Bad Time Bad Time Bad Time Posted August 1, 2014

Not long after my father passed, I hit the ground running and starting living from place to place. I've had my share of bad experiences, but nothing will ever compare to the fifteen months of "shared housing" near Highland Square in Akron, Ohio.

Shared housing is kind of like living with a few roommates. But instead of a roommate – someone that you kind of know and have a vague idea of what their true intentions are – you live with complete random strangers. Depending on the neighborhood, it can be a good experience. But I was in a very, very bad neighborhood. When I first moved in, my fiancé at the time refused to get out of the van. I tried to convince her to come out, and was nearly successful in doing so... until someone came out from behind the house. He apparently urinated back there and was surprised to have a pair of headlights beaming at him. He sprinted out of there faster than any athlete I've ever seen.

The house itself wasn't bad though, and I could see where it had potential. There was a sizable basement, but it was unfinished. There wasn't a washer or dryer hookup, so I never had a good reason to be down there. A sliding glass door in the kitchen led to a backyard patio, but it was kind of unstable and I hardly call the sight of thick weeds and abandoned houses appealing. The carpet inside most of the house was a shade of nicotine brown and kind of sticky. The dining room was relatively large and empty, save for the television sitting on top of the table. For whatever reason, the DVD player was hooked up to that one and not the television in the living room. The living room was nearly the whole length of the house, but only the first half of it was decorated. I believe the landlord intended to plaster some walls to artificially make another bedroom, but never got around to it. Going up the stairs, there was a fairly decent bathroom and a bunch of bedrooms. I had the small room to save on rent... and by small, I mean a 6x8 living space. After putting in the bed, the dresser, and the computer desk, I had next to no standing space and the room was very claustrophobic, but it served its function. The attic was arguably the best looking room in the house with its white carpet and freshly coated walls, but the lack of sizable windows and vents made it unbearable during extreme ends of the seasons.

I initially had the house all to myself, but the rooms eventually got filled. To give credit to where it's due, some of the tenants were quite nice and helpful. I once had someone fix a few glaring problems in my vehicle for free. Another person often made amazing food for everyone. There was even someone who thoroughly enjoyed cleaning and was effectively the moral conscience of the household. These few people served as a humbling reminder of what humanity could be, and that life can be pretty cool sometimes.

But I rarely got a good amount of uninterrupted sleep. This house, along with the neighborhood in general would frequently have loud moments. If the people at my place weren't throwing parties, my next door neighbors often would, and they usually ended with police involved. All sorts of vehicles would blaze down the road like clockwork with music blaring, and there's nothing more adorable than a bunch of half-naked five year-olds screaming racial slurs at each other over a friendly game of basketball. Most of the other tenants had next to no regard about themselves or anyone else, and I don't think a single day had gone by where my nostrils and lungs haven't been assaulted by cigarette smoke or illegal drugs. I never bothered to store anything in the fridge because it would get eaten by someone else regardless of how big I put my name on it. I've even had issues with people breaking the lock on my door and entering through my window. I've had all kinds of electronics and cash stolen as well.

Then there were a few tenants that really pushed the envelope, and it's people like them who contributed to the insane amount of patience I now have for dealing with others. An older African American woman had her stereo booming non-stop from her attic residence. She would often respond by saying, "Well, I can sleep through it, what's your problem?" She could've been partially deaf and didn't quite know it, but it was clear that the cheese on her cracker had long since slipped off. I came downstairs to the kitchen one time, and there she was in the kitchen... naked and casually making a sandwich. I spent the rest of that night watching children's programming to give my mind a good cleansing.

A middle aged Caucasian man kept mostly to himself in his room, but still tried to pass his messages off in highly unorthodox ways. It's just not normal to stand in the middle of the hallway and dart directly at a door for about ten minutes, or keep peeking behind the kitchen wall several times while someone is fixing a quick bowl of ramen. I once woke up to the sound of the front door knocking. I usually ignored it unless if it was persistent, which in this case was. I eventually made my way downstairs and answered to a maintenance guy. Ten seconds later, I closed the door and had hardly started to walk in the other direction before seeing him at the other side of the living room. He stormed toward me and started accusing me of stealing his room key. Seeing that I didn't want his brilliant deduction skills being the end of me, I tried to reason with him. He started dishing ultimatums left and right, demanded to search my room, use my phone to call the police, and displayed other characteristics of someone who always wants to be a victim and a center of attention. He would later say that he had the key in his pocket the whole time, and was merely "testing me."

Then there was "Derek", a pinnacle of wasted potential if I ever saw one. This younger African American dude reeked. Bad. I don't think he has ever taken a shower there, or applied one ounce of anything hygiene related, or even washed his clothes. He had no coherent thoughts. There was no compassion in his sullen, charred chambers of his heart. He wouldn't sacrifice as much as fifteen seconds out of his disease-collecting agenda to act his age and bring his dirty dishes out of his room. Heaven forbid if anyone brought anything to his attention and told him what to do. He always acted like he was above reproach and like one of those kids who got angry at their parents for not getting the toy he wanted. The only time that I was remotely amused by his antics was when he sometimes acted like a cocky bartender. His "specialty" consisted of an ingeniously crafted mix of vodka and kool-aid (his other specialty was dumping the other half of the mixture powder onto the counter). I was impressed that he somehow had a girlfriend, but he treated her like garbage and even slapped her around while she was there. The one time I tried to intervene, he flipped over tables and smashed cabinets. The house became so unsafe with him there, I got used to sleeping in my car and spending the night at other friends places in the dead of winter.

Yes, I've had my homeless nights. I will never take a warm room, or a warm shower, or a warm plate of food for granted ever again. One thing I learned was how ineffective government handouts really are. Food stamps help, but in a cruel twist of irony they only allow you to buy stuff that you need to prepare at home. There are some exceptions, but the last thing I needed was dying of kidney failure from a diet consisting of junk food and cheese crackers. Housing assistance exists, but it's really limited in scope and scale. There are shelters, but their strict rules and curfews were completely incompatible with my third-shift job, and I probably would've subjected myself to a greater chance of violence than being on the streets. Whenever you have nearly everything, even time itself working against you, your skills and your charm are your biggest assets. Your level of success doesn't necessarily come from what you know, but from who. I've made many friends by drawing caricatures of them, cracking a few good jokes, and having a keen understanding of my social cues. I would be treated out to eat or even have a place to sleep and play games, but that's if I was lucky enough. I say this because it's really hard to keep a smile on your face and act like a charming rascal when you know that you're one quirk of fate away from freezing outside for the rest of the night. I've added all these gruesome and disturbing details because I need to emphasize that my fifteen months there were completely, utterly, one hundred percent... AWFUL.

Some friends from Cuyahoga Falls eventually took me in, and life only got better from there. But no other time in my life had taught me to be selfless and be appreciative with what I have. No other time in my life would teach me who my real friends were and who among my family would live up to their promises of being there for me. No other time has convinced me how much my fiancé loved me and would stay by my side no matter what. Not as much as my fifteen months here. I wouldn't wish this whole experience on my worst enemy, but it was completely necessary for me. It's these kinds of seeds that God plants that bring the biggest changes to our lives. Whether you believe that much or not, this much is certain:

Change never comes without pain.

It's as comfortable as it looks.