CH CH CH CHANGES…
Saying goodby to a deathtrap.
The thing I will remember most about my old apartment was the menacing electrical surge/noise/vibration that intermittently rattled the side of the house when the wind blew. The house was so old the wiring was the kind you see on antique toasters…sort of hard fiber cloth, that no doubt had dry rotted and allowed the bear wires to touch the metal pipes when shook properly. I almost felt bittersweet about leaving my old apartment. The end of an era. That apartment had seen a marriage, countless screaming matches, a divorce, some of my most brilliant writing, the creation of an animated cartoon, and several near death experiences in the folly of trying to save a dollar by doing something myself. It was home not only to me and for a brief time my wife, but the bottom floor was a revolving door of twilight zone caricatures of several stereo types.
Originally the landlord lived there, who was an ordinary single guy who, except for strange loud gulping noises in the middle of the night, was pretty okay.
Then there was the shut in lonely librarian who’s chirping birds ofen fooled me in the dead of winter into thinking that I had slept my way to spring. I get candy sent to me from time to time by fans, and one X-mass her sister accidentally marked my apartment number down when shipping a box of candy to her. My then wife and I ate the entire box in one sitting before realizing it was addressed to someone else. I remember her balled up face and crossed arms “oh strangers just randomly send you candy?!”. As a matter of fact yes…but she didn’t believe me. An honest mistake that she never forgave us for and was a total bitch the rest of the time she lived there.
After her came a round Latino semi toothed slut and her screaming, constantly shirtless, two-year old. Every mental image I have of the boy features him with a cast on his leg from the time she decide to straddle him and slide down a play-set at McDonalds…and some point mid way down the industrial plastic slide he stopped and her 5’2 170 pound frame kept going. I have heard that emergency rooms are required by law to report injuries to children that could be caused by abuse or neglect. I often tried to picture the dead eyed beaten down social worker who had his or her naive thoughts of helping anyone when taking the job crushed so badly that her/she could take one look at this woman, whose own hygiene is a billboard for her lack of ability to keep anything in her care alive other than several thousand crabs, and decided not to investigate further. Her babies daddy would sleep over occasionally and while I was working late nights in my basement office I could hear their mutant orgasmic wailing…thick joweled yeowling like if teddy Roosevelt had his teeth knocked out on the battlefield and was crying out to the doctor as the morphine kicked in. In between the screech of metal fatigue from whatever industrial steel bed frame could support the shift in weight of these two I could hear her shout commands of which orifice he should be stocking. I could almost feel a movie camera zoom in and settle on a close up of my eyes, wide and horrified , looking directly at the wall in front of me like a four-year old who is too terrified of the boogie man under his bed to move. Eventually they were evicted and there worldly possessions thrown onto the curb to be picked away at by the white trash residents of the block, like buzzards picking at a carcass. I considered making a contest out of it…letting you all guess which piece of used crap would be taken by a passerby first. The correct answer would have been the broken box fan.
After them came a wiry,weathered, also semi toothed bible thumper in his late forties who was a handyman for a local school. I had met him a few years earlier when the landlord hired him to paint the first floor. He locked had himself out and was waiting for someone to come home. He introduced himself and asked if I had a key. I didn’t but…well…I have been known to be able to enter a locked premises before so I got some tools and had him follow me to the front door. I got the door open and he thanked the good lord and closed the door on me. The second time I met him years later he was moving in. I said “oh I remember you from when you were locked out”. he replied “how did you know I was locked up? Were you in jail with em?” I don’t think I was and had zero interest in continuing that conversation. By my estimation he was more or less white trash that had come to accept his white trashness via the bible and hopes of a better draw of the cards in the next life. That WAS my estimation until on thanksgiving he invited me down for diner. “Nobody should be alone on the holidays” he said. I was actually alone by choice, having come up with one excuse or another to avoid thanksgiving with the extended family so I could watch the Lions lose in peace without having to explain why the woman who was my wife was now in a different time zone. Hard as it may be for most people to believe I do try to be compassionate from time to time and assumed this fellow was pretty lonely. I had never seen anyone come and visit him and I can only imagine the nicknames he has that are whispered by giggling children at his school as they spy and run from his shadow. At half time I went downstairs with a can of cranberry sauce to mask the taste of whatever frozen diner he burned for us. The was no frozen diner, there was a full spread, sweet potatoes, corn, a real turkey, gravy, the works. There was also a family…his family. A beautiful wife, two lovely daughters in their twenties and a dough eyed grand-daughter who could play the violin. I don’t know what the whole story was with the guy or why he didn’t live with his wife…or how he managed to get a wife, but the whole scene ruined my Thanksgiving. I went from thinking I was doing a good deed missing the second half of football to show a bit of human kindness on a lonely derelict, to realizing that I was in fact the one being taken pity on. the whole thing put me off. In the still of the night that summer he disappeared.
The first floor never got another renter because as it turns out, the electrical was not up to code and no one should have been living there at all.
For the sake of the place not being condemned and being forced to move to a place where the landlord would know and possibly care what I am welding in the kitchen, I became the super intendant. Fixing the hot water heater, repairing broken glass, painting over graffiti,along with the usual mowing of the lawn and shoveling the snow and anything that would keep the landlord from getting fines from the city. Little by little the house that originally predated indoor plumbing challenged and bested my ability to make it safe for human habitation. First the hot water heater stopped working, because whatever electrical problem there was and made it’s way to basement. The landlord had no money on hand to have any of it fixed and gave me two options, move or live there with no hot water for 100.00 a month, so I took showers at the gym. Then the furnace broke, it was so old no parts were available and would need to be replaced completely, my upstairs apartment was small and hot as hell when the sun would beat on the windows so I used space heaters and continued to pocket the savings on rent. Eventually the electrical problem found it’s way upstairs. One by one electrical outlets stopped working and once in a while started to smoke. Simply removing the fuse connected to the fire hazard seemed like a good solution at the time.
Soon the landlord had lost the house to foreclosure and it was in the process of being owned by one bank that was in the process of being absorbed by a larger bank and the was a trail of undecipherable red tape involved as to who was actually responsible for maintaining the house that has crossed into uninhabitablity. On the upside…there was no one to pay rent to. I made several inquiries as to who to write a check out too…and no one knew. FREE RENT! However this also meant there was no one to call to get the heat fixed or have an electrician make sure i wouldn’t wake up on fire. I lue of working smoke detectors I had strategically placed firecrackers around the house, which I find to be a pretty sweet idea. Not only did I not have to waste money on smoke detectors for a house I didn’t own, but instead of being woken up by a menacing and scary shrieking noise…I would awake to a festive series of colorful fireworks. I felt this would make the half awake frantic gathering of my most precious belongings and running down the stairs almost seem like an old Nickelodeon game show rather than a race against death.
With no hot water, and the apartment at a constant 50 degrees one day the outlet that may fish tank was connected to gave out during the night and I awoke to five dead angelfish…victims of hypothermia and the housing bubble. It was a stark realization that I was now the only one left. Like the last victim in some survival movie. I realized I was living like a Brit at the height of the London bombing. I was down to four working electrical outlets and an apartment only a few degrees warmer than my refrigerator…which I now realize I didn’t actually need to have plugged in and could have used that vital working outlet for something else.
It is a strange aspect of human nature…that you will live in horrible condition that happened gradually that you would never agree to if they happened all at once. Something in the human condition, maybe it’s resilience,maybe abject rationalization, allows us to put up with things we shouldn’t as long as they come on slowly. People on the brink of divorce can attest to this. You don’t realize how bad it is while you are going through it…only after, detached from it all,when the task at hand is not to simply get through the day,can the mind see things for what they are.
“don’t give us that bullsh*t, you’re just trying to romanticize things to overshadow what a cheap skate you are.”
…okay fine, not having to pay rent was pretty attractive. But after the fish died it was time to get out of dodge.
I moved across the street. The print shop I frequent has three apartments above it and one was available. A pretty nice situation all things considered. I could move my stuff across the street a little each day, I didn’t even have to go outside to do my weekly business at the printers. I was still in white trash central, but my rapor with the print-shop was far different from my rapor with the neighbors to the left and right of me at the old apartment…who quite frankly loathed me. The old guy on one side would call the alderman constantly to try to get me fined for various experiments and inventions I tinkered with in the garage. And the fat broad on the other side and her two big stupid and loud dogs were the catalyst for many a morning of heated screaming matches about who would feed who to what if the noise didn’t stop. The print shop as I say had a far different attitude towards me. Not only was I occasional business, but good company. I treat the print shop like old people treat a diner. I would show up, get the gossip, have a few laughs. Also I was a cut above the usual tenants who lived above them. The one I replaced for instance almost burned the place to the ground ( the unproven but assumed method was getting so high she dropped the lighter and spoon and passed out.)
So, I had a nice fully functioning apartment,I was held in high esteem among the print-shop and landlord. One wrinkle has arisen…the tenant on the west end was apparently a drug dealer.
PART 2 NEXT WEEK.