Apartment Tales: The Air Conditioner

Window Air ConditionerThe week I moved into The Apartment was stifling.  My apartment had two giant windows, one in each room.  My bedroom window was occupied with an air conditioner that was the size of an old tube tv from the fifties.  My kitchen window was met by the fire escape.

It was the first time I lived on a floor high enough to warrant a fire escape, and I frequently inspected it with curiosity.  There were only a few speckles of black paint that remained; the rest was covered in rust.  The metal had aged from the elements and looked fragile.  It was a long ways down so I knew if it came to a life or death situation, I would step out without hesitation but until then, the mere thought gave me anxiety. 

Even though I was skeptical the fire escape would remain intact if any weight was put on it, I was paranoid to open my window.  What if someone climbed up the escape to get me?  The thought ruined any possibility that I would open the window for air.  I couldn’t sleep knowing there was a potential entry way for intruders.  So the only option left was my bedroom window.

Just as I inspected the fire escape, I also stared frequently at the air conditioner from the Middle Ages.  As part of my lease, I was supposed to pay an additional $200 during the summer if I wanted to use an air conditioner.  I moved into the apartment in September so it didn’t make sense.  But I was suffocating in the stale, stench of the building.  Every breath was a fog of heavy air, dead skin, hair, the dying old and cigarettes.  I couldn’t let myself go that way.

I sat on the floor of my bedroom in nothing but panties and a tank top.  Sweat was dripping down my face – even my legs were sweating.  I didn’t know if the guy before me had paid the fee, and I was guilt ridden at the mere thought of using the air conditioner if my landlord didn’t have the money.  But I didn’t have a choice.  I was going to suffocate otherwise.

With the guilt defeated by my will to live, I flipped the switch.  A sudden whoosh of air blew dust in my face but it was cold air.  It felt so good.  I stood in front of the unit arms outstretched praising the electricity Gods.  But as fast as the cold air came, it left within seconds.

Shivers ran down my spine.  I blew the fuse.  My apartment was pitch black. 

I was on my hands and knees frantically trying to find pants.  I had no idea where the fuse box was.  If Patrick wasn’t going to show me the laundry room, he certainly wasn’t going to give me the privilege of knowing the location of the fuse box.  But I had to find it.  I couldn’t let him know I turned on the air conditioner.  Continue reading


Scrabble Conversation

I watched Lana intently as she laid down her tiles. 


“Asp?”  I looked questionally at Lana.  “Is that even a word?”

“I don’t know.  Look it up.”  I was skeptical. My inner monologue was on fast forward.

I’ve never heard of the word asp.  Is Lana jerking my chain or is it really a word?  I should challenge it.  I should for sure challenge it.  Oooh, I don’t know.  Lana reads War and Peace for fun.  She has an incredible vocabulary…but I can beat her at scrabble.  I should challenge.  Yes, I should challenge.

“Is that really a word Lana?”  I looked at her insistently.

“I don’t know.  Why don’t you challenge it?” 

“Seriously?  Are you jerking my chain, Lana?  I don’t appreciate this.  Is it a legit word? Tell me.” I was getting frustrated. I hate losing.

“I don’t know, Elyse….so what are you going to do?”  She was smiling at my indecision and frustration.

“Fine, I challenge.”  I reached for the dictionary.  I barely had it opened before Lana screamed.

“IT’S A SNAKE!  AN ASP IS A VENOMOUS SNAKE!  HAHAHAHAHAHA!  I TRICKED YOU!”  She was rolling on the floor laughing.

Well, shit.

Here is a picture of an asp; really, it can be any of several types of venomous snakes, such as a cobra.

Nervous Flying

This is how I internally feel on a plane.

“Elyse, do something.” 

Lana was annoyed with me.  She was leaning back in her seat, relaxed and reading War and Peace for the fiftieth time.  My knuckles were white from clutching the arm rests.  I was sitting straight up in my seat, tense.  I had been staring at the side of her face since we took off.  I was looking for any sort of sign that our airplane was in fact going to crash.

Lana is fearless.  The idea of dying doesn’t scare her, and she has a sense for adventure that I don’t.  She has been all over the world, once going to Shanghai to shop for the weekend.  Her independence and fearlessness are merely two of the many things I admire about her.   We often go on trips together and make good travel partners.  She once told me my strengths while traveling are my easy going nature, no need for a schedule and my willingness to get drunk at any time*.  However, my fear of flying is a giant weakness.

I have always been a nervous flyer.  I also suffer from occasional anxiety, which is not so occasional when it comes to flying.  It comes out in full force.  The butterflies start a few days in anticipation of the flight and then as I step into the airport, the irrational thoughts start.  And unlike Lana, dying scares the crap out of me.  I have a great life, and it makes me sad that one day it will all come to an end.  So when it does happen, I want it to be fast.  Unfortunately, on a plane, I imagine there is at least thirty seconds to think about the inevitable as the plane plummets and twirls to the ground – or worse, the seat comes loose and I free-fall buckled in, wind in my face, praying I have a heart attack prior to peeing myself. 

“Did you hear that?”  Continue reading


I have an abnormal pain in my right arm.  It feels bruised on the inside of my elbow, but it doesn’t look bruised.  And when I straighten my arm, it feels like the tendons are stretching.   Today, my hand has started to get the tingles.   After a lot of thought, worry and internet searching, I have come to only one, logical conclusion: my arm is going to have to be amputated.

In college, I discovered a small, pea-sized lump on my neck.  I had never seen anything like it.  I called my Mom immediately in tears to get her diagnosis.  She told me it was most likely a swollen lymph node.  I had seen my swollen lymph nodes before when I had a sore throat, and they never looked like a pea.  They were much bigger.  My mom was wrong.  I needed expert advice so naturally I turned to Google.

SEARCH:  pea-sized lump on neck

A single tear rolled down my cheek as I inhaled sharply.  I knew it.  I have cancer, I told myself.  I stared at the computer mentally preparing for the next search.

SEARCH:  symptoms of lymphoma

Oh god.  Oh god.  I have every symptom.  I panicked.  I started pacing the room, turning in circles in confusion waiting for my roommate to get home so I could collapse in tears. Continue reading

The Apartment Tales: Introduction

The Tuxedo

This is the only picture I can find of the building. I came home one day to find this skeleton banner hanging in the doorway. It was Patrick’s attempt to decorate for Halloween. It made me laugh a lot.

This is a reoccurring post that will happen every Friday (until I run out of stories).  Enjoy!

The Apartment is an apartment building I lived in for three years.  It is in the heart of Boystown on a quiet street, nestled between old brownstones.  It is a striking white stone building with an elegant name.  When I first stumbled upon it, I couldn’t wait to see the apartments inside.  I imagined them being beautiful, big and vintage like the outside of the building. 

I called the number on the For Rent sign.  Patrick, the building manager, answered the phone. 

“Hi!  I’m looking for a one bedroom apartment and would like to schedule an appointment to view one.”

“You have few minutes now?”

“Ye…”  I was startled by the door slamming behind me.  I turned around to see Patrick, a little Indian man with a goofy smile. 

“Well, don’t just stand there,” he said.

The smell was the first thing that hit me as he opened the door.  It reminded me of my grandmother’s house mixed with cat urine, dead people and mold.  It was pungent and thick.  The carpet looked like it had never been vacuumed and the wallpaper was peeling off the walls.  It was very dark.  But the woodwork, it was beautiful. 

We walked slowly up the stairs to the fourth floor.  It was a long walk.  I was out of shape.  Sweat beads were forming on my young twenty something head.  I’m pathetic, I thought.  I could barely talk by the time we reached the top.  Thank goodness, Patrick is more of the silent type. 

He showed me a one bedroom apartment that was the size of a shoe box.  The bedroom was a nice size but the living space was tiny.  My loveseat would touch the fridge, which would later become one of my favorite things about the apartment.  I never had to stand up to get beer.  All it took was a simple lean. 

“Is there laundry in the building?”


“Can I see it?”


I didn’t ask again.  Despite his tiny frame, Patrick intimidated me.  I was going to take his word for it. 

The average person would have run far, far away from this building.  But me, I fell in love.  I could look past the smell (I just breathed through my mouth) and the disgusting carpet and the darkness.  It was in a great location and the bedroom had a door.  Plus, it was the only place I could afford in the neighborhood.  I was forced to have low standards.  And I was okay with that.

“I’ll take it!”

The Apartment became my home for the next three years.  It was a building of misfits.  In a neighborhood of mostly young, gay white men and young straight women, my building was an anomaly.  There were lots of old people – one who died in the building while I lived there.  After the first year, I realized they moved in during the eighties and never left.  Patrick never made the tenants sign leases after the first year or raised rent, which explained a lot.  I am convinced some of them were paying at most $300 a month to live there.

My neighbors became the best part about living at The Apartment.  They provided endless amounts of entertainment.  Oh, the stories I have to tell…

Come back next Friday for the next story in The Apartment Tales!  

Life of a Pinhead

I’ve always known I have a smaller than average head.  I challenge you to find an adult hat that fits my head properly.   I usually end up looking like a baby who’s Dad put his baseball hat on him for kicks.  The same goes for sunglasses.  In a low point of my teenage years, I was still buying children’s sunglasses.  It was a huge score when I found a style suitable for a sixteen year old.  Most of them were pink with rhinestones and princesses or the latest Disney stars.  I can’t tell you how stoked I was when big sunglasses came back in style.  I had unintentionally been wearing them for years.  

I never gave much thought about my small head outside of buying sunglasses.  I didn’t even bother with hats.   I was happy being ignorant of my small head until one day a woman ruined it for me.  Because of her, I didn’t wear dangly earrings for years; in fear they would make my head appear smaller.  She did a real job on me.  And yet, it’s one of my favorite stories.  

I was working at Nine West minding my own business behind the cash register.  Two ladies brought their shoes to the counter, and I eagerly greeted them.  I always liked working the register because pressing buttons is fun.  I got straight to business opening the boxes to check the shoe sizes and to make sure there was a left and right shoe.  

As I’m checking the second pair of shoes, I hear Lady 1 say to her friend, “Maaan, that guuuurl got the smallest head I evah seen.”  Lady 2 looked at me and giggled. 

 “Hey, uh, I’m standing right here.  I can hear you.”  Lady 1 smiles.

 “Guuuurl, you seriously got the smallest head evaaah.  Maaaan.”

 She ruined me for years.

The Craigslist Roommates

For the most part, strangers don’t scare me. Call me naïve but I believe people are inherently nice. So when I needed a place to live the second summer I lived in Chicago, I went to the most logical place – Craigslist.

I was in search for a mostly furnished place, roommates and cheap rent. I was working at Nine West again. I was lucky they hired me back. While I showed up for every shift on time, I was usually pale, not showered and reeked of booze from the prior night. It was a minimum wage job with few hours that left me with little options.

The first person I contacted was a guy in his early thirties. I had never lived with a boy outside of family. I was open to the idea but it made me uneasy. This was before the Craigslist killer so the worst I was asking myself – could he be a creep? He lived a few blocks from my sister, Lana, so I wandered down to meet the guy and to see the apartment, by myself no less (maybe I am naïve). The place was nice but I couldn’t get over the lone book he had on his bookshelf – The Nanny Diaries. I love the book but it was a red flag. The only book you own is the The Nanny Diaries? I don’t care if you are a boy or girl, I need more variety in my life. Seriously, you own one book and that’s the one you choose? It was a deal breaker.

The next ad I answered was a furnished apartment full of Columbia students. They were all my age (21), and it was 100% furnished, which was perfect. My parents refused to buy me a bed for the summers between the school year, so they bought me a $50 cot from Bed, Bath and Beyond instead. It was extremely uncomfortable. I imagine it was similar to sleeping on a hammock made of bones. I made it through one summer on the cot, and if I had anything to do with it, I would not make it a second.

When I showed up there were three roommates. They gave me a tour of the place ending with the bedroom I would be renting. Their roommate was studying abroad for the summer. I eyed the oak bed confirming it came furnished. When I was done asking questions, things got weird. They brought me to a room where I sat on a different bed. They left the room and returned with a video camera. I was confused. They were already recording; the red light was blinking. They informed me they would be asking a series of questions. If my answers proved to be the best of the other candidates, I would get the room. I went along with the charade because I am a sucker.

I left their apartment feeling violated. I didn’t want to be filmed. I certainly didn’t want the room but it didn’t matter. They never called.

I think about that video from time to time. I wonder if it still exists. If it does and tragedy strikes landing me on Nancy Grace, I guarantee you that video will show up. But don’t be fooled, it wasn’t my proudest moment.

The final ad I answered was a three bedroom apartment with two Columbia students. They were looking for a roommate(s) to help with the rent for the summer. I walked through the door and fell in love. It was an open floor plan with central air. I was sold.
I moved in the next week – my cot, bedding, a suitcase of clothes and two boxes. I traveled light.

I was so excited. I had such a good feeling. It was in a great neighborhood and I couldn’t wait to bond with my new roommates over drinks at the neighborhood bar. Once I was unpacked and settled in – approximately twenty minutes after I arrived – I was ready to go.
Ten minutes later, I realized this may not be the summer I thought it was going to be.

 Here’s why:

• Two other girls move into the apartment. Since there were only three bedrooms, I shared a room with the girl, Anna, who had two cats. My cot fit nicely in the corner. The other girl, Jenny, lived in the pantry. It fit a twin size mattress and nothing else. I must admit, I was envious of her shelf space. Continue reading