old and broken down in the ass end of nowhere.

 

Cedar Wright Gardens

Our Apartment Complex

That’s the first thing that came up in a Google search of  the apartment complex where we lived.  On the website Apartmentratings.com, a website where people can rate different apartment complexes, the complex has received a total of 208 opinions, with an average rating of 1.4 on a scale of 1-5.  Some of the editorial comments that go with the ratings include “Disgusting Odor,” “Rats in the attic,” “Pure Hell on Earth,” “Homelessness is better,” “Ready to vomit in my own living room,” and “It’s not nice when someone is stabbed 30 times before your children’s eyes.”

Ah.  There’s no place like home.

I could tell you stories about this place that would curl your hair.  And I will.

Each building in the complex consisted of four units (two up, two down). The road, Marion Pepe Drive (locally called Circle Drive) was a large circle, with individual buildings arranged on either side of the road, with a few courtyards in front and parking lots in back.  It was the kind of place where you could smell everybody’s dinner, right through the walls.  If someone was making something with curry, or sausage, or onion, you just had to deal with it. There were no laundry facilities in the complex – it was just apartments.  And crazy, crazy tenants.

The day we moved in, there was half a lasagna on the front lawn.  That came from the family on the lower right unit (Apartment C) in our building.  They had a dog named Fluffy.  Fluffy was – no exaggeration – a tiny little maltese or something similar, who so needed to be put out of its misery that I can’t properly describe it.  First of all, Fluffy was anything but fluffy – it hardly had any hair.  It was stringy and thin, with patches missing all over and red skin underneath.  It’s stomach was swollen to the point where it literally dragged on the ground, and since it had free run outside and the neighborhood was mostly pavement, it had bloody sores underneath its belly.  It had something wrong with its ears, and so it often had a plastic cone on its head.  It didn’t bark so much as emit a hoarse-sounding howl.  And it had fleas.  The family in Apartment C would save up all its leftover food during the day, and then at the end of the day, throw it outside on the front lawn.  That became Fluffy’s dinner.

Really.

Living in the apartment with fluffy was an older man and woman (perhaps in their mid-60s), a middle-aged son, and a revolving cast of other family members.  One day, after we had lived in the apartment for a month or two, I was outside having a smoke when the older man opened the door and came outside without a shirt on – remember, we moved there in the winter – looked at me, and said “What the hell is your name, anyway?”

I looked at him and said “Al.”

He said “Oh!  My name is Al, too!”

Except his name was most definitely not Al.  I can’t recall what it was anymore, but it wasn’t Al.  It was some other Italian first name, like Tony or Mike or something like that.  In three years of living in this apartment, nobody called him Al but me.

In Apartment D (upstairs, adjacent to ours) there was a young Polish couple who spoke no English and blasted polka music – I mean blasted it – on the weekends.  

In Apartment A, downstairs from us, where at least three college-aged girls.  They were very sexually active, and very loud about it, and their bedroom was immediately underneath ours.  We would hear them having a party and then afterward the real party would begin.  

Eventually they moved out and were replaced by a man in his 30s and his wife (or girlfriend).  We were thrilled that the college girls were gone, until the man and his wife turned out to be even louder and freakier in the bedroom.  One night we were actually frightened because we couldn’t tell if the girl was screaming and crying or moaning.  We lay there in our beds for, like, an eternity, while she made this pitiful noise, in what seemed to be a different language.  Eventually we decided she was moaning.  Then the sun came up.

In the building adjacent to ours, we could hear conversations in the apartment that butted up against our bedroom.  Very pleasant voices, talking and talking.  Once in a while when we were making a little too much noise, there would be a knock on the wall, and we’d quiet down.  

One day there was a knock at our door, and when I opened it, there was a short (perhaps five feet tall) woman in her mid-30s standing on the stoop.  She had a videocassette in her hand.  “Hi!  I’m Gail, your next-door neighbor.”

I shook her hand.  “Hi, Gail.  Great to meet you.  Were we making too much noise?”

“No, not at all.  I was just wondering if you had a VCR I could borrow.”

Borrow a VCR?  That seemed sort of strange.  “I have a VCR, but I can’t loan it to you,” I said.

“No, I don’t need you to loan it to me, I could just sit and watch in your living room.  It’s only 20 minutes.  It’s a videotape of Andy that my sister sent me from Florida.”

I’m thinking Who the fuck is Andy?  But I said “Okay, sure.  Come on in.”  I figured I’d find out who Andy was soon enough, because she would be in my house watching a videotape of him on my television with my VCR.

She came upstairs and I turned on the television, popped in her tape, and settled in to watch Andy.

Andy was Hurricane Andrew, which made landfall in Florida in August of 1992 and caused a ton of damage.  Her sister, who lived in Florida, had made a videotape of some of the damage.  Gail called the hurricane “Andy.”  Why Gail was on a more familiar basis with Andy than we were, I’ll never understand, but she evidently knew him well enough to call him by his nickname, a name I thought only the other hurricanes and maybe some typhoons were allowed to call him.  

A couple of weeks later I was outside and she leaned out the window.  “Hi Al!  Why don’t you come up and meet Toby?” she asked.

Ah.  I could hear her conversations next door, but had never actually seen the person she lived with.  This had got to be a trip.  I told her I’d be there in a minute, and then I ran and got Sandy for the big Unveiling of Toby.

We walked into her apartment and up the stairs.  At the top of the stairs, on the wall, was an oversized poster of Barry Manilow.  I’d never known you could even buy a Barry Manilow poster in 1992, but you learn something every day.  Walking into her living room was like walking into the Museum of Hummels and Other Porcelain Trinkets – there were shelves of tiny statuettes everywhere, adorning every surface.  I figured if she started dusting on Saturday afternoon, she’d be done in the living room by Wednesday.

On one wall in the living room was a giant photograph of a collie dog – perhaps three feet wide by five feet long, in a frame.  It was enormous.

On the opposite wall, exactly across from the photograph, was a giant painting of the photograph – the exact same size, in the exact same frame.  It was like the dog in the painting was looking into a canine A-Ha video, or some twisted alternate reality where everything had a cartoon mirror image.  Gail explained that the dog was her dog that died; she loved him so much that she had a poster made out of the picture, and a painting as well, and she hung them both.  As if that were completely normal.

“Come into the bedroom and meet Toby,” she said.  Ah, he was in the bedroom.  Toby was some sort of invalid, I assumed at this point.  So I walked into the bedroom, with Sandy behind me. I braced myself to meet Toby, who, for all I knew, might be terminally ill, who might be grossly arthritic and combined to bed, who might be a monster chained to the bed.

There was nobody in the bedroom.

“There he is!” she squealed.  She was pointing to a birdcage.

Toby was a bird.  All the conversations I’d been hearing for all these months was Gail, talking to herself.  Toby was a bird, and he was no bigger than my thumb.  In the cage with him were two plastic birds, both of which were bigger than the real bird.  “That’s Toby,” she said, “And that’s Yellow Bird, and that’s Blue Bird.”

I got the hell out of there right quick.

Another time, she came over to complain because our alarm clock would ring for a half hour in the morning.  At the time, I was working shifts and waking up early each day, and I simply do not hear alarm clocks when they ring – I need a human being to wake me up.  Gail was livid – she was a librarian, and my alarm clock would wake her up through the bedroom wall.

I looked her in the eye, and I said, in all sincerity, this:

“Oh, Gail, I’m so sorry.  I should have told you – I have a sleep disorder that basically makes me go deaf when I’m sleeping.  I physically cannot hear anything while I’m asleep.  I need a human being to wake me, and sometimes when the alarm goes off in the morning, Sandy is in the shower or taking a jog or something.  I’d love to tell you I’ll stop, but I can’t.”

She burst into tears and apologized for being so insensitive.  Then she left.

Across the street from us was a man who may have weighed 500 pounds.  He was absolutely stunning in his enormity.  He spent the entire day outside, every day.  With his cat.  That he kept on a leash, tied to a tree.  Have you ever seen a cat on a leash, ever, in your life?

Next door to him was a man who one day was arrested and imprisoned for making terrorist threats to the State.

There was another man who walked around the block all day.  All day.  When I woke up in the morning and left for work, he was walking.  When I got home at the end of the day – still walking.  One winter morning I woke up and had to scrape the frost off my windshield.  As I was doing this, the Walker Guy came around the circle and walked past me.  He stopped and stared as I scraped the frost.

“Wow,” he said.  “That looks just like snow.”

I looked at him and smiled.  “Yeah, it does.”

“I can’t believe it,” he said “It looks just like snoooowww.”

I smiled again.

“Just like snow.”

He stood there, looking at me.  “Yep,” I said.  “Just like snow.”

There were dangerous dudes, too.  In the back of the complex were a series of adjacent parking lots and dumpsters; there seemed to always be some dirtbags lurking back there.  I never felt comfortable letting Sandy go there alone, and I actually hated working the late shift because it was such a scary place in the night.  Since Sandy liked to jog, I finally decided it was time to get a dog.

We went to the shelter and adopted a puppy – a Black Lab/German Shepherd mix.  Our friend Amy Longenecker from college suggested that we name her after my favorite after dinner drink: Sambuca.  And so we did.  

The night we brought Buca home, we had designs of gating her into the kitchen.  But as soon as we left her alone, she started yelping and howling, which wasn’t fair to the people around us.  So I grabbed a pillow and went in there and laid on the floor with her.  In the middle of the night, she got up and pissed on the floor, and then I rolled in the piss and woke up.  I wound up staying up for most of the night with her, and missing work the nest day.  

But we had a dog, and she was going to grow up and become a big, black, scary dog.  I got her a studded heavy metal collar to put around her neck, figuring when she was bigger, she’d be really intimidating.

Problem was that it was Buca that was intimidated by everyone else.  When the doorbell rang, Sandy or I would go to answer it, and Buca would stand at the top of the stairs, wagging her tail.  She didn’t wag her tail so much as she wagged the entire back half of her body back and forth, nearly bending in half with each wag.  As soon as someone walked in the door, Buca would let loose and pee, right on the floor.  If she got really excited, she would run around the house and pee while she ran.  Then she’d run through the puddles, and there would be dog pee everywhere.

Buca also didn’t bark or growl; she didn’t howl or whine.  She sort of talked.  She had a voice, and made inflections with it that were sort of a cross between a howl and a growl; she would stretch out her entire body, look at you and let out a grunt.  That enormous and scary German Shepherd bark I was hoping for was completely nonexistent.  One night, I swear the dog looked at Sandy and me and said “Wow.”  Sandy looked at me and said “Did she just say ‘Wow?'”

Of course we also had the cat I mentioned in an earlier post.  The cat’s name was Skutch, because that’s what she was – a Skutch.  When we lived at my mother’s it was like she knew I was allergic – she would sleep in our bed, on my head, so that I’d scratch and wheeze all night.  Once we moved to Lodi she did that less, but she’d taken a more disturbing habit – she would spend her days in our bathtub, and then when an unsuspecting person (it was a great thing to do to guests) came in and sat down on the bowl, Skutch would jump out from behind the shower curtain and bite the bowl-sitter on the ass.  

The first time she did it to me I nearly had a heart attack.  Nobody expects to be bitten on the butt when relieving oneself.  But then it became funny – we’d invite company over, wait for someone to go to the bathroom and then we’d all quiet down and listen for the scream.  Usually, it came. 

So that’s what we had.  A one bedroom apartment for me, Sandy, the talking dog and the ass-biting cat, surrounded by a cast of wackos and lunatics, with Frank down the street and Rich ten minutes away; this was the home of Dromedary Records.

~ by Al on January 10, 2009.

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