So when I moved my things into my new place, I thought, Hey, this is all right. This could be fun. Having a whole place to myself, for the first time in my life. I could walk around naked if I wanted. Hell, I would do it all the time. It was a small studio apartment on the ground floor, in an old triplex, but it was more than enough for me. Plenty of room, especially since I don’t have much in the way of belongings and stuff. The name was kinda neat, too: “Lion’s Lair Apartments”, on a hanging sign with a picture of a lion on it.
The apartment smelled strongly of cigarettes at first. It reminded me of motel rooms in the Midwest, for some reason. Like something I had experienced as a kid, on a family vacation somewhere. The previous tenant, says the realtor—she’s this nice old lady, showing the place—the guy had lived in this apartment for seventeen years. He smoked, sure. Probably did it inside, by the smell of the place. But then he died, and the landlord took the opportunity to fix the place up a bit. He re-painted the walls, put in new carpet, put in new blinds, and had the kitchen floor redone. Now it was this faux tile stuff that buckled up in spots. That’s one thing I noticed right away: the kitchen floor was uneven, dipping slightly toward the east. It felt like I was moving downhill to get to the refrigerator. But I didn’t care. I needed a place as soon as possible, and this was looking like the one. I signed the lease and brought my stuff over. That first night, I remember this clearly, the place was full of flies. I don’t how they got there. But there were like twenty buzzing around, and I spend almost an hour swatting them with the rolled-up copy of the lease. There’s still fly guts dried to the ceiling in spots. It took a little while, but after a couple months, it started to feel like a home. Like I actually lived there, you know?
For one thing, my little fish tank started to “mature”. It was on my dresser, with a light and timers and all that. All the plants and little creatures were growing, and the fish were, too. Every morning I’d wake up and stare in the tank, looking for new developments. There was always something new going on. It was entertainment, I guess. One time a coworker of mine came over and she said, “What? You have no TV. How do you not have a TV?” I said, “I have no place for a TV. And besides, I wouldn’t watch it, anyway.” She walks over to the tank and looks inside, scowling. “You could put a TV right here, on the dresser, if you didn’t have this weird tank sitting on it. Is there anything in it? I don’t even see anything.” I pointed out the stickleback and all the different plants I’d found in the wetlands nearby. “Oh,” she said. “Huh.” She was unconvinced, but hell, I didn’t care. I didn’t need a goddamned TV.
Another thing that was nice was the mixer. I bought this stand mixer—it’s a KitchenAid—for myself for Christmas. I guess I was feeling sorry for myself for not having gotten anything for Christmas. But I thought, It will be useful, no doubt about that, and it will last a long time. Also, it was on sale. So yeah, I gifted myself. The box said it was “Empire Red”, and it certainly fit that description. I would make bread and cookies and pizza dough and all that. You can do anything with those mixers. Cooking seemed to help overpower the cigarette smell, too. Sometimes I would still get a whiff of it, though, when I walked in after spending a couple days away. So the first thing I would do was cook something, even if it was just something I would put in the fridge for later. I have this deep aversion to houses that smell like cigarettes.
I never turned on the heat in the place. Not once. Not even when it snowed, and there was an ice storm and the power was out for three days. I was actually worried that the fish tank might freeze, it was that cold. But I just, I don’t know, I didn’t believe in the heat. I didn’t believe it would be worth the cost to use it, that it would be worthwhile to turn it on for a few hours. So I didn’t. Not once. I had no internet, no phone, no microwave. It was ascetic, I guess you could say. But it suited me.
My neighbors, they’re alright people. There was a Mexican family in the adjacent unit, and above me was this older woman and her dog. Sometimes I’d wake up to the sound of her and her boyfriend having sex. It was like having a bad dream—a really disturbing dream—but then I’d just go back to sleep. And that dog. Her dog was a weird little thing. Every time he saw me, he’d roll over real slow onto his back and have this little doggie-boner. Creeped me out. So yeah, there were other neighbors, too. One day I walked outside and there were police cars on the street in front of the apartments. Apparently my next-door neighbor had died the night before from a drug overdose. I’d only met her once. As far as I know, her apartment is still available to rent. Another time, I came home on a Saturday night to find my other next-door neighbors spraying our laundry room—the outdoor shed housing the shared washer and dryer—with a hose. They were being loud and were obviously drunk. In their yard was this huge bonfire, and the ashes were landing on the roof of the shed. I stood outside and just watched them for a minute. The guy with the hose, he nodded to me. I nodded back. Then I went back inside.
Sometimes I wonder if I’ll miss this place. Sure, the house shook every time the freight trains roared past. The damp air made the walls bubble up with mildew. I couldn’t find a co-op to save my life. And yeah, that hobo who dug through my dumpster in broad daylight worried me a bit. But it wasn’t all bad.