Lookout Mountain, Chattanooga

Thursday, November 15, 2012

A New Lease on Life

Although I’d lived in sixteen different residences since 1969, September 1978 found me contemplating yet another move. After I hurled the ring at my fiancé, I developed a sudden interest in court reporting—not completely out of the blue, mind you. In a serendipitous sort of way, that same day a newspaper article claimed the need for fast-fingered court reporters. A light bulb turned on; perhaps my 100 words per minute on the Selectric could translate into a higher-paying job. Not putting a whole lot of thought into the actual destination, I moved from Columbus, Ohio to attend a school in Saint Louis, Missouri. Granted, it wasn’t the smartest thing I ever did; my ex-boyfriend’s parents lived there. Obviously, I wasn’t as committed to distancing myself as I should’ve been, having dated the guy for four years and facing a future alone at age 27. The breakup was short-lived. When I returned to Columbus after only six months into a program requiring two years, I enrolled in another college to finish my schooling. Called Bliss, the college all too aptly reflected the saying “Ignorance is bliss.” (I quickly learned that I could ace the Friday spelling tests without actually being there during the week. The headmistress disagreed with  my lackadaisical approach to class attendance, marking me as doomed forever: “You’ll never amount to anything!”) At any rate, discouraged with both the training and the boomerang romance, I broke off both relationships. While I felt lighter from shedding two burdens for the price of one, I also cried myself to sleep more than once.

But breaking up required further action, and I relocated my physical possessions to yet another dwelling. Planning to stay there indefinitely, indefinitely lasted all of three months. It’s a good thing I didn’t sign a lease.

You’d think Columbus would be a mecca for court reporting schools, as the actual capital of Ohio and, therefore, bustling legal arena. Instead, Springfield, an hour away, seemed to house the only decent court reporting school around. I resisted moving until I couldn’t take it anymore. Hey, I commuted for a month; I can’t help it if I have a low threshold for boredom.

One beautiful morning—at least, it started out that way—being stuck behind yet another smoke-belching semi temporarily obliterated my view—I’d decided I’d seen all I-70 had to offer. Besides, historically-speaking, autumn’s blue skies and deliciously pleasant days were numbered. With Ohio’s terminally gray skies and frigid temps rapidly approaching, I needed to navigate my way into an apartment close to campus—and soon. That weekend, I scoured the rental ads, identifying the precious few apartments within my budget. Placing several calls only netted me one concrete connection. Mike—my future landlord?—assured me of several vacancies. Hoping that this trip into Springfield would end the two-hour path I’d been forging, I slid onto the bench seat of my trusty, old station wagon.

An aspiring slumlord if ever there was one, Mike didn’t even attempt to put lipstick on the pig. Was this all I could afford? Dump after dump left me pessimistic.

My lack of interest in buddying up to cockroaches soon struck Mike as a negative. I have to give him credit. While he held little potential as a trusted landlord, he nonetheless had my interest at heart. “Some friends of mine own a Victorian house,” he said. “They’ve been working on it and turned the upstairs into two apartments. I think one of them is available.” I took him up on his offer to introduce me, and we walked there together.

The house loomed ahead of us in all its 1880s glory. Interesting. Unique. A little bit spooky. I worried about drafts. And bugs. And mice.

When Basil came to the door, I thought, “Cute.” When Steve followed, I thought, “I’m renting the place, no matter what.” Tall—well, tall’s in the eyes of the short beholder—dark, and handsome struck a chord. I never noticed Mike’s departure.

Cosmetically speaking, the empty apartment left a little to be desired. Dirt and construction debris littered the floor. After all, the owners were guys in their twenties, not terribly used to tidying up after themselves. But I browbeat them into helping me spruce up the place, and it did clean up nice. No mice. No bugs. A minor plumbing problem that soon got ironed out. No drafts that bothered me. A row of windows in the living room even made the hardwood floors gleam.

And Steve—a carpenter living on a shoestring, apparently untainted by the need for fiscal responsibility—granted me a week’s free rent for helping them clean. When I dug deeper and found that he was also strong, smart, funny, and nice, I realized I couldn’t let a landlord like that get away. Three years later, I married him.

I never did become a court reporter, but I learned the value of a contract. Lease at Suite 101, 806 South Fountain Avenue? Bring it on, baby. Marriage contract?  Between you and me—and, well, there’s Steve—I wouldn’t have it any other way.