Being a private person has its ups and downs. One of the ups is less judgment when you do something stupid. One of the downs is the onslaught of opinions on that rare occasion when your stupidity is made public . Living in an apartment has exacerbated both aspects of this dichotomy.
On the one hand, we have the fact that this is my very first apartment that has not been shared with a roommate. Despite just a few instances of not getting along, my roommate experience has been generally a good one, but I find nothing more enjoyable than deciding my own comings and goings and activities. Just the other night I took a brief jaunt to McDonald’s at midnight simply because I could (and because I needed to celebrate finishing my class, obviously). When I work on projects, I spread them all over the apartment. I make macaroni and cheese for supper whenever I want. I don’t have to tell anyone how much I spent on gifts for my nieces and nephews. I love living my own little private life.
Living in an apartment also comes with neighbors. I happen to have excellent neighbors: they’re all near my age, some are married and some not. They’re pretty quiet and kind when we pass on the stairs or parking lot. I couldn’t ask for a better situation. But you know there’s always that one person, right? That one older single guy that knows just a little too much about you. Who watches everyone and is definitely not a private person and doesn’t seem to understand that some people prefer not to be told their car needs waxing. Or be asked if they’ve just gone out to eat while they stand there awkwardly holding a Chick-fil-a carryout bag. And don’t even get me started on the awkward laundry room conversations.
Okay no, I’m going to mention the awkward laundry room conversations. We have a large central laundry room which is quite handy when you have lots of laundry to do, but less handy when it’s full of people. Now, being a private single girl, I really dislike the fact that anyone could walk in while I’m washing my underwear. Especially since my building demographic consists of little old ladies, awkward newlyweds, and all the single people just out of college who wish they were newlyweds. Seriously. And isn’t it just the case that you never run into the people in your category? Nope, it’s always the little old ladies casting silent judgment and the awkward guys nervously glancing your way (because let’s be honest, they’re probably just as private as I am). I try to be kind when others start up conversations while shoveling sheets and towels in the dryer, but to be honest, I’m mostly wishing I could whisper a notice-me-not spell. Once a guy I didn’t even know said hi, asked my name, disappeared for ten minutes, then brought down a newspaper with my picture in it. My face was so small even I couldn’t really recognize it, but somehow he did. Laundry rooms. Ugh. But while I wish not to be noticed, I also feel the urge to reassure my awkward washing buddies that “I’m not watching, I promise!” Dear people in my apartment: Do what you like! I just don’t care how you do your laundry or when you choose to come and go or what clothes you choose to wear while doing it. I have no judgment whatsoever.
***Except for that one dude (The one who knows which car is mine and how to fix all its little issues). Could you please stop sitting in my lobby every single night? You’re making it so I literally can’t even walk out of my apartment without your knowing. I know you’re pretty nice, but honestly it’s just a little creepy. Dear internet, help: what do you do when people who are probably genuinely nice just creep you out? ***
All right, so I mentioned public stupidity. Last month my car was stolen from our parking lot in the middle of the night. The police found it the same day and all was well (except it had broken down and needed to be fixed, so almost all was well), but that was not the end of it. Oh no. Obviously if there are thieves around, the other renters deserve to know. But the cost of warning everyone was my dignity.
You see, I keep my car unlocked. It’s really quite old and junky (see the poem at the beginning of An Homage to Fine Things for an apt description of my Bumble Beast), and basically, I don’t want to pay for a broken window if someone decides they need something from my car. So having an unlocked car was one point against me. Even worse, however, was that I’d just had the car serviced, and so the spare key was still sitting in the cupholder. Let me repeat that. I left a car in a dark parking lot overnight unlocked and with a spare key inside. It’s no wonder my vehicle was stolen; the guy didn’t even have to hotwire it! Since my car came back to me so quickly, I have to say that my least favorite part of this whole ordeal has been answering all the questions and regaling the story of my own stupidity over and over and over. There are definitely things to be thankful for in this situation, including that I’ve learned to laugh at myself a little (after all, here I am making my stupidity even more public). But the cost… wouldn’t wish it on anybody.
And perhaps this whole situation is why I found the car wax guy creepy. My car still triggers sensitive emotions, thank you very much, so perhaps at another time of life I could sincerely thank him rather than glare while forcing my lips to smile. It’s funny. I thought at this stage of my life I’d be learning the most about living alone responsibly. Turns out that even though I’m alone, some of my biggest lessons are about how to interact with others, and I wouldn’t change that for the world.