Wednesday, December 30, 2009

Cheapest Rent In Town

     Tudor Square Apartments. "Cheapest Rent in Town," is how it was advertised in the paper, at two hundred and twenty five dollars a month, all utilities included. In a town like Ashland, OR. this is a screaming deal, unless one is living in a dorm room at SOU, and even then the dorms might be more expensive. One would think that in a college town there would be more studio apartments, but this didn't seem to be the case when I lived there. Inevitably, the Tudor Square apartments were tenanted, primarily, by college students.

     It was 1997, I was seventeen, working at a headshop in Medford, OR., and living with my sister, her husband, and her one-year old daughter in their townhouse apartment. At the headshop, I was being paid under the table, or "gross," as it was put to me by my employer. Just in case an I.R.S. informant started snooping (around the shop?) I could tell them that I was a contractor or something (as if being a retail clerk was the service I provided, and as such could negotiate my salary). It was pretty silly answer, but they really didn't feel like paying taxes on me. And I didn't complain: it was seven tax free dollars an hour. My sister was not charging me rent, so I was able to save quite a bit of money.

     The townhouse was very small for two and a quarter people, let alone three and a quarter. I slept on a Futon downstairs while they were upstairs. In the mornings, my niece, who though had just started to walk, was able to crawl up on the Futon and do sommersaults all across me so that I would wake up. Then we would watch cartoons while having breakfast, her eyes glued to Life with Louie. Life wasn't unpleasant by any means, but the cramped quarters would've gotten to me, sooner or later, and I'm sure that my sister and her husband were anxious for their privacy. After a few months it was time to go.

     The only unpleasantry was their Persian cat, who seemed to be more in-touch with its instinctual hunting skills; my sleeping body its prey. At night when the lights were off, It would peer at me from underneath a coffee table, and through the lampost light that shone through the blinds, I could see its little eyes. She would claw at feet, arms, hands, neck, anything exposed. I couldn't stand their cat. And apparently, neither could they. They gave it away some years later, fed up with its behavior.

     My sister knew of a possible place I could rent. It was up the street, called Tudor Square Apartments, and she knew the land lady: a lethargic young mother of god knows how many children, named Ona. I was underage at the time, so I couldn't legally rent a place, but this little fact was covered because of the sister-land lady connection. Ona acknowledged this during our interview; an interview that included her screaming, mewling children running around her office. Her eyes glazed over, and she tried hard to ignore them. After our interview, she gave me a tour of the complex.

     The apartment complex was an old hotel, if I remember correctly. There were one-bedrooms for rent, but the "cheapest rent in town" was for a quad: a very small room connected to a shared kitchen and bathroom, shared with obviously three other people. It was a very large complex, with an equally large parking lot attached to it. And basically in the corner of the parking lot was a kidney bean shaped pool filled with leaves and debris, its waters muddy brown. It was Fall, after all, and who could be bothered?

     The tour concluded with a showing of the room. It was probably the size of a rest-area bathroom, brown shag-carpeted with an air conditioner, a sink and counter, a closet, and a door leading to the kitchen and two bathrooms, one with a shower, one without. The kitchen was a little larger than the bedroom, with cracked floors, dusty, splintered wood cabinets, and a small ochre-yellow fridge. Plastered on the fridge was a nude Playboy centerfold: a brunette wearing nothing but red high heels, legs slightly crossed in an X position, leaning up against a wall with a matching red ribbon slung over her shoulders and through her arms as if it were a shawl. She looked at the camera all pouty-lipped, but also kind of confused-like. As if this mattered, since the main attraction was her shaved pussy. Her horticultural talent. While being given a tour of the kitchen, this picture was a conversation stopper in an awkward way. Ona gave the picture a few glances, and let out a "hmmm..." I nervously laughed.

     And after that, I became a tenant at Tudor Square. Top floor. This little box would be my home for the next year. And what a home it would be.

     The first time I tried to use the stove-top in the kitchen, I set off the highly sensitive smoke alarm. It was conveniently placed about five feet or so from the stove, right in front of my room. The electric coils were thickly coated with oil and there was so much debris and residue underneath that it would burn and smoke. The oven was worse, with a charcoal-like residue framing the sides so thickly that it looked like an un-defrosted freezer. The actual freezer looked about the same. I could only fit a freezer bag of raviolis and a pint of Ben & Jerry's in it. Anything more, and it wouldn't shut properly. This could also be due to the bag of tater tots that had just become part of the frosty lining. The contents of the fridge were eggs, beer, milk, and a few condiments. The cupboards were baren, save a fucked up frying pan, and a pot. There were no paper towels to speak of, no glasses for water. It was clear that the tenants were in no mood to clean, or to share, or to get to know one another for that matter. So, instead of spending my time cleaning that kitchen and making it livable for what was clearly a bunch of slobs, I decided to follow suit and tried to use the kitchen as little as possible.

     I tried my damndest to not have to use the kitchen at all, and quickly fell into the habit, like the rest of my "quad-mates" of bringing in my own supplies for the specific occasion: toilet paper, paper towels kitchen-ware, glasses. I didn't want to share anything either, so I never kept anything in the kitchen cupboards.

     My room started to accumulate things: a microwave, a mini-fridge, a little machine that would boil water in under thirty seconds, etc.. If I was watching television while running the microwave or the hot water heater, it would trip the breaker. I now needed two six strips for all of the appliances in my room, where clearly I shouldn't of been using that much power. I later found out that the wiring was a little strange, or at least I thought so. Instead of the whole floor's power going out, it was my room, the room next to me, and two rooms on the floor directly beneath. Surely I was annoying some people since it took me a little while to figure out why it was happening, and so the breakers were tripping a couple of times a week.

     When I wasn't making Ramuchan cup o' noodles in my room, I was frequenting Taco Bell or Wendy's. Anything so that I wouldn't have to spend time in that fucking kitchen.

     The bathrooms were also disasterous. The toilet bowls had never been scrubbed, and were stained from urine, hard water, and feces. When lifting the toilet seat, the underside  looked like a brown Jackson Pollack design. "Splatter Art," as I've heard it described. Maybe "mother nature is the true artist," might be appropriate here. The shower curtain was of the clear vinyl type, but had started to turn pink, probably due to the minerals in the water. It was also moldy near the bottom part of it. It was the kind of shower that made one want to wear flip-flops or some other protective gear; anything so that you didn't have to stand barefoot in it. It also routinely clogged up and left about two inches of standing water in the tub when taking a shower. I had personally dumped at least three bottles of extra strength Drano down the drain during my year there.

     When my friends would come over they would hate to use either of the bathrooms. In my year at this place, I had barely run into my quad-mates and they barely acknowledged me when I did. And it might've been our age and our shyness, but it felt like an awkward situation, and neither I nor my friends particularly wanted to run into these guys coming or going. "I'm scared. What if one of those guys are out there?," was said to me on a few occasions. So if the light was on in the kitchen, we would stay in my room. Once it went out and we heard a door close, that was the signal to make a run for it. The combination of social anxiety and repulsion made the whole thing so awful. I'd give my friend a roll of toilet paper and wish them luck.

     And speaking of toilet paper, both bathrooms rarely had any. Sometimes, a quad-mate would put a roll on the dispenser, but typically all that was found were cardboard tubes littering the floor that was sticky with aged piss. There was definitely that sharp aroma, but it was also combined with the kitchen aromas of stale body odor, heavy masturbation, baked tater-tots, and old dusty place to create a real welcoming environment.

     One day, I was sitting on the toilet in the bathroom that had the shower. There was a towel that hung on a towel rack positioned right next to the toilet. This means that the towel hung to the left of me, directly next to my face. If dirty-dishwater beige is a color, then that would be the towel's color, and it had hung there since before I moved in (I had been there probably six months already). It never really looked clean, but that day it actually had a conspicuous stain on it. It was brown, shaped almost like a Nike swoosh tilted on its side. I could only think, "no way. It can't be...can it?" I stared at it. It had definitely been some sort of liquid that had partially dried up and crusted; the fibers of the towel had jutted out and looked stiff. The determinable test, of course, required of me to very gently draw my face in closer, focus my eyes and flare my nostrils, and sniff. A very short inhale was enough to wrinkle my face. Yup, someone had actually wiped their shitty ass with the towel and hung it back up to dry. And age as well, since this little problem was not dealt with for weeks, I noticed. Anytime I would sit down on the toilet or take a shower, there it was: a glaring mistake. The person who did it didn't even attempt to cover it up. The smear just sat there, and it couldn't be helped: it was so grotesque that it had to be stared at. Of course, it was years later that I read the David Sedaris story "True Detective," where he explains that someone in the family had one day started wiping their ass on the family's fudge-colored bath towels. When I read it, I couldn't believe that someone else had an even somewhat similar experience as mine. I realize that my quad-mates were probably college dudes, but this was pretty fucking unreal.

     And one day the towel was gone.

     I'd say that was a relief, but some time later one of the toilets had backed up and flooded the kitchen. I first noticed this because a section of the shag carpet near my door to the kitchen was wet. I instantly notified Ona, who then came upstairs and splashed through the standing water, getting her sandals wet. She said, "hmmm....Well, I'll get someone up to deal with this," and left. Naturally, I assumed that someone was going to deal with this problem immediately rather than the next day. I was wrong. And yeah, maybe the water was diluted and wasn't a torrent of shit and piss, but it still was the result of some fecal backup, and it did come from one of those disgusting toilet bowls. It was not something that I wanted dampening my carpet inside my sanctuary, the only safe area I could control. The filth had become invasive at this point.

     After my year, I moved down to Medford, OR., with a friend. I couldn't resist the sound of inexpensive and new. The apartment complex had just been built, and the apartment that we shared had never been lived in. Alone, my new bedroom was larger than the Tudor quad I'd been living in, and merely one hundred dollars more for the privilege.

     And, I had my own bathroom.

For Mae Culbertson


1 comment:

  1. I love this story. I can smell the freedom (and the sewage) when I read it.