At the end of my 3rd year of college, I made a dramatic decision. I was ready for life on my own, or at least, on my own with my parents footing the bill. Unlike my sorority sisters who had begun to announce engagements and family plans for after graduation, I decided to, in essence, marry myself and engage in the ultimate test of one’s maturity and strong will: living alone. My parents had their concerns for my safety and about my potential loneliness, so they came down to Charlottesville to see the places I had chosen. The decision came down to a one-bedroom in an old building slightly away from the action on Grounds, or a brand-new one-bedroom beauty in an excellent location. Now, you’d think the decision would be simple, but there’s a catch. While we were able to walk through the former and visualize what my living situation would be like, the latter was only a concept and an artist’s rendition. After some convincing that this majestic domicile could be put up with no problem in what was then a small parking lot behind another building, I decided to take a gamble and sign a lease on my new, theoretical home: Apartment 401, Camden Plaza. Like parents who go on faith that a child will turn out as a positive mixture of their genes, I was confident that the description and the sketches of my new home would come together to be as wonderful as I hoped.
Two months after the proposed due date of August 28th, I was still sleeping on my friend’s futon and living out of a duffel bag. The contractor had fallen behind, but he eventually threw together a structure in the period between August and November. When the residents were allowed to move in, we noticed some…quirks. Our dear Camden Plaza, while attractive to the casual visitor, had troubles in its first year. One explanation is the apparent drinking that had gone on during the last trimester of construction, as I found a satisfyingly crushed Budweiser can lodged in my bathroom vent. The colicky fire alarm cried out night after night with piercing screams, barely letting us sleep. The slightest wisp of steam would wake it from silence and set it off again. The residents would stand outside late at night waiting for the fire department like embarrassed parents, knowing that our child’s shrieks were disturbing those around us once again. It took a few months of the contractor’s time for Camden Plaza to mature out of this period, but eventually “Cam” quietly passed the night in a less sensitive watchful rest.
It took me some time to decorate and arrange the furniture into the perfect reflection of myself. Eager to show off my long-awaited home, I invited some friends over for margaritas. The morning of my margarita party, I scrubbed my already sparkling apartment from top to bottom. The bathroom smelled of Summer Breeze Lysol, the mirrors shone, the floors spread in a crumbless expanse, and I was ready to spend the rest of the day sitting at my computer writing a paper. As I typed I heard the pipes in the building rumble. After living in a building that was still under construction for a few months, it didn’t faze Camden residents in the slightest to hear crashes, rumbles, and pile drivers throughout the day. I typed more and heard the rumble again, but this time closer. “Geez, Cam!” I called out. “Someone’s got gas today.” The noise sounded closer the next time and the thunderous growl came from the belly of the building up to what sounded like my apartment. As I sat outside the bathroom at my desk, I noticed that the smell of Summer Breeze Lysol was dwindling and slowly being replaced by a fouler, yet unidentifiable stench. “Lord almighty, Cam. That smell better not be you,” I muttered. In response, my toilet rattled. I got up to investigate. When I opened the bathroom door, I was hit with a tangy, eye-wateringly awful smell. “Oh my GOD!” I cried out, recoiling from the fumes. A gurgle from my bathtub drain caused me to throw back the curtain. I screamed and hastily returned the curtain to its former position. The entire bathtub had filled with the building’s raw sewage. What was I supposed to do? The toilet then shook. I cautiously stepped toward it and lifted the lid. Same fate as the tub. Now, what does one do in this situation? You can’t just roll it all up in a diaper and dispose of the contents of a building’s bowels. I scrambled for the scrap of paper with the leasing center’s phone number. When the receptionist answered the phone, I was almost offended by her nonchalant tone. What can she help me with? Are you kidding!
“There’s crap in my tub!”
“Yeah, exactly! There are 4 inches of crap in my tub! Oh! And my toilet.”
“Oh my…where are you? I’ll send someone over in the next hour or so to take a look.”
“The next hour? Do you seriously understand what I’m saying?”
What do you do when your apartment building soils itself? You call Dad. It doesn’t matter than he’s 100 miles away. It’s an involuntary reaction. Once he stopped laughing he said, “Well, you should probably take the laundry out of your washer and also the dishes from the dishwasher.” What. “Well, the construction workers are pumping air in the pipes, you know. Waste doesn’t say, ‘Hey, I’ll make sure not to go into Kelly’s dishwasher.’ It goes where it can.”
After hours of terrible smells, a bleaching process, and giggling maintenance men, I felt as if I’d had enough of Cam’s antics. I called off the margarita party on account of noxious fumes and decided to spend the rest of the day away from the apartment. When I finally came home that night, I went to bed in peace, as the smell has dissipated—or at least I was finally immune to the smell. I would guess that parents eventually feel this way after being covered in unspeakable fluids, and that they either ignore the horror, or they accept that they, and all that is around them, will reek of the worst smells until the source matures and can hold its functions. When I laid down in bed, relieved that I had survived the whole ordeal, I drifted into a poopless dream, only to be jolted awake by the fire alarm. Apparently there is no rest for the weary.