“And are those pentacle burn marks? In the cement?”
Standing in front of my apartment on 27th Street and Hoover, I was reminded of an eternal truth: of the many, many choices in life, your roommates, landlords and apartment-mates often aren’t amongst them. And as I sit now in my fourth apartment in the last year, the disastrous housing market looming over all of us, I must accept that I’ll be adding a “#” to my address for many years to come.
The college apartment is, beyond a doubt, a singular and necessary experience for all those who will never experience a refugee camp. From couch-crashers to unexpected overnight “visits,” these four walls tell tales of spectacular romance, sloth, intrigue, procrastination and camaraderie.
My apartment sat in a house populated with Batman villains, sex addicts and party-crazed sociopaths who insisted on breaking things and singing “Brown Eyed Girl,” and only “Brown Eyed Girl,” at all hours of the night. The path to our front door was a minefield of debaucherous detritus that seemed a mix of a People’s Choice after party and a Feed the Children infomercial. But at least I could legitimately claim that I was not responsible for this mess.
In London, while studying abroad, I was responsible for the mess. The 50-odd American students in my program were all housed together in the adjoining flats and unseemly penthouse of a building near St. John’s Wood, an affluent area, home to movers-and-shakers like Sir Paul McCartney.
We were the scofflaws, the dangerous element of the neighborhood, and nearly every week, we got letters from the City of Westminster warning us to vacate the premises because our building had been condemned and was soon to be demolished. Nearly every week we also got letters from our abroad coordinators assuring us that everything was “taken care of” and would be “just fine.”
But clearly the cat was out of the bag – the place was going down, so why not help it a little on its way?
It became commonplace to see friends running down the hallway with empty and full bottles to throw off of the roof, eight stories up from the pavement. Private bathrooms became communal, living rooms “off limits” to those who did not wish to burn retinas with unseemly nakedness, bedroom walls revealed by intimate groaning as paper thin and boots smashing through doors itemized significant structural defects, soon, no doubt, to be exploited by a wrecking ball. But there was, and is today, no substitute for living amongst friends while on the greatest of adventures.
There have been other apartments and other stories that are evergreen to us all, unique only in their details – the heat (and warm water) failing on my last day of tenancy as I was in the shower, receiving mail marked TOP SECRET from a Washington, DC security investigation firm for a previous occupant, spilling a whole bottle of red wine all over a carpet and alternately covering it up with a rug, table, plant, dog and finally my feet as the security-deposit inspector came calling, waking up at 7 a.m. to have my landlord, a realtor and a prospective renter staring at my semi-clothed, supine form while touring the premises unannounced on a Sunday morning – and through it all I am reminded of the indescribable, even perverse joys of living with no yard to call your own.
Enjoy this time, friends, because once you get your own white picket fence, you’re keeping out a whole lot of living.