Sunday, May 22, 2011

The Subletting Era, On the Flip Side

When I moved back into my apartment, after nearly seven weeks away, I was very, very ready to be in my own space.  The fact that my roommate had changed since I'd left wasn't really foremost in my mind.  Mostly, I was thinking about sleeping in my bed, in my apartment, without having to wake up to an alarm clock, do breakfast duty, and clean before even heading out the door.  When I left for Costa Rica for the summer, I had expected an adventure not without hardships, but I had no idea what I was getting myself into.

I spent my first two weeks in Costa Rica taking Spanish classes and living with host families.  This was fine, fun even.  I took classes in the morning and explored the cities I was in in the afternoon.  In Monteverde I went ziplining and hiked through the cloud forest.  At Playa Flamingo my afternoons were spent on the beach perfecting my tan.  One weekend we went to Volcan Arenal, went hiking and spent hours in the hot springs.  Not a bad way to spend a few weeks.


Sunset at the Playa

 At the hot springs

This lovely tourist's existence of lazing about and experiencing the natural wonders that Costa Rica is known for sadly didn't last.  You see, the real reason why I went to Costa Rica was to volunteer teach for the summer with a non-profit.  I knew that the accommodations weren't going to be up to US standards, but I've lived in a lot of places, and wasn't really worried about it.  In fact, the physical amenities weren't that bad.  I actually took a video of the University dorms that we stayed in:

No, the problems really all rested with the organization I worked with.  While I agree, in theory, with their mission to promote social justice through education, I didn't realize until I got there that the organization was more interested in imposing rules on its volunteers than ensuring the promotion of its principles.  There are serious flaws in the idea that we were doing great and indispensable good by teaching kids art appreciation and team-building activities for one hour-long period and then waltzing away to another school to do the same.  The thing that bothered me more was that there was this pompous sense of almost divine purpose in what we were doing -- that the image and reputation of the organization had to be protected at all costs.  And that's where the rules came in:

Las Reglas
  1. Everyone must be up at the same time in the morning and ready for breakfast.
  2. Everyone must do their chores.
  3. Any outing must be done "en grupo," so no one gets left out . . . even if they'd rather not go.
  4. We must have meetings four times a day to ensure unity of the group.
  5. Roommates are to be one local and one estadounisense.
  6. No alcohol.
  7. No relations with people of the opposite sex.
  8. No buying food that isn't part of the group purchase.
  9. You must be back and on time for dinner.
  10. No talking after lights out.
  11. No sitting on the second floor and playing cards, because what if someone thought you weren't playing cards?  What if someone thought you were drinking?  Even though you aren't, you can't socialize in a place where you might be thought to be something as untoward as drinking a beer.
  12. No skirts above the knee.
  13. No tanktops that expose your shoulders.
  14. No shirts that might show your cleavage if you lean over.  Not sure if you're appropriate?  Don't worry, there will be spot checks in the morning before leaving for school.
  15. No shorts when you're picking up trash with the kids on a Saturday.  What if a parent saw that you have legs? 

Cleaning the baƱos with cloro.

 Teaching (or saving the lives of) three students through a 45 minute discussion of Van Gogh's Starry Night" or "Noche estrallada," as we like to call it.  Not sure how that shirt made the cut.  Looks pretty inappropriate to me.

Needless to say, I came back to the US (via my brother's college graduation in Alabama) wanting nothing more than to be left alone.  It was hard enough to live through that, knowing that I was wasting my summer with an organization that was doing very little good, but I also harbored a great deal of guilt for asking my friends and family to sponsor my trip through donations.  Where was their money really going?  The organization certainly wasn't doing any harm, but the good it was doing was negligible.  I'd left my home and my friends right after the last day of school thinking I would come back with stories of great adventure, but instead I came back conflicted, confused, and sad.  It was with this attitude that I moved back into my apartment and started my tenure with Yvette.   


Sunday, May 15, 2011

Subletting Shenanigans

Before we get on to the wonderful and fascinating story of when Yvette and I lived together, we must first take a trip into someone else's story -- that of my lovely subletter, Miranda (who, for the record, took no part in any shenanigans).  

I spent six weeks that summer in Costa Rica, taking Spanish classes and volunteer teaching, and during that time both Miranda and Yvette moved into my apartment.  In anticipation of their brief tenure together, I "introduced" them via e-mail.  I thought it would be nice for them to be able to communicate directly with each other about their upcoming moves without going through me.  

Yvette, however, managed to change her move-in date three different times without telling either one of us until we inquired.  First she had to stay in her old place through the end of July.  Then, when I asked about mailing in the August rent, she said she'd decided to move mid-July, just to get things started.  Finally, when Miranda mentioned her move-in date, Yvette said she was moving in the same day.  All of this would have been helpful to know when she decided it so we could all plan, not when it just happened to come up in conversation.

Miranda and Yvette were now both supposed to be moving in 4th of July weekend, and Miranda's long-distance boyfriend was coming in to help.  Miranda, being considerate (and far nicer than necessary) offered to have her boyfriend stay somewhere else if Yvette wasn't comfortable with a stranger invading her space the first weekend in a new apartment.  I thought that this was a really generous offer, considering that Yvette is the one who changed her move-in date to the same day as Miranda's.  Had I been in the same situation, I wouldn't have taken Miranda up on the offer.  Just knowing that she would offer shows how accommodating she is and how little imposition her boyfriend's presence would be.  Yvette, however, said yes.  Please do have your out of town boyfriend stay elsewhere.  Moving is stressful to me.

And moving did turn out to be stressful for her.  Hey, it's stressful for all of us (even people like me who do it all the time), but eventually we get over it.  I did my best to help facilitate the transition.  The night before I left for Costa Rica, which was the day after the last day of school, I ran around my apartment trying to get it ready for its new occupants.  Kerri had left in the afternoon the day before, and taken much of the furniture with her.  The apartment was pretty bare.  I had already started clearing out enough of my own stuff that I ate ice cream for dinner.  Then I started remembering when I moved in and all the quirky little things about the apartment that I never would have figured out if Kerri hadn't been there to guide me through it all.  

I decided to leave Miranda and Yvette a note with pertinent information . . . but one little note didn't seem to cut it.  I then ran around the empty apartment in pajamas at 1:00 AM (when I should have been sleeping given that my flight was pretty early the next morning), putting post-its with little notes and reminders on everything I could think of.  Notes in the kitchen as to where each person's food went.  Notes on the trash can and recycling about the days to take them out.  A note on the toilet reminding them to hold the flusher down for at least ten seconds.  Notes on internet router and cable box about the password and what to do when the cable goes out.  Notes on the ancient washer-dryer as to how to keep them functioning at their maximum capacity.  You name it, I put a note on it.  I really wish I had taken a picture of it all, because it looked a little ridiculous.

And then I left a mere four hours later.  I overslept, naturally, because I'd been up too late the night before plastering my apartment "A Beautiful Mind" style with post-its (in different colors, shapes, and sizes -- I am an elementary school teacher, after all).  I woke up five minutes before my car service was scheduled to come pick me up, stepped on a giant roach in the shower (the only one I ever saw in that apartment, perhaps he came out to look at the post-its?), shoved the last of my stuff into my walk-in closet, and left.  I stumbled out of my building carrying two backpacks (one full of donated school supplies) and a cup of coffee to find my driver asleep and completely useless.  I had to rap on the window with my coffee mug to get him to wake up and open the trunk.  And then we were off.  And Miranda and Yvette were left to their own devices.

Miranda kept me updated and she and Yvette seemed to be getting along just fine, but Yvette seemed to be having some trouble adapting to the apartment.  She couldn't figure out how to work the washer-dryer and Miranda had to help her (um, didn't you get the post-it?).  Then the toilet clogged one morning and she couldn't figure out what to do about it.  Then she saw a mouse and totally freaked out,  although I can't really blame her.  Mice are gross and I tend to get a little screechy when I see them too.  But the second time she saw one she called Miranda, on her cell phone, in the middle of the night, while she was asleep, to come rescue her from it . . . because apparently Miranda is better equipped at rodent dispossal than Yvette?  I don't know.  Miranda did in fact do a good job of getting rid of the mouse and saving Yvette, and neither were worse for the wear.  It just made me think, what kind of person calls a roommate they barely know in the middle of the night to do something gross and yucky just because you don't want to?  And although I once had a male roommate check our kitchen for mice before I would go inside (I had just seen one in my tortilla chip bag!), I'm inclined to think that proper protocol leaves late night phone calls for actual emergencies -- like being locked out, fires, and people trying to break into the apartment.  

Are these little isolated events really ominous signs of evil to come?  No, not really.  Just perhaps a hint at how Yvette struggles to problem solve in a rational manner.  Or maybe, just because I don't like her, I'm projecting negative vibes onto actions that I might just find quirky or funny had she not become, in all honesty, the worst roommate I ever had.