In the five years after college, I lived what you might call a transient lifestyle. I prefer to use that word—transient—because it sounds classier than saying I was a homeless loser, glomming off the kindness of my more stable and successful friends.
Furnishing a list of my prior residences would be like asking Robert Plant to name all the girls he slept with in 1971.
This was quite a change from my childhood, when the closest I ever got to moving was the time the township changed our street’s name because there were TWO Ewan Roads, and the fire department kept getting confused.
There was my girlfriend’s campus apartment, my friends’ basement where I lived after we broke up, then the apartment we rented after we got back together. There was my friend Elliot’s high rise condo in Silver Spring, my friend Andrew’s dorm room at JMU, my friend Robby’s parents’ house in Chevy Chase, where I never actually lived but needed an address where companies could send me collections notices.
I understand now why people embroider pillows with cheeky phrases like Home is where the heart is and God bless this mess, but after living in so many places, the concept of home lost its sentimentality to me.
But looking back over the various pullouts and futons and alcoves, the only post-college digs I feel any sort of nostalgia for was that first house on Creek Shore Drive my friends and I rented right after graduation.
It was a squat, ugly brick fucker, the kind that cropped up overnight during the hopeful era of Eisenhower and slowly transformed the nation’s farmland into street lamps and cul de sacs. My friends Ryan and Mike found Creek Shore, and I agreed to live there sight unseen, knowing the alternative was to suffer the humiliation of waking up every morning in my childhood bedroom.
We rented it from Profound Realty, a company comprised entirely of Korean women. Ruby Tang was our landlord, and the agent charged with managing our property was Jenny Pan. Jenny spoke very little English, but we got pretty good at understanding her because she only ever said one thing when she called.
In the scheme of terrible tenants, we probably wouldn’t crack the top 100, but we were not well equipped with the skills required to maintain a property. During the summer, the grass grew shin high before one of us would get around to cutting it. Our yard was such an eyesore, we once came home to find a neighbor mowing it for us, which seemed like such a nice thing for him to do until we discovered he’d billed Profound Realty $150 for services rendered—a bill Jenny Pan obviously passed on to us.
The month after we moved in, Mike decided we were responsible enough to care for another living thing and got a kitten. Rapunzel—named after the Dave Matthews song—lasted four days before meeting her demise, mistaking an extra door in the basement for a scratching post and pulling it on top of herself. Just in case I am still in the running for a PETA award this year, I was not home at the time.
There was some talk of replacing Rapunzel, but it tapered off pretty quickly, for obvious reasons.
Our jobs became more important and we made new friends, and soon we were just dudes who put our food next to each other in the fridge.
Things also began to fray because both Ryan and Mike had girlfriends, and I was jealous of that. I compensated by turning our house into the party spot, inviting my work friends over to drink and hang out long into the night. At 2 A.M., Mike or Ryan would come sleepily into the basement and ask us to keep it down, no doubt pressured by their significant others to go down there and say something, goddammit.
At the end of the first year, our fourth roommate Sean, whom we’d met on the internet to fill the house, said he wouldn’t be coming back. We replaced Sean with one of Ryan’s work friends, a guy so forgettable I literally don’t remember his name even though we lived together for a year.
Like a sitcom past its prime, the rest of the original cast departed in quick succession. Mike got a place with his girlfriend and sublet his room to my friend Roxanne. Ryan also moved in with his girlfriend, though he continued to pay rent because he couldn’t find a sublet. There also might have been another guy who took over for Ryan’s friend for a bit? Seriously, he was so lame he might have been two people. I’m not sure.
By the end of the year, Mike and Ryan were settled into their new places, so when Jenny Pan asked if we’d be renewing our lease, we declined. I told the two subletters we were closing up shop, and they reacted by writing me their final rent checks and getting the hell out of Dodge.
I was the last man standing, and I spent that last month wandering an empty house with the ghosts of the last two years. A total of seven people had lived at Creek Shore, including my friend Paul, whom I let live in the basement rent-free for six months despite passive aggressive protests from the paying tenants.
But here was the real rub: In addition to each roommate metaphorically leaving a bit of themselves in the Creek Shore house, they also left physical reminders of their presence. As in, when they moved out, anything they didn’t want, they abandoned.
Even though I was the only occupant, each room was still fully furnished. A bookshelf from Mike, a kitchen table from Ryan, a La-Z-Boy from Sean.
I tried to get my former roommates to reclaim their furniture but was unsuccessful.
“Hey man, you’ve got two couches in the basement,” I said when I called Ryan. “Are you gonna come get them?”
“Nah,” he said. “You can have them.”
It depends. In my case, my next apartment was fully-furnished, and my meager storage unit was already spoken for. You decide.
The truth was, my roommates had already leveled up, living in a place with matching IKEA furniture, where leaving your marinara-caked dishes on your nightstand for two weeks was frowned upon.
I tried to get my friends to help, but they were shockingly busy when coming over didn’t involve drinking my beer until 2 A.M.
It was character building, to be sure. You’ve never lived until you’ve dragged a sofa bed out of a basement by yourself.
I piled everything on the curb, because at the time I thought whatever you put out front, the trash man had to pick up. That was like, their job. It ended up looking like this:
Those dudes in the picture, by the way, are strangers, picking through my trash. For the next several days, every time I’d look out the window, there would be a couple more of them, examining discarded furniture and cast-off appliances like paleontologists at a particularly exciting dig.
Closing day came, and I escorted Jenny Pan and Ruby Tang through the finally empty house. I’d run out of both time and energy to clean, so the place was filthy, reeking of feet, spilt beer, and shame. I knew there was no chance we’d get our security deposit back. I wanted this final inspection to be over so I could turn the page.
“I don’t know,” I said.
It was by far the worst move of my life, the baseline to which the dozen other moves over the next 3 years would be compared. That sucked, I’d think on moving day, but at least it wasn’t Creek Shore.
And yet, I never had as much fun in those other places as I did in that shitty brick box. At Creek Shore, I wasn’t a homeless loser. For two years, I laid my head in the same place every night. It was my first house, my first move as a bona fide adult. And I’ll always look back on it fondly.
I bet even Robert Plant remembers his first.