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!

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