idol season ten | week 17 | 1082 words
The Rent I Pay
I've been here the longest of anyone—practically since the beginning.
The other inhabitants have changed over time, and so have the surroundings. Let's face it, things aren't perfect. The roof leaks in some of the units, the heating and A/C don't always work, and I could swear the space is shrinking. I mean, it grew for a long time—years even—but then it started to go in reverse.
It's a jumbled mess in here. I just try to steer clear of the riff-raff and keep an eye out for squatters.
Sometimes, I'm not even sure where my own place is. I used to be next to Giles, years and years ago. Giles is a very physical guy, kind of obsessed with movement. At one point, he owned half the building, but it didn't last. Others started moving in, like language lady (I forget her name), and Max.
That Max was something. "I'm an idea guy," he kept telling everyone.
"We know," we'd say, "you already said that." Like, a gazillion times already.
He was a smart enough guy, but he never shut up. If you're wondering whether that would bug you, let me tell you, Yes—it definitely would.
I'm getting ahead of myself, though, and forgetting some of the other tenants who have been here almost as long as I have. Serena, who was all about feelings, and moved in maybe a week after I did. Harold, who was interested in everything, and became a real scholar over the years. Later, there was Libby, who was completely boy-crazy. It wasn't so bad at first, but after a while, it got out of hand. Things would be going along safe and smooth, and then the hormones would ratchet up and so would Libby.
Or course, all of this was way back in the past, before everything got really nuts.
Nowadays, I don't know half the people here. We try to pretend things are still fairly normal, even though the place is bursting at the seams and we're hardly ever where we belong. We all spend way too much time jammed into the common room, trying to get our fair share of the popcorn and fighting over the remote.
That's usually about when the landlord pays a visit.
He's been here since the beginning too, and like me, he's pretty much given up on names. Who can keep track of all of them now? We mostly just call them what they are. What can they do about it, leave? I don't think so.
He comes in now, carrying his clipboard. "Anybody seen Responsibility?" he asks.
"I think he's at the office," someone says. Which is a fair bet—he usually is.
"He's behind on the rent again."
That's fairly typical, too. The rent here is paid in sleep, nutrition, and other bodily maintenance, and Responsibility has never quite gotten the hang of how things work. He isn't the only one…
"Hey," the landlord says, 'hey!" He stomps over to the sofa. "Stress, who the hell is that canoodling under the coffee table?"
Chocolate and Carbs pull apart, looking sheepish. Computer Solitaire and Mystery Novels stop throwing cards into a hat, and try to fade into the wallpaper.
"You know the rules," the landlord says. "No sub-letting! How long have these clowns been here?"
"Um, maybe a month or two, off and on," Stress says.
Hah, I think, more like a couple of years! But I don't say it.
"Out!" the landlord bellows. He smacks Carbs on the head with the clipboard as it runs past. He yanks Stress up off the sofa. "Go to your room and rest, what the hell is wrong with you? Pull yourself together!"
Creativity is already sidling out the other door. Everyone knows his place is total chaos—it looks like he's running a flophouse in there. If he's smart, he'll sweep up the smattering of loose ideas and clean up the chewing gum and pencil stubs before the landlord drops by. I swear he must have nine lives, that guy. Even when he's gotten kicked out of the building, he somehow eventually makes his way back in.
The landlord looks around the room. It's deathly quiet, for a change.
"Now listen up, all of you. We go through this again and again, and I know you're all thinking the same as always. Oh, it's so hard to take care of myself, I hate sleeping, boo-hoo-hoo. Don't give me that look, Impulsivity, I know you. I've seen you surfing the Net at three a.m."
I struggle not to look away as he says this. There are times I've been just as guilty.
"All of you think you can keep this up forever, and nothing's gonna happen," the landlord continues. "Oh, it's okay, you say, I'm not goofing off, no really—I'm just multitasking." He glares at us. "Hah!"
"Multitasking is the biggest lie since Double your money, guaranteed!"
Procrastination and Inertia are trading glances, looking like they wish they'd turned in a couple of hours ago and avoided this whole tirade. I know exactly how they feel.
"So, I'm here to tell you that things can still get worse, and they might. You think they won't?" He looks at each of us in turn, waiting for as much as a smirk or a roll of the eyes. No one blinks.
"The powers-that-be are seriously considering letting this place go condo. If that happens, you'll be so compartmentalized you won't be able to put on your pants or even drink a glass of water. So, is that what you want? IS IT?"
There is nothing but stunned silence and a rising hint of nervous perspiration.
"Because if not, you'd better start shaping up!"
The landlord storms out of the common area, leaving us quivering in his wake like leaves in the aftermath of a narrowly-escaped tornado. There's a pause, and then everyone's piling over each other in a mass surge toward the exits, each of us rushing back to our rooms or closets or corners to take up better habits.
I vow things will be different this time, as I slip inside my apartment and lock the door. I will eat unprocessed foods, starting now with an exquisite kale and quinoa salad, whatever those actually are.
I will find the patience to meditate, I will forswear sugar and caffeine.
I hardly make it past the living room before I am hit with a sudden, compelling urge to nap.
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