Tuesday, February 17, 2015

Haunted by bad taste

I was pretty sure my apartment was haunted for a week.

As an introvert with strange feelings about emotional safety, I hate the idea of other people being in the place where I live.  Obviously, I don't mind friends and family, but I don't want strangers and their leavings in my place.  I don't want them looking at my things and polluting up my air with their stupid breath and their ugly and sad thoughts.  Living in the world is psychologically taxing to me, and I need a place that feels clear and safe to relax in after work.  It is a fragile ecosystem that can easily be disrupted.  I recall having a plumber in my apartment last year and looking forlornly down at the perfect dirty shoe print he had left on my vintage white crocheted bathroom rug.  Invader.

After the chaos of moving settled, I began to notice the little calling cards left by the prior owner of my apartment.  Yes, this late 60s dream palace is a condo, and rather palatial by the standards of midtown New York.  I began to piece together the clues that the prior inhabitant was a woman, and an old one.  In drawers, I noticed errant curler pins that haven't been in stores for decades, ones that looked exactly like the ones my great-grandmother would stick in her rollers in front of the tv on a Sunday night.  Once, I found a prescription pill previously lost forever under the bathroom vanity.  Worst of all was when I pulled the stopper out of the bathroom sink and found it was attached to hair.  THE HAIR OF ANOTHER PERSON.  I reeled in horror and disgust, considered complaining to my landlord, but ultimately stuffed it away with the other terrible experiences of my life.  I later poured an aggressive amount of Drano into the hole.

The hole in the sink, not the one in my sense of peace and placidity.

It was in this atmosphere of discomfort that I met my neighbors, also elderly, who expressed relief that the apartment had been rented to someone so reasonable looking as my self.  "It was a real bad situation in there," Rita said as she hooked a thumb towards my door.  I nodded in bland sympathy, Yeah, I hate bad situations too, and didn't ask questions because I didn't want to know.  "She was real sick," R continued.  "Real sick."  I looked into my darkened apartment.  "And she must've smoked three packs a day."  Fucking really?  I thought of my bathroom closet, which had been missed in the repainting that followed my landlord's recent purchase.  The dank and hideous cubbyhole smelled like a combination of mothballs and smoke, with remnants of spilled bath products staining the walls.  I had already repainted it myself in an emphatic turquoise to kill the scent and appearance.

That night, the furnace turned on by itself every two hours, from midnight to 6 am.  It was 65 degrees outside, and each time I heard the jet engine sound begin to crank into gear, I dragged my limp body from the bed and angrily held the "down" button until it said 40 degrees.

"It's her," I thought in my sleep-addled state, which is always 80% more delusional and superstitious than my waking self.  "It's the ghost of the bitch who lived here, angry that I'm inhabiting the space she died in." Oh, I had already assumed she died in here.  She was old and sick and now she's not here.  What other conclusions were there?

"Maybe she didn't die," my mom suggested hopefully.
"Oh right, she's probably just on a cruise," I sneered.

Of course she had drawn her last rattling breaths in the space now occupied by my bed.  Of course she had lain in here for days in the middle place between life and death, sweating and waxy, dreaming of her youth, alone and uncalled on and increasingly distressed, permanently staining the spiritual parcel with the confusion and ugliness of the end of an unremarkable life.

I mean, what else?

Turns out, I guess she just moved to Dallas.  That's what the landlord told me.  Maybe my mom paid him to say that, but I believe it, and the furnace doesn't act by itself anymore.  That was just a problem with the thermostat.  I've thrown out all of her old pins and hairs and pills, and I've disinfected the place to my liking, and I haven't had any dreams of half woman-half demons in curlers rocking in chairs in my bedroom or anything.  I think the place is clean.

I think I just heard a sound in my bedroom.

Monday, February 2, 2015

Austin Dispatch Part II

Moving to a new place is being like a baby.  You learn every day!  I moved into my own place 2 weeks ago and I no longer have to use google maps on my various paths home.  I haven't had to use it for several days, in fact.

So I looked at this blog, recalling that it exists, and realized that I have answers to my questions posed so few days ago.

Q: What's the difference between an oak and a live oak?  Are they different?  Oaks here are often smaller than I expect, and twisty like an olive tree.
A: So, I asked an actual field biologist this question. I work for a nature conservancy ("the" nature conservancy, if you want to get real) and had the opportunity, and regretted it as soon as I asked.  "Well, dumbass," she began, "there are many types of oak trees, as with every fucking plant ever.  When you think of oaks, you probably envision the Southern Oak, but the one that lives here is colloquially called the Live Oak."  :|

Q: Is this an acorn? Is this other thing an acorn? 
A: Yes.

Q: Do you call it a crik or a creek?  
A: Crik. Don't dump in it. Or in your gutter. It'll get in the crik!

Q: What is cedar fever?  When will I get it?
A: First of all, what they call a cedar is goddamn juniper. I was so confused when I got here because I had never seen a cedar before and thought they looked like the junipers in Arizona, but yes, the things that grow here are in fact junipers, and the people who live here are just in collective agreement to be wrong, kind of like all fans of the Boston Celtics.  Secondly, yes, I will get it, after I have been here for exactly 6 years, which is how long it takes for the allergy to develop, according to common social wisdom.  

Q: What's with the whitish-yellow granite?  Slabs of this locally harvested stone are EVERYWHERE.  Houses are built from it, and long rectangular hunks line freeways and parking lots all over the county.  Pieces of it are arranged artfully in front of city hall as makeshift benches that no one uses.
A:  Oops!  That was limestone!  I guess it's everywhere because it's what Texas is made of, in addition to oil and a curious and mostly unfounded sense of self confidence.  

Q: Where are all the references to native tribes?  Streets and areas here are named after the topological features, or early Texan politicans.  Cedar-this and lake-that, Lamar here and Houston there.  I have observed zero references to native culture.  There is a modicum of Spanish names, but nothing remotely proximal to the Mexican heritage or population.  Even crazily-racist Arizona has native names galore.  What the fuck, liberal Austin?
A: I had a fight about this with a local recently, but sorry bitches, the proof's in the pudding or whatever: YOU HAVE NO REFERENCES TO NATIVE PEOPLES ANYWHERE.  Every street is named after an early Texas president or Confederate or some kind of rabble rousin' white dude.  So far, my impression of the social history of Austin is: hell of white washed.  I can't speak for other Texas cities because I will never visit them for non-business purposes.

Q: Why is everyone so nice to me?  Do they want money, or sex?  I don't understand.  
A:  I don't know!

Q: What will happen when even more people move here?  The city, small until approximately 8.5 years ago (based on a verbal Pew poll, just kidding, based on anecdotes) is bursting with obnoxious new people who drive the rent and traffic snarls up up up!  How dare they?!
A: I do not know.  All day long I talk to people who remember and honor the "old" Austin, which is Austin from any time between the 1960s and 1999.  People stream into this place in a near-constant flow, most frequently from CA & NY, which really chaps old TX hide.  Honestly, I'll probably have to move in a few years.  Traffic is already regoddamnediculous, and the city just does not possess the infrastructure to continue to support the influx of new people.  The general answer will be sprawl, but the inner city will only continue to increase in ridiculous price and outrageous human snarl.  

I know Phoenix is cheap because it's meaningless and artless, and because it's 500 square miles which means you can find what you want anywhere and at any price, but apartment hunting in Austin did cause me to appreciate my prior situation in Phoenix: Downtownish, decent square footage, high ceilings, historic features, tons of natural light, and original tile.  In Austin, that would cost about $2500/mo. 

The other thing that sucks is that Austin evidently did not experience much dynamic growth in the 1950s and 60s, which means that midcentury architecture is pretty uncommon.  There are plenty of ranch styles from this era, but the surrounding commercial structures have either been demolished or were in short supply to start. You'd think the rareness of MCM would make it precious here, but locals seem not to know what it is.  That's one thing about Phoenix - miles of midcentury.

My first few walk-throughs of apartment rentals in Austin were...interesting.  I'd turn on my heel after a few beats, "Ok. Thanks for your time (and your fleas)."  I learned that <$950 = GHETTO RAT TRAP ROACH PARADE if the place was within 10 miles of downtown.  

Luckily, I eventually found a totally acceptable place within a reasonable distance from work for a price that only kind of guts my monthly net income!  Heyo!  Wood floors!  Ghost stories to follow.