Wednesday, April 14, 2004


I have the greatest apartment, something that I am reminded of when someone who's never been to my house comes over and walks around in amazement saying, "It's so big", "It's so charming". For the first year I lived in this place I was pretty much completely traumatized. I had always lived in houses spoiled brat that I am. I had only briefly shared walls with other people, much less common areas. I had always had my own yard to garden in, my own driveway to park in. I had always lived in a neighborhood with an ice cream truck and lawns.

After my landlord sold the house out from under me I had about a month to find a place I could afford that would also be able to contain me and my house full of belongings. I also had to be able to afford to pay the rent. I had about a week to go before finding myself homeless when I found my current abode. It was on a fairly busy street in a fairly transient, e.g. lots of apartment buildings, area about 1/2 block off a major boulevard. But when I peered through the arched window of this spanish style 4-plex, I saw a large front room, hardwood floors and a long hallway. I called and made an appointment to see it.

I was met by the manager, a very short buxom woman with lots of hair and an abrasive style. The apartment was huge and filthy and the two bedrooms were painted bright colors with something that looked like the poster paint one sees used in pre-school. She told me that the girl who lived there before me had had a nervous breakdown and her parents had moved her out. I felt pretty close to breakdown myself, but it was close to the right price and I was running out of time. I started the process of renting the place which meant negotiating with the landlord.

I bargained the rent down from $1100 to $1000 a month which in retrospect was quite the deal considering that the apartment next door, a 2 Bdrm. smaller than mine with no garage just rented for $1600 a month. I got the landlord to agree to this by saying that I would take the apartment as is as long as I was allowed to paint it. He was cool with that as long as I signed an agreement that I would return the walls to white when I moved out. He's a lawyer. So with not a moment to spare I got the keys and moved in.

The first night there I actually got to see what I had gotten myself into. All the bulbs were bare. Crazy girl had not only painted the bedrooms with poster paint, she'd painted the trim in the beige kitchen a lovely shade of surgical scrubs green - and she used latex paint which was peeling off. She had also invested a sizable amount of money in roach traps. They were EVERYWHERE. This did not bode well for me since I am scared to death of roaches. I won't kill them I'll just leave. All of the "white" paint in the place was really more of a beige or whatever you call that color white turns with age. This building went up in 1923 and for years nuns lived in it and taught at the Catholic school on the corner. Where the children start to scream and play at 7:30 am.

And there is a firehouse 3 blocks away and they use my street for their north and south route - with the siren blaring.

The neighbors directly above me, a musician and his girlfriend would start their day about 5:30am with her screaming at him at the top of her lungs. I eventually realized that she wasn't screaming that she is just an inherently angry person who always communicates in a loud strident voice that can be heard for miles - but those first few nights I felt like Tom Hanks' character in BIG when he gets the room in that flophouse. I would huddle in the middle of my bed with the covers over my head and wonder what in the world I had done. How long would it be before I had my breakdown and my parents had to come move my babbling ass to a looney bin.

But as the years passed I worked on the place, painting my kitchen a cheery yellow with barn red trim. Pouring piles of Boric Acid onto any surface that a roach might think of approaching. I prayed hard for the angry woman upstairs to find peace and that made it easier for me to ask her to please stop using power tools at 3am without screaming in her face. She's since lost her job, her car and put on about 40 pounds while developing what seems to be a wicked bad speed problem - but at least she's quieted down. Her boyfriend is a good guy who used to play the piano upstairs and I really liked the music wafting out the windows - I would pretend I was in that show FAME and dance around in my living room. But he's gone a lot now.

The manager and I are good friends. She's one of the warmest, most loving and generous people I've met although her delivery is still very abrasive. I've met her mother so now I understand how she got that way. We plant tomotoes in the spring and BBQ out back in the summer. I've watched her kid grow from a curious 8 year old into a shy and very nice 13 year old. Her husband helps me when I need something manly done around the house. They live upstairs next to the angry lady and when she goes off we call each other on the phone and whisper and giggle about it. It makes it less horrible to share it with someone.

My next door neighbors across the hall are a very sweet couple who used to drive me crazy when they moved in because they'd have really loud parties that involved drum circles at 3am. But they are also very considerate and after a couple times they stopped. They worked in the restaurant industry - he's a chef and she's a maitre'dee - so they got off work late. But now they've opened their own fabu restaurant called Grace and I pretty much only see them when I go in to eat marvelous food at the lovely bar. If you're ever in Los Angeles you really must go. I recommend the spinach salad with candied almonds and potato crusted feta cheese and a little marty cocktail. I am so happy for their success but miss seeing them around the homestead.

I look forward to buying a house one day - although with the current market probably not real soon, but in the meantime I feel so blessed to live in a place that I have made my own with neighbors that I really like. Even angry lady who gives me an opportunity to practice tolerance and compassion on an almost daily basis. I have made it my own with bedrooms in soothing green and magnolia and a jewelbox of a dining room in teal. And I love cooking in my butter yellow kitchen. When the firetruck goes by with it's horn blaring I'm grateful that they're close by in case I ever need them and I can walk to the museum and to the grocery store and the pharmacy and to wonderful restaurants and to clubs to hear music.

It's a wonderful day in the neighborhood - you know?

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