Apartments, Cockroaches, and Appreciating the Old Year


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.