I moved to Oakland in the spring of 2001. I was twenty one years old. I had lived in San Francisco much of the year before. It was not a good year. It was awkward, messy, drug and alcohol fueled. It ended badly and might make a good story for another day. When I finally decided to move out of the city I desperately wanted to live alone. At the time I suppose I thought that other people were the problem. The problem couldn’t possibly have been me. So after a brief stint of moving back to my hometown, I moved to Oakland. I subletted a place for a couple of months. Nothing very extraordinary happened there. All I remember about that apartment was that I watched a lot of Golden Girls and made a ton of horrible vegan food. After the sublet was up I found a studio downtown through a friend of mine who was already living in the building. This studio was the first of six apartments I would live in that were all overseen by the same landlord. She managed two buildings located just around the corner from each other.
The studio was on the ground floor. It was pretty small but had a separate kitchen, with enough room for a small table to eat at. It had a good sized bathroom. But the best part was the giant walk in closet. It was almost big enough to be a bedroom. It was perfect for me because by age twenty one I had accumulated quite a bit of crap. Working in thrift stores and being a packrat will do that. I shoved all my musty vintage clothes and giant VHS collection into that closet and then had the rest of the studio to do whatever I wanted with. Up until that point I hadn’t really ever lived on my own. I’d had various roommates or lived in already furnished apartments. I didn’t own any basic items like forks or lamps. I had a futon mattress and a bunch of blue crates that I put all my books and records on. I decided that, based on my income level (low), that I should go for a utilitarian route. I went to Home Depot and purchased these big, cheap, metal shelves. I assembled them myself and then precariously placed my stereo system on the middle shelf. It seemed too heavy, so I placed a bunch of records on the bottom shelf to weigh it down.
I bought a lamp at Walgreens. It was a tiny thing, made of pink glass. I put it on top of my 13 inch TV. So I had a lumpy futon, a ratty chair I found on the street that I covered in leopard print, and shelves meant for a garage. It wasn’t grown up or nice at all, but it was my first place all my own. I remember my first few nights there. I didn’t know what to do with myself. I didn’t have to hide from roommates. I had no one to answer to. I could literally sit in there all day and night doing whatever I wanted. Unfortunately, all I ever seemed to want to do was smoke a ton of pot and pass out to whatever tape I’d popped in the VCR. Much like most of my early to mid-twenties, it was a strange time for me. I can look back now and laugh at a lot of it, but I also see very clearly now how completely and utterly lost I was. Just really depressed, lonely, and aimless.
I’m not sure how long I lived there before the mice showed up. I do remember that the first encounter with one of them was traumatic. I got home from work, it was the evening. As usual, the first thing I did when I got home was get stoned. Soon after smoking I heard some scuffling around in the kitchen. And then out of the corner of my eye I saw something scamper through into the main room. I shrieked repeatedly. It took me a minute to figure out that it was a mouse. It was running along the edges of the wall, heading towards my futon which lay on the floor, with no frame. I ran out of my apartment, unsure what to do next. I hoped my friend who lived in the building would be home. I had no idea if she’d be willing to catch the mouse for me, I just knew I wanted someone else to take care of it. I got her to come over and I stood on my chair, too scared that the thing might graze my foot or crawl up a pant leg. I was seriously frightened of this tiny mouse.
To be honest, I don’t even remember what happened to that first mouse. I don’t think we caught it; we probably just scared it into hiding. I went to my landlord and she supplied me with some mousetraps. She told me to put peanut butter on them to entice the vermin. As I would grow to learn in the next few years, she could not have given less of a shit about any problem I encountered in one of her apartments. In fact when I think about her now, it’s like she was from England, but you know, one hundred years prior. Rats, cockroaches, maggots, disease, whatever, she was not worried about it. It was all normal to her, just a fact of life.
So I put some traps down. And somewhat to my surprise, in the early morning hours of the next day, before my alarm even went off, I heard a loud snap in the kitchen. I got out of bed and looked on the floor and there it was, a mouse with its brains shooting out of its little head. It was vile. I did not pick it up. I got ready for work and then went down the hall to tell my landlord I had caught one and requested that she dispose of it for me. She agreed. I killed a few more after that. Eventually they went away. Luckily I didn’t have to deal with any further infestations of animals or insects.
In November of 2001 there was a big storm. I went out to get coffee at the donut shop around the corner the morning after. On the way to the shop was a parking lot where I parked my car. I hadn’t had the car very long. It was a two door Toyota hatchback. I had borrowed money to get it. It was nice to have and I really only used it for grocery shopping and such as I still took the train to work during the week. The rest of the time it sat in this lot, where I’d hoped it was safe. As I walked down the street I saw that a giant tree in the sidewalk next to lot had been knocked completely over during the storm, onto my car.
Normal people have insurance and registration and proof that it’s their car. Normal people would have been compensated somehow for such a loss. Not I. Nope. I lost my car to a tree and never got anything to show for it. That’s what I get for not having my shit together. I can even see that coming across on my face here. I believe I am thinking “Of course this happened. Why the fuck wouldn’t it?”
It was a weird year, that 2001. Obviously 9/11 happened. That sucked. Mice. My car got smashed. I had no idea what I was doing with my life. The only glimmer of hope was that I had been pen pals with this guy for the last year and a half and our correspondence had become romantic. He was headed back to the area sometime around Thanksgiving. The fact that I’d met him while he was homeless and hopping trains seemed exciting to me at the time. Yes, I was possibly in love with a twenty three year old hobo. He arrived into town on my twenty second birthday. He immediately moved into my apartment.
It was a rocky relationship from the start. Apparently living indoors is tough on a hobo. I also learned it was hard for heroin and crack users to not use heroin and crack. It was quite a life lesson. About a month into living with Fuckhead, or FH for short, he took off. I had no phone at the time, just a pager. But he didn’t make any attempt to contact me for several days. I was devastated. I spent those days mostly in my apartment, crying and cursing myself for caring about such a horrible person. But then, on Christmas Eve, he came back and resumed living with me. He didn’t understand why I’d gotten so upset. This basically set the tone for our entire four years together.
I haven’t ever been a big believer in fate, especially at that time of my life. But if I’d been looking at the signs, if I’d believed that life was trying to warn me of something, I might have thought that it was trying to tell me, get the hell out of that apartment, dump that loser, and never look back. Go do something useful with your life, it was trying to scream at me. But I couldn’t hear it. We stayed in that studio for about six months before upgrading to a one bedroom upstairs. There are more stories to tell about this studio, but I’ve already depressed myself enough writing this.
As I was writing this last night I was trying to figure out what the point of this tale is. You can take what you like away from this story. Perhaps you will take away that I have made a lot of really bad decisions in my life. Or that I’m a cruel mouse murderer. But the lesson I’d prefer for you to take away is that you should never park your car near any big trees. You just never know when one of those trees will fall down.