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NOTE: I forgot this post had been living in my drafts since April, 2011. The good news is that I’m in a much quieter apartment. I still think this is one of the most entertaining exchanges I’ve ever seen.

Apartment living and nightmarish neighbors – like bacon and eggs, black and white, Uncle Joey and Uncle Jesse – those two always go hand-in-hand.

My last apartment in N.Y. was reasonably quiet, minus my across the hall neighbor’s prayer bell, which sounded multiple times per day. My beach apartment offered some of the worst neighbors that money could buy. And my current apartment complex may or may not be populated with fugitives. It simply seems suspect that everyone decides to move out after 11 p.m. Last week, when my parents were visiting, my dad jokingly asked someone if they had a body rolled up in a carpet they were loading in their truck. He said they didn’t laugh back – chances are they probably did.

In typical upstairs neighbor fashion, Stompy McStomperson cannot walk lightly on his feet. He drops everything when he walks in the door. And he had a niggling cough for about three weeks. All night long, I would hear him coughing – when it finally stopped, I suspected he dropped dead from tuberculosis.

One night, my friend Ashley texted me from N.Y. – she couldn’t sleep, due to the incessant noise caused by her upstairs neighbors. What follows, simply needed to be shared … because it’s amazing.

Bulldog looks grumpy, because Ashley and the cats aren’t getting any sleep!

Ashley left this adorable bulldog card for her upstairs neighbor.


Her card read as follows:

Dear Upstairs Neighbor(s):
I am writing you this because I am a coward and am completely terrible with in-person problem-solving.

Anyway, it’s a few minutes after midnight on a Monday … well, Tuesday now, and it kinda sounds like you’re bowling up there … here … where you are. This happens often between what I imagine are games of tag, exciting cage matches and vacuuming.

I usually get back late from work so I completely understand how tough it is to fit in all of that activity before bed. But I guess what I’m  really trying to say here is: I would super-appreciate it if you could please try to keep things down after 9 p.m. on “school nights.” If not, please at least invite me to the festivities. I love bowling! And I’m totally bad at it so you could get a huge ego boost from kicking my butt … unless you’re bad, too.

Sincere thanks,
Your downstairs neighbor

The next day, she received this card.

No, her upstairs neighbor is not Christopher Cross.

What he wrote:

Dear Neighbor:

Apologies for your disquieted home. Your note proves that my faith in the building’s soundproofing has been overly optimistic. I say my, though my wife lives here as well – I am probably the cause of most noise. One caveat – our refrigerator had been slowly and loudly dying for some months and was only replaced this week. Some bowling games, at least, were caused by its thudding. It is dead and gone.

We will be more conscientious of our noise level at night and __ ___ hope that your evening will be improved. Therefore, may I suggest 10 p.m. as a reasonable start time for Night Procedures? With two of us navigating space in this apartment, there will surely be some noise, but we will do more to mitigate it.

Unfortunately, we have no bowling lane to offer but we do love tea and coffee. You are welcome to come up and share some if you’d like to get acquainted with more than our ___ detritus.

We are sorry you were put out.

Sincerely,
(Name detracted)

Stay tuned, as Ashley brokers peace in the Middle East using greeting cards …

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I am superstitious about a number of strange things. I believe that bad things will happen if I hear “Black” by Pearl Jam (I finally smartened up and took it off my iPod, hoping to foil the karmic gods of grunge music). I hesitate when the 28th of each month rolls around … and breathe a sigh of relief when I make it through unscathed. And when it comes to holiday superstitions, I believe that your New Year’s Eve will be reflective of the year to come.

So evidently my heat broke in the middle of the night. My last apartment had two operating temperatures – 50 and 95. It was always super hot unless it was windy, in which case the draft through the windows would knock it down to “really freaking cold.” Needless to say, I was super excited to live in an apartment with central heat and a thermostat … until the furnace decided to break. And in the grand scheme of how things work in NYC apartments, my landlord (who speaks Albanian) sent in a “friend” who lives in my building (and speaks Yugoslavian) to fix the heat. It’s nearly 3 p.m. and I still don’t have working heat. I’m not entirely sure if or when I will.

The first question of superstitions is this: does that one about New Year’s Eve apply to the whole day or just the romantic-at midnight part of it? In other words, is my 2010 already doomed or is there still time to salvage it?

Regardless, it brought something else to the front of my mind about resolutions. Year after year, I make a list of generic resolutions – often so many that it would be impossible to actually remember them, let alone make them happen. So this year, I am trying something different.

In 2010:
I am going to learn to take things as they come and try not to let details overwhelm me or stress me out.
I am going to focus on what is good and positive in my life, rather than thinking about what is missing or what would theoretically make it better.
I am going to recognize my own accomplishments for what they are, instead of thinking that I should always be doing more or better than I am.
I am going to set realistic goals for my own success – and realize that making it halfway there isn’t a total loss or failure.

And most importantly, I am going to work harder on being present. I have a tendency to live my life either judging in retrospect or looking ahead without a plan. And much like today, I wonder how my life passes me by, where the year has gone.

I remember this day last year like it was yesterday. I remember thinking about everything that wasn’t what it supposed to be, yet being too scared to move forward. I spent the next months looking back, rather than focusing on what was happening in real time, and repeated my mistakes. And if I wasn’t looking back at something and trying to figure out what could have been different, I was blindly looking ahead – escapism – for the next great thing to happen.

Is this the perfect New Year’s Eve? Not so much so far. But you know what, it could definitely be worse. Here comes the reality check: if I had heat yesterday, hopefully I should be able to have heat again. And while it could end up being a completely wicked inconvenience, it’s not the end of the world.

I have a roof over my head. (And a pretty awesome place to live, when there is heat …)

I have a job that allows me to help people who face much bigger challenges than I do and helps keep my pity parties in check.

I have great friends and a wonderful family who remind me what love really means.

And throughout all the mess of this day, someone is still managing to make me smile.

So when the clock strikes twelve, whether it was a good New Year’s Eve or a not so good one, superstition be damned. I am going to have a good 2010.

“Wonder whose arms will hold you good and tight
When it’s exactly twelve o’clock that night
Welcoming in the New Year, New Year’s Eve
Maybe I’m crazy to suppose I’d ever be the one you chose
Out of the thousand invitations you receive
And though I know I’ll never stand a chance
Here comes the jackpot question in advance
What are you doin’ New Year’s, New Year’s Eve?”

– “What Are You Doing New Year’s Eve”

In my last apartment, where I lived for two years, I could not control the temperature. It was reminiscent of dorm life, except it was significantly more costly, I didn’t have a white board on my door and I didn’t have 25 types of cereal at my disposal. I swore up and down that once I could spend my night somewhere that wasn’t either 54 or 96 degrees that I would be content.

I stumbled upon the proverbial pot of gold when I found my current apartment on Craigslist. For once in my life, I can say the downturn of the economy benefited me, as the apartment would have been out of my price range a few months prior. Due to my previous living situation, I was ready to sign the lease once I saw that the apartment had a thermostat. Central air and heat? Unheard of in New York. In addition, the apartment has brand-new stainless steel appliances (including a dishwasher!), a washer and dryer and a Jacuzzi tub.

I’ve been pretty damn happy.

When I lived in Long Beach, parking could be somewhat torturous during the summer. After all, I lived across the street from the beach. And the beach I lived across from was not just any beach, but the one that the 1,000+ participant volleyball league took place at four days per week between Memorial Day and Labor Day. If you got home after 7, you would be (at best) relegated to a sand lot where you would be ticketed if you forgot to move your car by midnight. I also got my car stuck in the sand once or twice. The good part about Long Beach was, if you didn’t move your car, you could keep that spot forever. This is not the case in Queens.

When searching for the perfect image for this post, I stumbled upon one on the same topic, as this person so cleverly calls it, “the alternate side parking shuffle.” I will continue to borrow from this person’s post, as her description hits the nail right on the head – “The shuffle is a daily event that spans about an hour and half on streets all across the city. The idea is that cars vacate one side of the street, allowing the street cleaner to come through. It’s also a municipal money making machine. Every person I know who has a car gets more than a handful of street-cleaning tickets a year.”

I will start by saying that I am devoted to never getting a $40+ ticket for having my car on the wrong side of the street. I have post-it notes that I alternate on the inside of my door that read “move car at night” and “move car in morning.” I use my BlackBerry to remind myself *exactly* where my car is and when it has to be moved, just in case I forget. After two months, I was starting to think that I had the system figured out. In other words: moving your car at night is usually easier than moving your car in the morning. Avoid streets that have many driveways. As I said, I felt like I was beginning to master the system.

Then last night happened.

It took 35 minutes to find a parking spot. My car might as well be parked in Beijing.

While hiking back from my parking spot, I passed one of the many deli-bodega-corner stores in my neighborhood and invested a dollar in the lottery. Tonight, I will win Mega Millions and the first thing I will buy is a parking spot. Because that, is all it will take for me to be happy now.

I turned 30 exactly one month ago to the day. While I felt the usual frustrations with turning a year older, I was trying not to succumb to the feelings of “what does 30 really mean?” In other words, I told myself that I wasn’t going to ruminate about marriage, kids, and the whole concept of a future any more than I had at 29, 25 or 21.

When I first moved back to N.Y. from Charleston in 2005, I told myself that it was a temporary stop, a layover, if you will. After being back a year, I created a new master plan for myself. I would go back to school and get my Master’s degree to teach English. While I certainly wouldn’t make the money teaching elsewhere that I would teaching here (no, I’m not referring to the City schools), a teaching degree would be versatile. I wouldn’t get stuck in New York.

I actually declared a major in education my freshman year of college. By the time I finished my lackluster freshman year, I had vaguely switched over to journalism, unsure of what I really wanted. I dug myself a hole, selecting a degree that all but guaranteed I would have to live near a major city to find a job – N.Y., Chicago or Los Angeles. Going back to teach would allow me to go west, move back to Charleston … the opportunities seemed endless as long as a position was available.

Fortunately but unfortunately, I gave up the idea of pursuing teaching when my current job came my way, offering money and opportunity. At the time, the plan was to “give New York a fair shot” and then consider transferring to Los Angeles within the organization. Last year when I renewed my lease, I told myself that would be my last year in New York. I was ready to go to California to pursue the life I had always dreamed of, this July.

Over the past six months, I temporarily sidelined my plan to move cross-country. I felt like the current state of the economy made it an irresponsible time to make sweeping changes. After all, I could still move out west in another year. While I wasn’t happy pushing my dream aside, I felt like I was making a responsible choice for my future.

I planned to move closer to the City this July when my lease was up. After all, I generally spend a portion of all seven days in the City – commuting was no longer worth the headache. I started looking and found (by N.Y. standards) a dream apartment. The apartment boasted amenities atypical of N.Y-area rentals – central air, a washer/dryer and even better, it was brand new. I was content to pay a broker fee, even at a time when everyone insists I should be getting more for my money. For a moment, I felt okay with my decision to stay in New York.

Then, in typical New York fashion, I inexplicably lost the apartment before I even got to sign the lease or pay the deposit, due to a shady broker. All at once, it reminded me how difficult and unreasonable things are here, such as finding housing. Not only do we pay exorbitant rents that are completely not in line with our salaries, we also accept the idea that we will not have air conditioning, more than one closet or a dishwasher for that price. Why should I pay a fee equivalent to one month’s rent to a broker when I find an apartment on Craigslist?

Losing the apartment unearthed a wave of emotions, mostly reminding me how much I didn’t want to be here. After all, it hardly seems worth it to get so little for so much work and money when I don’t even want to live here in the first place. It reminded me that, at 30, I’m not getting more opportunities – I’m getting fewer. Honestly, it feels like a waste of time to be practical and stay somewhere that I don’t want to be because I am “thinking of my future.” Really, what am I thinking about? How much I don’t want to spend another year here, let alone the rest of my life. Every year that I spend here makes it seem less and less likely that I’ll ever leave.

Unfortunately, bad thoughts snowball. You start off feeling negative about one thing in your life and it brings to the surface everything that isn’t going how you hoped it would. Before you know it, you’re having one of those days where everything sucks.

“Woke up today, to everything grey
And all that I saw, just kept goin’ on and on
Sweep all the pieces under the bed
Close all the curtains and cover my head
And what you wish for won’t come true
You aren’t surprised, love, are you”
– “What You Wish For”
Guster

I have exactly seven weeks left in my current apartment – aside from finding a new place, getting movers and remembering exactly how many companies I need to submit a change of address form to, the most daunting task ahead is packing and cleaning.

I just discovered (for the sake of this post) that I have moved 15 times in 13 years. I’ve had ten addresses. Needless to say, I should be an expert at this packing up and moving gig. Here’s where I fail, though – I always wait until the last minute to tackle packing and cleaning, at which point I have amassed enough clutter and mess to cause a total meltdown.

In thinking about this, I’ve realized that the same can apply, metaphorically, to my life.

An apartment is easier to clean and organize when you tackle it one room at a time, before it becomes a total disaster. By letting go of unnecessary things that clutter my living space before they become overwhelming, I surely can cut down on the time I spend trying to correct it.

My friend Beth and I have had a number of discussions about “toxic people” – everyone has them – whether it’s the friend who only calls you when he needs a favor, the ex who likes to flirt with you (even though he is with someone else) or the guy who only comes around on weeknights after midnight. Much like house clutter, toxic people don’t go away until you choose to rid your life of them. By waiting to take control of people and situations that make your life feel cluttered and out of control, situations only tend to worsen.

It’s time to spring clean – to figure out who I really need in my life and who is still there because, much like the plastic box of “sentimental t-shirts” in my closet, I have yet to figure out how to truly let go. I need to re-evaluate what it is that I really want – I think that I know, but then I see myself making decisions that are in complete opposition to those goals. I need to figure out which people and choices are getting me closer to who and where I want to be … and which ones are pushing me further away.

It’s time to re-arrange.

“And if you really want to shake it off

You gotta re-arrange”
– “The Re-Arranger”
Mates of State

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