My apartment always throws my nieces and nephews for a loop when they come over to visit or I am babysitting them. They've lived in the same house their whole lives and I don't think they've even stayed in a hotel. So many families living in one building baffles them. That people live above us and on the other side of the wall is confusing. There are a few advantages to apartment living (a few, among the mounting disadvantages as our family grows) and the prospect of moving into a house and leaving apartment life forever is giving me some reflection on our 7.5 years of married apartment life.
Our first apartment in Florida was located directly above the Complex Gossiper. Initially that may seem like a bad thing, but I loved it. Joe was retired and had a bit of cognitive impairment, but was doing well enough to live independently. He worked a few hours a week at the apartment office, stuffing envelopes and chatting with the office staff and he would sit outside on his front porch area and talk to everyone who walked by. Joe was a talker who was dying for a listener, so if I merely paused on my way to my front door, Joe was sure to let loose everybody's everything. I knew what the complex was doing, I knew what apartments were having bug issues or resident issues. I knew about new policies and construction and rent increases. It was pretty fabulous. Abigail's bus driver last year was a Gossiper too and I got all the inside dirt on route changes, sub drivers, and the school staff. There was even a bomb threat at the nearby university one day that caused all the surrounding schools to go into lockdown mode - including Abigail's. It was pretty scary for us, obviously, even though it was all just precautionary. The next day, Bob gave me the full inside scoop. Being a listening ear to the Town Gossip is a sure-fire way to get the full story.
In the apartment community, I like the think of myself as filling the "Community Watch" roll. Being home all day with the kids makes it really easy for me to know who drives what car and their usual daily schedule. I know that the water softener guy comes every Monday (so if I leave the stroller in the hallway, I can't park it in front of the door to the water room on Mondays), the garbage truck comes several times per week, and when the complex switches lawn maintenance companies (these new guys are way faster). Basically, I catch wind of changes, new cars, and unusual guests very quickly. Heck, I even know that the gray cat on the second story of the building next door always hops in the front window when his owner leaves for work in the morning. When the girls are grouchy, we always start our walks in that direction because a cat is a fabulous distraction for grouchy girls.
Erica lives next door and she's the type of person you can go to if you needed something. She's in her thirties and has twin 10-year-old girls. She's friendly, always compliments my kids, and holds the door open for me. She is single and doesn't work and drives a black Hundai. the girls' dad is pretty involved in their lives and Erica is close with her brothers, one of whom visits often and drives a small, black foreign car too.
Eric lives across the hall. He works nightshift in a factory and always parks his sport edition black Focus in his carport. He has a girlfriend who lives out-of-state and visits once a month. He has a son who stays with him during school breaks and for a few weeks every summer. When his son visits, they go on a father-son fishing/camping trip. The son is gets along with the girlfriend and he thinks Eleanor is cute.
Creeper lives across the hall. She's an older lady, retired, and sits in her apartment watching tv all day. I call her Creeper because she's always spying on me, especially when she first moved in. When we'd come back from a walk or when we'd sit outside and draw with chalk on the sidewalk, she'd be standing in her window, peeking at us between her blinds. Whenever I'd check the mail, she'd always crack open her door and watch me, never saying a word. Last summer when we got back from a long walk, I was particularly struggling to hold the door open and navigate the double stroller through the doorway. I fumbled through it, started down the hallway, and totally freaked when I looked up and saw Creeper standing there in the middle of the hallway, watching us with one hand on her open door. "I just wanted to introduce myself," she said, staring at Abigail. I introduced myself and the girls. "I've heard a lot about you, Abigail," she said with a weird smile on her face (which I've since learned is her normal smile). She continues to remain creepily obsessed with Abigail, although her spying has since toned down. Creeper has a teenage granddaughter who has a young son and is constantly moving in and out of the apartment. Creeper used to drive a white HHR, which seemed like the kind of car a creeper would drive (no offense, HHR owners), but one day it suddenly disappeared and the granddaughter moved out again (I suspect the girl totalled it). It's now a green Chevy that never leaves its carport because Creeper rarely goes anywhere.
Kneel and his wife live upstairs. Kneel is generally polite, but he's fat, lazy, and demeaning toward his wife. He has a serious inferiority complex and his always bragging about something to bolster himself up. He sometimes works a part-time job, but usually quits his job after a few months and goes on disability. His redeeming quality is his fatherly streak that sometimes appears. For example, this past winter, I usually popped out to shovel the front sidewalk (I enjoy shoveling), but he felt bad that I was doing the hard work and made a point to beat me to it so I wouldn't have to. His wife works for the local newspaper, she's a nice woman who always compliments the girls and tells me I look nice when I'm dressed up. They hold the door open for me when the see me coming. Kneel drives a brand new silver Ford Edge while his wife drives a small, beat-up car. They just replaced it with something newer and used, and I haven't learned what it is yet. Kneel's wife does get the carport space, though.
The Young Asians also live upstairs. Two guys and one girl who are always dressed very professionally and driving rental cars that they never park in their carport. They don't speak much English and are always traveling for work, so we rarely interact with them, but when they are around, they are exceptionally friendly. They wave at the girls and one time, one of the guys saw us coming home in the rain and ran out to the car with an umbrella to escort us to the building.
The Asian Family just moved in upstairs - actually, I think they are Pacific Islanders. They have two kids - one is about Eleanor's age - and share one car, but they don't speak a lick of English. They never hold the door open for me when I have the girls, even if I am right behind them. I can never remember the model of their car, but it's a mid-sized black sedan with a fancy trim package.
Then there is Richard the bachelor. Richard works for the local university, but wears jeans and baggy shirts to work. He almost always comes home from work with fast food for dinner. He is pudgy, wears glasses, has greasy hair, and usually keeps to himself. He watches a lot of movies and plays a lot of video games at hours that a bachelor would keep (we know this because he lives above us). Richard drives red Dodge Charger that he keeps very well maintained and always parks in his carport. Sometimes when Richard is at work, I notice that his blinds have moved (like, they were open when we left for our walk, but closed when we got home), but I have never, ever seen him with a woman or a friend or have a visitor over and there are no unaccounted cars in the parking lot. Richard adopted two black kittens shortly before we had to put our white cat down. Since our black cat is too old to care about cat toys, I gifted his cats with all our cat toys after Emma passed. He was appreciative and told us we could come visit his kittens anytime, but we never did. His cats love to sit in the front window and I think my girls think his cats are our cat. It's pretty cool when his two cats plus our cat are all in their front windows. You walk by and see three black cats all staring at you at the same time. If there are any superstitious burglars out there, I don't think they will ever rob our building.
Two of my favorite tenets in this building were Jim and Ruth. The recently moved to Florida, but they had a very exciting story before the left. Jim was recently divorced and moved in with girlfriend Ruth. He was lush with cash from the settlement and buying up every toy a middle-aged man could ever want. Ruth had a red Impala and Jim drove a huge white Ford pick up with $800 tires and $800 wheels. Per tire. Per wheel. But Jim made his living as a truck driver and always did an immaculate job parking his giant pick up. When Ruth hit a deer/a deer hit Ruth, they replaced her Impala with a Cadillac. Jim bought a giant RV and a Harley motorcycle with special Harley Davidson trailer. They outfitted themselves in brand new leather jackets, chaps, boots, and serious-looking helmets. Despite their lavish lifestyle, Jim was a really down-to-earth guy who wore "dad jeans," repaired his vehicles himself, and waved to the girls when he saw them in the front window (they liked to supervise him when he worked on his cars). It was easy to give directions to visitors because I could say "we live at the building with the giant white pickup truck that you have to swerve to get around when you drive through the parking lot." Or, "we live at the building with the Harley Davidson trailer parked out front." Or, "when you see an RV that looks big enough to house a touring band, stop. That's our building."
One Saturday afternoon we will move out of our unit and the other residents will wonder where that family with all the kids went. We'll be here one day, but gone the next. I know who they are and what the drive and when they leave for work in the morning, but we are not close enough to knock on doors, hug goodbye, and exchange cell phone numbers. We all live in a little community, each person playing a role. I know the roles of apartment life so well. I hope that very soon I will get learn the roles we would play as homeowners in a subdivision.