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City Roads, Take Me Home

Aug 11, 2010

Ask anyone who's looked for a place to live in Northwest DC and they'll tell you how frustrating it is.

Or you could just ask me, because I've done it TWICE IN ONE YEAR.

*deep breath...and exhale*

Last October when Margaret and I decided to move from Old Town to DC it seemed like such a lovely idea.  I remember the moment well -- we had just eaten mezze at Zaytinya then walked over to the Navy Memorial and were dipping our feet in the fountain when we both realized we should be living in DC.  The three months that followed that moment comprised what we now refer to as "The Time We Almost Got A Divorce."

We finally agreed on an apartment in a very hip neighborhood that was totally out of our price range but had an amazing rooftop.  And almost immediately we began having horrid problems.  The sewer backed up into our kitchen and overflowed into our living room.  My ceiling leaked all over my bed.  The hot water heater constantly broke.  Snowmageddon hit and we found out we had drafty windows and no insulation in the concrete floors.

But oh, the rooftop and the very hip neighborhood.

The third time the sewer backed up (which was after the sixth time my ceiling leaked, causing the ceiling to crack) (and our utility bills have been ridankulous due to the drafty windows and no insulation) we decided it was time to move.  It was almost perfect timing because Margaret's moving to NYC soon, and we were going to try to sublet her room to finish out our lease.  But because I hadn't found another roommate I decided to go solo and find a one bedroom.  Why I thought this would be a breeze I can only attribute to the two and a half-month heat wave.

First I checked one bedroom prices in our building.  They started at $2,300.  So, no.  I checked on Craigslist and found an English basement a couple of blocks away.  Although English basements (which are basements in rowhouses with low ceilings and little sunlight) make me claustrophobic, I was desperate and decided to at least look at it.  The night of the open house I was greeted by a creepy guy in all black (the tenant) and a white man holding a black baby who he introduced to me as "Tallulah" (landlord).  Cute, but obviously did not come from his loins, or his husband's. 

As I looked around I willed myself to not feel like the walls were closing in on me.  The space was large for a one bedroom, had windows on both ends and skylights in the bedroom, two large walk-in closets (two! TWO!), a separate laundry room with a washer and dryer, a parking space, and a hot tub in the yard that I would be free to use.  Even though the current tenant had dragons and gargoyles everywhere, I decided to take it and deal with the lurking evil later. 

But I wasn't the only one interested.  Turns out, by the end of the night, six other people didn't care about how creepy the dragons and gargoyles were either.  I had to compete. 

So I offered babysitting (two men will need some female help, right?) and dogsitting, plus home cooked Southern meals.  Two days later I emailed again and reiterated FREE BABYSITTING FROM FORMER NANNY.

Yet I did not get the place.

It was then that I realized finding a one bedroom would be even more difficult than finding a two bedroom, and I was going to have to work hard for it, honey.

The next couple of weeks proved to be frustrating -- some people wanted you to rent their place fully furnished, so I'd have to sell all my stuff.  Some places were the right size but didn't offer parking.  I even looked in the very scary, youth overridden Columbia Heights, y'all.  Yes, I did.  Oh and I even went further north to Petworth, where I witnessed a woman walking her raggedy, senile dog off the leash in the middle of the road with no regard for Noli, myself, or, HELLO, cars!  Not all NW DC is nice, and I was beginning to fear I would have to settle for a bad neighborhood, or worse, Arlington (dudes in brown flip flops *shudder*). 

Then suddenly, a light in the darkness of my real estate nightmare -- two one bedrooms in Dupont, each within a block of the dog park I take Noli to, and each under $1,800! 

The first one was a shoe box, a SHOE BOX.  But I began thinking, I'm a city girl, I can adjust. It's adequate.  I need to scale down anyway. 

How easily I forget that to move to DC Margaret and I got rid of fifteen trash bags worth of clothes.  And that was just clothes.  I also threw out a desk and gave another away, plus thrifted numerous other items.  But it's trendy to live simply.  Maybe I could get by with 100 things...(hahahahahahaha)

The next apartment was amaaaaaaazing.  Foyer.  Separate kitchen.  Large living space.  Large bedroom with walk-in closet.  Old Victorian charm!  CLAW FOOTED BATHTUB!!!  And a price tag of $1,700 to buy all the furniture inside, because the current tenant was not moving with it.  I decided to look at it because I figured I could just sell everything.  But this stuff was junk.  The cheapest of the cheap Ikea circa 1995. 

To make matters worse, the guy was super annoying.  I need to find a different adjective...annoying doesn't even begin to describe him.  Let's see -- he didn't bother tidying up at all, and he wanted someone to pay $1,700 for his ugly, flimsy furniture.  I can take a little clutter, but condoms on the bedroom floor?  Really?  And you know how he tried to sell me on buying all his stuff?  He spent five solid minutes talking about his incredible cheese grater.  "I'll throw this in!  You get THIS!"  $1,700 for a cheese grater?  I'll pass.  I guess he didn't feel like he had to try too hard because he mentioned about five times that we were up against 12 other people for the apartment.

But okay, the place was amazing -- as I mentioned -- so I was considering it, even though he was offended that I worked for a government agency and suggested if I didn't have the cash to give him for his junk right at that moment then maybe I wouldn't be able to afford the monthly rent.  But this was the kicker:

"Mary El," he said, thoughtfully leaning toward me (too close to my face, actually). "That's an interesting name.  What does the 'El' mean?"

I opened my mouth to tell him, but he kept on.

"In the Bible it would mean 'of God'" (bingo) "but in this other obscure archaic tribal language it would mean 'of the devil.' Which are you?"

And with that it was time for me to go. 

I returned home to find Cute Boy waiting for me, as we had dinner reservations in an hour.  (BTW, Cute Boy doesn't like his nickname and would rather be called "Neo," like, from "The Matrix."  I said I'd compromise and call him "Kanunu," which is how my mother pronounces "Keanu," as in Keanu Reeves.  Thoughts?)  Not long afterwards I got a phone call from the guy in the amazing apartment.  The people who came to see the apartment after me wanted it, and they were willing to write a check.  He suggested I book it over there and outbid them.

Cute Boy, seeing the anxious excitement in my eyes, took my hand and said, "Let's go."  When we walked in he said, "Hmm, it smells really good in here."

"Oh thaaaaaaaaaanks," Annoying Cheap Guy drawled.  "So, are you going to write me a check for $2,000 or what?"

"Could we have a moment to discuss?" I asked. 

He looked put out.  "Fine, but only a moment."

I led Cute Boy to the bathroom and pointed at the tub.  "Claw footed tub!" I squealed, trying to make him understand.

"$2,000?" he said back to me.

"Knock knock!" Annoying Cheap Guy peeked his head in.  "What's going on?  Are we having a conference?  Should I come in?"

"Um, no, we're just trying to decide..."

"Well you don't have much time.  Figure it out!"

Thirty seconds later he popped his head in again.

"Do you even have your checkbook?"

"Of course I have my checkbook!" I said defensively.  Then I remembered I left my checkbook on my nightstand.  "Oh, shoot, I think I forgot it actually."

"Mmmm hmmm.  You weren't even planning on writing the check were you?  You're toast.  Sorry!"

So we walked out, passing the happy new apartment renters on the way out.  "Congratulations," I said.

Outside of the beautiful, Victorian door, Cute Boy wrapped his arms around my waist, pulled me close to him, and whispered in my ear, "I'm really glad you didn't get that place.  It smelled like armpits and feet, and that jerk had phallic art everywhere."   (I hadn't noticed the art, I was too enamored with the bathtub and crown molding.)

That night I got an email from a resident in my building who had read my blog that day. 

her: I saw your latest blog post.  Adorable.  My roommate is moving to Texas so I feel your pain.


me: Want a new roommate?

her: I was seriously thinking I was going to have to move to the ghetto! When can you move?

me: Anytime, our apartment has had so many problems they're letting us break our lease!  I was going to move to a teeny apartment in Dupont with no washer/dryer.

her: Oh please girl.  We do NOT do our laundry in a dirty, communal basement.  Call me.

And with that, my moving problems were solved!  I'm moving out of my problematic unit to the top floor with a view and a bigger closet!

P.S. Four days later Annoying Cheap Guy called me.  "The deal fell through with the other people, and I know you were reeeeeeeally interested!"

"Nah, I think I'm good."

"Really?  But you liked it so much!  I don't understand."

"Well, you told me I was toast, so I made other arrangements."

I have a feeling 12 other people did too.


  1. So wonderful that you get to stay in your building!
    Kanunu is totally adorable since I can just hear your Mom stayin that, but....I bet Cute Boy doesn't like it any better. Pat says every guy wants to be called "Hot Dude."

  2. So, same apartment building in a neighbornhood that you love! YAY!! Definitely need more details on Cute Boy. :)

  3. So glad this worked out and you don't have to stress about a new apartment!!

  4. 1. I don't know if the law's the same in DC, but in NY state landlords are legally required to rent to the first qualified person that signs the lease and gives the deposit. So in other words, if a credit check comes up negative, you don't make enough money, you have a criminal record... but not just because they're trying to pit two possible tenants against each other for the best price. And certainly not because someone offered babysitting services. This is to try to prevent discrimination. Of course it still happens, but I do know landlords that complained they got stuck with tenants they didn't want, but nothing they could do about it.

    2. Brown flip-flops are bad? What color should I be wearing? (Seriously, I hadn't heard this one before.)

  5. @Some Stranger:

    1) Reeeeeeeally? It would help if I knew my legal rights. Next time (hopefully not less than a year from now) I will be prepared.

    2) Did you look at the link? Look at the link! For the record, brown flip flops are fine, but maybe not all the time. A nice suede Puma sneaker is just as casual and looks much less I-Think-I'm-Still-in-A-Fraternity-and-I-Live-with-Four-Other-Guys-So-I-Basically-Am.

  6. I found your blog through a link on I really love your writing -- thanks for bringing me a few laughs through the day!

  7. @anotherannabanana So glad you enjoyed it! Thanks for reading!

  8. Hey M.E.! Great news getting a link in DC Blogs! Give me a shout the next time you get ready to move...I've been managing rental properties for four years and had to learn a TON about the law so I didn't get myself into trouble. I can maybe give you some info and recommend a couple of books/websites. HUGE HUG -- O.

  9. Ah sorry, I was at the office which blocks YouTube so hadn't watched the video. Funny thing is I always HATED flip-flops and preferred to wear a pair of Converse or Sambas or something. I didn't even like wearing shorts for that matter. But since moving to DC, this heat KILLS me and flip-flops are a life saver. I just don't go out on a Friday or Saturday night in them. :-)

  10. @Some Stranger

    You are forgiven since you don't go out in them. ;)


    Thanks for offering your help! I will def take you up on it next time! BIG HUG RIGHT BACK!