Adventures and Observations on the West Side

I moved about a week and a half ago to Grand Rapids' West Side, a place where the rent is cheaper, the houses are closer together and the neighborhood lives life a few decibels louder. :)

When my roommate and I finally ended our apartment search of two months in one warp-speed afternoon in early May, we mostly felt relief rather than bubbling-over-joy. Our leasing agent accidentally double-booked our showing, so when the other prospective renters expressed just as much interest in the place as we did, we were informed it was a matter of who could pay a deposit the fastest. The others didn't have the money ready, and we did, so basically we filled out application and wrote checks in the driveway, walking away that afternoon with a new place -- after having seen it for maybe 10 minutes. Woo boy.

You can imagine the things we found waiting for us (or maybe didn't find waiting for us) after we actually signed the lease and moved in a few weeks later.

Sarah's bedroom had no door. She later found it in the garage, minus one hinge and the doorknob.

When I tried to use the shower my first morning here, I was arrested by the sounds of a screeching downstairs neighbor flying up our stairs and pounding on the door. "STOP THE SHOWER!! STOP THE SHOWER!!" Apparently it was leaking into their kitchen. We'd been promised a new shower before we moved in, but it seems the plumber who installed it forgot the ultra-important drain seal.

The list goes on. Two out of three smoke detectors were missing. (We couldn't detect them.) The carpet between the living room and hallway wasn't tacked down, several windows were (and still are) missing screens, the front door seal was worthless and the stove pilot light wasn't lit.

Gradually, our very helpful property maintenance guy checked things off the list, but it was pretty frustrating at first, discovering broken or missing things one by one. I felt kind of like I sometimes feel when I suggest my friends and I go see a particular movie and then none of them like it but I really do. It's the picker's pain. I felt a little bit like I let Sarah down by leading us to a place with so many things wrong with it. (Don't get me wrong. She's been a trouper.)

Thankfully, the frustration has faded. The longer we're here, the cleaner it smells and the more we decorate and rearrange, I'm starting to really love the soul of this place. (Houses do have souls.)

And there have been adventures, too.

Our downstairs neighbors, Shica and Alicea, are very friendly. After the initial shower crisis, they invited me in and we talked quite a bit one night. They understood it wasn't my fault, were very gracious and ended up giving me several great tips about the neighborhood and our landlord. Since then, we've had several positive interactions.

I also had my very first laundromat excursion, because no, this place does not have a washer and dryer. (You get what you pay for.) I went to the Bridge Street Superwash to launder said clothes, and that's when I met Felipa.

First, I just needed to master the basic skill of understanding the machines. The attendant was pretty helpful and courteous to me; she explained you'll stretch your quarters further if you don't sort the loads. Put them all in one large commercial washer versus two smaller washers, she said. Cool. I don't usually sort my laundry anyway. (Sorry, Mom.)

I thought to myself, "Man, she really seems like a decent person." Only minutes later though, I watched her transform into Maleficent the Dragon when a young mom and her two-year-old child walked in and the kid started running and pushing carts around the place's interior perimeter. He wasn't bothering me, that's for sure. I thought he was cute, and he didn't seem to be breaking anything, so what was the big deal? But I guess he knocked something over, and then the attendant started screaming at the woman, "Get out of here, and take your little brat with you! If you don't leave now, I'm gonna b****-slap you!! In fact, I think I'm gonna anyway!"

The woman seemed annoyed but not surprised. She yelled back a lot of Spanish words I didn't catch, then let loose a string of very clearly English curses, then left.

The attendant stayed outside for a second to make sure the pair really were leaving, then when she came back in, she brushed by where I sat with my book in my lap, and spat the words, "You're welcome."

I was incensed when she said that to me. "He wasn't bothering me," is all I trusted myself to mutter as she swaggered out of hearing range.

Off and on since that incident, I've been bothered by her treating me so decently and then turning around and SINGEING THE HAIR OFF this other lady and her kid. I'm not sure it had to do with racial discrimination, because she was really nice to Felipa, who also is Hispanic.

Felipa is an adorable, tiny woman with tightly permed brown hair, dark, dark eyes, barely wrinkled skin, and gleaming white teeth.

The first thing she said to me as she inched closer to the waiting chairs was, "Guess how old I am??" I laughed, and the woman sitting next to me chuckled and answered for both of us, "I don't know; 65??" Felipa threw back her head and just cracked up like it was the funniest answer possible. "No! I'm 75!" she crowed.

The woman sitting next to me, middle-aged, with graying black hair pulled back messily behind a headband and hairband combo, grinned and acted shocked. "No way! You don't look that old!" She played along.

Felipa winked and conceded, "That's because I'm not. I'm 92!"

This time we really were shocked. She was so agile and fun-loving. I wanted her to keep talking. And it seems I was in luck, because she wasn't even close to being done.

"You know how I stay so young?" she asked. "It's because I'm such a troublemaker. I'm naughty. I'm mischievous. Always have been."

For the next 1o minutes, she inched closer and closer until we were eye to eye (my sitting head and her standing head) and regaled us with tales of her adventures spending summers in Mexico with her grandmother and going back to Texas in the fall. She told us about how she's always hated "visiting" (but not socializing, I'm assuming) because she'd rather spend her time quilting or garage sale shopping.

"I can talk anybody down," she bragged, confiding that she does her haggling by flirting until she gets the price she wants. She told us how she didn't like the Bahamas when she visited there, but she absolutely loves Hawaii, and "you would, too."

After a half hour slipped pleasantly away, I was almost sad my clothes were dry and it was time to leave for Streams of Hope to volunteer with middle schoolers.

Maybe my volunteer calling isn't to work with kids. Maybe I should visit nursing homes.

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Pam Elmore said...

If mischief is the secret to looking young, I know a few young ladies who will never need any Olay products... ;)

Thanks for posting, Rachel -- nice work!

Rachel E. Watson said...

LOL!! I don't know who you could be referring to, Pam. *looks around innocently.*

Thanks for reading.