went down in one day.  It’s been many weeks now and they have yet to even hint at coming up.  Plus, you can’t see the dog hair nearly as badly on them.  In all, I have a fantastic kitchen for next to nothing.  Now, if what comes out of it could get as good a makeover.  I'm still working on not setting off the smoke detector when I make spaghetti.

Peppered in with the drama of moving into a slightly neglected unit with the same problems all old buildings run into have been some really memorable moments.  For example, I was home from work on Christmas Eve, making mashed potatoes for the meal the following day.  I am not a gentle cook, and was smacking my spoon on the side of my pot to get the last of the ingredients off.  I must have been making a heck of a racket, because my upstairs neighbor came down and knocked on the door.  He wanted to make sure everything was ok because he knew I worked during the day and that the building has been broken into before.  

A couple of months after I moved in, I had the noisy neighbor upstairs throw open his window out of concern when he saw me packing the extra large dog crate into the back of my dad’s truck.  He wanted to know what happened to my sweet dogs.  He seemed really relieved when I said they were fine, I just didn’t have the room for the crates.  

We’ve had a couple of litters of feral kitties born in the garages out back, and the whole building takes part in making sure they’re ok.  They’re fed, allowed a place to get out of the weather, and we do try and get the humane society out to catch them when they’re old enough.  Sadly, mama kitty is too wily to be caught, so she keeps having babies.  But, we do have one remaining baby from her last litter that we’ve all said the first one to catch him gets to keep him.  He’s adorable!

I've had a couple handfuls of girls nights with my neighbors that make me feel like my building is a dorm than it is apartments.  Thunderhead spends so much time at my place that he calls the gals the best neighbors he's never had, and they consider him one of the girls; a title that he accepts with pride.  

Sure, we have conflicts, like who left the door open, and people leaving their laundry in the machine all day.  But it's apartment living.  That comes with the lease.  Here it is, a year later, and I've gotten almost all of the immediate problems sorted out.  Sure, the disposal blades are as sharp as Gomer Pile's wit, and the bathroom ceiling looks like Helen Keller did the grout work, but it's all functional.  I have a cozy place for myself and my dog where I feel safe and sane.  Plus, I'm lucky enough to have a joint custody agreement with Thunderhead's kids so I get to see him and share the place as time allows.  For having been worried about the amount of time I'd get to see the guy, this whole arrangement works pretty well.  I'm happy that the rollercoaster has come to a full and complete stop inside the pavillion.  I'm excited about what the next ride's gonna be.

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