To all the Rooms Ive loved before

So the other day I was flipping through one of my old boxes of letters and and pictures from years past (which reminds me that there are still some of you who owe me letters from the Great Michaelpanda Spring Letter Exchange 2007 *wink*) and I ran across some pictures of an old apartment I used to live in.

to all the rooms I've loved before

This is my current apartment… read on for old ones

This got me to thinking – I’ve lived in a lot of places over the last 10 years or so… what a great idea for a quickie blog post! Well, as it turns out, it isn’t quite so “quickie”, but it was still a lot of fun to write. It’s really interesting to see all the different places I’ve lived in before.

I apologise in advance for the poor quality of many of the pictures, as I had to scan them in from old dusty photos or else they were taken with a really crappy digital camera back in the day…

Hit the “keep reading” link below to get started….

THE DORM ROOM

to all the rooms I've loved before

Name:: The Dorm Room

Time in my life:: 08/1998 – 05/1999
Freshman year of college, natch. I was just 18, young and innocent. :)

Rent: I don’t know as it was folded into my total college expenses, but at approximately $450/month it was in the An Assload Too Much range, especially when you consider the university was making $450 EACH from BOTH my roommate and I for what was essentially a 9 foot concrete cell with no bathroom, shower or kitchen.

Description: The first – and only male – floor of a quaint sandstone dorm in a sheltered copse of trees by a lake. The walls were made entirely of solid concrete blocks (painted over with a thick beige-white glaze) and impervious to any attempts to drive nails or screws into them. However, we learned that if you use enough sticky tack, you can affix pretty much any item to a wall….

The room was basically split into two halves, each the mirror opposite of the other, with industrial strength trapezoidal desks firmly fused into the wall, looking a bit like safety furniture you might find in a prison (so you can’t break it off to use it as a weapon/kill yourself). My entry into the dorm room marked the beginning of what I refer to as my “lofted bed period”, as my roommate’s dad – a contractor by trade – built me this superb loft so I could get my bed up high and we could put lots of other stuff underneath it (shelves, the microwave/refrigerator, etc.) I rather enjoyed sleeping way up high (except for the first morning when I woke up and tried to sit up just to smack the shit out of my forehead on the very hard ceiling, which, incidentally, was made of concrete too) and would continue to do so for quite a few years after this.

to all the rooms I've loved before

Good Point: The location by the lake and surrounded by trees was absolutely gorgeous. A little bit far from the centre of campus and state street, but not so much so you couldn’t walk it easily. Was near a cluster of other dorms which made for lots of great get togethers and intense ultimate frisbee competitions on weekends. Also there were three floors of girls above us :)

Bad Point: Shared bathrooms per floor were teh sucks and also, trying to survive with nothing but a microwave allowed to cook meals was rather difficult. My roommate and his girlfriend occasionally trying to have sex when they thought I was asleep, and me desperately wishing I could god, oh please god, just fall asleep right now so I don’t have to hear this any more.

Favourite Memory: I didn’t appreciate what I had at the time, but now when I think back on it, these really were halcyonic days, and that first autumn in university was probably one of the best in my entire life. The constant buzz of enthusiastic, semi-intoxicated freshmen, the sounds of the crew team practicing their rowing in the lake outside our window every morning, my very cool roommate, gumbys pizza and beer every Friday Saturday and Sunday night, those ubiquitous dry erase message boards hanging outside everyone’s room, hanging out in the shared floor lounges… perhaps one of the best years of my youth.

Also, about 6 months into the year, one of the girls on the second floor accidentally knocked over one of those halogen lamps that were popular back in the day into her hamper of dirty laundry and started a fire, which resulted in the entire building being evacuated. The entire building, that is, except for the super weird super pale super pot smoking roommate of our next door neighbor Paul, who was this very very country southern boy from down south (Tennessee?), who was less than enthused by his pale shut-in of a roomie to begin with (Paul also wasn’t much down with the weed smoking either). See, super pale pot boy was convinced the – as a very agitated Paul told us outside whilst shivering in the cold snow as he was only dressed in what I swear to god was an honest-to-goodness union suit, for some reason – “firemen were going to break in and steal his weed.”

to all the rooms I've loved before

So this pale fella decided to STAY LOCKED IN THE ROOM WITH ALL THE LIGHTS OUT DURING THE FIRE so as to ensure that the firemen did not, in fact, “break in and steal all his weed.” Paul was so distressed because as much as he disliked this kid, he did not want to see him immolated in their shared room, but despite his desperate attempts, the kid would not leave.

Fortunately the fire was contained and in the end it was all okay – the girl’s room was saved, pale pot smoker’s stash was safely secured from roving dope fiend firemen, and Paul was relieved he did not have a crispy corpse awaiting him upon his return.

Ahh, college!

THE SUBLET

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Name: The Sublet

Time in my life:: 05/1999 – 08/1999
The summer after my first year in college.

Rent: Only $300 a month buys you a three month stretch in a *very* weird shaped room in a house filled with strangers!

Description: Located on the “other side” of the capitol (i.e. the “non-campus” side), this was a single room in a split level house (the second floor was a completely different apartment) which I shared with a bunch of strangers. The location was nice, being near a great park and lake as well as a quaint little grocery convenience store.

I lived here during the first summer of my college life, between my freshman and sophomore years which was coincidentally the poorest I have *ever* been since I first moved to America. The university totally screwed up my financial aid, I couldn’t find a job and I literally relied on the charity of strangers for food. (well, by strangers, I mean “my Japanese TA“, who kindly fed me from time to time). Curiously enough, this is why I decided to keep studying Japanese – I’ll tell you what – if teachers really want motivate their students, they should forgo the motivational speeches and stickers and reports cards n stuff and just Give. Them. Food.

That’s what happened with me, and now look – I’ve been in this darn country 5 years. *laughs*

to all the rooms I've loved before

Good Point: The coolest part of this sublet was that the room was essentially bi-level. I mean, technically I think you could say that the bed was “lofted”, but the so-called “loft” actually consumed 85% of the of the *very* irregularly shaped room (it was a weird squished asymmetrical parallelogram, which now that I think about it, is kind of a contradictory phrase). So I could live on two levels – a desk and entire habitat underneath, then a second “floor” of sorts where I slept, kept my clothes (in several taffa blocks purchased for cheap during Maxwell Street Days on State) and ate dinner. It was kind of like my very own hamster house, and I totally dug it. In fact, I wish I could have such a super cool room again.

Oh and one of my female roommates, who happened to be a dancer (like, theatrical dance, not a stripper you dirty minded people you), had this habit of falling asleep half-naked on the couch all the time after she would come home late from (dance class? mass orgies? the bars?) – I’d wake up almost every morning to be greeted by the sight of her half-draped on the couch. I got used to it (and it did make a great motivation to get out of bed in the mornings ;) ) but I never did quite figure out why she was half-naked all the time…?

Bad Point: Well, there was no air conditioner, which really sucks when you live in a tiny room and sleep in a loft (hot air, my friends, rises like a mo-fo), the house was absolutely decrepit – the kitchen floor was not only alarmingly slanted, there was also a rather large “soft spot” in the linoleum which all of us were frightened of stepping anywhere near for we harboured suspicion that it concealed a huge sinkhole where the supporting frame had rotted away and was just awaiting an errant roommate to pass near it before opening it up and swallowing them whole. The carpet was so gross and had likely seen 20 generations of hard partying students, or so it appeared. There were occasionally small bugs in the kitchen. And my roommates never really tried to wash their dishes.

Favourite Memory: Well, one of the girls who lived there had a cat that she had picked up stray from the street. This was a cute little black cat, you know, by stray standards, but unfortunately this cat suffered (or was suffering from, I was never clear which) “kitty leukemia”. What this exactly is I do not know, though it has occurred to me that it would be a good topic to Wikipedia while trying to kill time at work tomorrow, but the end result is that this poor little cat shed its fur like it was lamb in a clipper factory. (I realise this simile could have used some work). I mean, you just touched the little guy and huge clumps of fur came off in your hands.

What this meant for me, however, was a little more personal because you see, mistar leukemia kittah liked to sleep in my underwear basket (I did not have an underwear drawer at the time) – I still remember the first day when I awoke, groggy and late for class (ahh, nothing like calculus at 7:30 am in the middle of summer vacation), blearly grab a pair of underwear from the basket, go to slip it on, and then WHAT THE HELL….!!!! – almost fall out of my loft because I suddenly have something very warm, very fluffy, very cat-fur-like-in-sensation jammed up a very private part of my body.

LOL from that day forward, I know carefully check my underwear for errant bits of cat fur, etc. before putting them on. Good advice for the future, people.

GHETTOTABULOUS

to all the rooms I've loved before

The date stamp on this photo is wrong, I just noticed.

Name:: Ghettotabulous

Rent: $250 or so a month?
But that doesn’t include the emotional damage to my soul.

Time in my life:: 09/1999-08/2000
The second year of college. I just wanted to live somewhere that was not a dorm. Perhaps I should have exercised more patience before jumping at this place.

Description: Okay, so not exactly in the ghetto, but it was not really a particularly nice place. Located on the ass end of campus, this little poopy place lacked a real kitchen or living room, plus the hallways leading up to our apartment were dank, had strange smelly stains on the carpets and kind of leaned towards the right. Also, someone stole my desk the very day I moved in. This place was ghetto. I did not enjoy living here at all.

Good Point: Not much. My room was pretty large though. That was all, I guess.

Bad Point: Uhh, the view outside my window was this rusting metal fence encased garden of jagged broken concrete rocks (seriously folks, what look were ya’ll going for there? foreboding prison courtyard?), my neighbors were strange, the office manager lady never wore a bra but desperately needed to, especially given her favouring of the corny shiny silk blouses that were briefly popular during the 90s, and also she looked at me strangely every time I went into pay our rent and made me feel uncomfortable. The kitchen was a crappy little afterthought, the floor was tilted, and we had this couch we picked up from the street corner that we thought would be cool and “hipster” cuz we had “reclaimed it”, but actually was “filled with bugs” “smelled of urine” and “made us itch every time we sat on its nasty, stained and ripped surface”.

Favourite Memory: This was where I lived during the infamous Lindsay the Telemarketer saga.

THE GOOD HOUSE

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Name:: The Good House

Time in my life:: 09/2000-06/2001
My third year of college, right before I went to Japan.

Description: I loved this place. It was a three story apartment in a complex, all very cute, very quaint and very new. I lived with 4 other guys (including my roommate from the dorm room our first year) and it really was an amazing time, perhaps one of the best years of my life. The house was brand new, and made of brick, surrounding this grassy central courtyard. The kitchen was wonderful and had a half bar connecting it to the living room (on the first floor) the second floor had a bathroom and two bedrooms, and the third floor had this great slanted roof, another bedroom and a bathroom. The walls were clean and unmarred, the rugs unstained, the furniture comfy and new. I loved the windows in this house, they just looked out and out onto a well maintained apartment complex. The cost of this housing (well over a $1000 USD a month for one apartment) meant that the people who lived there tended to be a little more careful about its upkeep.

Rent: $350 or more a month (per person of course, and there were 6 of us). Plus like $75 for parking. It was expensive.

Good Point: Everything was new, the layout was really nice, for once I didn’t live in fear of strange stains on carpets, sinkholes in the kitchen or rotting wooden frames. My roommates were awesome, the location was great (great noodle restaurant just around the corner!) And the fact that this coincided with my best year in college probably didn’t hurt either. In short, this was a great house.

Bad Point: It was expensive. Also, the landlords, a big real estate agency, were complete assholes. Oh well.

to all the rooms I've loved before

Favourite Memory: Mistar Hanging panda. :) Drunken boxing in the courtyard. A stressfree, happy existence. Laying in my lofted bed and looking down out the window at the world below, and the skies above. Ahh, youth. Laying on the couches looking out the brand new windows and the clean and well kept rich red brick houses surrounding our grassy court yard. Whole-house wide Counterstrike and Quake deathmatches :) That time I came home incredibly intoxicated after 21 shots for my 21st birthday and blacked out, only to wake up the next morning surrounded by a half dozen empty hot pocket wrappers and Erin Brokovich playing on the TV feeling very, very dirty.

THE GAIJIN HOUSE

to all the rooms I've loved before

I actually think this time stamp is correct – I remember taking a picture out the window on 9/11, though of course since Japan is a day ahead of America, the 9/11 attacks hadn’t happened yet. I remember being totally bored that day too, and having nothing to do.

Name:: The Gaijin House

Time in my life: 06/2001-12/2001
My first visit to Japan, between my third and fourth year of college. Ostensibly when I came to “study” Japanese, though I gave up on that plan about 2 weeks in and just partied and hung out with my girlfriend every day. Ahh, the idiocy of youth.

Rent: Oh dear christ. It was something like $900 a month, plus utilities. It was insane. Insane…!

Description:: A tiny windowless, phoneless, furnitureless dank concrete room on the second floor of a decrepit gaijin house (house for foreigners/young Japanese who can’t afford the key monies usually associated with renting apartments in Japan) in the middle of Tokyo. Oh, and my door didn’t have a lock. In short, it was like my dorm room back my first year of university, only it was half the size and cost me $900 a month. ahem.

Good Point: It was in the middle of Tokyo. I met some cool people. I lived closed to my girlfriend’s dorm (which was run by nuns and I swear to christ, had a security booth by the entrance and barbed wire like stuff on the top of the fence to keep out boys, who the nuns once famously referred to as “predatory wolves”). I also met the lovely and illustrious Kazumi there, with whom I just actually went to Disneysea with the other day (future post, perhaps). And Marty as well.

Bad Point: It was ridiculously expensive. There was no lock on my door or any windows so I would suffocate if I closed the door completely to sleep. The woman across the hall was mentally unstable. The shower was barely bigger than my body and costs something like 100 yen/3 minutes.

Favourite Memory: Too many to count. Though I wish I could go back with the maturity I have now and make more of that rare and precious opportunity I was given, but squandered, back in the day. I remember my first time ever in Japan, when everything was fresh and new and even though it was the horrible humid dead middle of summer when I deplaned, I never felt more enthusiasm for a place than I did that very second, that very first walk out of the station, up Kagarazuka-dori, my first meal at Ootoya, my very first trip to a convenience store (AM/PM at 3am in the morning) to buy a rice ball, riding the train, everything. Whenever Japan destroys my soul, as it does so often these days, I close my eyes and try and conjure up that emotive welling and enthusiasm I had for living here that I felt in those 6 short months so many years ago. Also, I remember Marty patronising the local Ethiopian bar so much that when he left to go back to America, they gave him a special T-shirt in his honour.

THE LOONEY BIN

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Name:: The Looney Bin

Time in my life: 12/2001-06/2003.
My last year and a half of college. I arrived back in the states after 6 amazing months in Japan in the dead middle of winter, December 30th, with a rapidly darkening sky, all my possessions tossed in the back of my dad’s truck and about 30 minutes to get to the library and find a sublet on the message board before they closed for the new years. I called these guys, and amazingly, they were like “yeah, move on in whenever!” After the sublet finished up, I ended up staying for another year.

Rent: $320 or so per month. A fair price, I guess.

Description: I’ll describe the house itself during the “bad points” below, but my room itself was located on the second floor of this old ratty house. The floor slanted horribly and threatened to collapse at any second, but it was this beautiful old hardwood. The walls had thick layers of white paint upon white paint, obscuring sharp corners and concealing dents in walls from times immemorial. Everything was old, old, old and my door locked with this old fashioned skeleton key which I loved. And having just gotten back from Japan I did my room up completely in low furniture like the apartment I stayed in Tokyo, and decorated the entire thing in fantabulous Ikea furniture (oh how I do love Ikea) – an entire room’s worth of awesome good looking furniture for only $120!!! I loved that room…

Good Point: It was relatively close to the centre of campus and my workplaces, but far out enough that I didn’t have to worry about noise from party hungry young un’s. And there were so many gorgeous trees in that quiet area… I didn’t know how lucky I was until I moved to the middle of the concrete jungle here in Japan. So beautiful, those tree, sunlight dappling through and filtering into my windows to wake me gently in the morning.

Bad Point: Well, that rotting old house had the world’s scariest ass basement, to begin with. I never knew if I was going to get raped, bitten by a venomous spider, or catch some sort of mold-related disease every time I had to go down there, which unfortunately, was often as that was were the washing machine was. Also, while most of the places I had lived up until now had some pretty shady construction going on, this place was seriously about 5 seconds away from complete structural failure. My room was on the second floor and the floor slanted so severely that I had to get rid of my rolling office chair because the second I let go of the desk I would roll away to the other side of the room from gravity alone.

However, the absolute worst part of this house had to be the crazy drug-addled roommate that someone – not me – decided to invite to live with us for the last year. I can say no more on this subject, but instead refer you to this post. Good god I was happy to get the hell out of there.

One of the non-crazy guys I lived with put it this way to me in an e-mail after we all left that dump: “sometimes in life you just have to grit your teeth and bite the bullet. But holy shit did that house have nothing but bullets”. Amen to that.

Favourite Memory: Lazy panda weekends spent laying in bed. A good job, the knowledge that I was going to graduate college successfully. Weekends at the Terrace or on State Street. Swetha driving straight into a fence. None of which have anything to do with the house itself. Oh, although there was that one time that Captain’s (the roommates all had ridiculous nicknames, though Captain was an ass who thought he was king shit because he worked at Walgreen’s distribution center, i.e. what he considered “a real job” and the rest of us considered a “glorified stockboy”. My favourite was the rail thin pale white gay guy with a goatee who called himself “G-Money”. heee!) so-called “friends” got heavily intoxicated, drove their car onto our lawn, then proceeded to stomp outside and kick in his door…! while he was in a state of, erm… well, while he was indisposed. I’d never before in my life seen a naked angry man chasing two drunk frat boys outside a house and throwing bottles at them from a front porch and I hope to god I never do again.

LINOLEUMLAND

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Name: Linoleumland

Time in my life: 06/2003-06/2006
The first three years in Japan after I graduated university.

Rent: a ridiculous $600USD (well, yen equivalent) a month, plus $120 extra for a crappy ass parking spot. Jesus god and christ all mighty. Add to that the non-refundable “deposit”, realtor “gift money” and “key money” which added up to about $2000 up front (did I mention it was all non-refundable?) to the costs. Gotta love the Japanese realty system.

Description: This place was hell.

Good Point: Ummm… (I’m thinking hard here guys) Uhh, I suppose it was quite close the centre of town, so I could party till late(not that I really did that anymore by this point in my life) and still be back to my own bed after a 10 minute walk.

Bad Point: Oh dear god let me count the ways. I shall forgo the traditional paragraph-ic blurb and instead resort to a numbered list.

Uhh, the rent?
I paid an exorbirant amount of money – highway robbery, really – for an incredibly shitty dump of an apartment. Matchamonkey lives in the middle of New York and she pays roughly as much as I did for that place. When I lived in the middle of Tokyo I paid barely a smidgen over that, but you know, that was the middle of Tokyo…!
The linoleum.
You remember that puke shade of avocado green that was briefly popular during the 70s for kitchen appliances? Well my so called “living room” and “kitchen” (more about this in a minute) was that shade of linoleum. Oh and it had this awesome (by which I mean anything but) “faux wood” pattern half heartedly emblazoned on it. It always felt like walking on rubbery slime. It was cold and sticky in the winter. Hot and sticky in the summer. Tepid and sticky in the spring and autumn. It pained the eye to see. It gouged if you so much as looked at it wrong. I put a hamster down on it (the ones that ate each other) once and the poor beast ran around in a state of abject rodential terror until I picked it back up and put it in its cage where it huddled in the corner of a paper towel tube and shook and licked its paws frantically as if trying to forget it ever touched that evil substance. It was as if someone told a blind Japanese person to design the worst possible flooring substance in the world and they flung themselves into it with whole hearted abandon. May heaven have mercy on my soul, I fucking hated that floor.
The kitchen (or lack there of).
It was this dark, dank cellar like depressing ugly seafoam green and puke blue tile with no ventilation, no windows and no counter space. It had two rusty old burners that would periodically flare up and threaten to burn my face off. It was a depressing place to be, incredibly hot in the summer and freezing cold in the winter. I hated cooking. It made me want to die whenever I had to enter that place. Oh and the linoleum there was horrible too.
The people.
This house was really close to the downtown red light district (which is ironically why it was so goddamn expensive). This being the case, however, it attracted a lot of people involved in “night work” (i.e. hosts and hostesses) which means they weren’t exactly the most conscientious of folks. They’d come home drunk and loud at 4am, puke on the stairs, piss in the elevator and generally cause a ruckus. Oh and they never sorted their garbage, which you’re supposed to do in Japan. What’s awesome is that the landlord assumed that because I was the foreigner it must have been me who threw out the unsorted unburnables with the burnable garbage. Nice. *sigh* Oh, and I had a crazy old lady who lived on my floor who would periodically trigger the emergency alarm and make me have to turn it off.

to all the rooms I've loved before

Favourite Memory: Well, I don’t know if this qualifies as a “favourite memory” or not, but I think I’ll tell you about what happened when I moved out of this dump. As mentioned above, when I first moved in, I had to pay about $2000 USD in deposits, key money and so forth. Normally you would expect most of this money to be refunded to you, especially if you left the place in pristine condition (as I usually do when I move out). However, in Japan you rarely see any of the money you pay upfront refunded to you. The key money and realtor gifts are gone forever and only if you’re extremely lucky will the landlord even consider giving you a small portion of your deposit back (they usually keep it under the auspices of “we’ll change the tatami (reed mat flooring) for the next person”, who of course, will move right into the apartment with the same ratty tatami you had left for your).

In my case, as is to be expected with this dump (did I mention the landlords were absolute assholes?), I was not to be “extremely lucky”. I found about a year into it that I would not get any of my money back at all, no matter how clean I left the place. Needless to say, this made me rather upset. So upset, in fact, that the next cold, frozen winter, tired of freezing every time I set bare foot on the inhospitable wood floor in my bedroom, I went out and bought a carpet to put over it. And then, when the carpet kept sliding around on the floor everytime I walked on it, I grabbed a hammer and proceeded to drive 8 U-nails into the carpet to keep it from moving around. Like, into the floor.

Is this snotty and immature? You bet. Normally this is something I would normally never would have done, but I figured that if they were going to keep my $2000 as a deposit, that they – and I – might as well get our money’s worth. Spiteful? Yes. Oh wells. As long time readers of the blog may know, I can be quite spiteful when I feel I’ve been wronged…

I began to regret this decision about a year later, when it came time to move out. See, when I nailed my carpet into the floor, I was possessed by a jealous, vindictive spirit. When I started cleaning the place to move out, it occurred to me that in the event that the entire floor would have to be replaced, it might end up costing me significantly more than the $2000 I gave these fools. And while there was no way the entire floor would need to be replaced just for a few small holes, the landlords were mean bastard nuggets, which means they might easily try to leverage this for a new floor. *gulp*

So I cleaned the hell out of my apartment when it came time to move out. I’m talking, the chrome was sparkling, the floors shiny, the porcelain toilet so clean you could eat out of it, the walls so white you needed shades to stare at them directly. I even took down the screens from all the windows and scrubbed them to sparkly perfection.

I also devoted a great deal of time to trying to figure out how to conceal 16 perfectly spaced small nail holes (2 holes per U-nail) in my now-bare hardwood floor. First, of course, I carefully took out the nails. Then I carefully attempted to steam the wood with an iron in order to swell the holes shut a little. That, incidentally, doesn’t really work.

Then I took some industrial wood working putty and I filled the holes almost full with it. After it hardened a bit, I then carefully filled the remainder with these brown wax crayons that they sold at the hardware store for concealing (oddly enough) nail holes (in furniture though). To finish it off, I resteamed and heated everything with an iron to make it swell and blend together nicely.

All in all, it was a pretty professional attempt at concealing a bunch of nail holes in a hardwood floor, but let’s face it, if you looked even somewhat closely, it was fairly obvious some mischief had gone on there.

So when the day of my blessed departure from this overprice dump finally arrived, I met my co-worker at the apartment (who was present at the insistence of the realtor who were apparently afraid they might not be able to communicate with me or something, despite the fact that I had done all the complicated paperwork up until this point by myself.) to wait for the realtor representatives. The first thing he said upon entering the apartment was “oh my god, this place is so clean I can’t believe it! It looks like a showroom.”

So we wait, and wait, and wait, and finally, 30 minutes later (and 25 minutes late, I might add) these women show up dressed to the nines and wearing some strappy, rather-impractical-for-realty-work-I-would-think black heels which took them about 3 minutes to take off at the door. I swallow nervously and wait for them to take one look at my hardwood floor and pronounce a very expensive doom for me.

The first woman tries to flick on the lights, which of course, don’t come on. The two exchange very serious glances.

“The lights are broken” she intones with a grave voice such as one might use when pronouncing that we are trapped in a spaceship and only have 20 minutes left of air.

“Well I turned off the breaker.” I reply, because you know, that’s a rather sensible thing to do when you’re vacating a premises.

“You must turn it back on. We need to check to see if the lights work.”

“Uhh… okay.” I flip the breaker back on while simultaneously wondering what the hell it matters whether the lights work….!?

Gentle readers following along might note the following:

  1. even if the lights didn’t work, you can just you know, buy a new lightbulb. Is that coming out of my deposit too?
  2. is it really that likely that the lights in the apartment don’t work given that this is my freaking house…!? What, does she think I’ve been roughing it Abe Lincoln style without lights and naught but a candle for illumination for the past three years?
  3. finally, how the hell does she think I might manage to break a light…? I mean, not a light bulb but a light…? Does she think I routinely swing a baseball bat around with reckless abandon whilst standing in my living room? A quick visual check can ensure you that the fixtures are very much intact, which means that if the lights were broken, that would be electrical, i.e. my realtor’s problem, not mine.

Anyway, I digress.

After I flip the breaker back on, the two of them fan out and proceed to switch on every single light in the house to see if they work. I am nervous when they enter my bedroom with the hammered floor, but they don’t even glance at it as they click the light switch.

“Hmm.. Lights seem okay.”

My co-worker shoots me a relieved glance. My perplexion only grows at this bizarre concern for the lighting situation in my house to the apparent exclusion of more serious realty concerns.

“Does the water work?”

“Excuse me?”

Woman number two repeats the question, this time directed at my co-worker, with a wave to indicate that he is to translate it for me. I interrupt.

“I understood the question, just not why you asked it. Yes, the water works.”

I refrain from pointing again that a)water is one of those things that if it didn’t work, I’m pretty sure you would have heard about it from me a long time ago since I tend to use it, you know, every day, and b)that if it didn’t work again, that’s not really my problem, but my realtors and/or the water company’s.

The two fan out again, this time, turning on every faucet, showerhead, toilet and washing machine spigot in my house. Needless to say, water comes out.

“Hmm. Water is okay.”

My co-worker gives me another relieved look. I cannot help but wonder what it is that they were expecting when they showed up at my apartment. Me huddled in the dark without any running water, lights or electricity? I’m a foreigner people, not a caveman.

Anyway, after a bit more fiddling, the two go in the corner to confer. They don’t spare the bedroom floor more than a half-second glance, instead concerned more with a small tear in the paper screen of my sliding door which I hadn’t had a chance to fix completely.

“Well…. we think the house will be okay. Except for this small tear in the paper door. This will need to be fixed.”

“Umm… okay.”

“It will cost money.”

For those of you who don’t live in Japan, let me explain that having small tears and holes in the paper sliding shoji doors is not at all uncommmon. In fact, one might say it’s part and parcel of the whole “paper door” experience, which is perhaps why we don’t make doors out of paper in America. Anyway, it’s really easy to fix, just go to the store and buy a piece of replacement paper and slide in the frame. It costs like $5 USD, not exactly an earth shattering amount.

“Umm… okay.”

“We think….” – here’s that grave voice again, only this time accompanied by an equally grave pause – “that your deposit should cover it.”

In my mind: “Really? You think $2000 should cover it?”

Out loud: “I am very relieved to hear that, and apologise for any trouble the hole in my paper door might have caused you.”

And with that, I handed them my key, and I was done. Of the 15 minutes the whole procedure took, the breakdown was as follows:

Time spent…

  • Taking off high heels: 3 minutes.
  • Checking if the lights work: 3 minutes.
  • Checking if the water works: 3 minutes.
  • Curiously poking small hole in door paper: 2 minutes.
  • Walking briefly around apartment, stopping to flick light switch again for good measure: 1 minute.
  • Conferring with each other about if $2000 is enough to cover a hole in a piece of paper: 2 minutes.
  • Glancing at the hardwood floor I had hammered nails into: 5 seconds.

I don’t know why, but I got such a kick out of the fact that they would have spent so much time on inconsequential details that have nothing to do with anything and aren’t even my responsibility to fix whilst completely ignoring the giganto huge fact that there were nail holes in my hardwood floor (albeit semi-fixed ones). I find that this so perfectly encapsulates Japan, I chuckled about it the entire plane ride back home.

Oh and also, this is the scene of the Panda vs. Bastardly Old Man Bumper Saga (part I, part II, part III, and part IV, my stinky revenge).

PUBLIC HOUSING

to all the rooms I've loved before

Name: Public Housing

Time in my life: 08/2006 – present
I.e. ever since I moved down near Tokyo.

Rent: $300 a month but minus $200 subsidy equals an amazing $100 a month.
As a “sort of” government employee I am fortune enough to qualify for this special kind of public housing that Japan built back in the day to house public employees for a really low fee. Hooray for pork barrel subsidies! :)

Description: Perhaps the Jesus Of Pandas felt bad for subjecting his loyal fan base (me) to the overprice crap pile that was Linoleum land for three years, so he decided to make up to me with this gorgeous little gem of a place. Now while the name might make you think I made one of those “out of the frying pan, into the fire” type of moves, this is actually not the case. Just to see how many cliches I can work into one paragraph, this place really goes to show you can’t “judge a book by its cover” because it is amazing. The outside is decrepit looking with old stained off colour concrete and yellowing brick with slight rust stains from water run off, but the inside is great. First of, the place is huge. Made to house a (small) family, it is significantly larger than I need – a huge living room and a huge bedroom are more than sufficient for all my needs (I actually had nothing left over to put in the “living room” after I filled up my bedroom so for now it just acts as the guest room). Both of these rooms have wonderful, freshly changed tatami (woven rush reed) mat flooring which are gorgeous during the day and comforting at night. The kitchen is huge and has its own veranda, and a dining room is attached which is large enough for several people. And counter space! Oh I loves my glorious glorious counter space. There are places for all my appliances and for cooking – two windows and an opening door (to the veranda) ensure that cross breezes make the kitchen a happy and comforting place to be in most seasons, and it makes me want to cook. I have another veranda with sliding patio doors on the other side of the house which lets cross breezes run through the whole apartment, and the corner location of my apartment ensures I get a bonus extra window in my bedroom. The bathtub/shower room is also great – that is, when I’m not almost murdering myself in it by mistake – with little shelves everywhere for my shampoos and soaps and stuff. There’s a window in there too so I can flash the neighbors or something, I suppose.

The toilet is heated, always a bonus, and the sink/washing machine (in my own apartment! hoorays! no more scary ass basements for me…) area is well laid out as well. Add to this a central area (genkan) and plenty of shoe storage and closets, perfect for the fashionable panda on the go (errr…) and you have a recipe for awesomeness. I love this place. Love it love it love it.

Good Point: There’s so much to love, but I’m gonna go with the tatami flooring the most. The smell is amazing, so fresh and invigorating. When sun shines through the window and gently warms the flooring, you just want to curl up right on it and nap for the next 8 hours. I don’t know why we don’t have tatami mat flooring in America – it is the most amazing flooring surface ever. Gorgeous to look at like hardwood, incredibly easy to walk barefoot on like a comfy carpet, but doesn’t hold in dirt like a shaggy rug – just vacuum it once and its clean. Speaking of clean, unlike regular floors, you never feel like tatami mats are “dirty” – important, I guess, in a country that sits and sleeps on the floor. I love being on the floor – this marks the definitive end of my “lofted sleep” period – I will never sleep on anything but a futon on a tatami mat again. It’s like the floor is part of the bed, and you can just roll from one to the other with impunity. I love sitting on the floor too, with all the low furniture – it’s just so comfortable and clean…

to all the rooms I've loved before

Also, the kitchen is awesome too. It’s like the ideal kitchen Yoshimoto Banana writes about in her book.

Bad Point:
Well, there’s not much but if I had to think of something, it’d be the fact that the building itself is kinda old. So the outside doesn’t look that glorious, and sometimes bugs can get in (cuz of small holes in the screen or tiny cracks somewhere, I suppose). One thing about Linoleumland – that place was sealed up tighter than a drum – I lived there three years and I never once saw so much as a mosquito in my place.

Conversely, in the very first week I spent in Public Housing, I was nearly attacked by a gigantic – and I mean gigantic…! millipede and have just spent the last summer fighting off cockroaches, millipedes and other assorted creepy crawlies. So that kind of sucked. But for the rest of the house’s awesomeness, I’d say it’s a fair trade off, especially at $100 a month.

Favourite Memory: I’ll let you know after I finish living here, because for now, they’re still being made ;)

POSTSCRIPT

And there you have it folks. All the various and sundry places I have lived in over the past 8 years. Thanks for taking the time to read and I apologise for the crappy quality of the photos again. Also, I have no idea how this post got to be 17 pages in length (well or so says Microsoft Word), when I started it I was like “oh this will be a quick little space filler until I have enough time to devote to Part III of the great Tohoku Road Trip 2007. Ahh well. The best laid plans of mice and pandas, I suppose.

If you’ve got some stories about some horrible (or great) places you’ve lived in the past, I’d love to hear them! You know, if you feel like killing some time at work. :) Feel free to e-mail me (my address is over there to the right) and I promise I’ll mail you back. Consider it a “lite” version of the (recently completed) 2007 Spring Letter Writing Campaign, if you will.

Okay enough rambling. Off to go sleep!

Now watching: “Saekjeuk shigong (색즉시공) aka ‘Sex is Zero‘”

Okay so this movie wasn’t really as funny as everyone said it was, and the entire ridiculously melodramatic third act had me wincing throughout it. But it had its chuckle-inspiring moments, not to mention a few scenes of the gorgeous Jin Jae-yeong. *wistful sigh*

Now if you’ll excuse me, I’m off to go study Korean so I can sweep her off her feet the next I err… run into her.

60 Reactions

  1. mcelroy

    First yogHurt and now favoUrite?
    Right now I’m looking at little red lines under those words, which we all know means they are spelled wrong! Hot damn, have you forgotten that you’re American!

  2. Marty

    Ok, you just sealed it for me. I was planning on going back in the spring and now I HAVE TO go back in the spring. ( I wonder if the Heavy Foot is still there. I can taste that Russian Vodka now :-)

  3. monique

    was that sandra bullock on the wall, in one of your many room photos? where is my letter, punk! xo.

  4. andrew

    wow the gaijinhouse was only $900 per month. I think you got lucky. My company and I searched for a reasonable place when I first got here and cheapest places we could find were between $1300-1800 a month.
    I had to live in freshman dorm my first year at the University of Montana. 8/2001-6/2002 (I was 38 at the time) I think the whole thing was a hose job, but room was about $650 per month and meal plan was extra.
    hope you are well

  5. Pia

    Your new place looks so serene. You MUST post more photos.
    And your college dorm room looks just as cluttered as mine! Actually, my current studio isn’t so different. Okay, I am going to clean today.

  6. momolo

    i have no sense of interior decoration, so all my rooms look like hell holes.
    i like what you did with the bedroom partition in your new place. the curtains are cool!
    so are you going to grad school? will you stay in that apartment?

  7. coolnahalf

    dude. just an all-around great read.
    i read every word of this post. it makes me think back on my “firsts” in japan…
    a bunch of my friends have been visiting. thus the lack in posts and comments.

  8. Natieus_maximus

    Holy molies, 900 a month? My gaijin house cost 350 a month. The room was small, but I didn’t mind… and I got laundry machines, a balcony, and air conditioning! :)

  9. gidgetbananas

    Dude! Your bad photos are better than my good ones. Great stories. I’ve lived in a couple of hell-holes, too, but I’ve forced myself to forget the details.

  10. momo

    by the way, sex is zero is really a HUGE waste of my time…i can’t believe i watched it!

  11. Johnny

    Excellent and interesting topic for a post. If only I took photos of all the places I’ve lived in the last 10 years. Since 1998, I’ve moved to a new place every year. I think I finally found a cheap place that I can live with for maybe a couple of years before moving. Is so, this might be my first year I do not move.
    Though, given that I’ve had the police knock on my door and ask if I was “Daniel” twice now, whom I guess is my perpetually disturbed and drunk neighbor “Dan”. The fact that I’ve seen dumpster bonfires and stolen car fliers doesn’t help. Oh, and the house has sunk on one side, which makes water hard to drain from the shower.
    hehe, maybe I should move again. =)

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