Monday, April 28, 2008

My First Apartment Part III - Micro-managed

The -Lord and -Lady of the Manor

We’ll call them Ralph and Alice.

Alice handled all the lease-signing paperwork, and I didn’t meet Ralph until a few days later when I came home from wherever and saw his pickup in the driveway. He was puttering around the truck and looking a bit frustrated. I recognized the truck as the one Alice drove for the lease signing, so I greeted him and introduced myself.

After a few pleasantries, he asked if he could use my apartment phone to call Alice because he locked his keys in his truck. Then I noticed the coat hanger. Having been there a few times myself, he instantly had my sympathy. We started talking about locked cars when I noticed his eyes crawling over my frame and my nerves flew up.

I’ll stop here a second just to mention that it is strange how women wear flattering clothes but instantly become defensive when they draw stares. I was no exception, and during this time of my life I was approaching my "hottest," what with tagging along with The Oracle to the gym three days a week and soon to be underfed. Why shouldn't they stare? Isn't that the point? Nowadays the only stares I draw likely stem from, “Doesn’t she look in the mirror before she goes outside?”

Anyway, as my defenses mentally ratcheted upward, he humbly asked me if I wouldn’t mind trying to access his truck through the rear sliding window to unlock it from inside. I was feeling like a jerk that I might have misjudged him and happened to be wearing jeans, so I slid through the rear window and unlocked the truck door.

After that, I think Ralph liked me a little bit, because whenever I had maintenance complaints about the apartment, he was always the more accommodating of the pair.


Included among the sheets of addenda to my lease was a clause insisting that any holes in the walls had to be spackled over by the tenant before moving out. Not knowing how to spackle, I was reluctant to put anything on the walls. Still, I needed a clock in my kitchen.

I picked one out and brought it home. I briefly looked around the room, and found there was only one place for it to go. Knowing nothing about picture hangers, I bought a package of the tiniest finishing nails I could find to make the smallest mark possible. I walked over to the wall and took one look and set my measuring tape aside. No need to center anything here. You could see a perfectly centered line of spackled-up holes along the wall. The hardest part was finding a spot that wasn’t used before.

Really, now. If you owned a rental property and there was only one place where a hanger could go for a kitchen clock, wouldn’t you just put up a hanger and leave it there for your tenants?


I don’t like bugs. I am skeeved beyond measure by anything remotely roach-like, and I run into the house like a six-year-old after sighting a stinging insect within twenty feet.

I’ve always had a weird sixth sense when either of these things is around. I could be sitting in a restaurant enjoying my dinner when my eyes are impulsively drawn to a corner of the room, and without fail there is something crawly there. Dinner is over.

So one July morning I awoke to the sensation that I was not alone in my apartment. My eyes follow my instincts to the light bulb in the center of the room, and there are two wasps buzzing around it. Panic set in, and I made a beeline (pun intended) for the bedroom door. Those nasty brown wasps dive bombed me and started stinging. I slapped and killed the slower one with the heel of my hand, but the other one stung me on the hip multiple times before I mashed it into crumbs. I ran out of the room and slammed the door shut behind me.

It took a few minutes for me to work up the nerve to re-enter the room so I could find where they got in. Ah-ha! There was a good-sized wasps’ nest built against the window frame. The house was old and so were the windows. Even with the sash shut and latched, there was still plenty of room for the little buggers to wiggle into my apartment.

I exited the room again and immediately called the owners. I got Alice. She blandly suggested, “Oh, just get a can of wasp spray and shoot it up into the window frame.” Huh? What? I was still pumped full of adrenaline and had temporarily forgotten my usual invertebrate manner, and I refused without a second thought. First off, I couldn’t afford food, let alone a can of wasp spray. Second, of course, is that I was paying them rent. I may have even mentioned that fact before Alice ended the call.

Soon Ralph arrived, armed with a can of wasp spray and a flyswatter. I wanted to run far, far away, but I realized that he might need help if he got swarmed by angry wasps. I cowered in the kitchen while he annihilated the wasps. I thanked him as he left, and I don’t think I slept soundly for at least three days as my imagination ran wild with sounds of buzzing wings and phantom sensations of insect legs running across my skin.


My sole attempt at entertaining anyone besides The Oracle in that apartment was a memorable experience. We decided to invite one (possibly two? can't remember now) couples over for dinner. I think we wanted to go for three, but this apartment was tiny and would barely hold six at the table.

Anyway, the menu was simple enough: Florentine layers (sort of a lasagna-type thing made with ziti instead of lasagna noodles), tossed salad, bread, and pound cake for dessert. I had the cake in the oven and was boiling the water for the pasta, blithely puttering around the kitchen while waiting for The Oracle to arrive.

I hear this funky “ZZZWWWWWWWOP!” from the stove, and as I turn a shower of sparks starts spraying from beneath the pasta pot. Sparks are zinging out in a circle, like a mad pinwheel of fireworks, and they’re easily spraying three or four feet outward from the stove.

I did what any self-respecting wanna-be independent would do. I screamed as loudly as I could.

The next thing I hear is the sound of feet pounding up my stairway, and there’s JB, my neighbor downstairs, ready to stomp whatever is after me. (I wish I'd thought of screaming when those wasps attacked me.) I point to the stove, and he calmly walked through the sparks and flipped off the breaker on the other side of the stove.

First off, it’s a miracle JB didn’t throw an infarct from his race up my stairs. If he didn’t already top 300 pounds, he was within ounces of it, and I am amazed he could move so quickly. Thank you, JB, if you happen to read this and know I mean you. Recreational cannabis aside, J and C were really nice to have as neighbors.

What’s even more pathetic is that I knew more about breaker boxes and changing plug fuses since I was ten years old, and yet my mind thoroughly blanked on what to do when my dumb electric stove so colorfully malfunctioned.

My dinner was ruined, that’s for sure. I cancelled our guests and The Oracle and I went out to dinner. My saddest loss, though, was the Aunt Lori pound cake, because with no power to the oven it couldn’t finish baking. It's a sour cream pound cake, and it rocks.

I called and got Alice (Y'know, I always got Alice or an answering machine. I don’t think Ralph was permitted to answer the phone). She said she’d send Ralph over on Monday. Ummm… Okay. With the stove as my only cooking implement, how was I supposed to eat for the remainder of the weekend? She either didn’t hear me or didn't care.

I ended up humbly calling my stepfather, something I didn’t want to do since there was so much friction over my departure, but I really didn’t have a choice and I needed an electrician. He came over and told me one of my burners arced out, that I just needed a new burner, and that I could still cook with the others. He removed the old one, covered and labeled the wires for Ralph, and went on his way.

All those sparks came shooting out because the burner arced and burned a hole in my pasta pot, sending several quarts of water pouring into the cavity beneath the burners. I didn’t know how to successfully remove all that water (lamely blotting what I could reach with paper towels). Ralph came on Monday as promised and replaced the element.

It was around this time that The Oracle proposed and I decided to break my lease and move home. My lease stated that I’d be responsible for any monthly rent up to the end of my lease unless they found a new tenant, so I had to keep a neat apartment and an open mind to Ralph and Alice showing the place to prospective tenants at all hours. Now that I was working shift work, this was a pain in the butt.

On an evening I knew they were coming to show the place, I got the notion that it would be more inviting if I baked something and made the place smell good, so I put together a pound cake and had it in the oven when they arrived. The apartment smelled good, sure, but there was one nasty problem. With the oven at a toasty 350 degrees, I noticed this rusty-brown gunk percolating out from under the burner trays and running down the oven door. It was old pasta water. Oops.

I’d noticed it just as they arrived (naturally!) and was in a near panic. When I realized I couldn’t make it go away and stay away, I parked myself in front of the stove while Alice showed the prospective tenant around. When it came time for the lady to see the kitchen, I rubbed the backseat of my jeans against the oven door and prayed it would be enough to remove any drips and it was. Thankfully, no water burbled out over the door until her attention was elsewhere, and I returned to my post in front of the oven.

The lady rented the apartment! I was free!

And when it came time to spackle that hole in the wall from my clock, I noticed that my walls were the exact color of Colgate toothpaste. Toothpaste looks like spackle. How convenient!

Friday, April 25, 2008

My First Apartment - Part II: Starvation

My mother, bless her heart, really could have boned me after I moved out, but she chose the kinder road. Not only did she let me keep The Ruster, she maintained the insurance. Without transportation I would've been dead in the water right at the start. On top of that, she gave me her long-since-retired kitchen table and two chairs (I just retired it a year ago) and a few cooking implements. Angry as she was with me for leaving, she still couldn't let me sink like a rock. That's a mom's love.

So, thanks to Mom, I had a kitchen table and chairs. Later, her boss (who was also my boss after high school) donated a rather nice recliner to the cause as well. I had no bedroom furniture, not even a bed. I spent a week or so sleeping on the floor before I reluctantly dragged my aching 23-year-old back to the mall, opened a Sears account, and charged a bed.

Despite all that, I was broke the minute I moved in. I used every ounce of savings I had for the security deposit, first month's rent, basic foodstuffs, and things like bath towels and a few kitchen gadgets (can opener a must!). DEB, my yet-to-be mother-in-law, blessed me with a shiny-new set of nonstick cookware and a glass stovetop coffee percolater (that I never mastered), and she fed me dinners at their house on a weekly basis.

Within a matter of weeks, my coworker noticed my "ehh" lunches and started supplementing my diet with home-baked goodies, lucky me. Her "Blewish" (Jewish blueberry) cake was probably one of the best things I ever ate. In return, I had a small role in introducing her daughter to The Oracle's best friend, and they married a year after we did.

I'd been moved out for all of a week when I went shopping for Mom's Mother's Day gift. I was in a funky little novelty shop giggling over an artificial rubber plant made out of condoms and wondering if I could get away with such a thing on my desk when someone picked my wallet out of my purse (ironically the same purse I bought for Jenny's last birthday; how depressing is that?). There went Mom's gift and my grocery money. That's what I get for shopping in that neighborhood. The lucky part is that my ID and my maxed-out credit cards were in a separate folder.

Not only was I starving financially, I was starved for affection. One thing I quickly learned was that I did not like living totally alone. I don't mind being away from other people (shoot, I relish the rarest moments of solitude now), but I hated not having a pet of any kind. When I was a kid, we always had a number of critters, so being petless was foreign to me. It was totally depressing. Working all day and coming home to an echoey, empty apartment without so much as a fish in a bowl to greet me kind of -- no -- thoroughly sucked. Sure, I had the neighbors downstairs, but it wasn't the same. I really missed my German Shedder.

I am not equating him with a dog by any means, but my weekends with The Oracle were precious and wonderful. He often stayed over Friday and/or Saturday nights. Mom would've choked if she knew that. I know most mothers suspect that their kids are fooling around and keep a don't-ask-don't-tell frame of mind, but my mother was in emphatic, delusional denial when it came to the possibility that her youngest child might no longer be... umm... pure.

How she learned otherwise is best left for another day.

Anyway, our behavior was not as rabbit-like as you might assume. I remember many mornings spent in tenacious tickle battles or wrestling matches. One Friday night after playing basketball with his friends, The Oracle arrived at my apartment, laboriously thumping up the stairs with a swollen, blown-out ankle. We spent that night and the next hanging out and keeping his foot up. Another Saturday we spent over an hour in a heated water-gun fight.

Well, one thing I quickly learned was that my downstairs neighbors loved bacon and marijuana on the weekends, not necessarily in combination. Depending on the time of day, you could easily detect their pot or cooking aromas drifting upward through the vents and the unsealed cracks around the sheet of plywood at the bottom of the stairs which loosely separated our apartments. Still, as neighbors go, they were very nice.

The really embarrassing part is not realizing (until we talked about it as I moved out) that if we could smell their pot and bacon, they could hear everything going on upstairs. I can only imagine what all that screaming and laughter must've sounded like.

In November, The Oracle proposed. God bless him, he actually went to my mother and asked permission to marry me. Her refusal wouldn't have stopped us, but he extended the courtesy of asking just the same. When I came home wearing the ring, my mother's first words on the matter were, "move home and save your money."

By January, economics forced me into taking a higher-paying job as a 9-1-1 operator. That job involved shift work and weekends. My credit was starting to bomb, and I secretly knew my mom had the right idea. The Oracle and I had already set a date for July. I broke my lease and moved out on Valentine's Day, figuring we could survive five months of Mom's ill will toward The Oracle. Funny, but I don't remember exactly how I got my bigger stuff into the storage unit. We might've borrowed someone's truck. I do remember, though, stuffing the last of my belongings into the Ruster with barely enough room for me to drive, and reluctantly leaving the recliner from my old boss behind. It was dated, it was a weird shade of butterscotch, but I really liked that chair, and I hated leaving it for the landlord.

Thursday, April 24, 2008

Guilty Little Secrets

I started this silly little blog back in December at the height of my holiday stress, and I've enjoyed posting a few bits of my life here and there. Sometimes I post to give a laugh or two, and sometimes I just need to ramble something out of my system and you are my hapless victims. Please do not feel obligated to stick around on my rambling days. "Uh-oh, she's rambling. Maybe I can find that thing I wanted on eBay."

The one thing I haven't done with this blog is tell The Oracle about it. Why, you ask? Why do I feel the need to hide this little thing from his scrutiny? Truth be told, I'm afraid he'll think I'm a nitwit. While that little tidbit is no revelation (I am a nitwit!), hearing it uttered from his lips would wreck my day.

So, anyway, tonight he asks out of the blue, "What's pbandbacon?" I tell him it's just a website, one of the many links in the chain of blogs I hop. Now I'm not only a nitwit, I'm a prevaricating nitwit. I fool myself into thinking that there's an element of truth to my answer, but the whole truth would've been better and a lot more respectable. Why couldn't I just come out and say, "That's my blog?"

I'm sorry, Oracle. I'll find a way to make it up to you.

Monday, April 21, 2008

No Evidence of Disease!!!

Please pay a visit to Toby Pannone's site, and please say a little prayer of thanks if that's how you do things. His latest round of tests and scans revealed "no evidence of disease," which is fabulous news for neuroblastoma-afflicted children.

Sunday, April 20, 2008

(Mis)fortune Cookie?

On Friday night, The Oracle and I took the kids for a long-awaited dinner at our favorite local Chinese restaurant.

To say that my children behaved like savages is an understatement. The Oracle took our horrid children to the car while I paid the bill, squirreled the fortune cookies and left.

We got home, sent our banshee children to their rooms, and devoured our cookies over coffee. I've always had fun with fortune cookies. A long time ago, one of my friends (Was it HB perhaps?) told me to put the words "in bed" at the end of the fortune as you read it aloud. Quite often this made a dullish fortune a lot more fun.

Well, Friday's fortune stunk. I couldn't even play HB's little word game for a chuckle since it made no sense that way.

This was my fortune: "You are next in line for a promotion in your firm." The average American would take this as a good thing, but I'm self-employed.

Wednesday, April 16, 2008

My First Apartment

During 1989 and 1990, my life had undergone a lot of changes, most of which surrounded Jenny Wren and The Oracle. Without going into all of the gory details, Jenny’s illness and death wreaked havoc on what was left of my parental home. It’s not that I didn’t expect her passing to be so difficult on our family, but the way paths we took to cope with it changed my relationship with my mother and stepfather unexpected, difficult ways.

It was during Jenny’s illness that my mother began to resent The Oracle’s presence in my life. Her resentment turned into venomous hatred after Jenny’s death, partly because I was not at home 24/7 to help her grieve. I think the other reason was that The Oracle was a handy place to vent her anger and pain. What she didn’t understand was that The Oracle was a huge source of support and comfort for me. Maybe she felt that she was supposed to hold that role. I don’t know. It’s too late to ask her.

What matters in this tale is that my life at home became one of perpetual argument, and when you’re invertebrate, arguing with people you love creates an endless ball of stress and misery in your guts. On one side was Mom, finding fault with The Oracle’s every move and harping at me about them. As soon as she knew he was picking me up to go somewhere, the nitpicking and squabbles would start and continue until he arrived. Even after we married the nitpicking remained. We were probably married seven or eight years before she finally opened her eyes and noticed that I married an outstanding person.

The well-mannered Oracle always came to the door and greeted Mom and John, my former stepdad, even though he knew exactly how they felt about him. He knew that honking the horn as I ran out the door would create more friction, so he endured the glares and insincere pleasantries and we'd skedaddle out of there as quickly as possible. When he walked in, he'd take one look at me and know that I’d been getting verbally battered until he arrived.

We’d get in the car, and another argument would ensue surrounding my inability to stand up to Mom as well as his desire to "have it out" with her once and for all. I can see now that I should’ve let them go and have their confrontation. Back then, in my near-constant need to keep everyone happy, I felt such a confrontation was a recipe for disaster.

Instead, my cowardly conflict-avoiding nature took the hard way as usual. Running away seemed much easier, so I decided to move out. It didn’t help that, for other unrelated reasons, I had this goofy timeline in my head that I should be moved out and supporting myself by the age of 23 (Why 23? Why is a bluebird blue?) I didn't let on about my intentions, but quietly began looking for a place of my own.

A couple weeks before Jenny’s passing, my friend SD and her husband had recently moved westward and vacated their cute little apartment not far from my home. It was the perfect one-person place, consisting of the second floor of a single-family home on a quiet little street. The first-floor tenants were a married couple who hadn’t yet started their eventual family. I called the owner and the apartment was still available. The only utilities I had to pay were my phone and electricity. Water and heat were included. I gleefully told the lady I wanted the apartment, and in May I moved in.

I remember the day I signed my lease. I stood there in the apartment with my landlady going over what seemed like reams of paper I had to sign. It was several sheets of faintly-inked, hard-to-read dot-matrix printouts detailing The Rules. There were so many sheets it was nearly like closing on a house.

First was the standard stationery-store lease form which was easy enough, but then I had to initial several pages of addenda outlining bunches of picayune rules. No pets, not even birds or fish. No fresh Christmas trees. No opening the windows after October 1st because that’s when they switched the heat on. If they caught you with your windows open, even if it was 75 degrees outside, you paid that month’s oil bill. They had just replaced the plastic liner thing around the shower and also replaced the living room carpet with a butt-ugly multicolored remnant, and I remember a bunch of rules pertaining to use and care of these items and repercussions for damaging them.

Really, that was a clue as to what sort of people they were to deal with.

Yeah, whatever. I signed and initialed and geared myself for moving in.

When I broke the news to my mother, she just about blew a gasket. Much of that conversation has been erased from memory, but I remember how unpleasant it was.

The place consisted of four rooms. At the top of the stairs you immediately entered the apartment. The kitchen was to the left, the bathroom to the right. Bedroom was straight ahead, across from the landing, and the living room was on the other side of the kitchen, sharing a wall with the bedroom. Sadly, I have no pictures of that apartment. It was small, but it was really was cute.

This is getting really long, so I'll continue this another day.

Wednesday, April 9, 2008

So THAT'S What Happened!!

I received this in an email from VP the other day, but rather than flood your inboxes with yet another FW: FW: FWed message, I thought putting it here would be much more efficient.

"You've heard about people who have been abducted and had their kidneys removed by black-market organ thieves. My thighs were stolen from me during the night a few years ago. I went to sleep and woke up with someone else's thighs. It was just that quick. The replacements had the texture of cooked oatmeal. Whose thighs were these and what happened to mine? I spent the entire summer looking for my thighs. Finally, hurt and angry, I resigned myself to living out my life in jeans.

"And then the thieves struck again. My butt was next. I knew it was the same gang, because they took pains to match my new rear-end to the thighs they had stuck me with earlier. But my new butt was attached at least three inches lower than my original! I realized I'd have to give up my jeans in favor of long skirts.

"Two years ago I realized my arms had been switched. One morning I was fixing my hair and was horrified to see the flesh of my upper arm swing to and fro with the motion of the hairbrush. This was really getting scary - my body was being replaced one section at a time. What could they do to me next?

"When my poor neck suddenly disappeared and was replaced with turkey skin, I decided to tell my story.

"Women of the world, wake up and smell the coffee! Those 'plastic' surgeons are using REAL replacement body parts -- stolen from you and me! The next time someone you know has something "lifted", look again -- was it lifted from you? THIS IS NOT A HOAX. This is happening to women everywhere every night. WARN YOUR FRIENDS!

"P.S. Last year I thought someone had stolen my boobs. I woke up and they were gone! But when I jumped out of bed, I was relieved to see that they had just been hiding in my armpits as I slept. Now I keep them hidden in my waistband."

Now who do I sue?

Monday, April 7, 2008

I'm a WHAT!!??

My friend, The Question Mark, shared this with me today. Judging by this thing's accuracy, I meet my title only in the biological sense.

You Are a Colon

You are very orderly and fact driven (not!).

You aren't concerned much with theories or dreams... only what's true or untrue. (And this is untrue. I like facts, but without dreams you might as well be dead.)

You are brilliant and incredibly learned. Anything you know is well researched. (Sure, if Stephen King's writings would classify as reference materials.)

You like to make lists (and misplace them) and sort through things step by step (only to find the missing list). You aren't subject to whim or emotions. (The Oracle would disagree.)

Your friends see you as a constant source of knowledge and advice. (Whether they want it is another matter.)

(But they are a little sick of you being right all of the time!) (Um... right? left? wrong? Huh?)

You excel in: Leadership positions


You get along best with: The Semi-Colon

Friday, April 4, 2008

We Finally Did It!

Once again, Blogger spacing is acting weird. I can't comprehend HTML, so please forgive the goofiness of it all. Thank you.

Last week, we learned that the Pontiac would need $730 in work just to pass inspection and would need twice that (at least) to make it safe and semi-reliable. We sadly let her inspection run out at the end of the month.

I spent the last four days housebound with two kids and no car. It's a wonder that I am still capable of semi-coherent thought.

Thanks to my father-in-law's help, we purchased this tonight:

It's a 2008 Chrysler Pacifica. Yes, it's greedy on the gas, but anything semi-economical won't accomodate The Oracle's long legs, and the hybrids are light years out of our price range.

Ours is a pale gold color.

Price being an issue, we would normally never buy a shiny-new car. Every purchase has been "pre-owned" and still under the original warranty. Chrysler, however, has tempted us with a lifetime powertrain warranty, and said warranty is non-transferrable, so a used car wouldn't have it.

My father-in-law dilligently researched, nagged, and nudged area dealerships for prices. When the U. S. automakers announced pathetic earnings for the first quarter, we knew the April incentive was going to be delicious, and with my father-in-law's savvy we had it made.

We waltzed into the best-priced dealership and drove away with our new purchase two hours later. I'm so excited I can barely contain myself, and I'm trying to justify a late-night supermarket run just so I can get behind the wheel.

This, of course, is bad, considering our track record with every car I've loved. Maybe I need to sprinkle it with a little holy water before venturing out onto the interstate.