Sunday, January 04, 2009

New home... for now

Earlier this fall, no longer able to stand the hour-long commute separating us, Tony and I moved in together. It's a choice that I would never, in my devout Catholic girlhood, have imagined making. I still have some old-fashioned beliefs about relationships.

But DC is big, expensive and hard to get around if you don't have a car. Our houses were five miles apart on opposite sides of the Potomac river: a 25 minute trip by car, but an hour or more by public transportation. It grew harder and harder to bear the vagaries of DC subway travel and to limit our time together to a rigidly-outlined dating schedule. If one of us went away, even for a few days, we might not see each other for over a week.

My lease ended in November, so we began a tentative apartment hunt in August. We had just about settled on a well-run apartment complex in the Maryland suburb of Silver Spring--a little far from downtown DC but quiet and pleasant--when the owners of our favorite coffee shop, where we've been eating twice a week for a year, told us that their friends were almost finished renovating the upstairs apartment of the house next door.


A ten-minute walk from a metro station in the neighborhood I've grown to love AND easy access to the best mochas in DC? We were sold. It seemed too good to be true.

And, of course, it was. The owners promised us several renovations, some of which were still incomplete when we moved in. That was ok. We could be understanding tenants. No mailbox? Letters could slide under the door! A front door that only locks with a padlock, from the outside? Someone had been hired to redesign the whole entrance--and designers are so unreliable! Anemic heat? You know how old buildings can be!

Then the kitchen sink started to leak. Our landlords would call a plumber and ask us to meet him during work hours... and then he wouldn't show. After another couple of days and more phone calls, the landlords would hire another plumber, who might show up or not. And another. After eight weeks and a complete replacement of the (newly installed) disposal and pipes, the sink only leaks a little, small drips easily caught in a cereal bowl that I dump out once a week or so. We've kind of given up on that because we have bigger issues to deal with.

The first time I ever ran the clothes dryer at night, it shorted out the current for our whole apartment. That's because all the outlets in our apartment are--wait for it--wired to a single circuit. The apartment is under-powered for the number of appliances it contains, so our landlord was supposed to apply to PEPCO (our local electric company) to increase the voltage sent to the apartment. PEPCO has no record of any such application. For now, we have to turn off the heat every time we run the dryer. I forgot today and had to replace yet another fuse.

Tony is bent on getting our of here with our security deposit and credit rating intact, so he began the grievance process by sending our landlords a letter listing all the housing codes the apartment violates (at least four) and threatening to schedule an inspection with the local housing agency if they haven't begun repairs in two weeks. Did I mention that Tony is my hero? He is now in charge of all customer service complaints.

For my part, I am ambivalent about leaving. The apartment is inconvenient at best and, with our exits impeded front and back (the fire escape is bent and rusty), dangerous at worst. Ok. But it offers a lot of things that many other places won't: we can have the animals with no problem; I can store the scooter, the bike, and the trailer in our back yard; and the kitchen is a glorious, gorgeous expanse of sunlight from its south-facing windows and storm door. That picture above? That's Linus on his private sun porch, where he guards the approach to our "castle" while enjoying the greenhouse effect. Plus, I dream of growing herbs--maybe even potatoes!--on the fire escape come spring.

I just want our landlords to fix the problems so we don't have to move again (remind me to tell you about the sofa delivery nightmare sometime). Tony wants to live in a place that has adequate heat and power supply. The saga of the kitchen sink has shown us that improvements, if they come, will be lengthy, inconvenient and unreliable.

We're in for an exciting couple of months. These days find me more and more nostalgic for the beautiful little apartment I had in Winston-Salem, where I paid $450 a month to live by myself near a park in the center of town AND had stained-glass windows. Alas.

But there's an upside: Tony is here at last. Forever.