When we arrived at Newport, we were ready for failure. We were prepared for a dilapidated house, crumbling porch steps, poor water pressure, neighbors who looked like they wanted to murder us, a snake infestation…you know, something that would be a slight turn-off. After all, it had sat on the market for 24 hours; something had to be wrong with it. After a five-month Craig’s List search, we knew this. Listings with promise got snapped up faster than pulled pork at the Maryland State Fair.
When my friend Carrie and I first agreed to move in together in 1999, we didn’t realize how problematic our wish-list was. Apparently it’s impossible to find a 2 BR with a front porch, off-street parking, and in-unit washer on a tree-lined street. We weren’t asking for the moon; just an updated bathroom, space for parakeets, and utilities included for a reasonable $1,000 per month.
If you’re laughing, then you know more than we did. On the outskirts of The Greatest City in America, $1,000 a month won’t go far. It will get you a tiny living space, a shared bedroom, a transitional neighborhood, or something that hasn’t been updated since 1976. It will get you a place that was leased five days ago, a creepy road you’ll dub “The Murder Street,” and it will get you Maria’s place on Deeredy Road.
“I think she said Maria,” Carrie told me on our way to Deeredy. “She has a very deep smoker’s voice, so I just try to be polite and get off the phone as fast as possible.”
“Smoker’s voice” was…generous. Maria was one pack away from the grave. And when we arrived at Deeredy, she was working on getting there, casually taking a few drags with a woman who was, at that moment, our future housemate, Juanita.
The house was cute but had as much life left as Juanita’s half-snuffed cig that was wafting in through the front windows. There was a matchbox-sized kitchen with a stove that looked like it might self-ignite at any moment; there were cobwebs in the living room and a thermostat we shared with Juanita, who looked haggard enough to get mighty cold in the winter and terrible hot flashes in the summer. The cobwebs Maria offered to “wipe down” for us.
“So who takes care of the yard?” I asked, gesturing to the overgrown bushes and expanse of urban green space.
“That’s the responsibility of the first-floor tenants, so that’s you,” Maria’s chafed voice graveled. “There’s a mower in the basement.”
She kept an eye on me for a moment, as if she half expected that I’d drop my purse, haul the mower out and begin trimming up the backyard. Not so. Growing up in East Jesus Nowhere, I’ve done some yard work in my 25 years, and you can bet that I’m not moving to civilization so that I can mow my very own lawn.
And so we moved on and finally moved in. It would be another month before we first stepped foot in the Newport house, but a few shared bedrooms and cobwebs later, here we are, sipping tea in a 2 BR with front and back porch, in-unit washer with space for our new parakeets, Judy & Phil.
Sometimes in the evenings, I wonder what Maria and Juanita are doing. Probably taking a few drags on the front porch, still looking for someone to mow the lawn.