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Holiday Cheer Was Worse Than The Rodents

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Last June, I moved into a two-bedroom apartment in Dupont at 17th and R for $2100 a month, utilities included.The apartment was on the fourth floor of a four-floor, walk-up. It was a 100-year-old building with a crumbling, blue stucco exterior and pervasively dusty interior. A bowl full of loose candies languished untouched in a filmy glass bowl in the small ground floor entryway.

Upstairs in the apartment, the worn wood floor and peeling crown molding was charming, at first. My roommate and I were desperate to move in to our first post-college apartment, and we were grateful the apartment came fully furnished. Never mind that there was an oversized sofa and large arm chair, six kitchen chairs, and a small table in the cramped living/dining. There was no central air-conditioning, no dishwasher, and no garbage disposal. There also was no fee or credit check to apply to rent the unit.

The landlord, a wild-eyed, middle-aged man with curly gray hair and a modest belly who looked like he had answered a casting call for "Brooklyn landlord." He talked incessantly. The day my roommate and I put down the deposit, he told us preferred young tenants who wouldn't be angling for updates or improvements. He also warned us not to lick the walls (lead paint), promised to fix the the freezer that leaked water into the a loaf pan on the top shelf of the fridge, and showed us where to flick the breaker switch with the fuse blew

As we moved our things in, it was clear the apartment hadn't been professionally cleaned - ever. My roommate and I swept, mopped, dusted, and Cloroxed for days. We cleaned the dust-caked filters in the AC window units, sorted through the collection of unwanted pots, pans, and kitchen appliance that crowded our new cabinets, and bravely attacked decades-old layers of grease on our stove top.

The shower wouldn't drain until the water reached above my calves, patches of mold bloomed in every nook and cranny of the damp bathroom, and the plaster drywall by the shower began to fall off in chunks. We couldn't have the lights, the TV on, and the more than one AC unit on at the same time without a blowing a fuse. The clothes iron and blow-dryer were similarly problematic. One day, our kitchen sink wouldn't drain. I told our landlord repeatedly (via phone and email). By day three of the backed up sink, we couldn't wash any dishes. After the sink was backed up for five days, a plumber (supposedly summoned days ago) finally appeared and cursed my landlord's name after he saw the sink.

In the fall when our steam radiators rattled, knocked, and hissed at all hours, mice emerged from the walls, darting one at a time from the living room to the kitchen. We called our landlord, who was not surprised by our rodent sighting. He came over, armed with sticky traps and rat poison. He explained that the warm building was a warm haven, "like Miami beach" for rats once the cold weather started. He calmly sprinkled the blue crystals of rat poison around our fridge and in the crack between out counter top and our stove. Later, I found one dead, and I still continued to see live ones skulking in the kitchen well into the spring.

The fun continued into the holiday season. One December morning as I rushed out through the vestibule, I stopped dead in my tracks. Sometime during the previous night. The landlord had arranged a seasonal tableau of a large stuffed reindeer surrounded by miniature stuffed reindeer and pine cones, haphazardly scattered on a red felt cloth (picture attached). It stayed into the holiday season and was the centerpiece of a holiday party the landlord arranged later that month. The invitation was a photocopy of a note handwritten in Sharpie, slipped under our door, that promised $50 off in rent for all tenants who attended. At the party, my landlord served last year's Martinelli's sparkling cider in paper Dixie cups, and I stared at the stuffed reindeer, calculating how many minutes I would have to stay to earn the discount on rent.

I moved into a managed, high-rise building this summer, with a 24/7 concierge desk and a system for placing work orders for problems as trivial as a burned-out fluorescent. Sometimes, I think about stopping by my old building, commiserating with the current tenants in my old apartment, and reassuring them that things will get better - when they move out.