The Yearbook Office
Writings on staying alive
 

Lakini will juice Heropsychodreamer at Copper Down.
At Devonschmear, bet on Stickwhittler over Sir Elton John.
Your top pick this week: #PONY2012

Mozart St., Chicago, 2006-2009

I was a day away from signing the lease on a different basement apartment in the same neighborhood of Chicago when a friend hooked me up with this cheaper, better place. When I told the owner of the first apartment that I had found something else, he shouted at me over the phone. When I moved into the basement on Mozart Street, the landlady gave me a bottle of wine. She did marketing for a famous indie record label, and stored a sparkly gold drumset from when she used to play in bands in the cabinet under the stairs. I paid her in cash every month, sometimes late, and always hoped we would become friends.

It was the first apartment I ever loved. It was halfway finished, with frameless doors and a heater that almost never worked. The previous tenant had built a plywood platform in the bedroom to keep the mattress off the cold tile floors, and it felt like a stage, though there was never any dramatic action in my bed. The upstairs neighbors were named John and Shawn. They were practically married, but not actually, I don't think. They often sat and drank coffee on their deck while my dogs played below in the yard. Back when Radar was still a foster dog I couldn't wait to be rid of, he cornered John in the laundry room. Radar barked and snarled, and John said, “It's cool, man. It's cool.” When I moved out, Shawn gave me a painting of Little Red Riding Hood holding a sword coated in blood.

One year, I hosted Thanksgiving. I was still eating meat, but the oven was too small for a whole bird, so I bought a pre-stuffed turkey breast from Trader Joe's. It was just me and a few improv friends, including this guy I had a years-long crush-but-not-really on who once told me, “You traffic in awkwardness.” My only table was also my desk, which I cleared and pulled away from the wall and set with a plastic tablecloth and mismatched, secondhand plates. I think both of the dogs behaved. I think we played Apples to Apples after dinner, but I forget. This wasn't all that long ago, but it feels like a movie I once saw.

Strand Ave., Missoula, 2009-2011

It was a harrowing move. My older brother drove the rented truck packed with my furniture and boxes of books, and I drove my Camry packed with clothing, boxes of more precious books, two dogs, and three cats. I had made arrangements over the phone in response to a Craigslist ad, and didn't see the place until we arrived after three days on the road. The house upstairs was cute and old, with hardwood floors and a young couple with a baby and a dog. The basement apartment was clean and new, with no room for a table anywhere, and brownish carpet everywhere, kitchen included. My favorite chair wouldn't fit through the door, so it sat behind the garage and got rained on for days before it was finally picked up and hauled away.

The neighbors were young and in love. I learned to keep earplugs next to my bed because I could hear everything that went on in the room above mine. I sat for their baby a few times; when she cried, she shouted “water-eyes, water-eyes” and shook her head, alarmed by her own tears. I did my own crying into pillows and missed Chicago every day until the day I still missed it but wasn't crying anymore.

The apartment was too small and crowded with pets for indoor parties, but I hosted movie screenings and readings in the enormous backyard. One night we were mid-So I Married an Axe Murderer when rain started to fall, so we waited it out in the narrow, carpeted living room with its dingy loveseat and one uncomfortable chair. My bad dog barked non-stop from his crate in the other room, and I knew there was cat pee on the carpet, and I wished we were all better friends. After I graduated and moved away, the neighbors had a second daughter, and the older one's hair grew down to her knees.

Tibbetts St., Portland, 2013-????

I posted a house wanted ad and the owner sent me a message: “You have a lot of pets, but I could imagine it working.” So far, it is working well. The apartment has two bedrooms, one normal and one huge, and a tiny kitchen with a tiny stove, and space for all the tables a girl could want. I have my old desk set up in the normal bedroom-office, and a new reading chair surrounded by books, but I do most of my writing and reading on the almost-comfortable futon-couch that was here when I moved in.

The landlady lives upstairs, and continues to be practical and kind. Last week, her 20-year-old daughter came home and slammed the door, and I heard her sobbing from room to room upstairs. For about a day, it sounded like Christmas was ruined, but then arguments became conversations, and in the end it sounded like Christmas was saved. You learn a lot about people by living underneath them, and to control how much they can learn about you. I have mastered the fine art of conducting most of my emotional business outside or in my car.

I like this apartment very much, and could stay here for a long time, but I'm starting to long for an aboveground life. It would be nice to emote with impunity inside my own home. It would be nice to have bigger windows through which to see more of the world. It would be nice to host a dinner party in a well-lit room, and be able to say, “Back in my basement-dwelling days… .”