Tuesday, November 17, 2015

Curry, Boiling the Bathwater, and Roasted Mice: Ode to My Shitty Apartment

It was kind of charming, even though it smelled like curry.

My first apartment was smaller than many dorm rooms, but somehow, I loved it. I rented the attic of a three-story house in Squirrel Hill. 

It didn’t bother me that the ceilings sloped with the shape of the roof, meaning that you couldn’t stand up unless you were in the middle of the apartment. If you ventured too far left or right, you had to stoop or take a seat. It also meant I couldn’t have any tall furniture—like a refrigerator. I kept a mini fridge under the kitchen counter.

But the ceilings reminded me of a dollhouse, which seemed fun, so I hunkered down and enjoyed it.

I was also charmed by the antique details, like the big claw-foot bathtub. There was no shower, which worked out, since there was never any hot water. Every night, I would place my four biggest pots on the stove and boil water. If I hurried, potholders in hand, I could dump enough boiling water into my tub to take the chill off my lukewarm bath. I got used to this, even though the process took half my night.

I was, however, bothered by the heat in the summer. If you’ve ever stepped into an attic in August, you've felt how the oppressive, sauna-like heat rises. Great, nauseating waves of heat would wake me up in the middle of the night.

I worried about my cat, left to roast in her fur while I was at work, so I ran an AC unit in one of the two small windows during the day. The unit worked so hard all day that by the time I got home, it could barely cough out a stale breath. I’d turn it off so it would be ready to cool again by the time I left for work the next day. 

So it was hot. It was cramped. And then, along came a colicky baby. 

The family on the second floor had a baby that wailed every night from about 1am till dawn. This would have been bad enough in an apartment building, but we lived in a house together. This angry baby was basically my roommate.

You might have sympathy for this baby and his parents. Here is why I did not.

Any time — every time! — I tried to vacuum, those same neighbors would bang on my door and angrily inform me that I had to stop, because their baby was napping. The only time they permitted me to run the vacuum was the rare occasions when they were not home. 

They would also throw their things into the washing machine while I was doing my laundry. The shock of finding their hallway rug in with my delicates left me too speechless to ever confront them about it.

I decided that this baby, and his parents, were jerks. 

But the last straw came when I heard a strange scurry in the middle of the night. The next day, I found a mouse, brazenly out in the open and watching me from my curtain rod.

I shrieked. Then I called my mom. She came over, cornered him, caught him in a boot, and took him outside. 

But, it turned out, he’d left his entire family behind.

I found this out when I baked cookies in my oven and smelled something strange. Something very dry was burning.

I had cooked a mouse nest.

And finally, finally, but just like that -- I didn’t love my apartment anymore.

Mercifully, another apartment had just opened up a few blocks away. It was close enough for me to carry my meager belongings and tiny furniture down the street. My cat and I broke the lease and left the attic, mouse nest and all, behind. 

Today my co-worker described her first apartment, which was in a complex with cafes, a pool, and a gym. I opened my mouth to describe my first home away from home and realized I didn't even know where to start. 

Instead, I told her that it sounded really, 

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