Friday, May 15, 2009

The Austin Chonicles: Vote for Carter

So, remember that story about ridding my house of cockroaches? While they are much more prevalent in hot places, they can certainly be encouraged to stay a while, which they were, by the previous tenants of the house I moved into.

I found the house I rented through my department's listserv. Our fabulously awesome graduate coordinator (AKA: the person without the PhD who gets everything done) sent an email that had originally gone to the journalism department. I didn't have to see much more than the image below to immediately reply.

That, dear reader, is a breakfast nook. An honest to goodness breakfast nook in a house built in the 1920's. I can't help but be a sucker for architectural details. My first apartment had all the luxuries of a San Francisco Victorian: bay window, claw foot tub and giant closet that is the result of at one point having a Murphy bed. Granted, it was the size of a postage stamp, but it exuded the architectural planning of a time when people thought about style and functionality, not just how to make drywall and vertical blinds as cheaply as possible.

But, back to the breakfast nook. I had just returned from a trip to visit my future campus when that email arrived, so I never actually got to see the nook or the rest of the house in person until I pulled up in front of it three weeks before classes started. It really was adorable. It may have been August in Texas, but the porch swing would make up for that, right? Sitting out on the porch with only the screen door closed on hot nights...well, I would learn how wrong that fantasy was later.

But, the breakfast nook. It was even better in person. The window looked out on our neighbor's overgrown shade garden (yeah, they have those in places like that) and the table moved so you could actually get in and out and clean under it easily. Oh, and the table was unvarnished soft wood that held the 80 years of household history.

The only problem was that it was inhabited by grad students. I had been concerned about the house being too close to undergrad partytown, but I hadn't thought about the torment grad students could inflict. I mean they are so busy. How do they have time to take care of a whole house? Oh, and if they came in straight from undergrad, they didn't really know how to clean a whole house, did they? But, I can't blame everything on being lazy or self-absorbed. It wasn't just that the house had been inhabited by grad students, it had been inhabited by grad students for ten years and never completely vacated. One would move out, one would move in. One would call it quits at their Master's, one would start thiers. One would decide to leave ABD, one would decide it was time to finally finish theirs.

If a rental property is never completely vacated, that means that it can never be completely cleaned. That means your landlord can never hire a maid service to come in and clean up after you and then charge you 80% of your security deposit. The problem was that even though all three inhabitants were moving out at the same time, and I and my new roommates - whom I had only spoken to over email - were moving in, the old inhabitants were a little hesitant to leave. "Oh, but, can't you just stay in the other roommate's room until my boyfriend can borrow his dad's truck next week and then you can move into the room you want?" Sure. Why not. I'll just be over here praying that UPS hasn't lost half of my clothing.

Thankfully, they did leave (with my DVD player remote) and my mom appeared two days later. Yes, I was an adult and had moved myself multiple times without her help, but she wanted to see where in this "god-forsaken state inhabited by fake Texans who were ruining the world" I would be living. Thank god for Mom.

My mom can make friends with anyone: the checker at the grocery store, the guys with area codes tattooed on their necks at the gym, and even my truly Texan 78 year old landlady, Grace.* She liked me alright. She didn't quite get why I was studying "that stuff," but she thought I was a bit sassy and was flattered that I loved the house her father-in-law built. But, oh, how she loved my mother. She thought it only made sense that my mom move to Texas so they could be friends. Luckily, this budding relationship meant that my mom convinced her that the house really did need to be cleaned even if we had already moved in. But, when you've outlived your husband and have a rental property in Texas the only appropriate solution is not to call a maid service, but to call your hairdresser. So the next day, Grace arrived with the hairdresser and a the hairdresser's friend and got to work.

However, I am my mother's child and we hate sitting on our butts while other people do work for us. It makes us uncomfortable. In this case, we not only wanted to help out, we had to. We walked into the kitchen at one point and there was 78 year old Grace pulling out the stove. I'm all for independence at an advanced age, but not if you are my landlady with children who are eager to sell off the property. Not that I'm saying she couldn't do it. You don't tell a Texan woman that. We just offered to help. And Grace, my mom, and I ended up doing quite a bit of work together that day since the hairdresser and her friend had to leave to go bail the friend's boyfriend out of jail. Welcome to Texas.

I will spare you the horrors that we found under the bathroom sink - things that only someone who had raised two children could deal with. Oh, and did I mention that one of the old inhabitants, who I did not have the privilege of meeting, thought it was a good idea to have a compost pile five feet from the backdoor in a place with four sizes of cockroaches? Book smarts do not always indicate street smarts.

But, we did eventually get the house clean, and rewarded ourselves with glass of iced sun tea - the first thing I bought upon my arrival was a container specifically for this purpose - and I spent a lovely first year there. So lovely, that I resigned the lease for a second year.

Since I have graduated high school, I have lived in five dorm rooms and five apartments. I've become really good at moving, and more importantly have learned the importance of the yearly clean-out. Why take crap that you haven't used in a year or even six months? You'll just have another box to haul. Everything comes out, gets edited and donated or sold, the original storage space is cleaned and then (in this case, since it was just a pretend moving clean) all remaining items are reorganized and put into place.

I was in the process of editing the bathroom, having tossed all expired allergy meds, and partially used gift cosmetics in the garbage, when I reached up into the back of a shelf above my head with a dust cloth. When a house has 3 inches of dust in the closets, crumbs from 10 years of all-nighters in the breakfast nook, and plants who have made claims in the siding of the house, you tend to over look a few things. One of those was the top shelf of the bathroom cabinet. As I started dusting, I heard a soft clinking in the corner. Since I didn't use that shelf what else could it be then the dessicated remains of a cockroach?

I pulled my desk chair into the bathroom and teetered on it only to find proof that not only had the cabinet not been cleaned in the last 10 years, it had not been cleaned in my lifetime.

*Names have been changed to protect the innocent.

1 comment:

  1. Vote Carter indeed. It's like you were supposed to be there - a breakfast nook, and a button for the democratic presidential candidate (in Texas!). Can you imagine if it said "Vote Reagan"?

    I loved this story. You're good at this! Keep 'em comin'.


be nice.


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