Since starting my apartment search about three weeks ago, I’ve met many potential roommates. A few of the experiences have been pleasant, but more often than I’d care to admit, they’ve been nothing short of horrifying.
During one recent visit, that remains mostly a blur, I recall moving quickly toward the exit as a several of the following thoughts bounced around in my head:
This dude is crazy. There HAS to be a body stashed here. Probably his mother. I can totally smell SOMETHING. And it’s not just the cat urine in the corner. It’s …
Wait a sec … what’s that sticking out of the closet?! It can’t be …
Holy $#%^ it IS.
A finger! Ohmigawd, Ohmigawd …
Oh, wait. Nope…
You know, something like that. Occasionally it’s guinea pig droppings. Or shih-tzu urine. Whatever.
The smells vary. But throughout all these nightmarish visits there is one common thread: Craigslist.
I’m not here to pan Craig Newmark. He gets enough guff as it is. And admittedly, Craigslist isn’t all bad. Several of my friends fell into wonderful living arrangements through the auspices of the site. It has its perks–you know, like the occasional ad for a hooker sprinkled among the no fee apartments. And there’s plenty of users posting on Craigslist who are responsible, young professionals.
I’ve just never met any of them.
For instance, I went back-and-forth with this guy named “Tim” after responding to an ad for a third-floor flat. His prose was sparse and light on the details.
“No drama” was the only requirement.
I’m fairly undramatic. So I queried, and he answered. We set up a time to meet – 4:45, right after I got out of work.
“Don’t be late!” he instructed.
Determined to make a good impression, I showed up five minutes head of our scheduled time…Twenty minutes later a brightly-painted Toyota pulled up. It had one of those “W” stickers on the bumper.
Lovely, I thought. (Though it was entirely possible that the bumper had started out on someone else’s vehicle.)
Tim and I exchanged awkward pleasantries and he mumbled a vague apology before asking if I wanted to come up and check the place out.
No, I thought.
“Sure.” I said.
“Cool. Well, OK. First thing. The front door doesn’t work. So we’re gonna have to walk around back.”
“Oh?” It was getting dark.
“Like, it’s cool,” Tim told me. “I mean, OK. We got robbed about three months back. But don’t worry, it wasn’t a big deal.
“Is that why there’s plywood on the window?” I asked.
I followed him to the back door. We began to climb the stairs.
“Plywood, on the window …”
“What, that? Oh, yeah. Like I said, broke the window. Cleaned ’em out. But like, dude. Believe me. Not a big deal.”
“Oh?” I said.
“Yeah, I mean think about it. We’re totally on the third floor. They’d have to carry all our stuff down three flights of stairs.”
“We just walked up two flights of stairs. Not three.”
“Oh. right. Well, it’s a lot of stairs. Don’t worry dude. They already hit our house. So I figure we’re in the clear anyway.”
Lovely, I thought.
I entered Tim’s place expecting the worst. And all told, his place wasn’t actually that bad. The flat was roomy and despite the darkness outside, I imagined a lot of light probably poured in through the multiple windows during the day.
Had it not been for the five issues of Penthouse (I guess Tim hasn’t heard of the internet) thrown on the floor, I may have forgotten all about the first-floor burglary and considered living at the place.
“So what do you think?” Tim asked.
“Well, it’s nice. It’s roomier than I thought it would be. Where’s the kitchen?”
“Ah … okay so, yeah. The kitchen. About that …”
“What about it?” I asked.
“Okay, well like don’t freak out or anything, cause I know it sounds gross, but it’s really not that bad. It’s actually quite convenient, some might say …”
“What are you talking about?”
“Well okay. Let me come clean. Nobody is supposed to live on the third floor. Technically it’s the attic.”
“Anyway. I know the landlord,” Tim continued. “He’s a nice guy. Lives three blocks away. Only takes cash payments, by the way. But he’s got a problem here. You know how I said the first floor got robbed? Well, that happens like all the time. No one wants to live in there. I don’t know what it is. But tenants shuffle in and out and he was losing a lot of money to people who skipped out early on leases without settling rents and stuff.”
“Hasn’t he heard of ADT?” I asked.
“I don’t think he listens to rap. But what does that have to do with …”
“Nevermind. Look, what’s this got to do with the kitchen?” I asked.
I followed Tim through the common room toward a closed door.
“Well, this is weird. But when the landlord was putting this all together he had some space issues …”
Tim opened the door to the kitchen. A rusty stove sat in the corner.
And right next to it, was the toilet.
Four rolls of toilet paper were stacked next to one of the burners.
An uncomfortable silence settled in as I struggled to find the right words.
“Weird, right?” Tim interjected. “But, I mean, you can’t argue with the convenience!”
The visit to Tim’s place was the first time I’d ever told someone flat-out I would NOT be living there. Under any circumstances.
Two days later the advertisement was back up on Craigslist.
The description was the same blend of spartan prose. “No drama.”
But this time there was a new tagline — “must be OK with creative use of living space!”