Apartments, Cockroaches, and Appreciating the Old Year

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There are a few things in life that consistently make me happy: getting kissed by a pretty girl, hearing anything by Billy Ocean in public, and being able to open a jar of pasta sauce without struggling would be a few examples.  Having a clean apartment is another thing that puts a smile on my face.  It doesn’t even have to be that clean.  Sure, the dust on the bookshelf is thicker than most of the books and the microwave looks like 8 pounds of meatloaf exploded inside of it, but those are things I can easily ignore.  As long as the place is in moderately good shape, I’m pleased.  Today, just being able to go into the cupboard and see the clean dishes inside made me want to break down in the joy of accomplishment the way Halle Berry did when she won the Oscar.

Of course I was aware that it’s the New Year and I’m starting it out rather well, with the apartment looking nice and clean.  In having this thought at this time of year – the first days of January – I suddenly became reflective.  Basking in the glory of my non-disastrous living quarters, I found myself thinking about the empty apartment I lived in two and a half years ago.

Back in August of 2009, my wife and I agreed to separate.  I moved out of our house and got my own place.  I was 31 years old and would be living alone for the first time in my life.  This was a major time of change, causing me to re-evaluate what I wanted.  In doing so, I set two goals.  I wanted to write a novel, and I wanted to live overseas.  Thus, when I got my apartment, I was determined to eliminate distractions and, also, avoid making the place too much of a home.  The apartment was stark and empty, white and austere, when I moved in, and I decided to just keep it like that.

I had no furniture.  There was no bed.  I slept on the floor.  My laptop couldn’t access the Internet.  I bought a ten dollar television set from Goodwill to watch movies on (in collaboration with my VCR); I didn’t get cable and its antenna didn’t pull in any stations.  There was an AM radio so I could listen to the baseball games and I took a wooden chair from the dumpster at the apartment complex to sit in.

I inherited that chair, and I was also lucky enough to inherit a nifty cockroach problem.  “Cockroach,” I firmly believe, is the ugliest word in the English language.  There’s not a single part of that word I like.  Personally, I would prefer not having any cocks or roaches in my general vicinity.  The word should be changed, somehow, to make it a bit more appealing.  If my friend has “cockroaches,” I’m not going near the place; if he has “boobie beetles,” maybe I’ll swing by.

But I digress.  When you’re sleeping on the floor, having cockroaches really sucks.  I’d wake up with a big brown sucker scurrying around close to the tip of my nose.  My solution was to take my 5 pound dumbbell and pound the little bastards into oblivion.  And I pounded a lot – my neighbors probably thought I was building the Ark in there.  There was one cockroach, though, that would gain my affection.  I called him “Night Roach.”  We met on a weeknight.  I woke up around three in the morning, having to use the bathroom.  Right when I flipped on the light and started to relieve myself, I saw him paused under the backend of the toilet.  I tensed up.

“Chill,” I told myself.  “It’s just a boobie beetle.  Don’t make a move and maybe it won’t make one.”  The two of us were engaged in a standoff, a blinking contest if you will.  I finished doing my business, left, and went back to sleep.  The bug was cool, so I decided to leave it alone.

In the morning, the cockroach was gone; the next night, there it was again.  We went through the same procedure.  Neither of us moved, both perhaps frozen with fear.  This turned into a routine – every night I’d have to use the bathroom, there he was, hanging out by one of the big rusty screws that held the toilet to the floor.  The mood was changing though, getting lighter in tone, and I was starting to look forward to our run-ins.  I started calling him “Night Roach,” and I even made a little song for him.

“Nighhht Roachhhh,” I’d sing to the tune of Love Boat.  “He’s exciting and cool/Nighhht Roacchhhh/I’m expecting you!”  Then I got to talking to him.  “What’s up Night Roach?  You doing okay?”  He was like my pet.  Sort of.

Finally the night came when catastrophe struck.  In my half-asleep daze, I went to the bathroom.  Of course, Night Roach was there, chilling like always.  But this time, he didn’t stick to our routine.  No, Night Roach came running up to me like a happy puppy.  I’m not sure what he expected.  Did he want me to pet him between the antennas and call him a good boy?  Well, unfortunately for him, I reacted by screaming and stomping him to smithereens.  Afterwards, I felt horrible.  Poor Night Roach.  One night he was being serenaded, and the next night he was being murdered.

Love is such a fickle thing.

No matter how bad my apartment in Korea gets, I haven’t gotten any bugs or cockroaches.  Today was January second, and while most people thought about fresh starts, the New Year, I found myself thinking about the past.  I haven’t made any New Year’s resolutions, nor do I plan to.  There’s a certain notion that says brand new beginnings signal chance, opportunity.  The dawning of something different – a fresh start.  But the real convenience of the New Year is that its newness is figurative; I think when a person really has to start everything over again, that person suddenly begins to value how nice it is to have everything stay the same.  I would kind of dig an ‘Old Year’s’ party, maybe sometime around the middle of August.  A year is old then – the things only live to be 12.

Way back when I moved into that empty apartment, I had a new beginning staring me stark in the face and, looking back on it, I didn’t know what the heck to do with it.  For this New Years, I’ve decided to basically stay as I am.  Imperfect but fairly happy, just as my apartment is dusty but fairly clean.

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The Clean Apartment Theory

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On a Friday night in September, a friend and I sat in Two-Two Chicken, eating chicken drumsticks like they do here in Korea, with a fork and a set of small clamps.  It was while engaged in this rigorous form of dining that he and I began talking about my messy apartment and the connection it had with my ability to pick up women.

“What’s the state of your apartment?” he asked.  “Would you be comfortable bringing a girl back there?”

“It’s all right,” I said, lying.  My apartment was in a complete state of disarray.  The floor was covered in socks and undershirts, the table in used tissues, and the bathroom floor in hair shed from multiple parts of my body.  I had been using my soap dish as an ash tray, and had knocked the cigarette butts all over the place without picking them up.  The same soggy noodles had been sitting in my sink for days.  I would, in fact, not have been comfortable bringing a girl back there, unless maybe she was homeless.

My friend pulled some flesh off his chicken.  “There you go,” he said.  “You’re already mentally defeating yourself.  If you don’t have a place to bring a girl back to, you can’t really believe you’re going to pull a girl tonight, now can you?”

I sipped my beer and mumbled, “It ain’t that bad…”

“But it isn’t good,” he said.  “I read about this in a book.  It’s called ‘The Clean Apartment Theory.’  For a guy to have confidence with women, he must have a place prepared to take them.”

Many hours later, I returned to my apartment alone.  I looked at it and shook my head.  If this was a metaphor for my confidence with women, I might as well have taken a vow of celibacy.

The next week I slaved away like Cinderella, dusting and sweeping and mopping until the place looked pretty pristine.  I washed the socks, cleared the cigarette butts, and made a small wig from the hair, which I then sold to an ajima to cover her bald spot.  When Saturday night rolled around, I set out as I normally did, happy the apartment was clean but skeptical that anything would come of it.  I mean, I’d only changed my apartment.  The bigger problems – my clothes, hair, head and body – were still present.

Now, I promise that this next part is true.  To my shock and delight, I successfully brought a girl home that night.  The Clean Apartment Theory – in its first application – had actually worked!  In preparation for the next weekend, the apartment was cleaned again.  Thoroughly.  Low and behold, that Friday, I found myself sharing a cab home with an entirely different female.  Could it be possible, I wondered, that in all these years talking to girls, the only thing I had to do was clean my place?  That was the key to success? 

“I just want to warn you,” I said for my own amusement, “my place is a little messy.”  I wanted her to be blown away by the tidiness.  Once we got there the girl looked around and said, “What are you talking about?  This place is spotless.”

“Yes,” I said.  “Oh yes it is.” 

I didn’t know it then, but I had hit the zenith of The Clean Apartment Theory.  For the next month and a half, no lovely set of eyes would see my sparkling place of living.  No girl would share a cab home with me or wake up in my bed, filled with regret.  Oh no.  And through this stretch of failure, the apartment gradually began to regress.  It fell into a routine – hell Monday-through-Thursday, freshly cleaned on the weekends.  The state of my apartment depended entirely on my plans.  If I wasn’t going out it would go back to being messy.  Or, as I thought of it, normal.

But although the shine of the theory has lessened,  I’ve still made a vow to keep my place nice.  The Clean Apartment Theory isn’t about having a well-prepared lair.  Instead it’s about creating a feeling of control and responsibility, of adulthood and competency.  The Theory makes me face the question, “What kind of person would you be if you could keep an apartment clean ALL of the time?”  A better one, I think, especially if done out of discipline, and not just to create an illusion for a random girl, whose own apartment might not say so much about her.

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