Tuesday, September 30, 2003

Our apartment hates us 

I'm not sure why, but it's become quite clear over the last few months that the apartment Steve and I live in has it in for us. Maybe it's feeling neglected because we never clean up. Maybe it's pissed because I bled all over the walls some months ago. Maybe the damn thing just has a chip on its shoulder, since the sole reason I rented it was because it was the only apartment available and I had just over twenty-four hours to move in.

I'll start at the beginning. At the very end of April, Steve decided on short notice to move to Texas a month ahead of schedule. I was happy, excited, and nervous as hell, but it did put a kink in my schedule. I'd been staying at the house my brother had recently purchased, so suddenly I needed to find an apartment within three days... not to mention get the electric account set up, order a phone line, etc. I also had no transportation, which meant I was very limited in where I could get an apartment -- it needed to be within walking distance from my job.

So on April 30, I called up the apartment complex I had lived at until about a month previous. It suited all my needs perfectly -- close to my job, reasonable rent, a minimum of roaches, no rats over 8" in length, and all the usual frills (swimming pool, dishwasher, private patio, etc.). The only concerns were whether they would have an apartment available on such short notice, and whether I could qualify for it.

You see, when I lived there before in Unit 108, I was sharing the apartment with my brother. Due to the fact that I could not pass the gentlest of credit checks if my life depended on it, we'd put the lease in his wife's name. That was no longer possible because it'd just be myself and Steve, and he wouldn't arrive in time to sign the lease, so it had to be done in my own name.

I was in luck. Sandy, our apartment manager, remembered me from when I rented before and agreed to forego the credit check. She also told me she did have one available apartment, but it was a two bedroom unit and upstairs. Still, it was ready to go right away, and the price difference was minor enough that I immediately accepted. She asked me to come in the next day to sign the lease, so I hung up and gave Steve the good news.

I went to the leasing office and put down my signature at least a dozen times on a formidable stack of paperwork the next day. After all this, Sandy hands me the key. I'd rented the apartment sight unseen, because I assumed it was just like all the other two bedroom units in the complex, and I'd lived in one of these for over a year. Unfortunately, it didn't turn out quite that way.

The first thing I noticed was that the tile in the kitchen was scraped and peeling near the refrigerator and dishwasher. The carpet as well, was rather worn down. The railing on the stairs was a bit rusty, and the location wasn't the greatest (on the opposite side of the complex as the laundry facilities). Although I didn't know it yet, three of the four phone jacks in the apartment were non-functional. "Well," I thought, "it's got a roof, and a toilet. What else do I need?"

So I moved in, and the next day Steve arrived and joined me. Everything was great, for a while...

The toilet was the first to go. One day, maybe two or three months after we moved in, it started refusing to flush. I should note here that it wouldn't have been so much of a hassle, but we're lazy. Sickeningly lazy. So lazy, in fact, that rather than spend thirty minutes cleaning up the apartment enough to call the maintenence guy to fix this, we spent over a month manually flushing the toilet (every few days, at best) by pouring gallon jugs of water into the tank.

So here we were with a broken, foul-smelling toilet, complete with brown ring, when the bathtub rebelled. Actually, I lie. This particular incident was entirely our fault. On the advice of my friend Victor, we started filling the bathtub in preparation for an incoming hurricane. Then we forgot about it, and it overflowed to the point the entire bathroom floor had water over an inch deep. Fearing the worst, we went into a frenzy of cleaning and scooping water off the floor.

Our fears were realized when our rather bitchy downstairs neighbors came knocking at the door (at 3:00am no less!) to tell us that we were leaking all over their bathroom and ruining their precious furniture. They'd already called maintenence, so we had to come up with an excuse, and fast. We blamed the toilet, and somehow not only got away scot-free, but got the john fixed as well.

A week or two later, the kitchen sink got an incredible clog in it. Several days, an entire canister of Drano Crystals (the directions state to use a single tablespoon), and a lot of digging with a stretched out wire coathanger later, it was draining again... but now the garbage disposer has a rusted out hole in it. Every time we use it, it sprays water all over inside the cabinet under the sink.

Perhaps a week after the sink & disposer attacked, we had yet another incident. I was at work, talking with Steve in IRC when he went linkdead and called me. "The power's out. I saw a flash of light coming from the closet where the AC unit and water heater are. I smell smoke!"

To put it lightly, Steve sounded shaken. Well, to be fair, who wouldn't be? It was past midnight, and we both suspected the apartment might burn down. Luckily, there was no fire, so he lit a candle and I had him fiddle with the breaker box for a while. He discovered that the water heater breaker had attempted to flip off, but hadn't gone all the way, and also that there was no main breaker inside the apartment. Greeeat. That meant we were out of power until maintenence came over.

So, Steve cleaned up the apartment by candlelight, and called the maintenence emergency line. Sandy showed up and told him she'd send over someone the next day.

I stayed up late (6:30 am is my usual bedtime) and waited for Frank, who handles all the maintenence work in the apartments. After a cursory inspection, he determined that the central AC unit had leaked water into the water heater and shorted it out, which had in turn blown the main breaker. He didn't have the part for the water heater, but he did restore power. While he was there, I pointed out that the sliding door to our balcony was failing to slide (and had been for at least a week). Frank said he'd fix it the next day when he came back for the water heater.

I'd been convinced there was no way to fix the rebellious balcony door short of replacing some part or another, but sure enough, as soon as we had maintenence informed of the problem, it fixed itself. Frank gave me a look like I was some kind of retard when he went to check the door. It figures. He did fix the water heater, at least.

After that, things had been smooth sailing until just a few days ago, when the stove joined in on the fun.

Before I elaborate, I want to make one thing very clear. I'm a lot of things, but inept in the kitchen is not one of them. I've been cooking since I was four years old, and it's a very rare occasion when something I make comes out less than excellent. Certainly, I've never started a fire in the kitchen. In fact, I've been using broilers for years, and I'd been using this particular broiler two or three times a week for the last five months.

So I set up the broiler tray, put it on the same oven shelf I always use, slapped down a couple of Johnsonville brats, and turned it on. Then I stepped outside for a cigarette. A few minutes later, I went inside to check on the brats, and there were foot high flames coming out of the oven. After running around the kitchen shouting obscenities for about thirty seconds, while Steve stood there gaping, I remembered fire doesn't like water and put it out.

We laughed it off, and figured it was a fluke -- after all, we'd both been cooking brats the exact same way, in the exact same oven, for the last several months and never had a problem before.

The next day, Steve came home from work for lunch and decided to cook himself a bratwurst in the broiler. A few minutes later, the stove again burst into flame. After the fire was out, and the smoke had cleared, we pulled the remains of the brat out. It looked very much like what would be left of a penis if the urethra had been packed firmly with gunpowder, then lit. Blackened, split wide open, oozing an odd yellow fluid...

"It's okay, dear, I'll rinse it off for you," I told him, holding the brat cautiously under the tap with a pair of tongs. But for some inexplicable reason, Steve was no longer hungry.

Meanwhile, we sure could use a roommate. Anyone interested?

Now you know how Kataine got here, mostly. She left out the best, most interesting parts--I suspect because the statute of limitations has yet to run out. Oh well. Her life, her story to tell. Right now I'm just concerned with how I got here, and not the reason she never finished playing Might and Magic VIII. I do want to note, though, that she glossed over the six months where we were talking several hours a day in about three words. A cupcake and a garbage disposal got more words than me. It's understandable, really. A garbage disposal does more around the house than I do, and a cucpcake is tasty.

My life is more boring than hers, although once has to admit that if Kataine hadn't chosen such an...um...unusual path through life we'd be pretty close to even. That shit is all true, by the way. If she's just lying, it's an incredibly intricate, detailed, and perfect lie. She's not *that* good at lying. Not that I'd know she were lying about everything, I guess. Well, she *is* schizophrenic. Having seen the evidence and held her during a few episodes, I can sure as fuck vouch for that. And I'd lay money that 90% of the things you read about her and said "WTF" came, directly or indirectly, from schizophrenia.

I was born and raised in Maryland, home of crabs. Blue crabs, steamed whole and served with Old Bay. That's the only way you can get them in Maryland, unless you want a crab cake. (Crab cakes come with the Old Bay on the side.) I wasn't positive that other varieties of crab even existed until I came to Texas and saw some huge motherfuckers at the Wally World. King Crabs, they're called. Come from Alaska. Weird shit. Served with butter or something, I hear. May as well get yourself a lobster and save the crabs for people who know how to eat them.

My mother was, to put it succintly, controlling. Since I wouldn't voluntarily socialize, I was required to pursue a parentally satisfying number of parentally approved activities. Like soccer. I do not like soccer, because I am overweight and out of shape and have been since the third grade. However, I played soccer because my mother required it. Not playing soccer meant no TV or computer and that meant I played soccer. Until the sixth grade, when it came to a choice of either soccer or a hyper-accelerated math program. Hyper math wasn't much for socialization, but it was a good enough substitute. When I expressed a preference, I got to quit running around a fucking grass field kicking a stupid ball that they couldn't even manage to paint one color. Instead, I spent two hours a week after school for two years doing math. After that whole thing, I entered high school with Algebra 2 under my belt.

I say Mom was controlling, but then I let her control me too. It wasn't until I met Kataine that I started asserting myself and decided that being independent from my parents was more important than playing on the computer and watching TV. I'm glad I made that decision, too. I found out later that my parents had a whole fucking plan set up to keep a lever on me after I graduated from college, even. Whether they meant it that way, I don't know. It always sounded like all they wanted was to help. But "we'll give you $50,000 after you leave college to get started, ohbythewaythatmoneyisforwhatwedeemworthy" sure sounded, and sounds, like an attempt to keep a lever on me. I won't belabor the point that when I was living at home, or at college on their dime they had some big fucking levers to pry *anything* out of me.

The diagnosis Kataine handed me reads Pervasive Developmental Disorder (atypical autism), actually. It's not full blown autism, not as severe symptoms or quite enough symptoms. But still. I'm pretty damn uncomfortable in social situations, to the point of preferring that people I'm not familiar with would just walk away rather than talk to me. Systems, mechanical especially, and details of all kinds fascinate me. I'll interrupt Kataine with pronunciation instructions all the fucking time when she's talking, or reality-check her dreams.

Her: So then the elevator cable snapped and we started falling.
Me: They don't do that when the cable breaks.
Her: I know that! It's a dream, remember?
Me: Yeah, I guess.

Repeat x10 per dream. I am, quite frequently, not really aware of my feelings, or at least have an *extremely* hard time articulating them. It must be endlessly frustrating for Kataine when she says "Why did you do X?" and all I can say is "I don't know" then after 10 minutes of thinking give some reason that sounds perfectly reasonable to me and incomprehensible to her. In short, I am not a Normal, or as autists like to say Neurotypical. As if atypical sounded better than abnormal. I don't give a fuck either way, and I bet real autists have a shaky grasp of connotations, to say the least. No doubt the term was coined by some oversensitive mother of an autistic child who didn't want to feel bad about having produced a freak. Autism is freakish, no way around it, less than one percent of the population makes you a freak occurrence.

Autism is definitely associated with bluntness. I will say something that is literally true, and then be surprised that someone took it badly. Yes, you *are* not as smart as I am. I am very smart. My IQ is very high. Yours is not so high. Why do you care? I'm fat and can't play sports, you're physically fit and could kick my ass at anything that involved movement.

That was just an example. I'm not so arrogant as to believe that no one who reads this will be smarter than me. Maybe even a majority of readers (if anyone reads this, which I doubt) are smarter than me. If it makes you feel better, tell yourself that you're smarter than me. We'll never meet, illusions (if they exist) will never be destroyed, everyone is happier. Like Vonnegut says, "believe in the foma (useful lies) that make you happy and wealthy and" well, the quote goes on but I forget it.

Moving 1800 miles to Texas never seemed like a big deal to me. It was what I wanted to do, so I did what was necessary to do it. This is, I've been told, not normal. Of course, loving someone from just talking in IRC and email plus a few phone calls is abnormal too. I figure, moving 1800 miles to be with someone you love is normal. And at this point I say fuck it and stop caring. The "why" of what I do never really bothered me, which is a constant source of friction in my relationship with Kataine. A lot of times the whole issue is that she doesn't understand why I'd do something, and I'm not much for helping her understand.

That's another post, though. Don't be surprised if Kataine ends up making a large majority of the posts on here, she's the one who likes to write. I, um, hate writing. And just wrote this huge fucking post. Why? *shrug*

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