What drew me to my current residence (Some of my mail still comes to “Or Current Resident”, and makes me feel somewhat transitory) was that for as low as the rent was, the place was (and incidentally, still is) HUGE. I also loved the shotgun house layout, hardwood floors, arched dining room entry and double stained glass windows in the living room. It also had a washer and dryer in the basement that I had access to so I did not have to sit in a room once a week eating Cheetos and reading a magazine while waiting for some stranger’s soiled underwear to get through the spin cycle.
I didn’t even look at any other apartments because once I find something I like and can afford I’m over the whole shopping thing. I knew I wasn’t going to find anything cheaper and closer to my favorite St. Louis haunts. I’m ten minutes away from every tourist attraction that I thought I would go to all the time but in reality rarely visit. I snatched it up before someone else got MY apartment.
What I learned right away was that I was in a very nun-centric neighborhood. I had one living above me, one living beside me and a whole gaggle of them around the corner. I even had an Ex-Nun-Creepy-Lesbian Stalker at one point but that’s another story for another day. Quickly I met a few of the neighbors along the street and found them all to be perfectly pleasant.
My building is a four family, probably built in the nineteen-fifties. Sharing the first floor with me was this nice young Mexican couple with a cute little baby and another one on the way. Above them was a young single black woman who worked the third shift and was really quiet. My home life was pretty peaceful.
Until the black woman moved out.
And then the nun moved out.
This all happened in a fairly short time period. When the black woman moved out The Mexican Frat Boys moved into that apartment . The apartment above me stayed vacant for a long time, which meant that not only could I do my laundry (still eating Cheetos of course) while catching up on past seasons of Reba but I could run downstairs and throw in the clothes THAT I WAS WEARING so that I would literally for one day, have no dirty laundry. This meant trekking back upstairs naked. I’m not above it.
When TMFB moved in, chaos ensued. There was always loud music playing with a tuba thumping so heartily that it vibrated my sternum. There were parties at least every weekend, which meant that my backyard was filled with lots of chatty people (which wouldn’t bug me so much if I could at least understand the language enough to eavesdrop) tons of greasy barbecues (which wouldn’t bug me so much if I couldn’t smell it or was at least offered a burger) tons of beer bottles and cans left in the backyard (which will always bug me but would bug me less if they weren’t filled with pee because someone was too lazy to go upstairs to do their business) and tons of loud sternum-thumping tunes (which wouldn’t bug me if the speakers weren’t right under my bedroom window and didn’t bellow until four AM.)
The little family on my floor moved out shortly after the baby was born. TMFB, who actually aren’t frat boys at all but work at a bakery, started meeting women. And falling in love (or at least getting women pregnant.) And moving the women in. At one point I lost track of how many people lived up there until I noticed that my landlord was doing some kind of construction above me.
One day, while doing laundry, (fully clothed for some reason) I looked up the stairs leading to the empty apartment and noticed that the door was open. So up I went. He was turning their dining room into a second bedroom. Shortly before it was completed he stopped by and I asked him about it.
“The guys next door (TMFB) had six people living in a one bedroom and I told them they couldn’t do that. One of the girls is pregnant so they’re moving over here. I’m converting the apartment so that they have a room for the baby.”
Oh, good a baby…living above me….who will probably wheel around in one of those walker things and then begin to take awkward little-drunk-person-like stomps all over my ceiling. Yay.
But I met the couple and they were very, very nice. And I could deal with a few parties now and then, which seemed to have slowed down. (My theory is that the nice little couple that lived downstairs was funding the booze and the beef and when they left, TMFB were too poor to finance the fiestas.)
But then about six or seven months ago, I noticed that it was beginning to be a lot harder to find a parking space in front of my apartment because of all of the SUVs parked there.
And then I noticed a lot more strangers coming and going from both upstairs apartments.
And then I noticed a stranger bearing groceries to the family above me.
And then I noticed a lot of scuffling shoes along the floors above me at all hours.
And then I noticed a strange woman doing her laundry downstairs.
And then I noticed a dead heroin addict on my front porch.
Wait. I should stop here for a minute. The dead heroin addict has nothing to do with the Village, but one day I heard a commotion on the front porch, looked out there and saw paramedics working on a gray-faced young man while a skinny caved-in cheeked girl screamed,
“He said he couldn’t breathe! He was having an asthma attack and came out here for air!”
I watched as the paramedics wheeled the blue man away. Then I had to go to a meeting. When I came back, the police knocked at my door and asked me about the neighbors and told me that someone had overdosed on heroin there. These people were shortly evicted.
Things seemed to be calm for a while. A young guy moved in the apartment beside me and other than a wafting smell of stale marijuana every now and then, he’s a good neighbor. I had peace again.
Until another member of TMFB got involved with a woman with two children, a girl who was probably eight and a boy who looks to be about six. They moved in immediately. Despite housing laws, I thought I could deal with the village if they were quiet.
And if their offspring found other forms of entertainment besides standing with their hands over their eyes, noses pressed to the front door, peering into my apartment, encouraging Yadi to bark.
The first time they did this, I chalked it up to curiosity and found it sort of endearing. By the third day it was all I could do to keep from smacking the screen with my hand sending the children flying off into the front bushes, which incidentally, TMFB use as their personal trash can and ash tray.
This invasion of my privacy called for a nasty letter to the landlord. I made sure to let him know who he was dealing with by throwing in buzzwords such as “zoning laws” and “occupancy” and “leering midgets” and “there are at least eleven people living above me and one is now learning to play trumpet right below my bedroom window which sounds more like a wounded goose trying to mate than any music I have ever heard.”
My apartment building SHOULD be able to house 9 people. At one point, I know for sure that it was housing 11 in the upstairs apartments alone. The Village. I began to count cars. I have a car. The guy on my floor takes the bus. There are NINE other cars associated with this building. The Village.
After the letter and a few short, snark-filled phone calls, the peeping toms have stopped. The Village, however, remains. Over the course of the last two months, I have seen and heard less of the Leering Midgets. The mother must have been reprimanded. She was doing so well at keeping them corralled upstairs on the balcony or in the backyard, where she had set up a wading pool for them under a tent that stayed up for a week then blew down in a heavy storm and where it lay like a crumpled spider for two more weeks before they finally lugged it over to double as a grill cover.
Please note that I said “was.”
Yesterday, I heard the chitter-chatter of tiny voices and saw a rusty, raggedy blue very-familiar truck loaded down with trash bags full of clothes, a dresser, a night stand and other various “someone’s moving” pieces. I peeked out the front and saw a man talking on his cell and I hoped against all hope that he was calling for someone to help him move OUT.
But alas, no.
I watched, downhearted, as he carried his white trash bags of worldly possessions up the stairs and BACK into TMFB’s apartment.
I have officially lost count of the Village. I have also lost track of how many calls I have made to the landlord. But I haven’t lost my Citizen’s Complaint Bureau phone number (which is stored discreetly in my phone) And if I hear so much as one trumpet blast I’m speed dialing.
Times are tough for us all. But you don’t see me throwing a blanket up between my living and dining room and calling it a two bedroom flat. This just doesn’t work. I watched Who’s the Boss, I know. Someone will always catch a glimpse of someone naked in the shower.
And then I will have fourteen more peeping toms to deal with.