Threads: My First Apartment
Saturday, February 16, 1974
Since Judy [Rock] claims that I promised to write once a week, I guess I'd better get busy before my first week on the job is gone. Besides, from what I understood of the situation when I left, I have only one week remaining in which I can write to the hostesses of Marion Today.
So far, I've been spending most of my time at work, getting to know the people and the procedures they follow. I haven't had much time or inclination to do anything else. Hopefully, next week I'll start apartment-hunting.
Sunday, March 10, 1974
I type this letter on a company typewriter (borrowed) which I have sitting on an empty packing crate on the floor of the living room of my new apartment. I'm sitting on a couple of cushions on the floor.
Yes, I moved in yesterday, with the help of my parents, who brought a carload of essentials from Richwood. They had returned from their Arizona vacation only two days before. A moving truck is due in sometime next week, we hope, with the bedroom furniture and the piano. I plan to buy living room furniture locally, but for now, it's packing crates and TV trays for tables. My bed is my father's army cot from World War II. We've got it set up in the living room, since there's no rug in the bedroom yet.
I have purchased one essential, though: a color TV set. Got myself a 12-inch Sony, which is what I'd already decided on; it has the sharpest picture of any I've seen, and although it's a small screen, it's large enough for me. The only problem is that if anything goes wrong, I'll probably have to drive up to Pittsburgh to the nearest service center.
Before signing the lease to this apartment, I naturally read it to see what it was that I was signing. It was reminiscent of reading a set of general instructions for a rally. Some parts apparently were unimportant; others were important, but it was hard to tell what they meant. And the whole lease seemed designed to protect the landlord, with little or no protection for the renter.
For example, suppose that the landlord decided to get out of the apartment business with as much money as was legally possible. Since he was leaving the business, he wouldn't have to worry about the bad word-of-mouth that would result from getting renters mad at him. According to the lease, it would be a simple matter for him to kick me out of this apartment right now and collect over $2,000 from me. For example, there are 29 listed RULES, REGULATIONS, AND CONDITIONS, and by signing the papers I've agreed that breaking any of these rules breaks the lease.
Now I've already violated several of these rules. For example, there's no rug at all in the bedroom right now, and when the 9-by-12 carpet arrives, it will cover only 66% of the floor. And there are no forms by which the landlord gives permission to hook up TV's, so I've hooked mine up anyway.
If the landlord sees a violation of the rules, I have given (by signing the lease) my power of attorney to one of his lawyers to "confess judgment" for the amount of the rent remaining unpaid in the one-year term of the lease, and also to submit to eviction and to confiscation of any property I may have in the apartment. At least that's the way I read it. So the landlord could throw everybody out (assuming all the renters have committed some violation at one time or another) and collect a fairly large sum of money.
However, just as in reading a set of generals you have to assume that the rallymaster is not planning to leave the country as soon as all cars have started, in reading the lease you have to assume that the landlord plans to continue renting apartments. All these rules are there to be used if necessary to get rid of an obnoxious tenant, but the landlord won't send an inspection force around to peaceful apartments to look for trivial violations. At least I hope not.
Saturday, March 16, 1974
The reason I had to move into an apartment with such sparse furnishings was that it's difficult to get movers on short notice. Fortunately, though, my father had sold some cars to a man who runs a moving company in Marion, Ohio, and he was able to talk him into making a trip over here with the furniture from the spare bedroom at Richwood plus the piano. I got a surprise call on Monday that they would be here the next morning. My parents came along to help with the moving-in, since I had to be at work.
So, since Tuesday, I've been living more or less normally here. Because I don't know much at all about cooking, I'm still eating mostly in restaurants. But I have made a couple of "instant" dishes, the kind where you just add boiling water. Next week I'll probably get up enough courage to try the kind where you empty the can into a pan and heat it.
Things at work are going along fairly well, as I get to know the people I'm working with. A large part of the job is knowing how much I can expect them to do on their own, and how much they'll be willing to do if I prod them a bit. Right now my problem is that my job is just about my only interest here in townas you know, I don't meet new people very easily, so I don't yet have any friends outside my workand as a result, if I do something wrong in my work I feel depressed for an unduly long time afterwards. The approval of my co-workers is perhaps overly important to me right now.
One of the ways to meet new people is through the church, but it's taken me a few weeks to find one to my liking. The first one I tried had a rather pompous minister who preached on things like the Third and Fourth Commandments, which are not as relevant today (in my opinion) as they were to the Hebrews 3,200 years ago.
One of his points was that we should not address God as you but rather use the more respectful Thou. If you want to get technical about it, the word thou began to be phased out of the English language shortly after the King James Version was translated, and during the transition period, the term you was considered more formal and respectful, while thou was the familiar form.
However, just last Sunday my parents and I went to another church with a younger minister who took his text from First Corinthians, and this one seems more likely. Besides, I think I could fit into their choir more easily than at the first church.
By the way, the choir at Richwood gave me a going-away party at our last practice before I left (February 6). They don't do this for everyone who leaves the choir; but then, most of our dropouts just quit, they don't move away. Among the gifts were a cough drop, a bookmark for a hymnal, a decoupage plaque showing a picture of the church, and a little address book with the addresses of everyone in the choir so I'd be sure to write them.
But perhaps the best gift was a three-by-five-inch plaque with two pairs of silver-colored metal discs, 1.6 inches in diameter, screwed into its face. On Epiphany Sunday, the choir sang about the Wise Men riding across the desert. One of the altos played a triangle while I sang both men's parts simultaneously (fortunately, they were in unison), since I was the only bass and there were no tenors that day. As if I didn't have enough to do, I also played a tambourine. Well, these two pairs of discs on the plaque came from that same tambourine, which fell apart after my performance. The back of the plaque is inscribed "Tom Thomas, RGTP" (Richwood's Greatest Tambourine Player).
Sunday, April 14, 1974
I now have my living-room furniture, consisting of a couch and a swivel rocker in soft brown vinyl, a square end table, and a hexagonal end table. A small table and two chairs for the kitchen is to be delivered Tuesday, provided I can make connections with the delivery men. The lady who called me on the phone seemed rather surprised to discover that the apartment is left unattended between 9 a.m. and 6 p.m.
The color scheme around here is mostly gold, with off-white walls. We've got greens and oranges harmonizing with the gold. We'd hoped to use a bright blue in the bedroom to make it different, but the only carpet my parents could find in the right size and price range was another green, so I guess it's green in there, too. If you had to live here, your decorator's instincts would get a workout changing things, I'm sure.
If things get too tough in Ohio, you could always come to Washington and teach me how to use the kitchen in this apartment. Yes, even you, a woman who claims she isn't much of a cook, could give me a lot of valuable instruction, I'm sure. But I am learning on my own, slowly. Tonight I boiled some water and fixed myself a cup of Lipton chicken-noodle soup. Tomorrow I may try my hand at some hot dogs. Aren't you proud of me?
Saturday, April 20, 1974
On a Pittsburgh TV newscast last night, they had a film report on the annual Buggy Race held at Carnegie-Mellon University. When the newscaster introduced the report, there was a graphic behind him depicting a baby buggy. So I thought I was going to see a competitive version of your 24-hour perambulator race you were planning at Triway. But it turned out to be something rather different.
The buggies they used at Carnegie-Mellon were custom-built versions; they looked like a cross between a Soap Box Derby racer and a lawn mower. They were low-slung and streamlined like a Derby car, except that the driver apparently lay prone in order to make the buggy even lower to the ground. They had four wheels. And, like a lawn mower, each buggy had a T-shaped handle sticking up out of its tail.
From the news report, it appeared that three buggies at a time raced around a course laid out on the paved streets of the campus. The course was probably a mile or two in length. On the uphill and level portions of the course, the buggies were each pushed by an athletic young man. The pushers worked in relays; as the buggy crossed a line on the pavement, one pusher would let go so that another could grab the T-handle and start running. On the downhill portions of the course, no pushing was allowed; the driver simply steered the car down the hill like a Soap Box Derby vehicle.
Each buggy was entered by a team, probably representing a fraternity or some other group. There must have been about a dozen such teams, because the report stated that the best three buggies would race in the finals next week. Since Carnegie-Mellon is mostly an engineering school, I would imagine that the students built the buggies themselves. And they didn't skimp. One team built a new buggy for this year's race, and their construction budget was a thousand dollars.
In view of the energy crisis, buggy racing would be an appropriate gasoline-conserving automobile sport, don't you think?
Saturday, April 20, 1974
I'm getting more ambitious in the kitchen. I hadn't eaten any lamb in over three years, so today I actually bought a shoulder roast, divided it into three parts, and roasted one part while freezing the other two. It wasn't bad, except that the meat had some fat on it and came out a bit on the greasy side. Maybe the next time I crave lamb I'll trim off some of the fat first.
Also, my little kitchen table and chairs have arrived, and my parents are bringing a bookcase next week, so my apartment is going to be completely furnished at last.
Monday, June 3, 1974
Don't complain that your schedule for now till July 1 is chaotic. At least you've got a week's vacation scheduled there! Here in Western Pennsylvania, cable TV employees don't get luxuries like that, at least not until they've been with the firm for a year and a half.
Oh, by the way, the next time you write a note on your mushroom paper you should fold the note so the mushrooms are showing. The one you sent me was folded the other way, with Page 4 on the outside. And the first thing I saw when I took it out of the envelope was the notation,
Not having been previously informed about your big white Pontiac, I naturally assumed you were talking about a real whale which you kept as a pet, tied up to a dock in Lake Ontario. I tried to imagine Bruce with spurs and a lariat, mounted on a cow pony, engineering a one-man whale drive along the shores of Lakes Erie, Huron, and Michigan. I must confess I couldn't figure how he would get the whale inland to Madison, though. Probably have to portage it in the trunk of a Pontiac.
Sunday, July 28, 1974
Since it's dark and rainy outside this afternoon, I'd better catch up on my correspondence. This is about the last chance I'll have for four or five weeks to write any letters.
However, I have been able to get away from work a bit on the weekends. On June 22, two of the members of the Scioto Sports Car Club got married in Steubenville, which is only an hour's drive from here, so my partner Terry Rockhold came to Washington for the weekend and we attended the wedding. Several other club members drove to Steubenville from Columbus. It was a Polish wedding, with several unusual features including a polka band for the reception (which included a buffet dinner). Terry and I bought the couple a gift, but their relatives and friends of the family followed another tradition: as they went through the reception line, they handed the bride an envelope containing money. In return, the groom handed them a cigar.
Here in Washington, you would probably find my weekends terribly boring. I rarely go out of the apartment, except on Saturday I walk up the street to the supermarket to do my weekly shopping, and on Sunday I walk down the street to church. The rest of my time is spent reading, writing, cleaning up the apartment, watching television, playing the piano, working on other projects, and sleeping. I enjoy the privacy and the freedom to do what I want to do, to relax and not worry about other people. I have to deal with other people during the other five days. Maybe after a couple of years I'll start getting tired of this routine and start looking for social activities; but for now, I'm quite happy being by myself.
When I was home last weekend, on Saturday my parents wanted to go to Columbus to see the Kenley Players production of Annie Get Your Gun, so I went along. Florence Henderson had the title role. She's talented, but unfortunately she doesn't have the voice of Ethel Merman. (Few people do.)
We'd seen Miss Henderson in musicals before; she used to perform for Oldsmobile. Each August, they'd put together a full-scale production to introduce the new cars that would be coming out in September, and Oldsmobile dealers (including my father) would attend these shows along with wives, salesmen, and others. The purpose was to get the dealers all excited about the new models. The production traveled around the country; we went to Detroit to see it.
After the show, there was a luncheon at which various Oldsmobile officials made speeches about how great the new cars were going to be. I remember in particular the year when Olds was introducing its compact, the F-85 (now called the Cutlass). Part of Florence Henderson's job was to attend the luncheon. And we noticed that even though she'd undoubtedly heard the speeches several times already and wasn't interested in them anyway, she appeared very interested in what the Olds officials were saying to the Olds dealers. She applauded at the proper times, listened carefully, and so on. That's what you expect, I suppose, from a professional actress.
But it causes you to doubt her sincerity when she makes the customary speech at the end of a Kenley Players production, telling the audience how great they've been and how she always likes to perform in Columbus and how she doesn't really mind the infants crying in the balcony.
Sunday, November 3, 1974
Since our last letters crossed in the mail a couple of weeks ago, I'll assume it's my turn to write.
This is a good night to write, anyway. For some reason I always have trouble going to sleep on Sunday evenings. Might the reason be my Sunday-afternoon naps? At any rate, I'm wide awake Sunday nights, sleep just a few hours, and then am eager to go on Monday mornings. Later in the week I lose much of my eagerness.
Tuesday, April 29, 1975
Lest you think I'm suffering from malnutrition since I left home, let me mention asparagus soufflé, shrimp cocktail, enchiladas, escarole soup, hot soft pretzels, Welsh rarebit, Boston cream pie, squash, collard greens, grits, and mulligatawny soup. Those are a few of the exotic dishes I've prepared here in my own little kitchen. Now of course I didn't make them from scratch; that would be too much trouble, considering there's only one person to eat them. But I have found all these items either frozen or canned in my neighborhood grocery store. I'm good at opening packages and heating the contents.
Sunday, February 29, 1976
Since receiving your birthday note a few days ago, I've been puzzling over the third sentence: "I'll be one day older than you are when I'm 29!"
What in the world does that mean? Is it some literary allusion that I've missed? Is it an algebra problem with something left out? I've always thought that since I was born first, you'll never be older than me, unless of course I stop living, which I have no intention of doing, although since returning from Arizona I have been bothered by a chest cold.
The only interpretation of your comment that seems to make sense is to compare it to the similar construction, "It will be a cold day in August when I'm 29!" Both sentences use an impossible premise to indicate that the conclusion is also impossible.
What you're saying, then, is that you intend to remain 28 forever. Like Jack Benny, you've set up a threshhold you don't intend to cross. (Make that a threshold.)
Stop this dangerous charade before it gets started! Repent of your vile plan to have no more birthdays! Become 29 on the eighth of June! If I have to give up my youth, you do too.
Monday, August 16, 1976
My parents came over a few weeks ago to give my bedroom a belated spring cleaning, and we ended up moving everything to the opposite wall from where it had been before. I still sometimes wake up at night, see a glow to my right, and think I must have left a light on in the living room until I realize the living room is the other direction, and what I'm seeing is the street lights through my window. Wonder how long it'll take me to adjust?
Monday, June 6, 1977
I can report a growing cynicism on my part toward politicians. We've just had our primary election, and as usual at Cable TV-3, before the election we invited the candidates to our studio. One candidate for city council declined to show up, but was quoted in the newspaper as follows:
"Levers acknowledged the poor condition of city streets and the fact something drastic must be done. But he said he would vote against floating a multi-million-dollar bond issue, because the matter was rejected by the electorate in the 1976 general election. Levers noted the city receives a substantial amount of liquid fuels monies, but the streets do not seem to receive the attention one would expect. 'Where is the money going?' he asked. The street repairs should be placed on a priority system, the candidate suggested, with those in poorest condition attended to first."
In other words, the candidate is saying we've got street problems. But he proposes no solutions, because the voters could object to any proposed plan: "No, that will never work, and besides the money would come out of our pockets." The candidate treated four other issues the same way, lamenting the problem but offering no suggestions as how to solve it other than turning the present councilmen out of office.
One candidate who did show up at our studio was a young man running for county controller. The controller is the auditor of the courthouse, and the incumbent is a good one, being qualified to teach college-level accounting courses.
Why, asked a telephone caller, was the young man challenging the incumbent?
Well, the young man replied, everyone has the right to run for public office, and he was just exercising his right.
But, the caller persisted, your running against the incumbent implies that you can do a better job than he's been doing.
No, replied the young man, I think he's been doing a good job and is better qualified than I am. I didn't know much about the controller's job until after I decided to run for it, but I talked to this girl I know who worked part-time in the controller's office for a few weeks, and she didn't seem to think there was much wrong with the way things were being run.
Fortunately, the voters rejected both candidates I've talked about, and in most cases made what appear to be wise choices.
Yesterday morning, I heard a strange noise outside my apartment, and then a steam whistle. I looked out the window, and sure enough, there on the Chesapeake & Ohio railroad tracks was an old-fashioned choo-choo train. Binoculars revealed it to be the "Chessie Steam Special," a passenger train with about a dozen cars on a Sunday round trip to somewhere and back. The tracks are half a mile from my apartment, and yet the sound came through the windows and drapes quite easily. I'd forgotten that the huffing and chuffing was so loud. But then it's been some 25 years since I've encountered a steam locomotive under way.
Some other scenes from around Washington include the fundamentalist preacher who sometimes declaims the Gospel on Fridays at noon. He stands on a low wall next to the courthouse, overlooking the busiest downtown intersection, holding a Bible in one hand. Like the evangelists of an earlier century, without the aid of a public-address system he shouts out his message to all within earshot. But no crowds gather to listen. As a matter of fact, the people largely ignore him as they go about their business downtown. Still he preaches on. One day a rain shower chased many of the pedestrians into the buildings, but the evangelist continued to stand on his wall, crying out the Good News to the raindrops.
There's also the downtown block that has been temporarily closed off to vehicles because of the Bassettown Square construction. This is the project which will widen and beautify the sidewalks and put new facades on all the buildings in the main shopping district. One Sunday I walked through this area. There were no cars or trucks, because the street is closed; there were no workers, because it was the weekend; and the stores were closed, because it was Sunday. I was the only person in this block in the very heart of the city. Oh, there were a couple of sparrows hopping around. The sun was shining brightly. But with all the rough edges of the unfinished construction, this block looked like a ghost town. It even had tumbleweeds, in the form of some discarded newspapers blowing across the empty street.
Monday, September 4, 1978
In a book on the history of the Statue of Liberty, there is reproduced the front page of Joseph Pulitzer's New York World for August 11, 1885. Using a magnifying glass, I discovered a foreign dispatch on that front page headlined DEPRESSION IN BRITISH TRADE, which read:
Would that legislators in the twentieth century had shown the restraint that motivated the Earl! (Is my Republicanism showing?)
I've also been studying Gilbert and Sullivan, who incidentally date from the same period of British history as the aforequoted dispatch.
You know, the human memory is a mysterious process. I suspect that you and I attended a performance of Gilbert and Sullivan's The Gondoliers at Oberlin a decade ago. However, as I watched a recent PBS telecast, I recalled nothing, and I began to think perhaps I'd never seen the play at all. But near the beginning of the second act, a fragment of dialogue clearly rang a bell.
I wonder why it is that my memory allowed the entire operetta to be erased, yet preserved this little bit somewhere. And why was the bit indexed as it was? I couldn't access it by checking my mental files under Gondoliers or Tea or any other heading, but when the dialogue was re-encountered, my memory resonated: I've Heard That Before!
Tuesday, June 5, 1979
Politics continues to provide entertainment. This city is built on several hills, and the local hospital is atop one of them. The storm sewers near the hospital weren't doing a very good job of carrying rain water off the streets, so a couple of years ago, the city fathers investigated to see what might be done. They found, among other things, that one of the curbside drains wasn't even connected to the storm sewer system. Apparently an earlier generation of politicians, unable to come up with enough funds to do the job right, had temporarily quieted the complaints of the residents by putting in this "false drop" for cosmetic purposes only. Well, the present City Council found enough Federal funds to upgrade the area around the hospital and replace the old 12-inch sewer lines with new 30-inch lines, which (as any geometry student can tell you) can carry six times as much water in a given period of time.
Now, however, a new problem has arisen. The people who live down the hill from the hospital had never had any flooding problems before, but now that six times as much water is coming down the hill, the old sewer lines farther down the hill can't handle it. At the point where the line narrows down from 30" to 12", water gushes all over the place when it rains.
The solution, of course, would be to enlarge the lines all the way to Catfish Creek. But that's half a mile, and the creek itself needs to be dredged in order to handle all the water. Estimated cost: a quarter of a million dollars. The city doesn't have that kind of money; as a matter of fact, some officials are warning of possible bankruptcy. So maybe they shouldn't have put in those new lines around the hospital. They succeeded only in moving the floods a little way down the hill.
Sunday, July 29, 1979
Greetings from a gas-saver! When long lines at the gas stations began appearing around here in the third week of June, I decided I didn't want to sit in a line, so I'd use my car as little as possible. I last filled the tank on June 11, on my way back from Ohio, and the tank's still better than half-full!
Of course, other people have also been doing less driving (although few have cut back as completely as I). And the panic mentality seems to have passed, so gas lines are now quite rare. But now that I've started my conservation plan, I'm keeping it up. There won't be any long trips until August 10, when I return to Ohio to join my family for a week of vacation, so I figure I can go 60 days between gas-station visits.
This all was made possible when I chose my apartment five years ago. With gasoline also in short supply in 1974, one of my criteria was that the apartment should be within walking distance of work. It's about a 20-minute walk, and I've usually found it more convenient to drive instead. But now I've reverted to the behavior patterns learned in Oberlin and Syracuse especially Syracuse, where I had no car and lived a 20-minute walk away from everything, including food.
Here in Washington, there's a supermarket across the street. Two shopping centers are each a 30-minute walk away. And of course, it's summer and the weather is great for walking. So I've had very little need to drive. Some days I've spent a couple of hours tramping around the city, covering as much as seven miles. Not only have I not been importing as much crude oil, but the exercise has been doing me good too.
But I can foresee that this might not last forever. When it gets to be December, and the busy season for cable TV means that I don't have two hours a day to spare for commuting around town, and the supply of gasoline exceeds the demand, and the temperature falls into the teens and the wind speed rises into the teens, and I get bored with walking the same streets daily, there may come a time when I revert to old habits.
Maybe not, though. If I walk all winter, as I did at Syracuse, I won't have to shovel the snow out of my parking space!
I'm still walking to work instead of driving complete with ski mask on cold, windy days.