The building was one of those places that you’ve walked past a thousand times without ever actually noticing. As I stood in front of it, taking it in for the first time, I thought that it was kind of charming in the way that city apartment buildings sometimes are. A patina of dirt and dust—natural parts of life in a city—covered the building’s white paint, and the brass numbers of the address were of a font that was completely non-offensive.
I turned, and introduced myself to the realtor, who shook my roommate’s hand and then mine. She smiled at us, keeping her plump and glossed lips pressed tightly closed, and tucking an errant strand of her straight, platinum blond hair behind her ear, before asking us to sign an official looking document that she seemingly pulled from thin air.
My roommate and I exchanged nervous glances before looking back at the realtor, who didn’t seem particularly reassuring. Warnings about not signing documents raced through my head, and I began panicking, imagining that the realtor would trap us in some kind of agreement that would haunt me for the rest of my life. Happily, the document turned out to be harmless—an acknowledgement of a broker’s fee should we choose this apartment—and my focus shifted toward the goal of getting out of the miserable wind and freezing temperature, and inside the building (which was starting to look rather cozy).
But as I stepped through the plain door of this nondescript apartment building, I did not prepare myself for the powerful scent of takeout Chinese food that immediately assaulted my nostrils. To be honest, it never occurred to me as an olfactory possibility. While it would’ve been a wonderful smell to encounter in a kitchen, it was such a strange smell to have ingrained in the corridors of an entire apartment building. I was expecting something more like mildew or aging carpets, not the smell of someone’s over-exuberant attempt to cure their Sunday morning hangover.
I looked at my roommate, attempting to telepathically convey my surprise, but broke down and whispered something like “Do you smell the Chinese food too?” as we climbed the stairs. She nodded vigorously as our realtor stopped abruptly on a landing, and announced that we would be seeing apartment 3B.
The realtor rapped sharply on the white door in front of her, announcing her name and the name of her company to the innocent tenants enjoying their Sunday morning inside. My roommate and I hadn’t expected that the people living in the apartment would be there while we poked around their space, so we exchanged yet another set of panicked glances, feeling like we were about 12 years old, and complete imposters in the adult world of ‘apartment-hunting.’
A sleepy looking woman opened the door, warmly welcoming us in and inviting us to look around wherever we needed to, before retreating into the kitchen. As the realtor strode into the apartment, my roommate and I hovered anxiously on the threshold, realizing that we had somehow stumbled into an artist’s loft, like one you would see in a movie about a famous painter so filled with passion for their craft, that every inch of their space becomes a blank canvas.
In the small living space, the furniture (a single couch) was pushed to the side to make room for a large canvas and collection of paints which occupied the entire center of the room. Sheets and large canvases, all featuring angular portraits and silhouettes, completely covered the walls, creating a mini art museum.
Carefully picking our way across the room, we peeked into the two bedrooms. The first room was cast in a red glow from the scarves that covered the window, but too dim to see anything beyond the shape of a bed and yet another canvas. In the second room, we discovered the other tenant, who was still living out of his suitcase. Pushing his curly hair out of his eyes, he nodded hello and shuffled out of the room and joined the girl in the kitchen. With nowhere else to go, we followed him, and watched him pile another dish onto an impressive tower precariously built in the kitchen sink.
The woman smiled at us again, and asked if we had any questions that she could answer. I racked my brain, trying to think of a single question that might make me seem less naive than I obviously was, and came up with: “Do you have any excessive wildlife problems? Like cockroaches or rats?”
At this, the man turned around, looking down his beak-like nose at me.
“You mean rodentia?” he asked, drawing out the last word for added emphasis. I wrinkled my nose and nodded. I at least thought that was what I meant.
“There’s no escaping those vermin in this city,” he sniffed. “They’re everywhere.”
The woman then added that the stove and oven didn’t actually work most of the time, and that the noise from the T woke her up every night.
I gulped and looked at my roommate before desperately turning to the realtor. I gave her a tight-lipped smile that I hope signaled my intense need to leave the room. We thanked the couple and waved goodbye, and the fled the building, which still smelled of Chinese food.
My roommate and I began our voyage back to campus, commenting how excited we were to return to our cozy dorm room. It seemed so strange, considering that not too long ago we had stared at that room in horror, taken aback by a lack of storage space and suspicious hairs lurking in the bathtub.
Featured Image by Zoe Fanning / Heights Editor