Rent control is a true thing of beauty, except rent control doesn't last forever.
Santa Monica abolished rent control years ago, but I'm grandfathered in. Unless word of my monkey farm leaks out, I'm safe and my rent only increases a small percentage each year.
During the reign of rent control in Santa Monica, landlords ruled the town, and the serfs/subjects/renters are, if still under the protection, beholden to them. We're a humble lot, aware that our shelter can be ripped out from under us and we might be forced to live in some faraway Valley, or banished behind the Orange Curtain.
If some idiot moved away from the village of Santa Monica, no blatant For Rent sign appeared. Instead, hushed whispers spread throughout the land between insiders. This was the dark ages -- no email, no Facebook or texting. There was no Internet; begging was old-school and wasn't tweetable. Courting was not yet dead.
I got the call from a friend, who told me of a magical place opening up near the beach. He could put in a good word for me. You can own, free and clear, a sprawling estate in Thousand Oaks, with horse facilities, three guest cottages, slave quarters and a twelve bedroom mansion, but if you hear of a rent-controlled anything in Santa Monica you jumped on it like lions on a zebra kill. Mother Theresa would bless -- then step over -- the poor, and drop Princess Diana's full name to get one of these apartments.
As I drove down the street to look at the prospective unit for the first time, I noticed most of the buildings looked suspiciously similar. I figured that on or about 1970, a group of real estate developers were all at the same dinner party hosted by a stoned architect, and everyone got very ill from Blinky the fish. As a result, they collectively threw up this entire block in one day.
I was excited as I pulled up to the well-kept, modern building to meet the manager. As I walked to the front I tried to look sexy and confident in case the manager was peeking out a window, sizing me up as they smoked a joint. I tripped on the sidewalk, recovered, and slickly raised one arm to sniff for sweat, then deftly dropped that hand in front of my mouth to check my breath. My other hand discreetly passed over my crotch to fluff my package. I was in date mode, which included a tight shirt and the understanding that I'm totally prepared to put out to get what I wanted.
When I met the female manager, the tightness in my pants eased. The contact of our hands switched on my charm as I shook her hand firmly, but gently, and flashed my store-bought smile. Her middle-aged face didn't get out much anymore, and I knew she was anxious to get back to her cats and tawdry novel. This was like a job I wanted, a deal I wanted to close, a romance. She had both the pussy and the prize, and though I just wanted the apartment, I made her feel in the first five minutes that I might want her too.
She pulled her worn cardigan closed over her t-shirt, as if I'd seen too much already. Perhaps I brought a little water to her well, as I let my hand accidentally on purpose touch hers as we entered the elevator. Nervous chatter ensued; I was being sized up. I wished my pants were still fluffed.
I entered the vacant unit, expecting to be excited, but I wasn't. I had a bad feeling -- the same disappointment the world would come to know when you meet someone in person who doesn't look like the photo they used online. One learns many things in life, but the rapid recovery of a public letdown is among the first. Lose or win, everyone needs a Pageant Grin.
The tan vinyl tile in the entry hall was now yellowed as if it had smoked unfiltered Camels. I kept walking, and even though the apartment was empty, I felt someone was still there, like I was going to turn a corner and a man who hadn't bathed in days would be huddled in a corner with crazy hair, whacked-out on chemicals and rocking himself into eventual oblivion.
The rust-colored carpet crunched beneath my feet as I walked in the living room. If this were Japan and I were asked to remove my shoes, I would slip into the kitchen and commit hara-kiriinstead. The once-white walls were now stained Joey Heatherton beige, from years of smoke and being hermetically sealed behind forgotten doors, just like Joey.
A fly flew in my open mouth, which is probably how the manager sensed my concerns. She asked me if I wanted it; she had others coming, but my connection trumped theirs; I had first dibs. It was like really, desperately wanting a hooker but only the tranny is left on Santa Monica Boulevard, and you're Hugh Grant and you suddenly find yourself blurting out, Get in the car. I said I'll take it.
I know some people enter a relationship accepting faults in the other person because they see the potential, underneath the Gap shirts and second-hand shoes. We give our mates a makeover; if I were willing to touch a wall, I could have scratched them and seen that underneath the grime was an apartment that with a little work, would become a jewel. I could see that from where I was safely standing.
I spent the next thirty days renovating the apartment before I moved in. That first date turned into a 20-year relationship. Potential contains true beauty, and that lasts forever, for potential means hope, and hope springs eternal.
We might just grow old together, that apartment and I.