Chinese Rock

Apartment hunting sucks.
It sucks because it's more than just a process. In a lot of ways apartment hunting is an examination of yourself. It's a brightly lit magnification mirror zooming right in on the clogged pores and blemishes of your current financial standings. It's the mental equivalent of Chris Hansen and a camera crew showing up in your living room and asking you what a man like you is doing in an apartment like this at this hour of night.

It's all those things mixed together, garnished with the soundtrack music from Raiders of the Lost Ark that plays while I try to decipher the classified ads like I'm looking for eternal love in the personal ads on Craigslist.

I guess I should back up a bit here. About two and a half years ago a lot of bad things went down, my marriage fell apart and I had to find a new place to live. Apartment hunting stunk then too, albeit for reasons well beyond the normal suckitude that comes from having to decode the secrets behind all the abbreviations and vagaries found in your average newspaper ad.

But after several weeks (well, weekends mostly) I was lucky enough to come across what appeared to be a diamond in the rough -- a good sized one-bedroom with central heat and air and ceiling fans in a half-decent neighborhood.
The rent was workable, the landlords seemed cool -- what could go wrong?
So I signed up for the lease, loaded up my stuff, and started moving in. But you gotta understand something here -- this was a lot more than just going from one zip code to another. It was whole new life. It was following through with the decisions I had made -- good and bad. It was starting over, on my own -- with the singular goal in mind to try and get it right this time.

It's funny, because I still remember that first day when I moved in. Lugging all my crap up the stairs, piling it against the walls, trying to get everything done as quickly as possible without killing myself in the process. Then at one point when I was moving in the kitchen stuff I took a quick break and bought a bottle of water or something to cool off with. I drank about half of it, and then opened up the fridge to set it down until I needed to hit it again later -- only to find a surprise sitting there on the center rack waiting for me:
A beer.
Ice cold, just waiting for someone to take care of it and give it a good home. How could that not be a good omen? How could it not be a harbinger of good things to come?

I don't know who left it there, I don't know if it was actually done on purpose (although I can tell you this -- the day I move out of this place I'll be leaving one of my own there for the next guy to enjoy) -- all I know was that despite the thought that it could have been there for months, could have gone all skunky on me -- that finding that gratis oat soda was like a beam of sunlight slicing through a rain cloud -- and the rest of my afternoon was marked with a bounce in my step as I moved boxes from the U-haul into the living room.

Later that night I hit the grocery store and filled up the rest of the fridge, made myself a makeshift bed out of blankets and stuff in the back room (I still hadn't bought a bed for the place yet), and crashed out for the night.
Three days later the fridge died.
Best I can figure it gave up the ghost somewhere in the middle of the night -- a fact I didn't discover until I came home from work later that afternoon and discovered all of the groceries I had bought the night before had either spoiled or melted into goo.

It took a couple of days, but the landlords eventually came through with a new refrigerator. I bought a bed, found a couch, picked up a couple of other things to fill out the place with -- which was all within the budget that I had setup for the move, but with the dead icebox I found myself eating my meals out almost every night, punching a serious hole in the money reserves I had at the time.

Still, I was in my new place and once I got everything setup things seemed to go pretty well. Sure the AC freaked out and spilled a lot of water on the floor early on during the first year, but the maintenance guy assured me that it was probably because it hadn't been turned on in a while and needed to be cleaned.

Now a couple of years later -- I've got ceiling fans falling out of the sky, sink faucets breaking off in my hands, A/C units shutting down and locking up, and landlords who have "suddenly" discovered the cats who have been living with me -- prompting them to issue me a notice stating that if I didn't either get rid of the animal or pay a hefty pet deposit/penalty fine that I would be in violation of the lease and evicted from the premises within seven days.
I've paid the fine, but the writing's still on the wall:
It's time to go.
It sucks though, because I love that place. I have some really great memories there. It's been my sanctuary from all the other craziness in my life for almost 3 years now, and even with the crappy plumbing and the questionable wiring all through the walls -- it's hard to imagine myself anywhere else.

But things with the landlord are stretching thin, and as much as I love the personality of the place it's hard to ignore the fact that piece by piece it's starting to come apart at the seams right in front of my eyes.
So I'm caught in this place I always seem to be in -- my sentimentality crashing into my realities, catching
me and everyone around me in the middle while I do my best to find compromises that aren't always there.
At the same time -- nothing bites more than the flashlight in the eyes that comes when you start checking the want ads day in and day out and remember that three years ago you were lucky enough to find the nicest rattrap in the area, and now that it's gone to pot I'm left choosing between all the places I didn't take the first time around.

In other words, this whole thing has become a strange sort of mirror on everything in my world -- from the uncertainty surrounding my status as an employee of this company versus being a contractor stuck in a salary that enables me to survive, but isn't helping me get any further ahead to the myriad reasons I choose to stay in this town versus relocating somewhere that might offer better opportunities or cheaper rental costs or whatever.

And it’s not like I’m looking for the Taj Mahal here -- but it would be nice to have working appliances, a little automated dishwashing assistance, and the ability to walk through my living room without having to pre-plan my video game button combos so I can dodge the falling lamps and fans coming from the ceiling.

Unfortunately between my bills and my debts, I'm in a certain bracket when it comes to rental real estate around here. Each place I tour seems worse than the last, as I find myself interviewing what appear to be the minor leagues of the real estate baron business.

This last place I went to (like so many places on this side of town) used to be a two story house that over the years has been passed from landlord to landlord who worked to turn it into anywhere from 2 to 6 apartments. This particular one featured a unique-looking front drawing room which was basically four walls, a tiled floor and a window which gives away that in a different life my prospective living room once was some guys front porch until Robo-Bob Villa over here with the silk tie and the diamond earring got the bright idea to add fifty bucks to the rent.

Inside was no better, as the "open floorplan" promised in the newspaper ad turned out to be a living room with an area of the ceiling that the landlord suggested would be great for hanging a curtain to separate the sleeping area from the rest of the apartment. On the upside it did have a fireplace ("oh that? -- it doesn't work") and a small walk in-closet that turned out to have a toilet and a small bathtub in it.
The kitchen was workable, but the place was still just a hallway with a walled in porch.
But best of all is that awkward moment when you’re standing there in a piece of shit apartment face to face with a guy who knows it’s a piece of shit apartment but feels since you can only apparently afford this level of rent he’s doing you a favor by offering it to you in the first place and he smiles and asks,
"So, what do you think?"

[Listening to:    American Head Charge"Effigy 23" ]