Was it a catch, or simply a condition that tends to accompany success in scrambling frantically for one of life's basic needs? A scramble that if not successful might result in a life too dreary to imagine. Whatever it was, its potential was completely lost on us because we were in celebration mode. We were the happiest people alive. Aside from the overwhelming joy that was pumping through our veins that can only come by way of dodging a bullet, the only things left to occupy our minds were the questions that simply did not matter anymore; did he really not run a credit check on us? Was he embellishing the "overwhelming" number of applications he had received prior to our own? Did he not notice the gaping abyss on the section of our application reserved for a viable rental history? Or did he simply like our overall vibe and have enough faith in his gut instincts that the significance of all that official stuff fell by the wayside? But again, none of that mattered anymore, because against all odds we got the thing we wanted most; the duplex of our dreams.
If there was one thing we had learned after so many years of playing the rental game, it is that if the application process reaches the point of a physical showing by the owner, it would be unwise for the applicant to scrutinize the condition of that rental to even the slightest degree. If only two of the four burners on that stovetop worked, you mention how cute you find the neighborhood. If there is not a smoke detector in the unit to be found, you gush about the grand potential of the master bedroom. And if the landlord alludes to any potential catch the apartment might possess, you tell him that it will be anything but a problem. In this spirit, when our potential new landlord casually mentioned that the neighbors have been known to get a little loud and rowdy from time to time, we assured him that our favorite thing in the world was to share a paper thin wall with loud and rowdy neighbors. He seemed pleased to hear it, so when he called us a week later to let us know us the place was ours, we all felt quite fortunate to meet up and sign on the dotted line. With that, we handed him our life savings in exchange for two brass keys.
Three days later we were still unpacking when I answered a knock at the door to find a fairly unfriendly looking fellow swaying in place with a half full box of cheap beer under his arm. He was slurring badly, but from what I could make out his name was Billy, he was my neighbor, and he'd like to have a beer with me on the porch. It was that or his name was Dilly, he was from Niger, and a bear had stolen his wife's old torch. Whatever the case, I introduced myself in kind, respectfully declined his offer, and told him I had to run because I had a pot of boiling water that needed attention on one of my two working burners.
Two days later there was another knock at the door. This time it was a woman named Tawnya who apparently felt the need to apologize on behalf of her drunken husband, who she thought was far too drunk to be responsibly introducing himself to the new neighbors. This struck me as hypocritical as she smelled like a winery and appeared to be at least as drunk as her husband upon his own introduction. She then went on to ask if we wouldn't mind moving our car, as she was on her way to the store and felt less than confident that she could clear our left rear bumper on her way out. I was happy to oblige, despite the fact that our left rear bumper was at least twelve feet in front of the right front bumper of her monster truck as it sat idling. I moved the car up about four feet along the curb, shot her a dismissive smile, and headed back to our half of Shangri-la. As I had one foot in the door, I heard her running up behind me to ask if I could do her one more favor. She told me she would only be gone for about fifteen minutes, and that it would mean a lot if I could help her park the truck when she returned. This left me wondering how much cheap liquor a person would have to drink to ask a stranger to park their own truck for them, but I told her that it would be my pleasure. When I got back into our place I locked the door behind me, kissed my wife goodnight, crawled into bed beside her, and fell fast asleep. It wasn't that I had forgotten about my arrangement with Tawnya, it was just that dropping whatever I was doing every time the neighbors got too drunk to park was not a precedent I was willing to set. When I awoke in the morning I peeked out of our kitchen window to see how she did. Sure enough, she had managed to park in the street, the parking space, and the sidewalk, all with a single truck. I wondered if there would be any hard feelings due to my failure to come through on my promise, but I settled on the likelihood that she was too drunk to remember that she had asked me in the first place. My wife and I agreed it would be best to avoid Billy and Tawnya from that point on, which we managed to do with almost one hundred percent success.
As those first few weeks rolled along we got used to the yelling, screaming, crying, and fighting that filtered through the shared wall from their place into ours. In some strange way, they came to feel like distant cousins we never had, and accordingly, ones we were happy to see as seldom as possible. But as fate would have it, they would not be our neighbors for long. One morning as I was pacing the kitchen, waiting for the coffee to brew, I saw Tawnya through the window, loading the last of their belongings into the back of the truck. I had a feeling this was the last we were going to see of the pair, so I threw on my shoes and headed out front to say my goodbyes. Tawnya confided in me that they had been living off of Billy's unemployment checks for the last nine months, and it had finally run dry. I did my best to look sincere when I told her it was nice to meet her and Billy, and that I wished them all the luck in the world. And that was that. Almost as quickly as we came, they were gone.
If less than one month of enduring Billy and Tawnya's drunken antics was the only catch to our new living arrangement, we were very lucky people. It got me thinking that maybe the catch wasn't ours at all. Maybe it was our landlord's. Because until we had a fully functioning stove and a couple of smoke detectors, he wasn't getting one more dime in rent from us.