A decade of shitty apartments
My upstairs neighbors fucked all the time. Either that or they enjoyed jumping on the bed. Passionately. Like they were training for the Olympics. We all shared a 200-year-old house in a frigid Midwestern town. Me, my spouse, and a half dozen party girls.
A house that old has its trade offs. Spacious, but no insulation. Indoor temperatures sank into the 40s. Water froze in our sink. The gaps in our windows drove our heating bill up into the hundreds. We covered them with two layers of plastic. Nothing helped.
We had a yard, so to speak. But our neighbors and their boyfriends littered the grass with cigarette butts and dog shit. I’d always wondered how an undergrad could afford cigarettes, much less a dog.
The mysteries of life.
You’d think listening to someone else have sex would be a real treat. Almost like free porn. FYI, it’s not.
The sound of someone else having sex in an apartment’s the same as a young couple getting angry at a furniture kit. Bang, bang, bang. Moan. Sigh. Pound, pound, pound. Exclamations. Scuffle. Repeat.
I’m positive that a neighbor at some point has heard me slamming together Wal-Mart bookshelves and thought, “Damn, that girl likes it rough!”
Besides, the sex only lasted for 5 minutes, winding up with the same 30 seconds of vigorous thrusting. My teenage neighbors had sex 3–4 times a day on the weekends. In between, the boyfriend rocked out on an electric guitar.
I’m a reasonable person. If he’d played entire songs, perhaps we could’ve co-existed. Instead, he kept playing the same riff from the opening to Metallica’s “One.” Over and over. Not only was he killing my quiet time, he was ruining my favorite metal band.
They were lucky I didn’t stab them with an icicle.
You think I’m joking. I’m not. I could literally have grabbed an icicle off the porch and stabbed them. In normal climates, that would be the perfect crime. No murder weapon.
But our apartments were so cold, the police would’ve found it. Things didn’t melt here. I would’ve had to bake my ice shiv away, and I’m sure that would’ve left evidence.
So I tried diplomacy. One night I knocked on their door and asked them to have sex more quietly. They answered in their underwear. I was astounded. Weren’t they cold? I guess all that rubbing together….
We talked a few minutes, and they didn’t understand the problem. So I explained, “It’s just that your sex is so loud, it distracts me from my sex. And my sleep. And my Netflix time.”
They looked at me like I was a psychopath.
“But the worst thing’s your guitar playing,” I added, eyeing the boyfriend.
That didn’t work. So I tried a peace offering. An ashtray. A few days later, I knocked on their door. The boyfriend answered. I presented him with my gift. “Behold,” I said. “An ashtray. For your cigarettes.”
He said, “Huh?”
So I told him this story from the news, about a house that burned down the other week from cigarette butts in the lawn. “I’m sure you’d rather not burn to death at the age of 19,” I said.
He stopped throwing his cigarettes in the yard. But he left the ones he’d already thrown.
So what did I do? Logically, I bought a pair of tweezers and extracted the dead cigarettes. I left them in a Ziploc bag outside his door. My spouse didn’t exactly approve. But I thought I’d made an excellent point.
Yeah, doing that made me feel slightly old. On the other hand, I remember being 20. Smoking a cigarette. And using a motherfucking ashtray to put it out when I was done. Then I did 3 shots of absinthe and danced with a stripper. Or something. I don’t know. Those days were blurry.
I’m not lame, I promise. On at least two different occasions, I’ve talked existential philosophy at 3 am with girls holding assault weapons.
The problem wasn’t me. These hipsters were probably on their first apartment. I was 30, on my seventh. Your perspective changes. By then, I just wanted a quiet place to drink wine, watch TV, sleep, and do some work. My soul was ready for a house. My bank account laughed and gave me the finger. House? Nice try, Jessica. You get to live with college students for the rest of your miserable fucking life.
These days, I’m finally proud to call myself a home owner. My spouse and I saved up enough for a house, and we survived the gauntlet of paperwork. The strange thing? Our mortgage is less than the rent at our last apartment.The problem was saving up for the down payment. Because our rent was so high, it was hard to save money. Go figure.
My parents and in-laws talked us to death about home ownership for years. They couldn’t understand why we didn’t just “buy a home.” We had to explain to them. We were both in grad school. Who knew where we’d wind up permanently? The last thing we wanted was a house we couldn’t sell.
Friends of mine made the epic mistake of buying a home right in the middle of the housing crisis. Poor fellas, they enjoyed the peace and solitude for about four years. Then they finished school. One of them found a job in another state. They moved.
Six years later, no sale on the original house. They’ve had to become land lords. That meant paying for shit like water heater replacements, roofing, and other major expenses. They tried to woo the old American dream. And that old American dream fucked them hard. Despite their salaries, their old house has bankrupted them. Now, they’re renting.
Honestly, a major deal breaker has been the handful of sex criminals residing in their area. Hey, sex criminals have to live somewhere. Unfortunately, they drive down real estate prices.
Savvy youngsters wait longer than ever to buy a house these days. We hop across the country like sad bunnies for jobs. We live in fear of another housing collapse. Unlike any generation before us, we have no choice but to rent. Our parents might think we’re lazy, afraid of commitment, or just fickle. In truth, the world is fickle. We’re just playing along.
Mortgage rates have doubled. We have triple the amount of debt our parents did just for that holy bachelor’s diploma, even from state colleges. And so on. More often than not, a house is either a pipe dream or a luxury. It’s no longer a given to anyone who works hard.
I’m probably the first person in my generation to claim 10 different homesteads in about as many years. Some moves happened because of grad school and jobs. Others happened because of neighbors, and others because of shitty land lords. That’s a decade of packing your shit up in boxes and relocating. What’s the toll? Beats me. I feel tired, like I’ve lived a thousand lives. We don’t think about land and property the same way.
My grandparents owned more than a hundred acres of undeveloped land, now held by my uncle. Apparently my family has old log cabins and graveyards on that stretch of wilderness. It blows my mind. The idea of me ever owning more than a little back yard behind a Best Buy feels like something from a fantasy novel. We millennials are civilized nomads, with no sense of land ownership.
My very first apartment came to me halfway through college. A dilapidated little house with three bedrooms — one for each tenant, and a third for the landlord. He was also a drug dealer. Perk or liability. Your choice.
My first neighbor was a 40-something going through a divorce. He moved in with us to save money. He had a full-time job with benefits, with some debt on the side. Maybe some child support. Me on the other hand? I had nothing. My rent hinged on how many people tipped me on a given week.
Still, at barely $200 a month, it was the least I’ve ever paid. I had zero furniture. Just a mattress and box spring from the last tenant.
At the time, I was thrilled to find a place away from my wretched family. All the fights, the crying, a mentally-ill parent. A squalor downtown was heaven compared to a $200K home in suburbia, given the circumstances. I ate most of my meals for free from the restaurant where I worked. Part of me misses the simplicity of that setup.
My second apartment? A roach-infested tower shared with a pot-smoking poet. What a cliche. But a cliche worth living for a couple of years. We had plenty of fine nights in that place, between the wine and parties and sex. People made up for the leaking pipes, bugs, weird smells, slow elevators…
One morning I woke up in bed with a handful of roaches tickling my feet. That was my sign. It was time to move.
A month earlier, our security guard killed someone under shady circumstances. Nobody told us the full story, and nobody really asked questions. Not even the police.
Here’s the punchline: A possible homicide didn’t rattle me all that much. Roaches? Ewww, get me the fuck out of here!
Every apartment after that had different problems. Loud neighbors. Bugs. Ceiling leaks. Mold. One year, my land lord decided to turn the attic in my building into another apartment. Contractors brought in power tools and banged around from sunrise to sunset. Sometimes, I called city inspectors and housing authorities. They all told me the same thing: Yeah, you could sue your land lord and probably win. But how much would that cost? How long do you plan to live here? Every time, I said maybe another year. And they would tell me it wasn’t worth it.
Transient people have never had real rights. Life, liberty, pursuit of happiness? Fuck that. Just give me warmth, peace and quiet, and no bugs. That’s surprisingly hard to find.
Imagine my shock at “owning” a home now. No noisy neighbors. A yard. A tool shed. An actual deck. The things my parents used to complain about? I delight in them. I finally have grass to cut. Weeds to whack. The payoff? I can hang pictures wherever the fuck I want. Install shelves. Have pets without ludicrous deposits. Five years ago, a wild weekend consisted of drinking and dancing. Now I spend my free time wandering the aisles of Home Depot, learning about different kinds of screws and fantasizing about little walkways made from paving stones. The extreme privilege of home ownership in the 21st century isn’t lost on this girl.