I had not intended to move. For moving is one of the greatest pains in the human ass, next to childbirth and tooth extraction. But three weeks ago, I came home one night to find the apartment covered in blood due to bizarre, still murky circumstances. I decided that neither I nor my cat could continue inhabiting that space. I verified the safety of everyone involved, and then, in tears, fired up Craigslist and scoured want ads for a new home.
Since fleeing my all-girls’ dorm after freshman year of college, for various reasons, I have had to relocate pretty much every other year. Every time I move it is so awful I swear I’ll never do it again. But this is the curse of living a nomadic rental life: every couple of years, I must shed my exoskeleton of thrifted knickknacks and half-envisioned craft projects. (It’ll grow back.) Though the circumstances of this move were fairly upsetting, the move itself was actually simple and straightforward. This time I actually thought to hire movers, and only ended up burdening a few of my friends; we managed to conclude the entire affair within three hours. It helped that I lead a novelty existence with no belongings of consequence. I do not own a couch, a sauce pan or dishes/cutlery of my own – but I do have a pasta machine!
As I packed my possessions in secondhand boxes, I looked back on all the other times I have had to move, and all the offbeat living situations I have put up with in my life:
The 11 month lease: Did you know that leases came in 11 month increments? No? Neither did I, nor did my roommate, despite the fact that I am pretty sure we had both read the lease, and we were also both English majors who would notice shit like dangling participles and misused semicolons. But not, like, an entire month missing from our lease. The property management company had to break this news to us, via phone, four days before the lease ended. Apparently they needed the apartment to be empty for an entire month to clean, before turning it over to the next tenants.
Welcome to the dollhouse: Where was I to find a new place to live within four days? Luckily, my boyfriend at the time was just about to start a housesitting gig for a professor. This professor happened to be a fairly prominent sexuality educator, so naturally we assumed the house was chock full of porn and sex toys and so forth. We never did uncover anything like that – although there was this barn we weren’t allowed to access that was triple locked and outfitted with security alarms.
No, there really wasn’t anything apparently sordid about the house, at least in the areas that weren’t off limits. The room leading to the barn of secrets was covered in climbing rose wallpaper, wall-to-wall-carpeting, hutches displaying delicate china and oh yeah, hundreds and hundreds of dolls. Not sexy dolls, but like vintage porcelain dolls with glassy soul-stealing eyes.
Though we weren’t explicitly told this, we definitely were not supposed to hang out in the doll room (if we really wanted to). I know this because when I was moving my stuff in, I set down a basket of laundry in the room, since the other bedroom was too crowded. Somehow as I was standing up, my arm became snagged on a piece of red yarn, heretofore unnoticed. The yarn had been stretched across the room, tied from one curio cabinet to the opposite side, and had been just above the standing height of the dog.
The dolls looked on with vacant eyes. I grabbed my laundry basket and did not enter that room again.
The squirrel escape: Ever in the pursuit of cheap rent, I found a place billed as a one “bedroom” apartment – the bedroom area literally fit a queen size mattress and nothing else. The walls were all painted different, loud colors – the kitchen was a dark navy blue, the living room bright red, the bathroom green. The floors tilted so that if I dropped anything rollable, I would be able to predict exactly where it would end up. Essentially, I was living in the world of Van Gogh’s Chair.
In the basement lurked a free-to-use washer and dryer, and other things besides.
All this was tolerable, though I dimly wondered if I should be putting up with such lackadaisical property management. The price of rent continued to be just right … until one morning, when my boyfriend was abruptly awoken by a squirrel falling through the ceiling onto him, and scampering away. While the boyfriend and the cat chased the squirrel around the clownhouse, I tried to get the landlord on the phone to explain what had happened. When I eventually got through, my request was met with resounding indifference. “We’ll send someone out.”
The boyfriend eventually managed to broom the squirrel into the basement, whereupon it was likely devoured by Shelob. Two weeks after I moved out, I got a call from the landlord: “You reported a rodent issue?”
The little house on the prairie: The two of us moved out of that house and into one down the street. Well, half of one, anyhow. The house was on the market for buyers, but had been sitting so long that the owners were impatient to recoup some revenue.
It presented very charmingly and had many features to lure buyers and impractical renters, such as a hot tub! A lot of elements were either half-finished or done just enough to fool those not looking very closely. The outer covering to the oven door was missing, for instance. Some of the wall trim came off or just abruptly stopped. It was kind of like living in a vintage version of the Bluth family’s model home.
One feature it definitely lacked was major: central heat. Kansas winters can be brutal, so this really ought to have been a dealbreaker. Heating was provided in the form of electric baseboard heating, which never did work, no matter how hard we turned the dial and stared at it. But the primary source of heat was a wood-burning stove in the middle of the first floor living room.
That stove did do a great job of heating the house, once it got going. The problem was that it took us a tremendous amount of energy to start the fire and keep it going. The roommates and I developed our own tried and true strategies for starting fires – my then-boyfriend swears by enclosing logs and kindling in a waxed box (from the fruit section of grocery stores), because it supposedly slows down the kindling burning process long enough for the logs to catch fire. I never got that to work, but I had pretty good success with building lasagna layers of wadded up newspapers and twigs. The twigs we would have to scrounge up from wherever we could, so I would often be out in the yard, searching in the snow for semi-dried bits of wood to gather for kindling. More than once I felt great kinship with Laura Ingalls Wilder, for she too lived like this. A hundred years ago.
The fire would blaze and get quite hot in the cast iron stove, but come morning time, all that was left were glowing embers and ash. I am a morning person, but not during any winter mornings I spent at that house – I was loath to leave our igloo of blankets and farts, for outside was a world of ice. The cats actually tolerated wearing their sweaters.
Eventually someone was foolish enough to buy this house, and we had to pack our things and go. But in total, we spent two whole winters living like this. We had the option of moving after a year was up, but me and my roommates decided against it. Why, you might ask?
Because we hated moving that much.
Kim Le is a writer and shiftless gadabout who hails from the distant wheat fields of Kansas. Obsessions include sustainability, yurts and extreme DIY. Also, she makes sculptures out of food, mostly potatoes. She never updates her blog at http://badmetaphor.net.