AUTHOR: Beth TITLE: DATE: 6/17/2004 11:13:00 PM ----- BODY:

Movin' On Up Like George and Wheezie

It's raining outside, and there's something vaguely wrong with the car. Dad thinks it's an oil leak, but the oil has been checked (by me or him) religiously, and it shows no signs that it's dropping too fast. There's still something distinctly...funny...with the car. The gas efficiency, for one thing, seems to be virtually zero. And something's leaking out of the car onto the piece of cardboard we have in my parking spot on the driveway. So I may or may not be driving the car around with a fuel leak, or a transmission fluid leak, or an oil leak, but no matter. Right now my chief concern is getting to State St. in Lowell, where Landlord Alex is waiting to show me a third-floor one-bedroom for a reasonable price, near the highway. This is the same Landlord Alex that was I was supposed to rent that beautiful one-bedroom on Mammoth Rd. from, until uncertainties with my job stalled the deal. Every day since, I've been kicking myself, imagining Steve and me living in that airy space with the huge windows and rich, deep pine-green carpet. For an insanely low price, too. In a good neighborhood. I can't believe I let it go. But for right now, I have to find State St. Why do I ever use Mapquest? I have to pull my clunky car over in the pouring rain to get the Metro-Boston Atlas out of the trunk. State Street...State Street... Finally I find it, a pale grey line on the map the approximate size of an eyelash. Yellow roads and red roads and slightly longer grey roads are jumbled around it like an absentminded doodle. What road am I on? Ten minutes and the infuriating realization that Mapquest told me to go the complete wrong way after the highway exit later, I finally turn onto State St. Not the best neighborhood, not the worst. Broken beer bottles on the stairs to the three-story house where the one-bedroom I've come to look at is on the third floor. Crumbling wooden decks. The usual post-industrial blight. But nothing I can't handle. Or is this rationalization? Just a way to soothe the sting of losing what has turned out have been my Dream Apartment? I have found to my surprise that since losing it, I miss it like I actually lived there. Michele gave me the grandaddy of all pep talks about it, which boiled down to "Carpe diem" but of course meant and said much more than that. Finally, armed with her "You Go Girl!" I charged into my boss' office to make sure all my little ducks were in a row so I could finally take a deep breath and sign that year lease. Only to be told I might not have a job in a week. We're climbing the stairs, and they take a truly frightening number of twists and turns. I try to imagine moving the obscenely heavy double-recliner couch my parents are giving me for the apartment up through all these rickety twists and turns and try not to make my wince too obvious. The stairs finally end at a tiny door, the kind that conjures images of Rapunzel. Inside the floors are hardwood, the stove is an antique, the bathroom is huge, there is a balcony. Okay...decent. But the problem with cheap apartments is, there's always that one room. You tour the house, maybe the stairs are iffy, maybe you worry about being on the third floor or any other trifling inconvenience, but hey, the living room's decent size, hardwood floors are cool, and he says he'll replace that silly little stove...and then the other shoe drops. You walk into what's supposed to be the bedroom, and you have to fight hard to keep from asking, "Where's the rest of it?" It's like a glorified attic. It's got a huge closet with a sloping back wall that's essentially an opening into the eaves of the house. The room is some ridiculous dimension like fourteen by five. A long hardwood-floored shoebox you're supposed to imagine putting a full-size bed into. Or do you put the bed in the larger room like a makeshift studio? This will not do. You try like an ugly stepsister with that glass slipper to cram your life in that strange little funhouse-mirror bedroom, and finally must concede defeat. Then you have to think about what to tell the landlord. You don't want to insult him, but you also emphatically don't want to live here. So what I do in this situation is begin, stupidly, to talk about the other apartment. The One that Got Away. "Wait a minute," Alex says, brows furrowing. "I thought you wanted to be closer to the highway, and all that." Yeah, the location and the fact that the other apartment is in a high-traffic area was one of my many excuses for hanging back on closing the deal. Now I could just bludgeon myself for letting it get in the way. Especially after my boss told me today that with my "changing role" at work my hours--in terms of having to be in at 8 am SHARP every morning--would be more "flexible." My first thought when he said this was, Why the fuck did I let that apartment go?!?!?" "Yeah," I tell Alex sheepishly. "But ever since that apartment got rented to someone else I've been kicking myself." "What do you mean, rented to someone else?" he says, eyebrow-furrows deepening. "What do you mean, 'what do you mean'?" I ask. "It's still open. I had some people lined up, but they either wanted it for six months, or they bailed on me..." He leaves out "too." "So it's still open?" No. No way. "Yeah, actually it is. I was going to rent it to someone else for $700, but I'll still offer it to you for $675," he says. "I'll take it," I say, and my heart is pounding with three parts joy to one part fear. The best kind of fear. "I'm sorry to waste your time today," I tell Alex's mother, who is the actual owner of the apartment with the funhouse bedroom. "Oh, don't worry about it," she smiles sweetly. "As long as you're with one of us," Alex says, switching off the naked lightbulb in the kitchen, "We're happy." I get the keys Monday. I start paying rent July 1. My Dream Apartment. I'm still waiting to wake up.