Not too long after my fourth and final child was born, the Navy transferred Doc from Texas to New Orleans, Louisiana. We were pretty poor at the time – while pregnant with my son, I had decided to leave my radio career for good and go back to school to get my Bachelor’s Degree – so we were missing my paltry salary and depending on Uncle Sam for our one and only paycheck. Since we had no extra money, we couldn’t afford a house-hunting trip ahead of the move. We had put in a request for housing on the military base, but there was a six-month waiting list. So a civilian apartment was in our future and, as the internet had barely been invented, we had to rely on apartment rental booklets and long distance phone calls to secure a place prior to our move.
It was difficult – we didn’t know anything about New Orleans or the surrounding suburbs. Most of the apartments were well above our price range and those that were affordable…well, let’s just say that the pictures were a little frightening. With four children, we needed a larger place, but three-bedroom seemed to be the limit in apartment living, so we let the kids know that they would be sharing rooms. Time was running out – our move was coming up and, although we had inquired about several possibilities, we had been told there were no vacancies! Finally, we found a nice looking, gated apartment complex that had one three-bedroom apartment available to rent that was barely within our price range!
Through a series of phone calls with the leasing office, we managed to convince them to rent the apartment to us prior to our arrival. We sent a check for a deposit and then they sent the lease by mail. It was then that we saw the actual address of our new home: 5430 Forest Isle Drive, # 666.
WHAT? Apartment #666? Why would any apartment complex have an apartment #666? Isn’t it a law or something that you skip over numbers like that? Kind of like when there is no 13th floor in hotels and skyscrapers? But what were we supposed to do? We had to have a place to live – the move was coming up in a week or two whether we liked it or not – and we’d already put down our deposit! So, with some trepidation, we signed the lease and returned it with our first month’s rent.
When we got to New Orleans, we found our way to our “gated complex” ready to “experience a quiet, peaceful paradise.” The entrance of the community made a good first impression – it looked nice and WAS gated, with a guard on duty. We picked up the keys, were directed to apartment #666, and walked inside.
At first glance, it seemed like a normal apartment, albeit a little bland. We noticed that a few of the bedrooms had carpeting that seemed bleached in spots and had red stains in others – surly the previous occupants had spilled Kool-Aid or something, right? We walked into the master bedroom and made the first unsettling discovery: this apartment had just ONE bathroom – and while there was a door to the bathroom from the hallway where the other two apartments were located, there was no door from the master bedroom. Instead, a “dressing area” (really just a hallway of sorts with a sink on one side) led to the bathroom area. And from the “dressing area” to the toilet and bathtub – there was no door at all. We pondered this for a moment – if Doc and I took the master bedroom, we would have no real privacy – the children could come into the bathroom at any time during the night and, not only would we hear them and see the light – if they peered around the corner into the dressing area, they would also have a clear line of sight to our bed.
So, it was decided that the two older girls would share the master bedroom and we hung a curtain to the entrance of the “dressing area” to block the light if someone used the bathroom at night. The younger children were settled into the front “bonus room”, while Doc and I took the back bedroom.
Both the girl’s master bedroom and our bedroom had attached balconies – which I thought was great. I imagined that Doc and I would sit there in the evenings, enjoying sweet tea and the cool night air as we discussed our day. We stepped outside to see the view – and looked at each other in alarm. The balconies overlooked the community wall – and right on the other side was…the ghetto. The buildings were dilapidated, with peeling, faded paint and windows that were either barred or boarded. Teens and young adults lounged on porches or walked down the street in groups, yelling obscene greetings as they passed one another. One young man looked up and saw me staring and, after a quick discussion with his friends, they all turned and stared back – hostility clear on their faces. We quickly decided that we probably shouldn’t spend much time on the balcony.
That night, before the kid’s bedtime, I poured a bath for them – and noticed that while the water was near the overflow valve near the spigot, it was a good six inches lower near the back of the tub. I stood back and looked again – yes, the tub was definitely tilted – or was it? I grabbed a lipstick from the counter in the dressing area and laid it on the floor near the toilet – and watched in disbelief as it rolled out the doorway. It wasn’t the TUB that was tilted – it was the FLOOR! A reconnaissance of the apartment confirmed that most of the floors were sloped – and because of that, the doors to the bedrooms hung crooked and could not be securely closed.
I called the office the next morning to inquire if another apartment might be available. The leasing agent regretfully informed me that #666 was the only vacant three-bedroom in the complex, but she assured me that it was structurally sound and that the sloping floors were merely an inconvenience – soon we wouldn’t even notice them! For the next six months, as I walked into door jams in the middle of the night or stumbled into walls as I made my way down the hall, I cursed that damn leasing agent.
Whenever I called for pizza delivery, wrote a check at the grocery store, or told a friend our address, the reaction was always the same. “Apartment #666? You a devil woman? You live in the DEVIL apartment!” Every fucking time! It got old – and annoying.
But the curse of the beast didn’t stop there! One morning I came out of the apartment and went downstairs to get into the minivan…but where the car had been the night before, there was now just a small pile of broken glass. If you’ve ever had a car stolen, or a car or home burglarized, you know that feeling all too well. At first you’re confused – what is it that you are looking at? Why are things not as you left them? Did you park the car somewhere else? Then, like a firecracker exploding in your brain, the reality of the situation makes your eyes bulge a little as you realize that someone – a stranger – has invaded your space, has taken your property.
We immediately called the police, and then the property manager. After all, the entrance was gated and guarded 24-hours a day. Anyone who drove out would have been seen by the guard – especially when the driver’s side window was smashed and broken – right? Wrong. The property manager informed us, in a rather snooty tone, that the property assumed no responsibility for the theft and that the security guard at the gate? He was there to protect the property – not the residents or their belongings. The police were friendlier, but told us not to count on getting the car back – they said this happened often and usually the cars were either taken to a chop shop or out of state and sold.
We rented a car to use for the weeks or months it would take for the insurance to settle our claim and then, just a week later – on the same day we got the news that a house on base had opened up for us – the police called. The minivan had been found in Houma, a small town about an hour away. It was undamaged (except for the broken window) – and the cleanest I had EVER seen it! Apparently, the thieves had taken everything inside – CDs, library books, clothing – and even the empty fast food bags and other garbage! I chose to take it as a sign — a clean start — away from the apartment of the beast!
What stories do you have about scary apartments or neighborhoods? Have you ever had anything stolen — OR, if you are really ready to come clean, have you ever stolen anything?