Monday, November 28, 2011

Conversations With Daniel

Because I intend to tell my story in order, I figure that I should intersperse the longer, more narrative chunks with other content.  Mostly, I'm intending for these interstitials to be helpful information about how to deal with some of the problems that I've come across in the past few years.  I figure that I should also share some gems about Daniel - stuff that doesn't necessarily fit into the larger narrative, but that's also too remarkable to leave undocumented.

On Saturday, Daniel sniffed me.

Conversations with Daniel usually follow the same sort of script (at least when he's sober enough to recognize me).  They start with a coy greeting, followed by a request for some sort of reassurance that I don't hate him.  After that, he usually demands that I join him for a drink, and then harasses me when I decline the invitation.  Saturday was, for the most part, on script.

I should preface the story by mentioning that I was in rough shape by my own (somewhat meticulous) standards.  I'd had more than a couple of drinks the night before, and between that malaise and the cold I'd been fighting off, I'd spent most of the morning laying in bed with my laptop and trying to summon a cup of coffee with my mind.  By 1:00pm, I'd decided that if I pulled on a hat and something resembling outdoor-appropriate clothing, I was decent enough to duck into the 7-11 next door.  I even brushed my teeth, put on deodorant, and added my glasses to the ensemble, Clark Kent-style. Classy lady right here, folks.

Of course, who did I run into on my way back into the building but Daniel?

"Hey you," he sing-songed, I assume because he can only remember my face when he's sober, so I highly doubt he knows my name.

"Hey Daniel," I replied, taken aback and dreading the upcoming conversation.

"You smell good!" Daniel gushed, invading my personal space in a way that I generally deny my friends, let alone a man that I would consider my nemesis.  I stepped back.

"I'm sure it's just my coffee," I assured him, laughing nervously as I tried to evade his next maneuver.

He stepped forward. He leaned in. He inhaled. He actually fucking SNIFFED me.

"No, you smell good!" he continued to gush.  I can only imagine the bar was not only low, but that the bar in this metaphor was of the sort that required a liquor license.  I could smell the stale booze on him from this distance, and it was not a pretty aroma.

I'm not really sure what I said. What could anyone possibly say in response to being SNIFFED by their neighbor? I was reeling from the audacity of this terrible man and the way he could still surprise me after 5 months of dealing with his shit.  I made a move for the door, but he wasn't finished yet.

"Come have a drink with me," he demanded.  As mentioned earlier, it was 1:00pm on a Saturday afternoon.

"No, Daniel, I have things to do today," I replied, thinking of all the things I was leaving unsaid:  Things like buying moving boxes.  Things like beginning to uproot my life yet again.  Things that I'm forced to do because of you, Daniel.

"Why are you such a good girl?" he sneered, turning sour after I denied his demands.  "Do you even drink?" he asked.

"Yeah, Daniel, I'm hungover right now," I exaggerated.

I spent the next several minutes making excuses, all the while thinking about how much I'd love to tell him to fuck off.  To tell him that I couldn't think of a single person who I would less like to spend time with than him.  Finally, I walked away, tossing a "Sorry, Daniel, I've got things to do," over my shoulder.

I didn't look back.

Sunday, November 27, 2011

A Little Backstory, Pt 2

You might not want to read this installment over dinner.

On a cold evening in the early fall, one of the north-side building's tenants left the locked gate to the alley ajar.  Given access to a windbreak and a privacy screen, a transient took a dump in the back walkway.  By this point in my tenancy, I was committed to getting out of the building, so I could only muster a resigned sort of disgust as the pile - festooned with its shit-stained washcloth - sat there for a week.  Resigned disgust.  You might wonder how on earth a pile of human feces could possibly muster anything less than outrage, but in the not-quite-year of my tenancy, it wasn't even the worst shit-incident.

See, the toilet was unusual.  The bend going into the pipes was sharp and the water pressure was weak. Unless one was 'mindful' of this fact, flushing became an unpleasant game.  Repeated flushing was entirely ineffective unless the flushes were perfectly timed. It was only with practice (and a sense of timing honed by years of bomb-jumping up walls in Super Metroid) that I was able to master the precision art of successfully flushing the toilet in under 5 minutes.  Frequently, I had to discreetly play this game for a guest who didn't realize that whatever they flushed might make a stealthy return visit to the bowl.  Even with practice, things had a tendency of coming back.

The afternoon which left me so unaffected by the sight of human feces outside my apartment could not have been more perfectly scripted for maximum trauma.  I'd just returned from the airport after a 3 hour, early morning flight.  I was already a depressed, lonely wreck from leaving my family after the holidays, but I returned only to discover that the pipes had been worked on while I was out of town.  At some point during this work my toilet bowl had regurgitated a disgusting, shit-crusted mess, the full details of which I have surely blocked out of my mind.  I'd been out of town for two full weeks.

I spent the next 30 minutes gagging, throwing open windows (entirely heedless of the freezing temperatures outside), and scrubbing. 

. . .and scrubbing. 

. . .and scrubbing.

. . . and then there was a punchline.

I scrubbed so hard that I discovered that those pesky "rust" stains - the ones that had been in the toilet's bend since the day I moved in - they flaked off.  More shit in disguise.  Shit that I had been unknowingly living with for months.  Shit that no brush, no chemical, no frenzied scrubbing would EVER fully remove.  By the time someone took a dump outside, the only thought I could muster was, "At least it's outside."

After the adrenaline from the horror had worn off, I fell asleep on my couch with the windows still open.  When I woke up and realized where I was, I laid in the cold and cried for half an hour.   I'd like to say this was the low point of my adventures in Chicago tenancy, but that would be a lie.  Things got worse.

Thursday, November 24, 2011

A Little Backstory, pt 1

I moved back to Chicago early in the fall of 2008 for graduate school.  I was 25 at the time and had never lived further from home than my parents' basement, but for whatever reason, moving 1400 miles away to take those first steps didn't feel like flying without a net.  My first apartment came via the University of Chicago's graduate housing office, and was given to me sight-unseen.  The kitchen was small and ripped from the 1970s, and the floor was an ugly, damaged laminate tile, but the apartment was enormous, and had the sort of detailed moulding that you never see in new construction.  I was pretty sure that I could be happy there, and for the duration of my year-long program, I was.

Graduate students are shut-ins, living in their books, tapping away at their computers well into the morning hours.  I spent more time in that apartment than I have in any subsequent dwelling, but by-and-large, it was a good experience.  Sure, there was that week when my upstairs neighbors inexplicably played two songs on repeat for hours at a time (Flashdance: What a Feeling, and the Theme From Top Gun), and yeah, I could hear the discreet beeping of late-night clients summoning car-side service from the dealers across the street, but aside from those minor annoyances, I had more peace in that apartment than any apartment since.

I spent a few months after graduation living in the apartment attached to my Aunt's house in DeKalb, but as soon as I found a job back in Chicago, I rescued my belongings from storage and moved back into the city.  I limited my apartment search to the neighborhood where my sole remaining grad school friends lived, and I immediately (impulsively) jumped on a sunny, south-facing studio apartment.  It was only the third unit I had seen, but I felt confident in my choice.  Seeing my future place of residence before moving day already felt like a luxury, so taking my time seemed silly.  The apartment was charming, fairly roomy for a studio, and had pretty hardwood floors and a curved wall with three slender windows.  I was meticulous about hanging shelves in nooks, tucking lamps into corners, and finding a rug to tie it all together.  I wish I still possessed this sort of enthusiasm for unpacking, but two (nearly three) moves later, my boxes have started to collect dust.

As charming as it was, the annoyances started to pile up - the shallow, counter-to-celing, glass-front cabinets were beautiful but impractical, and the broad, old-fashioned sink that had seemed so charming was an absolute menace to wash dishes in.  The front door was impossible to lock or unlock from the outside, and calls to the landlord had produced no help, so I spent the first two months of my tenancy going up the poorly-lit rear-stairs. I taped my own name to the mailbox, and my friends and I never knew which door-buzzer was mine because the repeatedly promised label never materialized.  Eventually, a friend solved the stuck tumbler in the front door, but future problems with the unit would prove far more difficult to rectify.

My hot water had been slow the day I moved in, but over time, the pressure decreased to a mere trickle. Showers were tepid, then cold, and finally freezing.  Repeated calls to management produced promises of repair, but it wasn't until I uttered magical words to their emergency answering service that I was able to procure real assistance.  These words? "Chicago Residential Landlord and Tenant Ordinance."  Quickly, I discovered that these were words that produced results.  Reports of a completely (and I mean completely) clogged drain? No urgency. Threat of securing an alternate place of residence at my landlord's expense? Immediate repairs.  These were not frivolous threats; the hot water had been so far below code that it had been laughable, and I'd tolerated stepping into inches of freezing, dirty water in the shower until the build-up forced me to wash my hair in the sink or flood the entire bathroom.

Of course, the worst indignities that building had to offer all involved shit.

Human fecal matter.

Tuesday, November 22, 2011

Who the fuck is Daniel?

Daniel (whose last name I will kindly withhold) is my next door neighbor.

Daniel, as best I can tell, loves only 4 things in this world:

Himself. . .

Alcohol. . .

Cigarettes. . .

. . . and Julie Andrews.

Daniel is a menace, an alcoholic, and the most inconsiderate human being I have ever had the displeasure of dealing with.  He's a perfectly nice guy when he's sober - too bad THAT never happens.

I am divorcing Daniel.

I am planning to buy or sublet my way out of the remaining 7 months of my lease and move on to greener pastures.

Pastures where I don't have to listen to 'Le Jazz Hot' at 5 AM, or inhale his second hand smoke.

I wish I could say that Daniel is the only bad luck I've had to deal with recently, but the truth is that I have somehow run afoul of the real-estate deities.  Daniel is only the latest chapter in my story.  Daniel, however, is the last straw.

I'm blogging about this for my sanity.

I'm also blogging about this because I've spent the last 5 months of my life dealing with this mess, and I'm about to spend the foreseeable future absorbing the $1015 it will take to escape the nightmare. Maybe someone will click on an ad, and I'll get a check for 35 cents. Somehow, I feel that knowing that I made 35 cents off of Daniel will be a psychological and moral victory.

Anyway - spread the word and pass the link along to your friends.  Who knows, maybe you will even learn some helpful information!  These things may include:

*The magic words to get your not-to-code hot water pressure fixed.
*The rights of tenants in foreclosed properties.
*The worst thing that can (probably) happen to a toilet.
*The ever increasing list of horrors that I like to research about a place before I sign a lease.
*Handy packing tips for making your 6th move in 3 years.

Aside from collectively having a laugh at my various misfortunes (because laughter is the only way I've managed to keep fighting through this), I'm also hoping to pass along a message to anyone happening to read this: you don't have to take it.  I've yet to run into a situation so bad that I haven't been able to get out with my dignity, my credit score, and my possessions intact.

. . . and yes, I HAVE pounded on a door with a hockey stick.  We'll get to that eventually.