The Lady Under the Stairs, Part II

How can I describe the wonders of our home away from home? When you walk in you get a hit of something – is it menthol, you wonder? No, you realize, remembering your early twenties. It’s roach spray! This place is a studio, with a bed on some kind of hand-constructed platform, and a small living area that has its own built-in fold-up wooden board that doubles as a dinner table. The couch slides out to make a second bed, which must be really terrific when you have friends stay over. And then there’s the stuff – there are books, clothes, and cupboards stuffed full of plastic bags and defunct cleaning supplies and heaven knows what else. The bathtub backed up on the second day, right before the smoke alarm started chirping. It is, in a word I learned from my daughter, janky.

And if you walk too much or with too heavy a foot, our friend downstairs starts banging on her ceiling with a broom handle, or the butt of an AK-57, or her head, or something. We’ve started mincing around in fear. I’ve now created a map in my head of the creakiest floorboards. It’s like a scene out of the Diary of Anne Frank.

That bizarre bit about Norway started to come into focus when I reviewed the house rules on the website, (copied verbatim):

1. Please NO SMOKING!
2. Please Do not wear shoes in the apartment.
3. Please Do not put luggage on the bed or couch.
4. You can place your luggage on the counter tops or padded benches
5. Please Do not put shoes on the bed, couch or in the draws.
6. Please Do not run air conditioner all day (summer time)
7. You can put your clothes in the empty draw (if you want).
8. Sometimes when you flush the toilet, you might have to hold the handle down.
9. Please turn off the lights when you leave the apartment.
10. Please lock the door when you leave the apartment.
– If anyone in the building asks who you are, please tell them that you are friends from Norway.

Wait, what? Norway? I have to walk around with a cover story that I’m from Norway??

Am I supposed to attempt a Norwegian accent?

It might have also help if they offered up some basic facts about Norway. I mean if a neighbor asks who you are and you say you’re Anna’s friend from Norway, what if they say, “Quick! What’s the second biggest city in Norway?” Or “Who’s the Prime Minister?” Or what if they pull out a map and ask you to point to Norway? You’d be made. I had not realized that role play was a requirement of apartment sharing, but all of a sudden I am feeling woefully underprepared.

This gets to the deeper issue of that famous social media short term rental booking service. Is it a good thing? Would you like your apartment building turned into a hotel? In New York, it’s not exactly legal to rent out your apartment for short term renters. But hey, if you’re a traveler, it can be a great deal, and if you’re an apartment dweller, it’s a way to recoup the crazy high rents in places like New York. Of course there’s the matter of opening up your home to strangers, who will paw through your undies and otherwise invade your sacred space. I’m not sure I’d do that.

Most of the time it seems to work just great. The visitors are nice and respectful and the apartments are clean and convenient (although I did once stay in a place that had a brand spanking new kitchen but not a single utensil), and you almost always get value for your money.

Unless you live in fear like we do.

Yesterday, we opened the door to leave the apartment and our downstairs friend darted out of her apartment, as if to note our egress. It happened again the next day. Now, we creep softly out our door so as not to be detected, and to elude her malevolent gaze, but maybe to relieve her of her burden slightly.

I will say that she did throw me for a loop the other day. We were sitting around and the doorbell rang and there she was again, and I’m preparing to be quizzed about my recipe for ludefisk, only this time she came bearing positive feedback. “You’ve been much better about the noise.” I thanked her and told her that we were doing our best.

I am sympathetic. This woman is certainly not enjoying what may well be a regular stream of interlopers who dance around on her ceiling. But she lives in an old building with crazily creaky floors. Is she really expecting a family of levitators or trapeze artists to move in?

I’m kind of cheezed at the obvious liars who left positive comments on the apartment’s website, though, although I should have read between the lines. Everyone noted the good location, but almost nobody said anything about the apartment itself. This should have been a dead giveaway.

Here’s how I’d describe it: “It’s a really great place if you don’t mind the roach spray, the overflowing bathtub, the chirping smoke alarm, the junk everywhere, having to make toast with a broiler, the wheezing air conditioner…oh, and the lady downstairs.” On the other hand, the place would be a problem if Gandhi lived downstairs.

Oh, and the wifi is terrible. The final cut.

The other day a group moved in upstairs in the middle of the night. It was like the Rockettes were performing a special dance with rollerboards. Janine and I looked at each other, a bit sheepishly. If we stayed in this place for long, we’d become the Lady Under the Stairs. I put in my earplugs and made a note of that.

Nevertheless, believe it or not, I suspect we’ll continue to roll the dice on these joints. We will try to do a better job of deriving the hidden meaning from the glowing reviews, and using our mind’s eyes to see beyond the edges of the photos. Sometimes we’ll opt to spend more, or to sacrifice location. There will certainly be some duds, but I expect there will be some pleasant surprises as well. I just hope that each one will yield such a memorable story.

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