By Stephanie Ratanas
“I tried to clean as best I could.”
Randy made absolutely no effort to appear sincere. Though the apartment was small, his voice bounced and echoed slightly in the hollow space. We stood facing each other in the empty two-room studio I was about to sublease from this man, a battered plastic broom leaned against the wall between us. Dust and hairballs sat next to it in a gray, miserable pile.
“So. Do you want a broom or not?”
I looked down at the broom, then back up at Randy, who appeared to be sweating through his gray short-sleeve button-up shirt, which didn’t make a lot of sense since it was only June and not close to the sweltering heat the summer would eventually introduce. His graying, balding head was sickeningly analogous to the pile on the floor.
He handed me a set of keys, informing me that some of them might not actually go to anything, stepped past me and strolled out the back door. In a state of confusion, uncertainty, or possibly a simple inability to make decisions, I had decided to take a sublease for the summer in Avondale—a neighborhood that is close to nothing but near everything. When May rolled around and my lease in my current apartment was almost up, the idea of moving on was just too sudden—so a plan and desire to stay around for just one more summer developed.
It was a big studio, but smelled strongly of gas and there was an “essence of Randy” abiding in every corner, tile and closet. It was unlikely he had cleaned even once in the two years he had apparently lived there. I scrubbed the bathroom with steel wool to try and remove him, doused the floors, the walls and windowsills with scalding hot water to wash him away. The only bit of Randy I gladly kept was a salt-and-pepper shaker set he left in the cupboard—two dressed-up monkeys sitting on a flat ceramic banana.
An ex-boyfriend helped me move. I didn’t start packing until he arrived with his minivan to help. I also neglected to get boxes. At four in the morning I was saying “thank you” spastically and repeatedly to a zombie who likely no longer felt impelled to help me as he carried the plastic Jewel bags up the back stairs, four at a time, which I had packed all my kitchen stuff in. My things accumulated on the floor throughout the night, and my serious lack of furniture became quite apparent as I attempted to put things away. In the end, my solo summer apartment was my Ikea-bought bed, three bookshelves, a desk fashioned out of milk crates and a coffee table I had brought from the alley as a housewarming gift several apartments before.
Three months of summer ahead. I was working at a coffee shop where the payroll was so many months behind that all summer I got paid for working forty-to-fifty hours a week, when I currently only worked about twenty. Five-hour shifts at night where no one ever came in, I stood and sampled ice cream and Italian ice all evening, made lattes for no one that I just dumped out, then closed, cleaned and biked to the bar. That summer, I became the spokeswoman for the genuine lack of responsibility, purpose and productivity. The apartment in Avondale was my lair of destruction and it was sickeningly beautiful, and shamelessly fun. Thirty packs of PBR and bottles of wine would disappear from my fridge and countertop in an absurdly few short days. I ate nothing but rice, cereal and an unhealthy amount of Underdog. Once I used the oven, but the gas leak was too intimidating. I became fearful lighting a cigarette near my back door.
My summer “romance” began in the Avondale apartment. We kissed there first, in the giant empty room, with the bookshelves, the milk crates. We passed out there so many nights: in the bed on top of the covers, sweating in the thick air of August, or on the floor—fully clothed with shoes on. Later we would argue there. Who kissed who first? Did you hit on that other guy? Was seeing anything else at Pitchfork worth as much as Sonic Youth? They were arguments full of laughter, kept us up all night, long after every 4am bar was closed. We were still awake, smoking a thousand cigarettes and crushing empty cans out on the back stairs of that apartment. It seemed that no one else lived in the apartments around me; I encountered two neighbors in those three months. A late-twenties, heavyset white woman who lived below me. I saw her once and then not again. Then an old, old Latina woman with a boot, which looked as though it weighed fifty pounds, wrapped around and around in gauze. I helped her carry her laundry down the stairs.
End of September. It was starting to cool down, and the city was beginning to brown. My sublease was up, I moved further north, got a new job, and I left behind that summer with the little bit of Randy that I couldn’t scrub away. And then, after the most boundless summer, the most unforgiving winter in history hit.
I’m hopeful though—it will be June soon, and I left the back door to that apartment in Avondale wide open when I left.