As some of you who know me in "real life" may know, the apartment where I live is not exactly the be-all end-all of New York apartment dwelling. (I hesitate to call it "my" apartment, as I don't wish to be associated with it. You may consider me the Alan Smithee of tenants if that helps.)
I live in the upper part of a two-storey row house in the pit of outer borough suburbia called East Elmhurst, just off the final runway approach to La Guardia Airport. (Why, hello there, giant 767! Thanks for sharing the spectacular view of your landing gear deploying one hundred feet above my head!) A row house is a long, skinny dwelling that is designed to suck all available sunlight in through the front window and render it completely inert by the time it hits the middle of the living room. By the time you reach the back of the house, you are walking in a sea of blackness. But thank God for the paper-thin walls that let you hear every whispered conversation and drunken brawl of the neighbors on both your left and right; otherwise you might be led to believe that you were living inside a sensory deprivation chamber.
The front door is made of plywood panels and last saw a paint job sometime during the Eisenhower administration. The remaining paint hangs off in great sheets and pretty much every day ends up getting tracked into the house on the bottoms of shoes. The lock on the front door is tempermental, to say the least. It locks and unlocks whenever it has a mind to, whether or not a key is involved. The front concrete stairs that lead off the porch to the ground (ie, the only way out of the house) are literally crumbling to pieces. As in, when you step on them the wrong way, they crumble to dust under your feet. One step is about 40% gone, the one beneath is starting to go and three others have developed the same cracks. My housemate and I have made an art out of jumping over the broken steps without breaking any limbs.
And the bathroom is also an exercise in extreme sports. There's a broken skylight in the bathroom ceiling, ostensibly to let in fresh air and let out moisture, but it no longer opens and - instead - a sheet of metal-encased glass hangs precariously on two hinges from the ceiling over your head when you are sitting on the throne. While I've come to terms with the inevitability of my own death by decapitation while perched on the potty, I suspect that any houseguest who ventures into the bathroom may be far less zen about it.
And then there's the roof.
About a week before Christmas, I woke to discover that an entire seam in my ceiling had split open and it was - for all intents and purposes - raining in my bedroom. We're not talking a drip here and there. We're talking a ten-foot long Niagara Falls running down the middle of my bedroom. Directly over my bed. Where I was sleeping at the time. The cats were soaked, I was soaked and pretty much everything in my bedroom was soaked. And, for reasons I don't care to speculate on, a great deal of the water coming down was jet black and...chunky.
I called the landlord. And called the landlord. And called the landlord. And then went next door to the neighbor (who is the landlord's sister), home of Milo-the-Puggle-Who-Hates-Me, and asked the neighbor to keep calling the landlord for me while I tried to get some things out of the bedroom: paintings, shoes, books, clothes, etc. The bed was already ruined and much of my bedding was covered in the black water as well. And it was raining outside. A lot. So it continued to rain in my apartment. For three full days. And the water was running directly through the light fixture over my bed. On day two, the exterior wall also opened up, and water began running down the inside of the wall into my downstairs neighbor's apartment. The downstairs neighbor who was in Colombia at the time.
The landlord eventually called me back. Seven hours later. And then showed up the next day, wringing his hands about the cost of insurance and how much it costs to fix roofs. And then he looked at my wretched already-beginning-to mildew-mattress and said "Oh, you can dry that out! It'll be fine." Three days later, he finally got someone to climb up there and throw a tarp over the hole in the roof. And there it sits still, ladies and gentlemen, flapping in the breeze. On the still not-fixed roof.
Fast forward to last night:
I've been waiting for the mattress to dry out so that my housemate and I could actually get it out of the apartment. It's a futon mattress; futon mattresses aren't the most maneuverable things in the world when they're dry. When they're wet, they are unmoveable.
My housemate works in the entertainment business and thus gets home very late most nights.We frequently don't see each other for days because of her work schedule. So, in order to actually get the damned thing out of the house on Big Item Garbage Day (a party day in the outer boroughs, to be sure!), I'd asked her to wake me up when she got home so she could help me drag the mattress out to the curb. Thus we found ourselves at 2:00 AM wrestling a mildewed futon mattress out to the curb in 20 degree weather. By force of habit, my roommate pulled the door shut behind her to keep the cats from escaping. Neither of us relished chasing Stinkyboy all over the neighborhood in below-freezing weather.
Those of you who have been paying attention probably already know what happened next: Mattress disposed of, we headed back up to the porch where we discovered - to our complete horror - that the door had locked itself behind us. Neither of us had keys or a phone. More importantly, neither of us had a coat or gloves or a hat. (Truth in fact, I was actually wearing only a hoody, boots and a pair pajama bottoms so raggedy that one might be able to see portions of my posterior should one actually bother looking at my backside.)
My roommate tried to open the windows, but - being that we're both pretty security-conscious - they were latched down tight. Then we went to the neighbor's house, figuring that they might have keys and, at the very least, would let us use the phone. Thirty minutes of doorbell ringing and door pounding later, they still hadn't woken up. Another fifteen minutes of extreme door pounding and finally the door opened. Neighbor lady did not, in fact, have keys to her brother's house but she did call our landlord. Over and over and over again. No response. (Gee, what a surprise!) And then she shut the door in our faces. We headed to the pub around the corner, where Shane the Most Awesome Bartender in Queens, plied us with Jameson's whiskey, pretzels and bootleg Bruce Lee movies on his laptop. He also let us use the phone to call a locksmith.
Thirty minutes and nearly $300 later, we were back inside our apartment and a nice Israeli kid named Sol was handing us two shiny new keys to the place. Which I am going to go get duplicated this afternoon, so that I can leave a set with Shane the Most Awesome Bartender in Queens.
And yes, in case you were wondering? We're making the landlord pay for the mattress AND the locksmith.
Good times, kids! Good time!