Hard Times

IMG_2761On Saturday nights our landlord and upstairs neighbor stand outside in the alleyway behind our apartment drinking and shooting rats with a pellet gun until 3 am.

I’ve never seen any of the alleged rats, but apparently they’re attracted to the dumpsters of the Mexican restaurant around the corner, and the warm underbelly of the landlord’s sports car that he’s constantly revving in a vain effort to drive them out so they don’t chew through the wires in his engine. Sometimes C and I will be awakened in the middle of the night by the sound of firecrackers going off in one of the dumpsters in an effort to chase the rats out. Personally, if I had to choose between the rats and the landlord, I’d choose the rats.

Outside, the weather’s grown cold. The other morning it was 9 degrees with a wind chill making it feel like negative 9 degrees as I drove to work. My body has acclimated quickly to the new temperature reality, so that now when the temps are in the 30s or 40s it seems warm. The orange and yellow leaves of fall have all turned brown and are piled in mushy clumps on the wet sidewalks. The branches of trees are dismal, gray skeletons.

The transition from Texas hasn’t been as smooth as we’d anticipated. We’d rented a moving pod and spent more moving our cheap, IKEA furniture than the furniture was actually worth. Once the pod made it to Chicago, there was no place to leave it, so we had to hire movers to move our things from the warehouse to the apartment, an unexpected expense we weren’t prepared for. While he waited for the main office to tally up the invoice so that I could pay him, the head mover and I were forced to make awkward small talk. I have zero knowledge of the local sports teams, other than I think the Cubs are a baseball team.

Because we live down the street from Wrigley Field, there’s no parking on my street when the Cubs play, so I was forced to pay $75 a month to park the car behind our apartment. The car is the bane of my existence. After leaving Los Angeles, I swore I’d never drive a car again, and in Seattle and NYC I didn’t need one, but once we’d moved to Texas, we couldn’t get around without one, so it had been a necessity. Now it’s just a burden I can’t get rid of.

When we moved, I thought I’d be able to transfer my position in Texas to the company’s Chicago office. I interviewed the first week we were here, and had been offered the position at the downtown office. I was supposed to start October 6th, but they pushed the start date back to November 3rd, and then they called and said they’d have to push it back even further to November 17th, and by the way, for my first two weeks I’d have to drive to Westmont, IL for training, an hour and a half drive away.

I spent two months with no income walking around Lakeview, or down to the waterfront, just exploring the neighborhood. I saw Lana Wachowski riding a bicycle down Addison with her vibrant pink and purple hair. I walked to second hand bookstores and coffee shops. I window shopped in Wicker Park and Lincoln Square.

We went to see the Joffrey ballet perform Swan Lake. We left after the second intermission, thinking the ballet was over, and walked across the street to a Dairy Queen for ice cream, only realizing then that there was another act, and rushing back to our seats just in time for the house lights to go down for the finale.

When my friend Bryan came to visit for a few days, I felt shabby and poor, and in an ill position to entertain him. We sat in coffeehouses while he worked, and I pretended to work on my supposed novel, but mostly just drank hot chocolate and wondered how I was going to make ends meet until I had an income again.

We were the poorest we’ve ever been. Having moved across the country five times in five years has exhausted all of our savings, and made it hard to get ahead. Even if the winter is totally brutal, and we end up hating Chicago, C and I have made a vow to stay put for at least three years. For five years I’ve lived a life rich in experience that looks terrible on a resume, and I find myself in my late thirties taking entry level positions I never would have even thought about accepting back in Seattle.

Having no other choice I was forced to borrow money from my parents, but not without a deserved lecture from my mother.

“You should be saving for your retirement!” She says. “You’re thirty eight years old, and you’ve got nothing to show for it!”

I can’t argue. I’m very aware of my situation every time I see my dwindling bank balance, and a stack of unpaid bills.

Three days into my commute to Westmont, my car’s “check engine” light comes on. I can’t afford to take it in to see what’s wrong with it, and I definitely can’t afford to have it fixed, so I’m taking the train for an hour to the south side to get a ride from one of my co-workers for the remaining time in training.

Next week is C’s birthday, and I feel terrible that we’re too poor to really celebrate.

Life has been a struggle, but I’ve managed to get another job offer from a company downtown for a position more suited to me that begins on December 1st. Hopefully in another month we’ll get caught up and life will swing back to our usual, more manageable poverty level.

This weekend has been warm and gray with temperatures in the fifties. I walk to the gym in shorts and a hoodie. I walk past the sign for Dinkel’s bakery and resist the urge to go in on my way home for a slice of cheesecake or box of cookies.

Despite the minor setbacks, I’m optimistic about the future. We’ll both be making more money than we did in Austin, and we managed to get by just fine there. More than anything I’m looking forward to living in a city where we can stay put for a while. To make new friends. To put down roots. To find a place that I enjoy and stay there. For a while.

8 thoughts on “Hard Times

  1. Welcome to the city. I’m sorry it doesn’t seem to be the best of terms. But you’ll enjoy it. The winters are brutal, so sorry you picked a bad time. Spring time in Chicago always feels like a fresh start. Enjoy it. Hope the new job goes well.
    And feel free to snoop around my blog- http://chicagorants.com/

    Good for ideas on passing the winter with my local spots. I also live on a budget, and Chicago’s a good city for that.


    • Thanks for the warm welcome!

      I’m sure things are going to improve. It always takes a little time to get acclimated to a new place. I’ve lived in enough new places at this point to figure that out.


  2. Things will get better Lance. I moved around a bit too & went through similar times. Note: Autozone will check to see why your engine light is on for FREE. Just stop in & ask (if you have one). Had a VW bug that always had the light on & it was usually something that could wait. As for retirement, maybe one day you, me & Nik can reconnect & live a Golden Girls-esque life….can’t wait to see which one of us ends up as Blanche 😉

  3. Beautifully told, as always! I’m sorry I haven’t had more time to get together–stupid school! Let’s find a time to drink hot chocolate and commiserate about the cold and the traffic.

    • Thanks! I’ve been crazy busy myself, and ridiculously poor. Maybe we can get together sometime after the 5th when I get paid again, and we can drink ourselves into a chocolate stupor!

  4. Welcome back, Lance. I was bored and looking around the internet and thought I would check to see if you had any new posts. Hurrah! You are back among the living, and living in Chicago. I totally love Lakeview (a.k.a. Boystown) and the whole Chicago vibe. I have lived near NYC for years and have visited C-town quite a few times, and hey, I think you and C are on a roll here. Just remember, the weather isn’t as mild as in NYC, but it is survivable, and there are a ton of great people in Chicago and great places to make you feel at home. Maybe we (my husband and I) can meet up with you sometime in the spring, maybe at the Caribou Coffee on Broadway. What a great neighborhood to live in. Best of luck to you both.

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