Don't Eat the Snow in Wisconsin

Thu, Sep 6th, 2007 | 1:16am

For the past seven months I've been a freeloader. Allow me to explain.

Plans formed in my head to depart Raven Software at roughly the same time my previous apartment lease would be expiring. I was nearly positive I'd be moving out of Madison, because Human Head didn't attract me too much and that pretty much wraps it up for Madison area game developers (with the exception of Filament, about whom I did not know), so I let the lease lapse rather than renew it just to get socked with a twice-the-rent fee when I broke it a month or two later. It wasn't a bad place to live by any means, but I had grown disillusioned with the place. For one, it was convenient to Raven (which I increasingly wanted to avoid), and the mall (which I had always wanted to avoid) and not a whole lot else. Oh, I could walk home from Don the Muffler Man when I needed car repairs. That's about all. Thus, I made zero friends and found zero interests outside the Raven circle of friends. This proved to be a major issue when the entire circle of Raven friends quit and moved away, leaving me suddenly a lot less surrounded by friends and a lot more by myself.

For another, being ground floor with northern exposure, it was cold as hell in there all winter.

The illustrious and immortal Rick "Rickmus" "RJ" "Superfly" "Baby Face" "Iron Hands" Johnson offered quite kindly to let me take up residence in one of the crazillion spare rooms in Johnson Manor until I got myself in order. Finding the new job proved to take longer than my glowing references assured me it would, during which time Rick himself defected to Gearbox, leaving me as Higgins to his Mr. Masters (thanks to Dave for the analogy). When I ultimately decided to stay in the area and took a job at the infant Big Rooster, I had to find an apartment in Madison again.

Finding an apartment in Madison makes me angry.

Problem 1: I decided to be picky. Rick had no ultimatum on when I had to be out (and I wasn't paying a dime), so I seemed to have the time. Something near campus or downtown, I thought, would be nice, where I could just walk out of the apartment and find something unique to do. I also hoped for a building with some architectural character to it, having found myself rather allergic to soulless post-modern apartment complexes.

Problem 2: Being a landlord in Madison is apparently the best racket in town. Thanks to a guaranteed influx of 40,000 UW students every year, nearly every lease in Madison begins and ends on August 15th. It was still May, so no problems there, except that area property managers had allowed the huge demand for apartments to gradually edge the lease signing dates back to the previous November, at which point I didn't even know I was quitting. Apparently I'd already missed all the good boats. Surely juicy exceptions will present themselves, I thought, and laid myself prostrate at the feet of Craigslist.

I saw nearly twenty apartments, some of them crapholes (I still have nightmares about certain showers I've seen, and while I won't name any specific property managers, god damn Steve Brown Apartments those things were nasty). Others were burdened with some alternative dealbreaker or, in several cases, were exactly what I wanted right up until they were yanked out from under me. Some new favorite grind marks in my teeth:

  • The one off State Street where someone had thrown up on the door
  • "Ask about parking" in the ad translating to "We don't have any, we just wanted to get your hopes up high enough to draw you into a showing and waste your time"
  • Applying for an apartment within hours of seeing it, and being told weeks later by the landlord that he was still waiting for another application he thinks "might be pretty good too"
  • Potential roommates that declared me "not the best fit" only as long as it took for their first choice to flake out on them
  • A building with missing siding and gutters hanging off the soffits with laundry accessible only through an exterior cellar door
  • The bathroom that smelled mysteriously of tuna
  • Being in the car on the way to a 1:30 showing and receiving a phone call at 1:28 letting me know it had been signed to the people that viewed it at 1:00

August 15th had come and gone. After an entire summer of horrible luck, just being out of goddamn Johnson Manor was looking pretty tantalizing no matter the cost. With reluctance, I turned to the complexes.

First one I went to see, I was stood up by the landlord.

"Fuck this," I thought and decided to start walking down the street and apply at the first place I came to. The first place I came to happened to also manage a property blocks from Big Rooster, which happened to have a one bedroom opening within days just like the one I'd vacated, which happened to come with a rent special and indoor parking. I had been trained by the downtown real estate scene's constantly bending me over to be prepared to apply for an apartment at a moment's notice - credit and prior rent information in the back pocket, checkbook in the front, and a desperate need to have an address again - so I hurriedly applied. Now, fully seven months after the last lease ended, I'm back in a soulless complex on the ground floor with northern exposure near work and nothing else. Like enjoying the relief at the end of a terrible movie, I'm only content so far as I actually have a place of my own again.

If the smoldering frustration subsides by this November I might - might - give downtown Madison another shot, this time well in advance of next summer. Predicated, of course, on whether I find enough new hobbies that it ceases to be important to me where I live or if I just develop a habit of stumbling home drunk from the nearby Great Dane every weekend.