Nightmare on Third Street: A Tale of Constipation, Masturbation, Heroin and A Suit of Armor

I wanted to live alone.

It was the only option after a string of emotionally traumatizing roommates.   I thought that if I found myself a nice little studio apartment, I could finally be done with the crazy.

(If you bet five dollars on me being wrong about that last statement, you would be five dollars richer right now.  Too bad you didn't.  Live and learn, I guess.)

I started my apartment hunt with high hopes.  In the back of my head, I think I was imagining that I would end up in some New York penthouse with shiny wood floors and floor-to-ceiling windows.  Which was just unreasonable because I had roughly $500 a month to spend on food, rent, emergency room trips, and beer.  And I was living in Montana.

With every passing day, I sunk deeper and deeper into despair.  It had become clear that I was never going to find an apartment that a) was within my price range, b) didn't have vagrants already squatting in the living room* and c) was actually an apartment and not a room in the house of some grizzled old man, advertised "cheap rent for the right young female roommate."

Just when I was about to give up hope and move in with the first reasonably sane person I could find, I came across the shittiest apartment complex ever.

"This might be the one..." I thought.

The building, which had once been a hotel,  was built some time in the mid to late 1800's and had obviously been renovated into an apartment complex in the 70's, judging by the funky wall-to-wall carpet.

I walked up the decaying staircase to the landlord's office.   The landlord was not there, but on the door was a notepad which read "if you are interested in renting with us, please leave your name and phone number and we'll get back to you."

I did as instructed and roughly a week later, I got a call from the landlord.  He said he hadn't been in to his office in awhile and that he was sorry for calling me back so late.  I asked him how much it would be to rent from him.  He said (and I quote) "well, if you don't mind having a room with no bathroom it's only $260 a month."  I asked about utilities.  He said those were included in the rent.  I suddenly didn't feel like bathrooms were that important.  I must have forgotten that I am terribly shit shy and avoid using public restrooms at all costs.  Did I mention I was desperate?

There was one room available.  I snatched that sucker up like it was a flaming baby (you would have to act quickly if a baby was on fire, right?)

It was such a relief to finally have a place to live where no one could bother me!  I was so relieved that I turned a blind eye to the sections of rubber tubing I found in my closet (people use those for non-drug-related activities, right?).  I was so relieved that I dismissed my horror upon inspecting the "shared restrooms."   I mean, it's totally normal for 30 people to be forced to share two toilets, right? It would be just like living in the dorms!  Except, instead of sharing my shower and toilet with hygienic, female students, I would be sharing them with a mixed bag of ex-convicts and drug addicts.  It couldn't be that big of a difference...

I remember my first night at my new place very clearly.

I lay awake on my bare mattress, trembling and crying and wishing that the drunk people in the alley outside my window would shut the hell up so I could forget I was alive for just a little while.

I finally fell asleep at around 3:00 AM because the bar/casino across the alleyway from me closed.  It took a little while for the yelling drunks to disperse in a flurry of screeching tires, but they didn't hang around too long after their source of drunkenness was cut off.

I woke up at 5:00 AM to a the sound of the loudest garbage truck in the history of history.  Apparently there was a dumpster right outside my window that must have been filled at an alarming rate given how often I was to be disturbed by the sound of said garbage truck.   It came almost every weekday morning, between the hours of 5:00 and 6:30 AM.  Sometimes more than once.  I quickly learned to resent the garbage man, even though he was just doing his job.

After the garbage truck came for the third time that morning, I decided to just get up.

My mornings usually consist of a very specific order of events: coffee, bathroom, breakfast then everything else.  I succeeded in accomplishing the coffee part, but as I was walking down the hall to attend to the bathroom part, I was intercepted by one of my new neighbors.  A portly, unshaven man in his forties, John introduced himself and immediately began regaling me with war stories.  I could tell he was high - on what, I didn't know.  Yet.

Just as John was showing me the bullet wound on his face that earned him a lifetime disability stipend and a future of reckless drug abuse, I realized I wasn't going to get to use the bathroom.  I had missed my window of opportunity and I would have to spend the rest of the day constipated and angry.

Apparently John and I bonded during that conversation because, from that point onward, he was unbelievably excited to see me every time our paths crossed - which was often because we were sharing a bathroom.

One day after school, I was ten steps away from being locked safely in my room when I heard "Dude!  You have to come check out my sweet suit of armor!"

I turned around slowly to see John beaming like a new mother.  He was almost wagging, he was so excited.

Partly out of crippling niceness and also because of morbid curiosity, I followed John to his room.   Sure enough, there was a full suit of armor standing in his living room.

John said "I got it on Ebay."

I said "cool."

John said "do you want to see what it does?"

I said "yes" even though I didn't mean it at all.  I actually wanted to go sit in my room and binge drink, but I spent the next half hour watching John demonstrate how to use a suit of armor.

Just when I thought he was wrapping up, John asked me a question that I never thought I would be asked ever in my life.  He said "do you want some heroin tea?"

In an instant, I understood so much yet I was filled with questions.  I halfway thought about drinking liquid heroin just to escape that moment.  However, I politely declined and muttered something about needing to go do homework.   John let me leave only 25 minutes later.

Back in my room, I sat down to do some studying.

I usually studied until eleven or so and then got ready for bed.  I have always been a quiet neighbor, so I was surprised when the man who lived below me started banging on his ceiling and yelling at me to stop making so much noise.

I continued to not make noise.

He continued to yell at me for the noise I wasn't making.

I was already in bed when I was startled by banging and yelling at my door.  Of course, it was the man who lived below me and he wanted me to stop moving furniture around because he was trying to sleep.  I hadn't been moving furniture but I doubted very much that I could convince the angry man at my door of that fact.  I huddled in the corner with a blanket, trying to cry as quietly as possible so as not to upset the man further.

I have since come to the conclusion that he may have become enraged over me scooting my chair out from my desk.  It is the only logical explanation.  Then again, there may have been no logical explanation.  Sometimes people are just crazy.

As sensitive as this man was about other people making noise, he sure didn't give a damn how many people overheard him masturbating.  Bad porn, throaty moaning and sickening squishing sounds made me wish my floor was just a tad thicker.  I didn't realize until later how good I actually had it.

The ancient building in which I lived was heated by radiators.  Broken ones.  Sometime in mid-November, my landlord finally got around to turning on the heat in the building (there were no individual thermostats - either everybody had heat or nobody had heat).   That night, I was awoken by what sounded like someone beating a metal pipe with a hammer, six inches from my head.   This alarming sound continued for a few minutes before winding down to a hiss.   The next four months of my life were filled with alternating hissing and clanging.  There was rarely a moment of silence.  At least I couldn't hear the masturbating anymore - even though I would have gladly listened to it over the new noise.

I quickly found that there was nothing I could cram into my ears that would completely drown out the radiator.  Earplugs, two pillows and a whirring fan only succeeded in dampening the wretched sound.

As the winter wore on, the thickly carpeted halls of my apartment complex became a temporary home for several vagrants.  One of them lived in a nook right outside my door.  He was a friendly fellow with a dolphin tattooed on his face.   Every morning he told me that I looked beautiful as I was leaving for school.  One day he told me that I had an innocent and beautiful soul.   I was actually a little disappointed when my landlord got around to shooing him off the premises.

When the daytime temperature dipped below zero degrees fahrenheit, I finally had to shut my windows.  I had kept them at least partly open for as long as I could because I was terrified of succumbing to carbon monoxide poisoning.  And it was a good thing too.  If I had not, I may have died in an explosion.  Or at least that's what I'm told.

I noticed the smell early in the morning.  I recognized it as natural gas, so I called the gas company.  I'd had a gas leak earlier in the year and a nice man with a magic beeping wand came over to fix it for me.  Naturally, that is exactly what I expected to happen again.

The woman who answered my call sounded alarmed when I told her I had a gas leak.  She told me that she would send someone right over and that I should go wait in my car.  I groggily pulled on a sweatshirt and trundled out to my freezing vehicle to wait for the man with the beepy wand.

The man with the beepy wand never showed up.  Instead, I watched in horror as two fire trucks came screeching to a halt in front of my building.  I cowered in my car for a couple minutes before one of the firemen found me.

He said "Do you live here?"

"Is this about the gas leak?" I asked.

He yelled some numbers and code-words into his walkie-talkie and ran off before answering my question.  I reluctantly followed him inside.

There were firemen everywhere.   It was barely after 6:00 AM, so people noticed.  The firemen were tromping around in their huge boots and yelling at each other urgently.

I sheepishly directed them to my apartment.

When I opened the door and they could finally see what they had been called to protect me against, they looked at me like I was nuts.

One of them said "this is the apartment that is going to explode into flames at any second?"

I said "um... yes?" I suspected that the woman who took my call had overreacted just a titch.

The fireman shook his head and began inspecting my room with three of his fireman friends while the other firemen made sure the hallway was secure.

I stood in the middle of the room and watched them poke fruitlessly through my things.

"I think it might be the stove..." I finally ventured.

All four of them clomped over to the stove to have a look.   One of them noticed the pilot light and just kept saying "I can see a burning glow..." over and over.  He seemed desperate to find fire somewhere.

I asked the firemen if they would mind of I called the guy with the beepy thing.  They looked a little offended, but agreed to let me do it.

They stood there and protected me until the guy with the beepy thing arrived.  The one fireman was still enthralled with the pilot light.  "I can see it glowing orange faintly..." he was very poetic in his observations.

When the beepy-thing-guy finally got there, he shooed the firemen away and used his beepy wand to locate the source of the totally non-threatening gas leak, which did indeed turn out to be from the stove.

He put a tiny piece of electrical tape around the gas hose leading to my stove and told me to have a good day.  The beepy-thing-guy always made everything better.  That's why the lady who answered my call should have called him instead of freaking out and getting the whole fire department all excited about nothing.

I had created quite the stir.  Both John and the janitor offered to help me if my apartment ever actually did catch on fire. (Of course, if my apartment was on fire, their apartments would also be on fire soon.   Their blinding need to help me must have overshadowed their critical thinking skills momentarily).

John said "Dude, if you ever, like, need anything - just come and hang out in my room, okay?"

I said "Okay" even though no amount of being on fire could cause me to actually mean it.

Coming Soon:  A detailed account of the events leading up to my intense desire to live alone.

*One of the apartments I checked out came with a homeless man!  He had trashed the interior with cigarette butts, old pizza boxes and beer cans and was just as happy as could be.  The property management could have saved me the trouble of checking out a key if they'd just told me to ask the squatter how to get in.   

Edit:  I guess I should clarify that I no longer live on Third Street.  I lived there for a dismal year and a half in the heart of my college career.  Regretfully, I cannot do a housing swap or start a fund on eBay to get me out of my shithole.  I sincerely wish I had thought of those options while I was still living there, but my brain wasn't working properly due to lack of sleep and chronic inhalation of natural gas fumes.  However, if I ever find myself in a similar situation, I will now know what to do!


Mr. Monkeyhead said...

Lovely. I had thought my first place was really bat but oh boy...

Nooter said...

good grief, joining the circus wouldve been better than that.

tactonrae said...

Amazing story....... must have more.

Tonia said...

OH MY WORD. You should put that story on e-bay with a 'fund' for getting you out of there.

Rodney Hays said...

Wow! You are really selling the place. I was wondering if you wanted to do a house swap like on "The Holiday" with you coming to the suburbs of Dallas, Texas. And I could go enjoy your neighbor's body armor and herion tea. Maybe just for a week or so.

Let me know.

David said...

Sounds like a lovely place to study human interactions but hell on earth as a place to live.

Thank goodness you escaped with your life.

MikeWJ at Too Many Mornings said...

I've lived in some real shitholes in my lifetime, including a converted funeral homes that was infested with giant cockroaches, but you win this one.

Kirsten said...

I think I had your same neighbor who reacts violently to imagined noise from my apartment! He's a douche!

Homemaker Man said...

"I lay awake on my bare mattress, trembling and crying and wishing that the drunk people in the alley outside my window would shut the hell up so I could forget I was alive for just a little while."

The whole post but this quote in particular reminds very much of the movie Big.

You have big balls, young lady.

Caitlin said...

I lived next to a guy that made noises at night as well. They would last HOURS. I would plug my ears, turn on the television, put in earplugs, put pillows over my head, and hum. I'm pretty sure the guy was a meth addict. And I'm pretty sure he let vagrants sleep on his floor (...or with him???...). I only know this because once they rang my number instead of his and I let them in thinking they were friends that I was waiting for......

Sorcerer said...

John said "Dude, if you ever, like, need anything - just come and hang out in my room, okay?"

I said "Okay" even though no amount of being on fire could cause me to actually mean it. \


amazin how you keep the momentum goin.
humor all the way!!

Roshni Mitra Chintalapati said...

wow! I just so admire you for finding humor in such a scary situation! I would LOVE to hear why you prefer living with these psychos over a dorm!! (help me prepare for when my sons head for college!!)

Putting you in my blogroll for sure!!

Sissy said...

so yeah, now my throat actually hurts because I was eating chips as I read and one became lodged in my throat and I really thought I might die but it was totally worth it because oh my God, that suit of armor was funny but the masturbating neighbor... that's classy!

bettyl said...

Great story!! I totally identify. And now I would rather live under a bridge than one wall away from strangers!

Kritta22 said...

I can't believe that you stayed there that long... you are my new hero of Montana!

Kb_Mal said...

Oh. My. God. Did your parents know about this? How did we not end up seeing your crime scene on an episode of 20/20? Holy mother! ah!

mysterg said...

I've tagged you in something over at my humble abode.

Rick Negrete said...

ooook... damn i cant wait whats coming soon...

hey by the way .. do you want some heroin tea?

Nomad said...

those pipes are the worst. i lived 5 years in nyc dreading the winter and the return of the orchestra of clanking sounds. and no amount of complaining could fix it... and this was not some cheap apartment in the bronx either. it reminded me of the furnace/fireplace that kevin had to deal with in his basement on home alone...

melissa_413 said...

Wow. I will never complain again about kittens crawling out of the walls in my apartment.

Chocolatesa said...

Sharing one bathroom with a mixed bag of ex-convicts and drug addicts? Been there. Done that. Lysol disinfectant spray became my constant companion.

Crippling niceness!! I love that phrase :D

And the banging hot-water pipes I've had to endure for a night once, so I can't imagine the torture that must have been.