I walked back from the dining commons after dinner. The sun was low, about to set, placing most of the South Residential Area in shadow from the surrounding trees and the buildings themselves. The sky was clear and dimly blue, and despite the shadows around me, the fact that the sun had not set yet at seven o’clock felt like a bit of hope after this wet and cloudy winter. A few more rain storms would probably show up before the end of the school year, but summer would return eventually.
When I got back to my room, the telephone was ringing. I answered it.
“What happened?” Mom asked. “The phone was ringing for a long time.”
“I just got back from dinner and checking the mail.”
“Did you get any mail?”
“No. But I did get a postcard from Jessica in Guatemala yesterday.”
“That’s exciting. How’s she doing down there?”
“It’s a postcard; she couldn’t write a whole lot. She said she’s been volunteering at an orphanage.”
“I wonder what made her decide to do that instead of going to college? She got accepted to Santa Teresa and Valle Luna, didn’t she?”
“I don’t know. It’s her life. She can volunteer at an orphanage in Guatemala instead of going to college if she wants to.”
This postcard would actually be the last time I would hear from Jessica during my college days, although sometimes Mom and her gossipy friend Mary Bordeaux would have lunch, and Mom would tell me something Mary told her about Jessica. I got back in touch with Jessica in 2000 after a chance encounter of sorts. Jessica and her husband and children live just outside of Gabilan now, not far from where we grew up, at least most of the time. Her adult life has been just as full of free-spirited adventures as her post-high school years were, though. In 2006, they all returned to that same orphanage in Guatemala for several months and adopted a child from there to bring back to their home.
“I have some mail to send you,” Mom said. “I’ll send that next week sometime. You got your sample ballot.”
“What sample ballot?”
“I don’t know,” Mom said, pausing, apparently to look at the sample ballot. “It’s a primary election for county supervisors. And, um, Measure Q.”
“I have no idea about any of that. I don’t feel comfortable voting.”
“You don’t have to vote. It’s okay.”
“Yeah, but I hate the idea of not voting. Maybe it’s time to change my voter registration from Santa Lucia County to Arroyo Verde County. I know more about what’s going on up here. And I don’t like the Congressman from here. Back when I used to listen to Rush Limbaugh, he used to talk about him, so if I register to vote here, I can vote against that guy.”
“Where do you go to do that? The post office, I think?”
“I don’t know either, but that sounds right. I think I’ve seen voter registration forms at the post office.”
“Have you had a chance to look at any of those apartments yet?”
“I’m going to do that tomorrow. I’m going to start with Las Casas and Pine Grove Apartments. Those are the two top choices. I have a few other maybes in case they don’t have any left.”
“Sounds like a plan. See, it’ll work out.”
“I don’t know yet, though. I called both of them yesterday, and they had vacancies, but maybe they were all taken today.”
“Stop worrying about things that haven’t happened yet.”
Mom continued talking for another several minutes, telling me about Mark’s baseball practice and someone at her work whom I didn’t know. I was only half paying attention, with the rest of my mind on my upcoming apartment search. I was afraid of the unknown, that’s what it really came down to. I had never experienced looking for an apartment before, and I didn’t want to go through an endless parade of setbacks.
My last class on Wednesday was Psychology and the Law, the class I was taking for the Interdisciplinary Honors Program this quarter. As soon as class was over, I dropped off my backpack in my room and went to my car. I had some adult responsibilities to take care of.
I drove past Thong Bikini Hill, still closed for the season, and left campus heading north on Andrews Road. I turned left on West Fifth and right on Maple Drive. This neighborhood north of the campus proper between Maple Drive and Highway 117 contained mostly apartment complexes built in the 1960s. Some of them were privately owned, and some of them had been taken over by the university and operated as suite-style dorms. Two university dining commons were also in this quasi-off-campus housing area.
I parked on the street next to the Pine Grove Apartments, the largest of the privately owned apartment complexes in this neighborhood. I followed a sign to the leasing office and walked in. A dark-haired woman of about thirty years old, wearing a name tag that said “Linda,” sat at a desk going through papers in a file. Behind her, on a white wall, were framed photographs of the grounds of the apartment complex.
“May I help you?” Linda asked.
“I called yesterday asking about a one-bedroom apartment for the next school year. Is it still available?”
“Yes, it is. We have two left. Would you like to look at one?”
“Yes, please,” I said.
“The unit I’m going to show you isn’t the actual apartment; neither of the available units is vacant right now. I have permission from the resident to show the apartment, and both of the available units have the same floor plan. I’ll show you the location of the two available units after I show you the inside.”
I followed Linda to a one-bedroom apartment on the first floor near the rental office. The front door opened into the small but adequate living room, with a kitchen to the left. A short hallway led behind the kitchen to the bedroom and bathroom. The bedroom was about the size of my bedroom back home in Plumdale, a bit bigger than my dorm room. Nothing really stood out; this is what I imagined apartment hunting to be like, so far. The apartment appeared to be inhabited by one resident who was much neater than I would have expected a college student to be. This made sense, though, because the leasing office probably would not want to show prospective new residents an apartment full of party animals littered with beer cans and pizza boxes.
“Now, as I said, this is not the unit currently available,” Linda explained after she had shown me the inside of the apartment. “Are you okay with living on the second floor and climbing stairs? Both available units are on the second floor.”
“Sure,” I said.
Linda and I walked out of the apartment and past the pool. “You’re a student at UJ?” she asked.
“And you’ll be living by yourself?”
“I think you’ll like it here. We’re close to campus. And many of our tenants stay here at Pine Grove until they graduate. That’s one of the units available, number 217.” By now we had passed the pool and continued to the back side of a poolside building. Linda pointed at apartment 217. Then she pointed to the next building past this one and said, “The other available unit is in that building. Number 228.” We walked back toward the leasing office; Linda made note of the laundry room on the way. “The available units aren’t as close to the laundry room as the one I showed you, but no unit in Pine Grove is really far from the laundry room.”
“Yeah,” I agreed.
We walked back into the leasing office. “So what do you think? Are you ready to sign the papers?”
I wasn’t. I don’t like to make major decisions in a hurry. I always second-guess myself. Even after committing to something, I often wonder if I made the wrong decision. “I have one other place I’m looking at later. Can I let you know by tomorrow?”
“Sure, but we can’t hold the apartment for you.”
“Just remember that we are the closest complex of this size to campus. You won’t find all of these amenities anywhere closer.”
“That’s good to know.”
“Take this with you,” Linda said, pushing a brochure toward me with floor plans, a list of the amenities offered, and everything else I ever needed to know about Pine Grove Apartments.
“Thanks,” I said, looking through the brochure.
“Thank you for your interest in Pine Grove. I’ll see you tomorrow, then?”
“I’ll let you know.”
I left Pine Grove Apartments feeling pretty good. This was definitely doable. And I didn’t necessarily even need to wait until tomorrow; if I went to see Las Casas and hated it, I could always call Pine Grove back later this afternoon. I hated making these decisions, though. Linda’s job was to sell the community to prospective tenants, and people working in sales always make things look better than they really are. Maybe everyone in Jeromeville knows that Pine Grove is the worst place in town to live, and I don’t know it because I never hear these things. Or maybe they all say that about Las Casas. I don’t know.
I drove north on Maple Drive for about a mile. Maple Drive was a much quieter street than Andrews Road. Both were residential streets running roughly parallel to each other, but Andrews Road was more heavily traveled. As I approached the traffic light at Coventry Boulevard, I noticed the name of the street just before Coventry: Acacia Drive. Pete and Taylor and Charlie had signed a lease to live in an apartment on Acacia Drive, and I thought Danielle said she and one of her roommates from the four-person suite in Building C would be living in that same apartment complex on Acacia Drive as well.
On the other side of Coventry Boulevard, Maple Drive passed through a relatively new neighborhood with multiple large apartment complexes built in the 1980s. A shopping center with a Safeway grocery store was on the left. I turned right on Alvarez Avenue almost as far as Andrews Road. The Las Casas Apartments were now on my left; I parked on the street and walked to the Las Casas leasing office.
I crossed a small parking lot and climbed three steps to a wood patio. The patio extended all the way to the pool ahead of me, with the leasing office on the left. I walked inside. On my right was a wall of floor-to-ceiling windows looking out on the pool area, and I could see a gym behind the office. An older woman with short hair sat behind the desk.
“Hi. May I help you?”
“I called yesterday asking about a studio apartment for next school year. Is that still available?”
“Just a regular studio, or the studio with the loft?”
I hadn’t thought about this. The studio with the loft sounded more expensive. “Just the regular one,” I said.
“We have one regular studio and two loft studios left for next year. We have a loft studio available right now that I can show you, so you can see what it looks like. The regular studio looks the same, except without the loft.”
“That sounds good.”
“I’m Ann, by the way. What’s your name?”
“Nice to meet you,” Ann said, shaking my hand. I shook back. She gave me the brochure for the apartment complex and told me to look at it, which I did.
When I was done looking at the brochure, Ann asked if I was ready to see the apartment. She led me around the pool to the left, and past the laundry room and mailboxes, which she pointed out. We walked to the back of the complex, where a long straight building faced a parking lot. We climbed upstairs to apartment number 220. Ann unlocked the door and let me in.
“So here we have the living area,” she said. “It’s a studio apartment, so there isn’t a separate bedroom.”
“I know,” I replied.
“The bathroom is back there on the right, and the kitchen is back there on the left.”
The room was about the size of a large living room; it was plenty of room for me to fit a bed, a desk, a TV, a bookshelf, and a chair or two. That was really all I needed living by myself. I walked back to the kitchen, which was small but big enough for me, and to the bathroom, which had a good size linen closet inside. Next to the bathroom, against the wall to the right, a narrow set of stairs led upward, with a closet underneath the stairs.
“That’s the loft up there?” I asked.
“Yes,” Ann replied. “Go on up.”
The apartment had a high vaulted ceiling sloping upward to the back of the apartment, which joined the back of another apartment on the other side of the building. The only window was next to the front door, because that was the only wall facing outside. The ceiling was high enough that the loft felt like another small room on top of the kitchen and bathroom, and the loft had another small closet attached. “Most of our tenants put their beds up here,” Ann explained.
“And the studio without the loft looks just like the downstairs part, without the loft?” I asked.
“And how much is rent?” I knew the rent on the regular studio was $475, but I wasn’t sure what the rent with the loft would be.
“The rent for this unit is $625,” Ann said. “And the one without the loft, $475.”
There goes that idea, I thought. I couldn’t afford a loft. I felt guilty enough about having my parents spend $475 on my rent every month. The one-bedroom apartment at Pine Grove was $500 per month, which was my upper limit. It was bigger and much closer to campus, however, which made it reasonable that it would be more expensive. But Pine Grove was also older, and I didn’t know anyone who would be living anywhere near Pine Grove.
Ann made small talk as we walked back to the leasing office, past a variety of trees and grassy areas between the buildings in the complex. I had been planning on taking a night to sleep on the decision, but with only one $475 unit remaining, I might need to make a decision more quickly.
“Where is the available studio without the loft?” I asked as we walked back into the office. “Which part of the complex?”
“I think it’s number 124. Let me check.” Ann pulled a file out of a file cabinet and read through it. “Yes, number 124. It’s downstairs and just a few apartments over from 220, where we just were. Facing the back parking lot, just like the one we saw.”
I still felt bad about making my parents spend so much money on me just because I was late in finding a roommate and making plans for next year. Las Casas, however, was less expensive than Pine Grove. It was farther from campus, but both neighborhoods were as was the case there were many student-oriented apartments in the neighborhood. Las Casas was close to The Acacia Apartments, where Pete, Taylor, Charlie, and Danielle would be living, and also close to Hampton Place, where Liz, Caroline, Ramon, and Jason would be living. I wouldn’t have a hallway to walk up and down to see who was home, but I could walk over to those friends’ apartments instead. Even though I didn’t like rushing into a major decision, I knew that my mind really was made up by now, so I took a deep breath and spoke before I had a chance to second-guess myself.
“I’ll take it,” I said. “The one without the loft. Apartment 124.”
“Great!” Ann replied. “Welcome to Las Casas! Let me get you our New Resident Packet.”
I spent some time after that reading and signing papers. I would have to write her a check for a deposit, although that was not a major concern because Mom had made sure I had enough money to cover the deposit when I was ready to sign a lease somewhere. I would also have more papers to sign next week after Las Casas did all the paperwork on their end.
By the time I finished, it was past five o’clock, and I felt a great weight had been lifted now that I had a plan for next year. I even had an address for next year. 701 Alvarez Avenue #124. I liked the sound of that. I had meant to do something else this afternoon as I was about town taking care of my adult business, but I thought it was probably too late in the day. It could wait until tomorrow.
After I was done with classes the following day, Thursday afternoon, I ventured off campus again, but this time I went the other way on Fifth Street, toward downtown. I drove east for about two miles, past the football stadium, past downtown, and eventually to a traffic light at a street called Power Line Road. Just past this, I turned into the parking lot for the Post Office.
I located the voter registration forms and began filling one out. I used 221 C-Thomas Hall as my address, even though I would only be in that dorm room for another two months. I couldn’t register to vote at my new address until I moved in on September 1. When I got to the part of the form listing political parties, I looked around to make sure no one could see me, then I covered the form with my left hand as I checked Republican with my right. I learned pretty quickly during my first month at UJ that many people around here have a very negative view of Republicans. During the end of high school, I had gone through a phase where I was a big fan of the conservative political commentator Rush Limbaugh. He was at the height of his popularity at the time. I decided when I came to UJ that I wouldn’t get involved in any political groups, and I also stopped listening to Rush Limbaugh’s radio show, because I didn’t want someone else doing my political decision making for me. However, had I done more research on the political climate in Jeromeville, I probably would not have decided to come here. I wasn’t exactly surprised, though, that a college town like Jeromeville would have a pronounced liberal slant. And, in hindsight, I’m glad I didn’t let the political climate in Jeromeville keep me from attending school here, because Jeromeville definitely grew on me over the years.
I dropped the form in the mailbox and headed back home. Instead of going straight down Fifth Street, I turned left on F Street, right on First Street, and left on Old Jeromeville Road, reentering campus from the other direction instead. No reason, I just felt like it.
When I entered Building C, I noticed Taylor and Pete in the common room, sitting on a couch talking. They had textbooks and notebooks with them, but they did not appear to be doing any studying. “Hey, Greg,” Taylor said as I walked past.
“Hi, guys,” I said, walking toward them.
“How’s your week going? I feel like I’ve hardly seen you the last few days.”
“I’ve been writing,” I said. This was during the time I was writing the first draft of The Commencement, and I had spent most of my free time this week in my room writing. I was really absorbed in this project. “I’ve also been busy with other stuff. I signed a lease yesterday.”
“Oh, yeah? For an apartment for next year?”
“Where is it?” Pete asked.
“Las Casas. Corner of Andrews and Alvarez.”
“That’s near us,” Taylor said.
“You’re at The Acacia, right?” I asked.
“Yeah. And Danielle and Theresa are at The Acacia too.”
“That’s what I thought.”
“Did you find a roommate, or are you living by yourself?” Pete asked.
“By myself. In a studio apartment. It’s plenty of room for just me.”
“That’s cool,” Taylor said. “You’ll have to come see our place after we move in.”
“You done with class for the day?”
“I really need to go upstairs and use the bathroom,” I said, becoming increasingly uncomfortable at my full bladder. “But I’ll see you guys at dinner, maybe?”
“Yeah. And enjoy writing.”
I went upstairs, and after using the bathroom, I turned on the radio and the computer. The radio was set to the classic rock station. On the computer, I checked my email; I had a message from Kim, one of my Internet friends. She was a freshman at Florida State University. I opened it and began reading.
Hi Greg! How are you? Thanks for explaining how your schedule works. I wasn’t sure why you had new classes in April. I don’t know any schools around here that do that.
Last night was so much fun! My roommate and I went to this party. I thought it was going to be a little too wild for me, but everyone there was so nice, and we danced with these guys a lot… they were so funny!
Did you ever find a place to live for next year? I hope you find a roommate! One of my older friends here was telling me that he needed a place to live, so he and his friend got this really nice looking apartment, but after they moved in they discovered that everything was falling apart and needed to be fixed. Also, their neighbors played really loud music and smoked pot all the time… I hope you don’t end up somewhere like that!
I need to get to class… have a great day!
I clicked Reply and began typing.
Sounds like you had a fun night with your friends last night. I don’t really go to wild parties like that. I think I told you my dorm is an honors program, so most of us aren’t really partiers.
I found a place to live. Yesterday I signed a lease on an apartment. I didn’t find a roommate, and I didn’t want to live with a stranger, so I’ll be living by myself in a small studio apartment; it’s a little pricey, but my parents said it would be ok. It’s about a mile north of campus, in a neighborhood with a lot of fairly nice student type apartments. It’s right on a bus line that runs to campus every half hour. Also, some of my friends from the dorm will be living fairly close.
How were your classes?
In 1995, I was using email client software called Eudora. Eudora worked by dialing the campus Internet access phone number using a 14.4-kilobaud modem connected to my telephone line. Eudora would stay connected just long enough to send emails I had typed, and to download anything new in my inbox. These new emails would be saved on my computer’s hard drive, so that after the messages had been received, Eudora could disconnect from the computer, and my telephone line would be free again. I clicked Send/Receive, and as I listened to the whistles and buzzes of the modem sending my message across the continent from Jeromeville to Tallahassee, my mind began to wander. What if my experience at Las Casas was like that of Kim’s friend at his apartment? What if the neighbor upstairs in Apartment 224 was loud or smelly? What if I had made a big mistake?
No, I told myself. I can’t keep thinking like this, wondering if everything I did was a big mistake. I had an apartment. I would be living by myself again, so I wouldn’t have the stress of learning to live with roommates. And I would have friends living nearby, just as I did this year. They would be a little farther away, about a 5 to 10 minute walk instead of just down the hall, but they were still pretty close. It was a great situation, and it was going to be a great year. Worst case scenario, if I ended up hating Las Casas, I would only have to endure it for a year, and then I could live somewhere else junior year. There was nothing to gain by worrying and second guessing myself at this point.
The band Boston was playing on the radio. Boston, a rock band originating in the city of the same name, had a string of hits in the late 1970s. They were played often on classic rock radio stations of the 1990s, and they still are today. When I first discovered classic rock in high school, I always thought Boston was kind of catchy. And I discovered, on a family road trip when Mom told me to find something on the radio, that Dad hates Boston. (To this day, I have never told my dad that I always kind of liked Boston, or that after many trips browsing used music stores in the 2000s and 2010s, I now have all three of the albums that their major hits came from).
I was 18 years old. It was okay for me to like different things than my parents, because I was an adult. I was growing up. I was developing a unique taste in music, and I was obtaining an education, preparing myself for some yet undetermined future career. And now, in addition to that, I had taken another two big steps toward adulthood this week. I had signed a lease on an apartment all on my own, and I had registered to vote at my new home, in a different county than the one where my parents lived. I still had a lot of growing to do. I would do a lot more growing in my remaining years in Jeromeville, and I am still growing today. But the events of today felt like a major step in the right direction.