When I first checked out my current apartment, it was late at night and I was mesmerized by the prospect of living in a rent-controlled unit six blocks from the beach. Sure, the unit’s fixtures were old and the exterior of the building looked like it was built in the early 70s, but the unit had plenty of space and the surrounding neighborhood was perfect. There were tennis courts across the street and one of the most popular outdoor shopping centers in LA was within three blocks. I figured that the apartment wouldn’t be available for long, so I put in an offer that night which was accepted the next day. As you can see, my methods for choosing a residence are very sophisticated and not at all rash. When I returned a few weeks later to move in, I noticed that the building’s condition was a bit more dilapidated under the sunlight. The stairway’s railings were rusted, the hallway walls were peeling, and the landscape out front looked like it hadn’t been tended to in months. During last call in South Bend, every time the bartenders turned on the lights and the patrons got a clearer glimpse of their pursuits, my friend Doyle always yelled, “Ah! You’re all ugly!” Well, in this particular case, I felt like shouting Doyle’s term of endearment at my new apartment building. However, I decided not to let a few cosmetic flaws ruin my experience, as that task was reserved for my neighbors and the building management company.
On my apartment floor, there are four other units, but I’ve never noticed anyone entering or leaving Apt. 403. I assume that it’s vacant, but it wouldn’t surprise me if its home to a crazed recluse. And if that were the case, he’d be far from the oddest tenant on my floor. The residents in Apt. 401 typically leave their door wide open, and whenever I walk by, I notice six or more adults sitting on the ground listening to music with the lights turned off. While they might just be proponents of living green, I’m fairly certain that they engage in recreational drug use. I’ve only seen the tenant who lives in Apt. 404 (the unit next to mine) twice, and both times, he hasn’t acknowledged me. He sometimes leaves his blinds open, and the few times that I caught glimpses of his apartment's interior, it was a disturbing sight, to say the least. It reminded me of the pictures I had seen on 20/20 of Jaycee Lee Dugard's living quarters after she was kidnapped and made to live in a backyard shed for 18 years. There were piles of papers and empty food containers thrown all over the floor, chairs were facing the walls instead of the television, and tables had been randomly placed around the room with nothing on them. Oh, and I also spotted various maps scattered across the apartment…cough, cough, terrorist!
The award for creepiest and most bizarre neighbor goes to the tenant in Apt. 402. He’s an older Asian gentleman, and he seems to spend every waking second sitting in a folding chair outside of his front door smoking a cigarette. It should be noted that smoking within twenty feet of the apartment building is prohibited, but I’m not about to confront this strange character. He occasionally wears scrubs, but our limited interactions tell me that he’s not an MD. During the first month that I lived here, he intently stared at me every time I walked past him on my way to the elevator, but he never said a word. I (racistly) assumed that he didn’t speak English, but after hearing him ask someone to hold the elevator, I concluded that he was simply a sociopath. In the past, whenever I’ve watched news stories about psychotics who went on a killing spree, reporters usually interviewed the psycho’s neighbors who said things like, “Well, we only ever exchanged pleasantries but he seemed nice enough.” My takeaway from such interviews was that the crazies seemed to always spare the lives of their neighbors who engaged in chitchat with them. Therefore, I decided to start greeting this neighbor a few months ago whenever I passed him in the hallway. It started off innocently enough “Hi. How are you? Have a nice day.” But as time passed, this guy started asking more specific questions, like, “Where do you park your car?" and "Will you be gone for a while?" Uhh…who wants to know, creepshow?! To make matters worse, the guy never sleeps. It doesn’t matter if I walk by at 9:00 PM or 3:00 AM, he’s ALWAYS outside on that damn folding chair. I’m beginning to wonder if there’s a catheter hidden somewhere within the chair that I just can't see.
Besides the seedy neighbors in the complex, there’s also the issue of the building itself. While I initially thought that the imperfections were only cosmetic, I soon discovered that they extended well beyond a simple paint job. The day after I had moved into my apartment, I went downstairs to throw a load of laundry into the washing machine. When I arrived, I was surprised to see that we only had one washer and one dryer to service the entire building. Then, after depositing my $1.75, I learned that the washer was actually out of service. As I scooped my detergent-soaked laundry from the washer and placed it back into my hamper, a young female stopped by the laundry room to “check on the status of the washer.” I informed her that it wasn’t working, and she groaned a sigh of frustration and explained that it had already been out of service for over a week. It took another week before management finally sent someone out to fix it. The girl was very friendly and remains to be the only pseudo-normal neighbor I’ve met. I asked her how she enjoyed living in the building, and she warned me that while the rent was initially a bargain, management’s disregard for building upkeep brought down the value. These were clearly not the words a new tenant wanted to hear, but they were a foreboding of what was yet to come.
Over the next few months, small issues continued to occur in my apartment building that made me feel like I was living in the film The Money Pit. The garbage disposal in our apartment stopped working, the laundry room routinely flooded, and the lock on the garage door that kept the homeless people from entering our building was broken for two weeks. A few weeks ago, when my parents stopped by for a short overnight stay, we were alarmed to discover that the elevator light had burnt out, forcing us to ride the elevator in total darkness. I called the management company the next day, and it took them three days to get someone to our building to replace the light. For those three days, I felt like I was riding the real Tower of Terror. One might think that I’m overreacting, but when you suspect that the tenants who live closest to the elevator (Apt. 401) may or may not be on bath salts, the last thing you want to do is walk into a pitch-black, windowless room right outside their door. After all, they prefer the darkness!
While these issues caused me minor distress, they were trivial compared to the hell that I went through on Friday night. Around 5:00 PM on Friday, my roommate sent me the following text: “Apparently there was a pipe leaking in the wall between your bedroom and bathroom. They did a temporary repair but are going to come and fix it completely tomorrow or Monday morning.” OK, no big deal, right? Wrong. When I returned to my apartment around 11:00 PM, I was startled to hear a rainstorm coming from my bedroom. I raced to the room, and this is what I found. Yes, that’s newspaper and duct tape covering a 20-inch hole in the wall. The hole wasn’t what concerned me. It was the fact that there was water shooting from a burst pipe running down my wall and essentially soaking the carpet. I wasn’t sure if this was how the plumber had left it, but my roommate was already asleep and I didn’t want to wake him to ask. I determined that allowing gallons of running water to flow into a wall overnight was not an optimal solution, so I called the management company. The woman who answered told me that she would send the plumber my way. I couldn’t handle the noise in my bedroom – it literally sounded like I was next to a waterfall – so I waited for the plumber in the living area. After an hour of waiting, I called the management company and the woman told me that the plumber couldn’t come until Saturday. I held the phone up and told her that it seemed dangerous, as water was starting to flow everywhere, and she said that there was nothing more that she could do. I hung up the phone, and since I wasn’t going to be getting any sleep, I returned to the living room to work on some of my scripts.
I checked on my bedroom about every thirty minutes, and while the water was spreading on the carpet, I didn’t really know what else to do. Then, around 2:30 AM, all hell broke loose. When I walked into my room, the water had punctured a hole through the newspaper and had begun spraying freely into my bedroom, soaking my brand new headboard, bedding, mattress, night stand, etc. I found a tarp to cover the hole, but I couldn’t find tape to attach it to the wall. Tired of being drenched, I took a hammer and nailed the tarp to my wall. In my defense, I figured that 8 small nail holes were nothing compared to the 20-inch hole created by the plumber. Once again I called the management company, but the woman who answered maintained that there was nothing that she could do. I then called several plumbers to no avail, and the only who answered told me to call the non-emergency line at the fire station to have them come shut off my water. I did just that, and the operator at the fire station said that she would send someone over within five minutes.
Ten minutes later, I heard a commotion coming from the outside. I opened my door and panicked, as there were two fire trucks in front of my apartment building with their emergency warning lights flashing. I noticed that a crowd had started to gather in the street, probably looking for the fire. I started to walk downstairs when I was intercepted by the creepy Asian tenant from Apt. 402. He asked me what I was still doing awake, and I quickly dismissed him and said that I had to take care of the ruckus outside. As I approached the door, I could see that there were four firemen waiting on the other side of it, completely decked out in their firefighting gear. I was mortified! When I opened the door, I apologized profusely and told them that it wasn’t an emergency, but they said it was fine and wanted to check things out. When I took them up to my floor, the Asian was nowhere to be seen, which I found interesting. As I showed the firefighters the flood, they assured me that I had done the right thing and said that they needed to shut off the water immediately. Just then, my roommate emerged sleepily from his bedroom. I think he felt a little disoriented when he found firefighters walking through our apartment at 3:00 AM. He apologized for not waking sooner and assured me that the leak was much more contained earlier in the day.
I took the firefighters down to the parking garage, where we walked around with flashlights searching for the valve to shut off the building’s water. During this time, the firefighters pointed out a million other issues with the building’s structure. I was too tired to care, so I just nodded accordingly. After they finally got the water shut off, one of the firefighters asked to speak to the management company so he could explain to her the severity of the situation and reprimand her for being so unresponsive. I gladly dialed the number, and as the Captain let her have it, she explained that she’s just a messaging service for our management company and that she hadn’t been able to reach the actual managers all evening. Typical. The firefighters then instructed my roommate and me to turn off the electricity if we noticed any sparks coming from the outlets. Receiving those safety tips at 3:15 in the morning while covered in dirty pipe water was a bit disconcerting. Nevertheless, I thanked them for their assistance and they set off to fight something a little tougher than a leaky shower pipe. I spent the next three hours isolating all of the wet items in my bedroom from the dry items. I obviously couldn’t sleep in my bed since the mattress was soaked all the way through, so I just stayed up the rest of the morning and finished my Modern Family spec script.
Later this morning, the plumber finally showed up to assess the situation. His excuse for not coming the night before? “People call us freaking out all of the time, so we have to take these calls with a grain of salt. I just thought that you were over-reacting.” I didn’t realize that plumbers had a choice as to which emergencies they responded based on the callers’ credibility. After seeing the damage in my room, the plumber apologized and acknowledged that our situation was actually a dire one. He shut off the water to my shower and told me that he’d be back on Monday to repair the pipe. He also assured me that there wouldn’t be any mold since this flood was caused by shower water. Now I don’t know much about anything, but I wasn’t aware that mold could only come from dirty toilet water. In fact, I’m almost certain that if you continue to flood your apartment walls with Evian, sooner or later, mold can and will sprout. I didn’t feel like arguing anymore, so I just deferred to the “professional.” Here’s to hoping I don’t die from Mycotoxicosis!
After I had submitted my Modern Family script to the WB writers’ contest earlier this evening, I loaded my flood-soaked items into my car to take to the Laundromat the next morning. On the way to my car, I encountered my Asian “friend,” who was watching me from his doorway. As I approached, he asked me what had happened last night, so I briefly told him about the burst pipe. He responded, “Oh. I thought that you had a gas leak,” which I found strange. As I walked past him and boarded the elevator, he shouted, “Is your roommate home?” I responded, “Not currently, but he’ll be back soon. Why?” He answered, “Oh, ok. I just seldom see him anymore.” I wasn’t even aware that they knew each other. After loading the items into my car, I returned upstairs to find the Asian back in his folding chair. Now that his fears of a gas leak had been dispelled, he was able to resume his smoking routine. I tried to pass by him without engaging in conversation. I thought that I was home free, but as I reached for my doorknob, I heard him say, “You have a nice place.” Creeped out, I responded, “Excuse me?” He reiterated, “You have a nice place. Nice stuff and a good setup.” Startled, I asked him if he had ever been in my unit. He said, “No, I can just see your stuff through the windows. Tell me, did you install those mirrors by the kitchen table yourself?” OK it’s one thing to occasionally glance into a neighbor’s window, but who actually confesses to being a full-on Peeping Tom?? I walked into my apartment, made sure that the blinds were closed, and then double-bolted my door.
When my roommate returned to the apartment about twenty minutes later, I told him about my conversation with the Asian. Once he heard that the Asian had inquired as to his whereabouts, my roommate was totally freaked out because he said that the two of them had never even exchanged a hello. I then shared with my roommate all of my concerns about the neighbors on our floor, and instead of telling me that my trepidations were unfounded, he proceeded to tell me more about the Asian’s backstory. Apparently, the Asian doesn’t even live in our building. He’s actually the caretaker for a registered sex offender who has lived in the building for over 30 years. My roommate went on to tell me that the sex offender wears an ankle bracelet, and he goes to jail a few times every year for violating his probation. Totally normal stuff! At least this explains why the Asian is never asleep and why there is an entire table crammed with hundreds of pill containers in their apartment (like I said, it’s totally fine to glance into neighbors’ windows every now and then – just don’t admit to it!).
Throughout this experience, I’ve been reminded of Robert Frost’s quote that “good fences make good neighbors.” Well, I would like to test out Frost’s theory by installing a security fence around the perimeter of my apartment. Unfortunately, I don't think the Santa Monica Rent Control Board will allow it. At this point, I’ve come to terms with the fact that Chandler and Monica Bing will never be my next door neighbors. But could I at least get Kramer instead of Chester the Molester? Apparently not. So now that I have shared all of this inside information, don’t hesitate to book your reservations to visit me this summer in California! Just please leave your kids at home!