Memories of my bad college apartment

In Pittsburgh people love to wax nostalgic about things that aren’t there anymore. There is even a PBS documentary about Pittsburgh things that aren’t there anymore. Well, the bad college apartment that I shared with Punk Rock Palate is now a Pittsburgh thing that isn’t there anymore. A friend who lived in the same apartment before I did posted a picture on Facebook of the literal hole that used to be our hole of an apartment. I guess it’s my time to wax nostalgic.

A hole where my bad apartment used to be
The picture my friend posted of where I used to live. (Used with permission)

Technically it wasn’t our first apartment, but we were unceremoniously evicted from the beautiful row house that we had expected to be be our college abode. (Hey, kids, don’t make verbal agreements with your landlord lest he change his mind and the locks.)

There were only a few weeks before the fall semester started and most of the apartments within walking distance of school and within the budget of two college students had already been occupied. With heavy sighs we signed a lease to an apartment that was already infamous among our friends as being a dump. We knew it was bad because multiple friends had lived there before we did.

The apartment was the second floor of a three-story building, but we didn’t have to worry about upstairs neighbors clomping around. The third floor was already boarded up.

It was a railroad apartment meaning it was a long, slim, row of rooms that that each led directly to the next one (like railroad cars). To get to my bedroom involved walking through the kitchen, the living room, the den, and the bathroom. Yes, if someone was in the bathroom I couldn’t get to my bedroom unless I went outside and came back in through the basement.

The house smelled strongly of cats. (We did not have cats.) We rented a steam cleaner from the Giant Eagle twice. The agitation only seemed to make the smell stronger.

We called it the “House of Escher” because any right angles had warped a long time ago. The linoleum floor in the kitchen had a noticeable slope. A favorite party trick was taking people to my room and having them look in my full-length mirror but focus on the lines of wood paneling behind them. The effect tended to cause vertigo particularly in drunk college students.

There were three ancient gas heaters in the apartment with pilot lights that had a tendency to go out and need to be manually re-lit. I’m surprised we managed not to burn the place down.

The good thing about the place was that it was extremely cheap. (I seem to recall it being $285 per month total, not just my share.) Unfortunately because of those fire-hazard heaters our winter gas bills exceeded $300 per month, so we decided to do the responsible thing and put plastic over the windows, which turned out to be more challenging and less effective than we intended.

My roommate and I measured the windows and purchased the necessary amount of plastics, but there was a problem. We weren’t very girly and neither of us owned a hairdryer that we could use to shrink the plastics.

Once we borrowed a hairdryer and did all the work to cover the windows we were feeling pretty proud of ourselves, until we noticed that we could still feel the draft coming in. We realized that the cold air was coming right through the walls. (There likely wasn’t any insulation behind the wood paneling.) The plastics did nothing to help our horrible utility bills.

We had a mouse problem for a while, which we discovered in a comical, sitcom kind of way when my roommate grabbed what she thought was a full box of cereal from the pantry only to find it surprisingly light with a hole chewed in other side.

At another time I was trying to nap in my room only to be jarred awake by an acoustic ceiling tile hitting my floor and a pigeon flying out of the gap. That was in summer and we had window air conditioning units in several of the windows, which meant I had to chase the bird out through the nearest window that could be actually opened.

But for all the bad stuff, the nice thing about being college students living in a rundown apartment with smelly, stained carpeting was that we had no qualms about having parties. A few spilled beers were not going to wreck the place. Plus, the lady who lived downstairs was practically deaf. She said she didn’t mind if we had parties as long as no one came crashing through her ceiling, which at that place may have been a realistic fear.

We actually lived in that place for two years. The price couldn’t be beat and by the end of year one we were used to the buildings quirks.

Someone told me years ago that the building was being renovated. Either they were wrong or the owners decided it was beyond saving. For whatever reason, the building is gone.

Fun fact: I had forgotten until our mutual friend shared the above picture that the woman I wrote about in the post “Social media and a friend from college who was not my college friend” had been one of the people who had lived in the apartment before I did.

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