Sunday, November 23, 2008

Why did you keep the dish rack?

Before we moved into our house, MB and I had an apartment that was technically on the wrong side of the tracks, both metaphorically and literally. In the part of town where I grew up and where we still live, the highway forms the dividing line between the "good" side of town and the "bad." Not that it's all ritzy where I grew up, on the "right" side. My parents' neighborhood has never been better than blue collar middle class, and has sometimes spent a few worrying years dipping down into sketchy. The other side, though, tends heavily toward neighborhoods like the one the bibliophile grew up in -- once beautiful and well-loved, then fading, and nowadays truly hardscrabble. The historic homes near downtown, close to where I work, are slowly being drawn into an urban redevelopment program, but in the middle, between that area and the highway, there is a broad zone of neighborhoods forgotten and often avoided.

Our first apartment together was on the right side of the highway and was only a block or two away from a really nice neighborhood, but by the end we hated living there. Our unit shared an exterior stairwell with four units. We knew the guy who lived upstairs next to us. He was always friendly, and then one day when I locked myself out we ended up chatting and it turned out that he had trained my dad at his job when he started there back in the early 70s. Our neighbor Bob had actually met me when I was a baby. He was the one who gave us Kitters, and we still take cookies to him each year for Christmas. The two downstairs units were rented by two developmentally delayed adults, who were quiet and kept to themselves -- even though I swear the guy underneath us never slept. We were only acquainted vaguely with two other people in the building -- the asshole who parked his Camaro half in his spot and half in ours every day that we lived there, and the drunk guy with unfortunate teeth who was always uncomfortably chatty. By the time we left, the decent landlords had sold the building. The little old man who'd been acting as the super when we moved in didn't come around anymore, and when the owners went out of town, they left the drunk in charge. MB's car was broken into three times while it sat parked right across the street, nearly visible from our landing. We were done.

We didn't have much money, so our goal of a two-bedroom place at first seemed a little beyond our means. The places we could afford didn't take cats. One woman said she didn't take cats, but then called back to say she forgot, she did take cats, but by then I had decided I really didn't want to be living in the back half of some old woman's house. Sharing walls is bad enough when it's not your landlord on the other side. Then I saw an ad in the paper for a two bedroom, 1100-square-foot apartment right in our price range. I called, and they had the cheapest pet allowance I'd heard so far -- $100 extra deposit and a scant $10 extra per month in rent. The only problem was the location, which was on the wrong side of the highway, in an area I knew to be iffy. By the time our appointment came around to see the place, we'd nearly talked ourselves out of it. We were fed up with our existing situation, but were worried about ending up someplace worse. Once we saw the apartment, we were sold. The risks were totally worth it.

Much to our surprise, the neighborhood turned out to be much better than the one we'd come from. There was a buffer of several shops between our building and the nearest houses to the back. The front faced a radio station, which was the only thing between us and the highway. Our building was nearly a block long and only one unit deep, so we had windows on both sides and only one house adjacent, which was divided from our lot by a fence and the apartment building's tiny pool. We were an island of relatively quiet living in the midst of a high-traffic, low-rent part of town. We did have our share of weird neighbors. There were a few strange situations. But no one ever broke into our cars while we lived there. The little old couple next door always stopped to talk to us when we saw them outside. We met our friend R when he moved into the apartment upstairs and diagonal from us. We lived there for almost four years, and never once regretted the choice.

I'm glad that if things go as planned we'll be able to raise our future kid(s) in what is actually a nicer neighborhood than we ever hoped to live in. I'm grateful that we have a place of our own, with a yard and a basement and an attic for storing things. There will always be a place in my heart for our big apartment in the "bad" neighborhood, though. It wasn't pretty, it wasn't fancy, but it was better than we ever expected it to be, and it was home.

Reading:  Snuff by Chuck Palahniuk

Playing:  Lay it Down by the Cowboy Junkies


  1. Why did you keep the mousetrap?

  2. I LOVE this entry. You're an awesome writer.

    I feel the same way about our first place together. In fact, I have more nostalgic moments about our little apartment with the weird neighbors and the awful parking situation and the wall o' mirrors than I have for the house we just moved out of.

  3. I too have a strong fondness for that particular apartment. . .I feel very linked to it! :)

  4. i think some of side-of-the-tracks stuff is nonsense. i mean, look at pretty in pink!

    even though i moved into this place "only until it sold," in the last 8 months i've gotten really attached and am instead hoping i land some sweet gig or win the lottery so we can stay. but i'm overly sentimental.

  5. The last house we lived in in Oxford was on the "wrong side of the tracks" but we had the nicest neighbors that we found in four years among the cold Brits. It's all a bit arbitrary - which side of the tracks is the wrong one.