Writing Switch: Home Disapprovement
Our standards of living shift throughout the years as we unrelentingly strive toward the ultimate goal of a wife-house-baby combo … or away from it? Who knows; everyone has their own preferences. While Perennially Lucky Sean hits Aspen’s affordable-housing lottery and tries to come up with an inoffensive name for his man cave, Optimism Is Perverse Benjamin adjusts the tarp over his cardboard box under the Castle Creek Bridge and attempts to invent a headline for this column. At any rate, this week we rank the dank of the domiciles in which we used to reside or frequent often and consider how to live most homily.
Knights of Camelot (Apartments)
SB: What happens when you have two buddies living in the same studio apartment, more or less running out the clock until they move to a more suitable living situation? Well, the term Big Kat Air Freshener is born, the pizza-box-doubling-as-a-cutting-board move is abused and you find out how hard you have to throw a flaccid packet of Salsa Del Sol against a wall to make it explode.
Thankfully this was never my living situation but it was an actual thing. One friend said of the apartment: “It’s the only place I’ve ever been where he felt compelled to clean.”
If you’re wondering what a Big Kat Air Freshener is, it’s a partially used container of Burger King ranch left out to ripen, bringing an aroma even Ben “Ranch King” Welch would abhor.
Other follow-ups: The frozen pizza box as cutting board hack is a quintessential bachelor pad move, as is flipping the cutting board over to use the clean side; you have to throw a packet extremely hard against the wall for it to explode; coming to blows over 2Pac-Biggie arguments more than a decade after they died is some Hatfield-McCoy shit but very entertaining as a bystander.
Slimer Meets Grimer
BW: Some people think that eventually, pets and their owners begin to resemble each other, which is why I’ve always kept a little horny toad in a box under the sink. But for Trent, the contents of his soul bled out into whatever hovel he took up residence in.
Never take your shoes off in his college dorm, or you may step on a snot rocket casually exponged into the ground — that is, when you’re not trying to avoid his entire wardrobe that was pulled out from the closet every morning, strewn about the room and forgotten once he crawled back into bed with his shoes on, giving up on that 8 a.m. class, alarm clock still blaring. Oh, and be wary of brushing your teeth in the sink or getting near it in general — the community bathroom is a long walk down the hall, keep in mind. Your view outside won’t be great either because loogies clog the screen.
Trent bounced around living situations afterward, probably because he was evicted for screaming obscenities at the TV at all hours of day and night, doors and windows wide open. How one human could make so much noise, and also be so completely oblivious that his existence sounds like the “Mad Max” soundtrack, is a mystery not even Giorgio Tsoukalos could solve.
So I always tried to time my visits for when Trent had freshly moved in. Before the air mattress/couch popped. Before the sink filled to the ceiling with whatever two actual pieces of cookware he owned, plastic McDonald’s cups and beard trimmings (?). Before the toilet and tub resembled something from an abandoned asylum in “Resident Evil.”
The Chalet (Very seasoned employee housing)
SB: Nabbing any housing in Aspen seems like a win. You’re no longer moving every offseason because nobody will allow you to have Tressell dog in weird, shitty seasonal housing. (“Sorry, you can’t live here year-round. We need beds so we can ferry in foreigners to do jobs Americans aren’t willing to for glorified minimum wage.” It’s not so much “They took our jobs!” in Aspen, as it is “They took our housing!”)
You’re so excited just to have a place that allows you to pick your own roommates that you are willing to overlook the fact that they didn’t let you move in for a month in order to replace carpeting that they never replaced.
I mean, I love pizza night as much as anyone but the Chalet’s oven wasn’t big on the hottest possible setting, which is a necessity for making real, knock-off Neapolitan pizza. It got hot enough but when the oven door literally falls off, it may be time to shutter the pizzeria.
So, you’re probably wondering why would anyone live in housing that people in more affordable areas of the country would consider a massive shithole. Three words: Location, vocation, stagnation.
Go Big Red Spot on the Carpet
BW: In Lincoln, Nebraska, I lived in the kind of derelict, cusp-of-campus neighborhood that had a few college students but also people with Confederate flags in their window whose house exploded one evening after the gunpowder storage in the basement blew up. On the left was a trailer where teenage girls would scream at their dogs to “go potty!!!” every morning at 6:30; on the right lived a bunch of hippies with a coop full of chickens that would be sure to arouse me if the hillbillies failed. I think that’s what that word means.
The power went out the weekend after I moved in and just bought a bunch of groceries and stocked the freezer, because why wouldn’t it?
“Oh, I forgot to sign the check,” my new roommate casually said. “At least the pipes didn’t burst in the basement again. You could see actual turds floating around down there.”
Later in life (now) I realized how much a shared house is actually a blessing, because when you have company over and don’t feel like cleaning up, you can just blame your housemates. I call them “housemates” because they’re not literally IN YOUR ROOM with you and I like how it’s tinged with Playboy Mansion.
And when the landlord tries to sue you for the huge hole in the ceiling his plumber left, or the broken garage door he likely crashed into, or for the cans in the yard of beer he probably drank, you can just say “serve me with that shit, I’m starting a new life in Aspen.” Even if it’s just the same life but at higher elevation.
Deutsch Castle View
BW: My family lived in a little house in Hohenecken (heh), Germany. This was a little cottage straight out of “House of Leaves,” and if you haven’t read that yet, I would encourage you to — not because you’ll like it, but because my shelf of books-I’ve-bought-and-been-told-are-good-but-I-read-all-day-for-work-and-don’t-want-to-do-it-for-fun-also shelf is practically full.
It was a fairly modern residence with nice appliances in two kitchens and huge glass panes on the bathroom doors (?) that was attached to a hair salon, with a big backyard where you could climb up a tree and watch a falconer train in the field. And yet, when you walked in, there was a heaviness in the air that sounds fake when you hear ghost hunters describe it on Travel Channel but know exactly what they mean if you’ve experienced it. The house seemed very occupied, and in the basement was a secret door that was always locked. At night I would lay awake, terrified in my giant bedroom, and listen to “click … click … click … clickclickclickclick” like Lou Reed breaking into a sprint down the sidewalk wearing high heels.
One afternoon, while our parents were distracted by not taking care of us, my sister and I crept into the basement, hearts in our throats, to uncover what evil lurked behind the peculiar basement door. I reached out to pull on the handle when the door suddenly swung open from the other direction.
“Oh, hallo. Guten tag.” One of the stylists from the salon next door walked out. Apparently, Mr. Herr Besch, who owned the building, allowed them to use the spare pantry as storage for hair dye and whatnot.
Anyway, then 9/11 happened and we moved during the oncoming wave of militaristic panicking, so I never did get to discover definitively if that place was haunted, but I’m pretty good with answering “ja.”
The All Aspen Lawn, Tennis and Snowboard Club (Unseasoned employee housing)
SB: Having never moved into a brand-new place, you quickly learn the phrase “These apartments have to settle” is code for “We know some shit is f—ed up, we just haven’t figured out what it is yet.”
It’s still TDB on if we’ll have hot water, but if I have to take another ice cold shower before moving 3 tons of kitchenware, I’m going to find a snow bank to die in with note pinned to me reading: “You did this to me, Cory.”
All joking aside, having storage space for my various toys that’s also not where my shoes should go or at a storage facility feels very adult. I also don’t have to wonder what weird scuzz is lurking between the oven and the cabinets because none has slipped in there yet.
However, there’s nothing to remind you that you’re in affordable housing like overlooking a tennis club that you’ll never belong to. It’s fine. I’m OK being a spectator. Now, if I just had some strawberries and cream.
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Longtime Aspenite Mark Howard’s new memoir, “A Rewiring Life,” chronicles a life of change across five decades in Aspen.