Places I’ve Lived: A Shoebox, A Stalker Incident and a Place with a Grill
by Jamie Wiebe
We have all lived in some places. Where have you lived, Jamie Wiebe?
Evanston, Ill., $596/month
My first apartment, rented during my junior year of college. Comparing it to a shoebox would be awfully cruel. For the shoebox. We had to jump over one couch to get to the bathroom, and our “kitchen” was three feet from the other couch, but at least my window had a pretty view of a giant tree. And a bike rack. My roommate and I once threw a party for my ex-boyfriend’s birthday, and even with half the furniture shoved in our bedrooms and everything else squished against the walls, we could only fit fifteen unfortunate souls. Luckily we had a porch for the smokers — and the firemen, who came mid-party because our stove was leaking gas. Again. They did not accept our offer of beer.
Austin, Texas, $600/month
Residency placement in Austin! Austin is the best. Unpaid residency is not the best. Cats are the best! My roommates had two, who functioned as furry, shrieking alarm clocks. I got a $50 rent discount because the lady I subleased from was skipping town to move in with her boyfriend. I was happy because it was a house — a full house, with a backyard. It is the only house I’ve ever lived in that wasn’t owned by my parents (or divided into separate apartments). Having just turned 21, I was delighted to find it along a bus line that ran straight to 6th Street (bars! beers! giant margaritas!), and less delighted that the bus stopped running at midnight. I also know it was exactly four miles from downtown, having walked the whole distance at 2 a.m. after losing my friends, failing to flag a taxi and having my phone battery die. I told them I found a “secret cabbie hotspot” when I showed up two hours later.
Upper East Side, Manhattan, $735/month
For most of my post-junior year summer, I was living large: free housing and an internship that paid $10 per hour! I ate so well. I saved nothing. I bought my breakfast every morning, which seems insane now. Then my internship was extended (yay!), Columbia kicked me out so their “students” could “use the dorms” (boo!), the housing stipend I had been promised turned out to be a lie and I wore out my welcome on my friend’s couch in Harlem. Luckily, another friend had a kinda-cheap-for-New York sublet two blocks away from Two Little Red Hens, which seemed fantastic, until my waistline and wallet weighed in. My room had a great fire escape for people-watching, and was extravagantly huge (it would be split by two people later) and decorated like a boho fairytale castle. I lived here for a month and came out convinced I had bed bugs. It turned out I had scabies (who gets scabies?), but the repeated high-heat dryer cycles ruined half my clothing.
Evanston, Ill., $600/month
Another subleased apartment, because I knew I would be away for the last quarters of college. Why rent? Before moving in, I was warned repeatedly about the crazy lady upstairs who did jazzercise at 6 a.m. and yelled at my (wonderful, subdued) roommates for being too noisy. I was really hoping for a blow-up but nothing happened. It was in a fancier, “real-people” building, not the half-rotting wreck of an apartment/group house most people lived in. It had a fireplace and a dining room where I would sit and read for classes while drinking tea and French pressed coffee. You know, like a grown-up, except for the fact that I spent most of the quarter skipping class and subsisting off of Burger King kids’ meals. I shoved most of my belongings in the basement when I moved to Edinburgh, but some boxes mysteriously disappeared while I was gone. Or maybe I didn’t look hard enough.
Edinburgh, U.K., $620/month
I sent my study abroad company a lump sum and they produced this flat (I had no choice in the matter), located directly underneath Arthur’s Seat, which is this really awesome mountain-hill-cliff thing I only climbed once, despite planning to do so no less than eight or nine times. Most of the semester was spent engaging in typically Scottish activities, like drinking liters of Strongbow and complaining about the weather. The light switches were funny and it took me three days to figure out how to turn on the shower. Once, a man followed me home from a club and offered to pay me for my “services.” I had to strong-arm the door closed, then I ran upstairs and locked all the locks. Coincidentally, the flat was located on a street called “Hermit’s Croft,” which is what I became after that incident, and also after spending all my money and maxing out my first credit card.
Bushwick, Brooklyn, $600/month
Naturally, the place to move after having a terrifying stalker-ish incident in a European city is a Craigslist sublet in Bushwick. It was actually awesome! My roommates were never home and I had an amazing view of the Manhattan skyline from my ginormous window. Things I did not have: an AC; money to buy an AC; a ceiling fan that did anything more than whirl aimlessly; anything to block out the 4 a.m. noise from the cars playing rap at full volume, extra bass. Amazingly, considering this was last summer, when temperatures shot into the 90s and didn’t move for weeks at a time, I survived, mostly because I couldn’t afford to buy bedding. Being unemployed, I spent most of my days in Little Skips down the street drinking iced coffee or lemonade, stealing their Wi-Fi for job-hunting and feeling out-of-place (I didn’t own jorts yet).
Astoria, Queens, $950/month
“Move to Astoria!” my friend said. “You’ll love Astoria!” she said. “Astoria Astoria Astoria!” she said. I didn’t want to move to Astoria, because: Brooklyn, but also didn’t have the energy to look for an apartment for longer than a day. So Astoria it was, and guess what, dear reader: I love Astoria! The best Greek restaurant in NYC is five blocks away, and we have a massive Czech beer garden that Mint graciously tags as a “charity” whenever I spend money there. It’s a little far from the train, and I’m still upset I can’t get a cat, and I’m convinced the apartment’s just a wee bit overpriced, but my bedroom is huge, and my adorable landlord gives us lamps and nightstands and fake flowers and we have a backyard with a grill. Astoria is the best.
Jamie Wiebe checks facts for a living. She posts pictures of all the animals not allowed into her apartment on her blog.