Wednesday, January 22, 2014

the Craigslist chronicles: the Plymouth garage/apartment.

I was living in New Orleans at the end of 2009 when I started making plans to move to Minneapolis. I had accepted an internship at the Minneapolis Institute of Arts, and my part-time job at American Eagle would transfer to one of the locations in the Cities. I was excited and ready to be back in the Midwest: I had spent three months in New Orleans, and previous to that, three months in Denver. I’d been away from my family, friends, and (then-boyfriend, now husband) James for long enough.

James was just finishing up his requirements for his music education degree, and it was time for him to do his student teaching. He was able to secure a student teaching job about forty minutes away from Minneapolis, and that meant that (hallelujah!) we could share an apartment. Neither of us could’ve afforded one on our own – James was student teaching full-time, and my part-time retail wages could only go so far. We decided we’d search for a place in Plymouth, Minnesota: a suburb that was about halfway between where I needed to be and where James needed to be. (We would later use this logic to buy a house in Luverne – we figured that it worked once – why not again!)

Since I was still in New Orleans, it fell to James to find us a place to live. Craigslist is the go-to apartment hunting site when you don’t have much money to throw around, so that’s just where he started looking. There were some affordable studio apartments in legitimate apartment buildings, but these apartments would only allow one person to live in the studio (that’s the price you pay for being a legitimate apartment building), but for maximum affordability and a more lax attitude towards fire codes, Craigslist was the answer.

James found something almost right away. It was a garage-turned-studio apartment located directly underneath the main house. The location was right and the price was right, so James got us that apartment… and I had never seen it.

We moved in on a frigid day in January. We only had two carloads: my Mercury Sable and James’s Oldsmobile Delta 88.  In order to get to our little apartment, we had to park sideways on a downhill driveway off-shoot thing and walk down some treacherous steps (which were always icy, no matter how often we salted them) to get to our door. That driveway was such a pain: since it was downhill, James’s rear-wheel drive car got stuck on the ice a time or two and had to be hauled out by my sturdy Sable.

The apartment itself wasn’t much to look at: it was about 400 square feet, and everything was brown. The kitchen and bathroom were recently remodeled, so those were actually quite nice. Sad to say, the kitchen and bathroom there were nicer than any kitchen or bathroom I’ve had since – including the house we just bought.

The nice kitchen and bathroom did little to disguise the fact that this place was SMALL. It was larger than the shed I lived in while in New Orleans (which is a story for another time), but I didn’t have to share my shed with another person. If there was ever a test for James’s and my relationship, this was it.

James and I did our best to make our little studio seem hospitable. We had no bed, so we got a free one from Craigslist – gross, I know, but desperate times call for desperate measures – that we tied to the roof of James’s Oldsmobile and hauled home. Our furniture was nothing but a fabric fold-up dish chair that I’d had in college, some white plastic patio furniture lent to us by the landlords, and some plastic crates that made do as a TV stand. It’s just as well that we didn’t have any real furniture, as we wouldn’t have had anywhere to put it anyway.

As you might imagine, this apartment didn’t have the amenities of a normal apartment building. That meant that we had nowhere to do our laundry. Whenever I went to visit my parents, I’d haul my laundry home with me and do it there. If I went too long without going home, I had to make the (expensive) trip to the (super creepy/dirty) laundromat. I wanted to avoid the laundromat as long as possible, so one frosty evening when I was out of clean jeans, I decided that I’d wash them myself. Since I am an idiot, I washed about five pairs in the shower. I soaked myself and the entire bathroom, and – realizing that I hadn’t thought out how I was going to dry these jeans – ended up hanging them up to dry outside. Soaking wet jeans. In February. Care to guess how this turned out? Frozen jeans, that’s how.

Shortly after we moved in, we noticed that our apartment smelled strongly of wet dog. We also found that our clothes had dog hair on them. But how? We didn’t have a dog. Well, it turned out that our landlords were dog sitters, and the dog smell and hair found their way in through the vents.

Speaking of the dogs, one of our landlords (they were a husband and wife landlord pair) would let the dogs out a couple of times a day. He didn’t work, so he was always around to take care of the dogs. Their backyard was right next to our front door, which wasn’t so much a front door as a big glass patio door with a curtain over it. The landlord would stand in the corner of the backyard and stare in those windows, sometimes even coming close enough to press his nose on the glass. Needless to say, we kept the curtains closed at all times.

We had only signed a six-month lease, so our time was due to run out at the end of June. James wasn’t as opposed to staying as I was: he liked the fact that it was cheap and that we were already there – no moving required. Sure, it was cheap, but with summer coming, I wasn’t sure if I could handle the dog smell in hot weather. Besides, I was tired of the landlord peeking in the windows. Not only that, but I spent my entire time in that apartment running from part-time job to part-time job, constantly worrying about how I was going to buy food. That apartment made me think of that sickening “will I make the rent this month” feeling, and I was ready to leave that behind. One of my part-time jobs had just turned into a full-time job, and that meant I could upgrade to an apartment where your bedroom and your living room and your dining room weren’t all in the same space. I wanted a fresh start my own real-person apartment.

Our decision was made for us when our landlords informed us that the tenant who had lived in that apartment before us wanted his old place back. He had been there for three years (!!!) and missed it. So, much to James’s chagrin, staying in the studio was no longer an option. Our landlords did have a proposal for us: would we like to rent space in their basement? We’d have to sleep on a futon, use a curtain as our walls/door, and share their kitchen with them, but they thought it was a great idea. The landlords were practically foaming at the mouth at the thought of having two rental incomes. We politely declined and immediately commenced searching for our real-person apartment.

That was the third and final time I trusted Craigslist to find me a place to live. I’ve covered the first (creepy landlord in New Orleans where I thought I might be murdered) and the third (what you just read!), but the second Craigslist living situation story (the shed) is by far the best. It’s one of those stories that is so ridiculous that I really have to think about how I’m going to write it lest you think I’m making it up – but trust me, this story is so bizarre that I couldn’t possibly make it up. It will be worth the wait.

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