Monday, September 10, 2012

Memory Lane Monday: My Shit-hole Apartment (Part 6)

On this first edition of Memory Lane Monday, I must say I'm so glad I had this post pre-written. I'm horrible awful sick with Tonsillitis or some other nastiness because apparently, my oral cavities have decide to go on strike from the rest of my body.  But enough about me, on with the story of the day!

So, after the joys of college and moving back home with my parents temporarily, it was finally time to spread my wings...and drive 1,800 miles to New Jersey to start a new chapter in adulthood.

Living Away From Home Year 5
Moving Across the Country
(Dreams, Meet Reality)
I dreamt of living in New York City since I was a little kid. New York was THE place.  It was where dreams came true and stars were born. If I wanted to be an actor, it was NYC or Hollywood.  I never considered myself much of a west coast girl and was never all that impressed with L.A the few times I'd visited, plus I was born in Manhattan, and it was calling me home. Home to the mothership.


Since the leap from Colorado to NYC was so abrupt and expensive, I decided to "cushion" the blow by moving to Weehawken, NJ where I could still keep the security blanket that was my car, but easily commute into Manhattan by bus for auditions or work. I can't even begin to explain how all the pieces of the move fell into place, it almost seemed too easy, and too right-time-right-place in retrospect. Also in retrospect, what I did was ballsy, but also a little bit hasty and not one of the smartest things I ever done. I did work very hard and spent a lot of hard-earned money to make my dream happen. But I also did something not-so-wise.  I moved into a house with two complete strangers 1,800 miles away from the only place that was ever home, with no job, no job prospects, and a savings account that was hemorrhaging money. Isn't being young and reckless awesome?!

You get my money! And YOU get my money! Everybody gets my money! (Except me.)
T-shirt Laundry
I had my friend Tommy and Not-Yet-Boyfriend for moral support, I had a dream, and I had ambition-the kind that comes with youthful stupidity and optimism. The day or two after I got myself and my ferrets all settled and mostly unpacked, I drove 5 miles to Hoboken, NJ (lovingly referred to by Jersey-ites as "The 'Boken" or "The 6th Borough") parked my car, fed the meter, and started hoofing it up and down Washington Street with a folder full of resumes looking for a job. Any job. I honestly don't remember how many restaurants, bars, and shops I set foot in that day.  A lot of them gave the glassy-eyed "oh I'll have the manager call you" response, and I did literally get laughed out of a couple of bars because I didn't know what their strange colloquialisms for certain drinks were (bartending school means jack diddly here) and to this day, I still don't know what the hell is in a "Red-Headed Slut" shot. Eventually, I meandered into a cafe called The Frozen Monkey where they all but hired me on the spot. 

This place sadly no longer exists. Funny enough, though neither does the restaurant I worked after this...nor the retail store I worked after that...nor the restaurant I worked after that.
Be ye warned, retailers: I am the harbinger of bankruptcy!
 Once I got back to my house, I felt a burst of self-confidence and perused the trade papers for auditions. I came across an agency looking for actors for background work and gave them a call to set up an audition. I drove 45 minutes to their office the next day (45 minutes away from NYC should have been a red flag) and sat down with their fast-talking "agent" (fast-talking, pushy, more red flags) I signed a contract and made a "down payment" on my membership with them (GINORMOUS RED FLAG!!! Danger! Danger, Will Robinson!!!) To any would-be actors/entertainers out there, if you take anything away from my blog other than some schadenfreude, let it be this: Never Never NEVER pay an agency to get you work. Legit agents get paid only when YOU get paid and not in any other way. Long story short, this particular agency was super shady and had I been smart I would have skipped that appointment with them, but c'est la vie. You live and you learn. I did get my very first paid gig on a network pilot through them, so it wasn't the biggest mistake I ever made, but they made way more money off of me than I ever made thanks to them. Lesson learned. Unfortunately, this experience made me extremely leery of casting agencies almost to the point of paranoia which certainly didn't help me get any acting work especially during the infamous Writer's Guild strike, stagehand strike, the threatened SAG strike, and the recession that overshadowed much of my first 18 months on the East Coast. Looking back, the shady agency seemed to be the tip of the ice burg of life lessons telling me I may have been in a little bit over my head.

But who could resist this view?
Copyright Jessica Ayers
I wasn't in over my head nearly as much as my landlord, Alex was, however.  He was a nice guy, but this house I was renting was his first venture into landlord-ing. My 2 roommates and I were renting the top 2 floors of a charming turn of the century Colonial-style house. I met them online and in person before moving in with them thanks to an online roommate listing. They were friends with each other from college and they seemed nice and "normal" enough to me. Their names were Kate and Jessica (I'm not even joking.) They were really nice girls, and it was definitely a culture shock for all of us living together, but Kate and Jersey-Jess were pretty good roommates overall.

I love old houses except for the fact that they're old and broken.
Google Maps
The house was old, but in relatively decent shape other than the roof needed to be patched up a bit and the old unusable chimney shaft leaked a little into our kitchen. No big deal, Landlord Alex had some guys come fix it a month into us living there. And by "fix it" I mean one morning while we were all asleep the roof guys drilled into the chimney flue for some unknown reason and the vibrations shook a bunch of old soot and other crap loose and it collapsed into our kitchen and got black soot on EVERYTHING. Did I mention my bedroom was attached to the kitchen? Yeah, nothing makes waking up in the morning more awesome than opening your bedroom door to find black soot on almost everything you own.  Especially in the place where you prepare and eat your food. Did I mention that most of the tile in our kitchen was white? (Was being the operative word.) I was first to make the unfortunate discovery and stood staring in shock. Kate and Jersey-Jess both screamed when they saw the kitchen. We all had to go to work, but we were assured that Landlord Alex would come inspect the damage and get it taken care of.

Apparently his idea of "taken care of" and our idea of it were two very different things. He decided to make the roof guys working stop what they were doing and come inside to clean up the mess they made. The geniuses then decided the best course of action was to get their shop vac and suck up all the soot and then blow it back up the chimney (dear god, I wish I was joking.)  So, when we all returned home from our respective jobs, our once white kitchen had a nasty layer of grey filth on everything. Fun fact: did you know that when you vacuum up soot, particles still get into the air around you? Also, when you suck it up and then blow it out of a shop vac, it goes EVERYWHERE! So, not only was our kitchen covered in a weird grey dusty grime, so was literally everything else in the house. Every.Thing.  Needless to say we threw a hissy fit and demanded better action from Landlord Alex.  The next day while we were at work he sent a professional cleaning crew to do a thorough cleaning of the house.  But, by "professional cleaning crew" I'm pretty sure he meant Merry Maids.  
What we expected vs. what we got.
The cleaning crew did a satisfactory job, but whoever they were, they were ill-equipped for a such a heavy duty cleaning job. In fact, almost a year later when Kate, Jersey-Jess, and I all moved out and on with our lives, we were still finding soot in crevices and shelves, and on rarely-used items throughout the house.  But even an exploding chimney, a shady talent agency, and my escaping New Jersey by the skin of my teeth (more on that soon) could not prepare me for the nightmare that awaited me.

To Be Continued...

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