Lucy D. Barker 6:13 p.m., May 23
I’m back at my parent’s house, with the rest of Generation Lost, except this time it’s not because of money. Before I meet my new neighbor, I think my only source of disappointment or loss is not being able to find an apartment in Golden Hill or North Park. Nonetheless, Normal Heights is a more than welcome, and not far from second, third choice.
I search and search for weeks. For so long I wait for the day when I can once again afford an apartment where I can live alone again. In an attempt to ensure my future happiness I make a list of what I don’t want next door to me: sociopaths, whining children, and violent or obnoxious pets. On a separate list are things I want: assigned parking, laundry, and something bigger than a shoebox yet still affordable. Even after all this thinking there is still something I overlook. And that’s why I’m not in my dream apartment where I should be relaxing peacefully with a bag of Sour Patch Kids and the most recent season of Dexter. I’m back on Craigslist. It’s like a cruel joke.
I feel lucky when I find my large upstairs one-bedroom apartment nestled within a small pet free community. I love pets, but I don’t always love other peoples, so I consider this a plus. I look forward to so many things that will soon be within a two-mile radius, including El Zarape—my favorite taco shop in the county, and Small Bar. At the end of the day what matters to me the most are burritos, craft beer, and decent people.
Instead of a house warming I get a gust of cigarette smoke that blows into my freesia scented apartment every time I crack a window. My apartment smells like a smoker who sprays body mist or perfume to cover up the after smell of cigarettes but really it only makes him or her smell worse. At this time it is unbearably hot in San Diego. Not even an air conditioner can stop my sweat. It’s just as well because my air conditioner vent is directly outside, trapped in the path of my neighbor’s smoke.
However I look at it, I am going to die. I can become a second-hand chain smoker, which is completely second rate because at least my neighbor gets a filter, or I can die from a heat stroke. I realize I may soon have to face the reality of lugging my queen size mattress—now scuffed—down the same stairs that I just used to bring it up.
My friend Linda comes over and asks me why my apartment smells like a tobacco factory. I point next door.
“That’s terrible. Not even I smell as bad as your apartment, and I’m a smoker.”
“I know. I just don’t know what to do. Her door faces mine, and all of my windows.”
While Linda is a smoker, she keeps her habit to herself. For example, if we are outside together and she lights up she makes sure smoke is not blowing in my face. Is that so much to ask of all smokers?
The second time Linda comes over I am listening to Trapped In The Closet by R. Kelly on repeat. Linda is very concerned.
“I’m just trying to scare her off,” I explain.
“You mean force her to close her door?”
“Well is it working?”
“Why don’t you try talking to her?”
I am trying to avoid having a conversation with someone who watches her smoke blow into my apartment all day long. This must be deliberate inconsideration on my neighbor’s part and I wonder if there is really any sense in talking to someone like this. I want to save my breath and right now I need all the breath I can get.
The third time Linda comes over she asks me if my neighbor is blind.
“Well if she is blind then maybe she doesn’t know that it’s blowing into your apartment…”
I have yet to see my neighbor as more than a shadow behind a screen door. Giving Linda’s theory the benefit of the doubt, I figure it’s worth a shot and knock on my neighbor’s door. Lo and behold Blair, a petite and wrinkled forty-something graying brunette with a naturally squeaky voice that is now an octave lower than it’s supposed to be. She answers, cigarette in hand. In this moment I officially discover that Blair is rude, and set in her ways. Also, she is not blind.
I kindly ask Blair if she can please close her door when she smokes.
“But I smoke all day. I can’t close my door. I’ll suffocate,” she complains.
I begin to wonder whether having manners makes me part of a small minority; I wonder if it is over idealistic to think that everyone can have them. I want to bounce these thoughts off Blair but instead I say something lame because I hope it will work in my favor.
“I know. I am so sorry to be bothering you with this. Maybe we can come up with something that will work for both of us?”
“You should close your front door and windows,” she responds.
I don’t know what to say.
“I’ll think about it and get back to you later,” she adds, which I’m pretty sure is the verbal version of a door slam.
For the last ten years I’ve lived in apartment complexes where people have stepped outside for the occasional cigarette, and in some cases smoked inside of their apartments. I’ve been in college dorms, cramped rooms in San Francisco, campgrounds, hostels, and bad hotels. But this is my first Blair.
I begin to have terrible thoughts. I dream about leaving a box of shit at her doorstep, unloading a swarm of bees or wasps at her front door, or digging up my electric guitar from high school and playing it all night long. Knowing I will never actually engage in any of these revenge fantasies, I start to think realistically again.
Blair is at high risk of lung cancer. If she is on the way out soon, then sticking it out could be worth the wait. However, I don’t know if she will be diagnosed, and even if she were I would have to suffer from second hand smoke the entire length of her diagnosis. I don’t want to die waiting. My only option is to move.
I go to El Zarape for my usual soy tacos and get ready to say goodbye to my apartment. While scooping up a dollop of soy with a chip, I get a text message from Linda inviting me to Hamilton’s Tavern in South Park. Hamiltons is one of my favorite places and Linda’s text reminds me that my fate—my parent’s house in North Park—means being closer to it.
Back at my parent’s house the air has never been better, but sometimes I find myself praying that Blaire’s new neighbor is a pregnant DJ with six small children who only plays techno and house. Then I remind myself that I am once again around decent people and there are plenty of burritos and craft beer nearby. With the scraps of faith I have left, I begin to look for another apartment. At least I know Craigslist will always be there…right where I left it, six weeks ago.