Living Conditions

After not quite a year in Fancy Suburb (although the most ghetto part of it), I relocated downtown. I'm a downtown kind of girl. I like to be able to walk to places, or if I must, take public transportation (preferably some sort of train, because I have an irrational aversion to buses). I need to feel that I'm stepping out of my home into an array of choices, as many as possible within easy walking distance. And I've revised my idea of "easy walking distance" a few times since I moved out here. Now, I'll walk 2-3 miles in the middle of the afternoon in July without a second thought (but slathered with 100+ SPF sunscreen). From my funky downtown apartment, I loved that I could easily walk to work, to loads of restaurants and bars and art galleries and indie theatres and coffee shops and museums and libraries, and to some of those places that defy labeling that seem to crop up a lot around here. I was allowed to paint, and took full advantage of it, turning the place into a personalized palette of hues that felt like home. It was pretty sweet, and I even had a little laundry room in my own apartment, which felt luxurious.

A little too luxurious, as it turned out. The place wasn't fancy, by any means, but once it became clear that the newly constructed light rail really was a rousing success, people wanted to live near it, and the economy seemed to be improving, rents began to climb. Just a little at first, then my complex was bought out by a bigger company, and it rose to higher than even my impractically extravagant tastes could justify. After four years, I needed to move again. By that point the area had become bimodal: either out of my price range, or too sketchy for me to feel comfortable. (My rule of thumb: would I feel safe walking home alone at 3 am? If not, keep looking.)

Much hunting later, after weighing the benefits of a fully outfitted European-style kitchen and lush little private garden over the complete absence of coffee within less than a half-hour walk in any direction; the perfectly restored 1930s cottage over the sweet but control-freak landlords who were nervous about the damage Fred--who has never done more than claw up the cover of her beloved iPad to assert ownership--might wreak on their lovingly polished hardwood floors; the adorably tiled kitchen over the possibly-too-friendly landlady and bland neighborhood, I ultimately ended up following the first rule of real estate: location, location, location. I moved uptown, where I had easy access to the light rail, was dangerously close to several of my favorite restaurants and bars, two supermarkets and my theatre within walking distance. It's an older, established neighborhood, the kind that used to be exurban when the city expanded rapidly in the late 1950s to mid-1960s, with an interesting mix of single-family homes in different styles, "mod" apartment complexes that were once the pinnacle of space-age living for young professionals and couples, mature palm trees and a little too much grass for me to feel entirely comforable with in the desert, although xeriscaping is gradually making inroads.

I had vowed to eschew corporate property management companies forever more, so I found a small, modest complex of eight single-story apartments surrounding a courtyard, owned by the same family for decades. It's still pretty much exactly as when it was first built in 1960, with tiny weird kitchen cabinets, tiled countertops, no power outlet in the bathroom, no dishwasher. The walls are a nondescript shade of off-white and I'm not allowed to paint. But it's cozy and relatively cheap, the elderly Polish maintenance guy is a sweetheart and lived in Rome for a while, so likes to practice Italian, and I like the neighborhood.

The neighbors have been a different issue. When I first moved in, there was a young guy--early 20s--who spent a lot of time sitting on his patio with his girlfriend, tossing cigarette butts into a bucket of murky water. When that was full, he started flicking them over the fence into the gravel alongside my patio. Luckily, after a couple of months he disappeared.

The place was empty for a while, but then I had a new neighbor. Early 30s, clean-cut nondescript guy with a skinny, blonde, pony-tailed, yoga-pants-wearing girlfriend. He drove an SUV but seemed to be away a lot for work, so his parking space was often empty and I rarely ran into either of them. They seemed about innocuous as you could get, neighbors-wise.

Well, until the violence started.

I'm not sure how long it took to get to that point, or exactly how many people were involved. I know there were a lot of screaming matches with Yoga Pants Girl, with banging and door-slamming inside the apartment, and occasional forays onto the patio (which is right outside my living room window). I kept assuming they'd broken up, because I'd see her huffily carrying multiple piles and baskets of clothes and boxes of stuff out to her car, slamming the patio gate and apartment door on each pass. A few days or weeks later, though, there she'd be again, visible through their living room window sitting cross-legged on their couch eating Chinese food out of a container, her eyes locked on whatever was happening on their gigantic television across the room, clearly right at home. I shrugged it off as Other People's Drama and therefore None Of My Business, and went about my daily life as usual.

Except... it kept escalating. There was another woman involved of uncertain relationship to the neighbor, one with short brown hair and a stockier build who rode a motorcycle, and would show up full of jovial, backslapping cheer like an old buddy. Before too long, though, the yelling would start. Mostly unintelligible, even when it was taking place just a few feet from my front door (also because I really didn't want to hear the details). I did, however, hear the shriek of "YOU SLEPT WITH YOUR COUSIN, YOU BASTARD!" since it's the kind of statement that breaks through your generic neighborly politeness barrier. I believe that was the time he shut himself inside, and she kicked at his metal screen door with her steel-toed boots until she'd bent it out of shape, insisting he let her in. When that tactic failed, she went out to her Harley, revved it menacingly, and made a few tight circles in the street as though she were planning to crash throught the gate or attempt some kind of Evel Knievel leap over the fence and straight through his now-dented front door. Which would have been an awkward angle, and been more likely to put her on a trajectory for my front door instead. (To my and Fred's great relief, she eventually just rode away, still aggressively gunning her engine.)

There were periods of quiet, interspersed with weeks of nightly fights with some woman or another (I was careful to keep away from the windows when any of this was going on), and enough thumps and slams out of sight that I frequently wondered whether there was some serious domestic violence happening. Once, Harley Chick put her fist through the neighbor's front window, shattering it. When she finally left, my neighbor dutifully swept up the shards of glass scattered everywhere, swearing and muttering to himself under his breath. Then he cleaned up the blood with a mop, and taped cardboard over the broken window. Pretty industrious for 1 am.

At one point I ran into him walking home via the alley behind our complex, and after a few moments realized that his mumbling was directed at me although our eyes never met. "I've got to break up with that girl!" was the first thing I heard clearly, as he walked in front of me through the gate to our adjacent patios.
I said nothing.
When he reached his door, he tried again. "I'm sorry if you can hear us arguing sometimes," he murmured without looking at me. I just continued on to my own place, again without responding. What could I say? My friends assured me there must be something drug-related involved. Twice I called the police during an altercation, because it was extra late or extra loud and I was worried about someone getting hurt or, more personally, someone putting their fist or Harley through my front window. You can inconvenience me all you want, but scare my cat or put her safety at risk, and I'm calling the goddamned cops. And the landlord.

Finally, this summer, he was evicted. Almost immediately, the apartment had a new occupant. I'm still getting to know her, but she seems pretty great: she's a painter and a tattoo artist. I think she's probably a few years younger than me (which probably means she's in her mid-30s because I'm crap at judging people's ages and always tend to assume people are around my age unless they have some flashing neon signs that clearly indicate otherwise, and also am probably deep in denial about my advanced years.) Today she showed me an impressive, glossy, multi-page spread in a tattoo magazine featuring a painting of hers that a friend in California tattooed onto her arm. (It's a skull thing, so not really my style, but I can admire the artistry.) She's low-key and has a friend who lives in another apartment in the complex, and keeps track of the recycling. There is never any screaming. At most, she has some friends over and they hang out on the patio cooking barbecue and drinking beer, and I'm sure if I went outside while that was happening I'd get an invitation to join. It's like... living next to a normal person.

My rent just went up this month, by quite a bit, which I'm not thrilled about. I pondered briefly moving back downtown, since my lease has gone month to month and I have the luxury of time to seek out the perfect spot. But the idea of moving again is exhausting, and as much as I enjoyed living downtown (and walking to work) I've come to really love my neighborhood. I have my shops and my hangouts and my running routes. And now I have the neighbor situation pretty much settled, so ultimately it's probably worth the peace of mind to just stick around for a while. Time to turn my focus inward, and make it feel more organized and home-like. A little feng shui soup for the soul.