It seemed like a good idea at the time.
I had to move from Salt Lake to Utah County for a job, and I needed an apartment fast. I had the handicap of having grown up in a 150-year-old house. No ordinary abode would do.After looking at 9 million ugly town houses in the "big" cities of Provo and Orem, I ventured south to Springville to look for a house with character.
"No one has lived here for a while," said the owner of a partially painted adobe house with crumbling gingerbread trim. "We are adding a toilet in the north apartment, but the south side already has one."
From the high ceilings hung webs spun by spiders who crossed the plains under covered wagons. The windows rattled in the breeze and the kitchen was full of tiny, uneven cupboards built by a dyslexic pioneer. True, a few of the handles had broken off, but that really didn't matter. The cabinet doors were all painted shut anyway.
But it wasn't an ugly town house; it had character. So I rented it.
Everyone said I should get a big dog to protect me in my scary new house, but I told them there was no need. I already had Gryzwana the attack cat.
OK, to be honest all he had ever attacked were table scraps, shoelaces and houseflies, and he is terrified of mail carriers and blow-dryers. I was confident he would defend me if the need arose.
He got his opportunity after mice moved into the attic. Gryzwana spent hours staring suspiciously at the ceiling, and when the first mouse ventured down at 4 one morning, he caught it and tried to bonk it to death with his fluffy, declawed paw. By 4:45, I was getting tired of the bonking sounds and rodent squeaks, so I thanked my protector, caught the mouse in a bag and deposited it on the lawn of some obnoxious neighbors.
A few days later, I awoke to the sounds of another cat and mouse game. Trusting Gryzwana to detain the prisoner, I rolled over to go back to sleep. A few minutes later, he jumped on the bed and gently placed on my bare neck his saliva-soaked prize - a crazed, wild rodent.
In an instant the bed was empty, and human, cat and mouse were cowering in different corners of the room.
I was beginning to have second thoughts about my living arrangements, but the next day, things looked up. A neighbor actually spoke to me.
"We like you even though you're the wrong religion," said the elderly gentleman from the next house.
"At least you don't grow marijuana in the driveway like the last tenant."
He informed me that until a few months before, my home had been one of Utah County's most successful drug houses.
"People from all different states used to come change their tires in your driveway. They were really careful with whatever was in the tires, but once in a while they would spill something, then marijuana would grow. But I can tell you're not a drug dealer. Say, what business are you in anyway?"
"I'm a newspaper reporter."
He got a panicked look on his face and scurried back into his house.
Oh well, at least I had the mice for company, I thought. But they moved back into the attic a few days later when the floods came.
Actually, the pipes froze before the house flooded. My landlady sent several trucks full of her hillbilly relatives, armed with homemade blowtorches, to thaw the pipes. They turned on every faucet in the house, to no avail, then descended - wild-eyed and gleeful - into my unfinished basement.
"Stop setting the walls on fire, Earl. We don't have enough dirt to keep putting them out."
I went to the garage, got in my car and screamed, uninterrupted, for five minutes. I then composed myself and calmly walked back to the house. As I opened the back door, a gentle wave of tap water lapped over my shoes.
"Earl, did you remember to turn off the washing machine hook-up before we came down here?"
I was so happy when the hillbillies left, I didn't notice there was no hot water. I actually bathed in ice water for several days before I gave in and called the landlady back.
"No problem, I'll send my relatives over again. They're good with things like this."
Turns out the hot water had all been running into the basement. I lived over Springville's newest swamp.
"Gee, I wonder if the house will cave in now that there's no solid dirt holding it up," said the head hillbilly.
When I awoke the next morning, there was a large crack in the ceiling plaster above my bed.
OK, even I had to admit it was time to move. I was tired of mice and floods and unfriendly neighbors and wondering if drug users were going to drop by and catch me with nothing but Tylenol. I was tired of hillbillies in my basement and cabinets that wouldn't open. I could stand the low temperatures in the apartment, but I was really tired of the wind-chill factor.
So I moved into the basement of an ugly Orem town house.
(Is it just me, or does anyone else think "Orem" sounds like someone clearing a throat?)
What the new place lacks in character, it makes up in benevolence. There have been no floods, and as loudly as the upstairs neighbors stomp, I have not worried about my ceiling caving in. I can finally relax.
But Gryzwana is a nervous wreck. He knows just what comes after overhead noises, and he lives in constant fear of the night those 150-pound mice come down to say hello.