Maturity Looks Like This

I admit it. In our long history together, my husband and I weren’t always the most conscientious tenants.

When we were young and foolish — which was almost four decades ago — we did have a few disgraceful episodes involving urine ice cubes and a bogus newspaper ad for a 1957 Chevy with overhead cams for $75. All I can say in our defense was the landlord was a venal creep who deserved the hundreds of phone calls he got for the Chevy and probably didn’t mistake the ice cubes for frozen lemonade, but then, one can always hope.

But mea culpa, anyway. We grew up, got married, became semi-respectable, and now we kind of see the error of our youthful ways after we’ve finished falling down from laughing about them.

That was what made me so proud of us when we spent our 10 months in New York City last year. I realized we’d finally become mature when we completed without incident what was probably an illegal sublet from a young woman we called The Actress.

The Actress advertised her “wonderful, sunlit” apartment on Craigslist with a couple of beautiful photos and a long, heartfelt soliloquy to its charm and elegance. She and I exchanged emails. I offered less money than she’d advertised. The Actress e-wailed that the apartment was stunning and fantastic and had a $5,000 bed in it. Not to mention the neighbors! They were so refined! They deserved the best! The rent was so reasonable to begin with! It was tearing her very heart out to contemplate taking less money … but she would consider it.

Imagine my delight. It was obvious to me that we were about to land the deal of a lifetime. A luxurious, charming, light-filled two-bedroom on the Upper West Side — and at a 20% discount, all because of my sharp negotiating prowess. The Actress and I emailed a bit, she continuing to lament the shaky real estate market, me smelling victory.

Around this time, I did ask one of my New York friends if she could stop by the apartment and check it out. She wrote a meticulous email saying the place was OK, but not special, and we were paying how much for it? Really?  She also mentioned a massage parlor a couple of doors down the street.

Since she didn’t say the apartment was in a toxic-waste dump, with cockroaches answering the doors and drug deals going down in the halls, I knew we had our apartment.

So, you know, we moved in one hot August day. I’d expected some kind of swanky, upper-crust, white-gloves place. Posh — yes, that’s the word.

What we got was adequate, not posh. All the highly refined neighbors? You must be referring to our next-door neighbors, who were fairly friendly, but screamed loudly at their kid and dog in the hallways. When we heard blood-curdling cries of “IAN, DON’T DO THAT!” and “STOP IT, COCO!!), we knew they were home. It was kind of like having a fishwife for a doorman.

The apartment itself was small and fairly spare. The Actress might not have had many books, but she had mirrors everywhere.

Anyway, we’d signed the lease and the location was swell and we’d live with it. Fine. Overall, our interactions with The Actress were minimal, even though she may well have been the cheapest human being I’ve ever encountered. She ended up cyber-sobbing at our ingratitude for nipping 80 whole bucks off the rent one month to pay for the repair of her TV (“It was in perfect working order when I left it!”. By this time, I was a little over her whole Lady Bountiful routine and thought she should be saving it for her big break, should she ever progress from making pornography.

The months wore on and we had a great time. The only real irritation was The Actress’s supply of inspirational notices on the refrigerator and in the bathroom. Go directly in the path of your dreams! Do not ask anyone’s permission! Go boldly forward! Live the life you dreamed!

You know, the kind of barfy stuff that cloys immediately and festers in a week. I will admit my husband and I toyed with the idea of replacing all her inspirational notices with some Demotivators from Austin’s own Despair, Inc. (My current favorite: “Because nothing says ‘you’re a loser’ more than owning a motivational poster about being a winner.”)

But, I’m proud to say, we didn’t yield to that kind of base temptation. We left the inspirational posters and all the mirrors untouched and the apartment sparkling clean.

Oh, sure. I guess you could point out it was because The Actress was holding our security deposit of a few thousand dollars and we wanted it all back. But I don’t see it that way. I think we’ve just grown up.

(Copyright 2011 by Ruth Pennebaker)

See two related posts about our nefarious past — which any other blogger my age would be too embarrassed to write about — here and here

16 comments… add one
  • Mark

    “E-wail” and “cyber-sob.” So clever. I love it.

  • Lemonade ice cubes, huh? Guess that if we were ever to meet, I’d check my drink very carefully.
    Ten months in New York sounds like such a wonderful adventure. It would be such a leap of faith to rent something sight-unseen.

  • For someone who got so beat up in the prescription eyewear episode, you’ve certainly come a long way. You now lustily claim much brutal savvy in negotiating a sublet– in NYC, no less. I just know when the backstory is, at last, revealed about your quest of the present condo, scenarios seething with glacial-sized ice picks cloaked in a marinade of Texas-style blackmail will likely come to light.
    Maturity arrives, indeed, when all whim to apologize for bloodstains on a carpet abates.

  • Cindy D.

    What happened the the discussion with the Moron. I thought that was a valuable part of the post.

  • My guess is that it really *wasn’t* a $5000 bed, either. Sigh. No truth in advertising these days.

  • So funny how Craigslist exchanges personalize what are just old-fashioned business negotiations. I’ve had people tell me that they can’t lower the price on a bed (even though I’ve seen them repost the listing for seven weeks) because it was their daughter’s childhood bed and has sentimental value – and all I can think is, so why are you selling it, then?
    What I love about Craigslist is the bottom line nature of it: nothing’s worth more than people are willing to pay for it. But it’s funny how hard people fight that!

  • We moved into our NY apartment sight unseen too. Coco would have been good friends with the pug that lived upstairs from us and regularly confused our shared hallway with a fire hydrant.

  • I have never heard of urine ice cubes. Gawd, I’ve lived a drab little life. I hope y’all saw lots of plays while you were there. I think if I stayed in NY for any length of time, that’s what I’d do, plus all the crazy tourist things. Oh Lord, I do indeed like a drab life!

  • OMG, this was hilarious!

  • Sheryl

    So, Ruth, you didn’t leave a full supply of urine ice cubes in the apartment’s freezer when you vacated? I almost expected that to be your ending. It’s so boring to grow up, isn’t it?

  • Ah, I love the Despair folks, so funny. Odd that I never ran across them when I lived in Austin, but I found them when I moved to New Zealand. Life is odd that way.

  • I love the loser quote.
    I also find it odd that people will have strangers live in their homes and not remove the inspirational quotes. I think I would have packed up all of my special touches.

  • Makes me glad to own a house and never go anywhere or think about subletting a place in a distant city.

  • Jane, me too. I HATED being a renter. I suspect it might be in our future, if we get to spend another year abroad somewhere (that’s the dream…)

  • We rented a place sight unseen when we moved here five years ago. It will forever be known as the Tacky Tiki. Thank goodness it was only for a couple of months. Lord knows, I wouldn’t have been able to handle many more drunk people wandering up and down the hallway outside our bedroom yelling, “Alo-f*cking-HA!!”

  • Only you, Ruth, would rent from The Actress in NYC with the inspirational messages sprinkled around her less-than-posh, likely-illegal sublet. Hilarious as ever, even if you have grown up.

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