I’ve lived in seven apartments since departing Michigan—five in Boston, two in London—and everywhere I’ve lived has been old. Everywhere, window tracks weren’t true and radiators clanged in the dark and bathroom tile bulged with careless calk repair.
Each place has had an assortment of
inconveniences quirks. The basement flat in the brownstone downtown had black iron bars across the front windows. In the Victorian (est. 1910) I live in now, my bedroom has no closet because it was originally the dining room. As such, one can thread an ice cream sundae through the old dumbwaiter in the butler’s pantry to a recipient waiting in my bed.
I like old. I like the built-ins for my acres of books and the handsome, wide molding on each window and doorframe. I love the stained glass window that catches the afternoon sun and the deep window seat opposite my dining table. I love the authentic curved glass in the turret windows, and the caramel hues and church-pew sheen of the original wood floors.
Wherever I live, my loving parents show up, and I give The Tour.
I’m all, “Look, French doors!” And, “Here’s my new immersion blender!” until my Mom’s eyes inevitably narrow and start darting up walls and around doorknobs and out windows.
It’s quite simply, really: She’s imagining the place engulfed in flames.
And my Dad, he’s taking in the smoke alarms and carbon monoxide monitors and deadbolts, knocking on and putting his ear up to walls. Lifting open windows and reaching for his tape measure, conjuring up marauding intruders.
No matter the address, every new apartment gets the same reception: both parents obsessed with how to get out before they’ve barely been in.
“This could be a deathtrap!” my Mom whispered, stepping gingerly down the narrow winding staircase to my old basement place.
“Yeah, but there’s another exit out the back alley,” I countered.
“You might see an alley. I see a blazing inferno,” she shuddered.
Later, when I came home from work, my Dad took my arm and led me over to the small square and barred windows high up on the wall. He pulled back the curtain to reveal a key suspended by a nail—his handiwork—inside the window frame.
His next move was pretty cool: he opened the window and then took the key, slid it into an inconspicuous lock, and magically freed the window bars, swinging them away from the window in one gentle push. Suddenly we were looking at unencumbered Boston sky.
It hadn’t occurred to me to look for a lock or a key. I’d never considered the bars would move.
Naturally, he got a stopwatch and we ran some time trials. How fast could I spring from the bed in the (windowless) back room, race down the 12-foot hallway, cross the main room, take out the 3-step ladder, climb up onto the ledge above the built-ins, heave open the window, retrieve the key, throw open the bars, wriggle through the window, and deliver myself onto the sidewalk, likely to come eye-to-shoe with a startled commuter?
How fast could I do it carrying a stack of picture albums?
…With a simulated broken limb?
…With my eyes closed?
They were visiting to ease my recovery from back surgery. As my vertebrae healed, my split time on the time trials improved and eventually was deemed satisfactory. After that, they went home.
Last week we were cooking up Thanksgiving in the new place and my father was lecturing me on keeping keys lodged right inside the bolt locks on both my outdoor entrances. (Another quirk: You have to manually turn a key from inside the apartment to lock each door.) Constantly leaving the key in the door, ready to be turned, was not meeting Blaszak security protocol.
“I’m going to hide a nail high up on the door frame and you can store the key there,” Dad decided.
“And tie a ribbon on it!” my Mother erupted from the stove top.
We looked up.
“What?” she shrugged. “Think of that laundry room becoming pitch–black and full of smoke. You reach up, panicked, and you drop the key. Now what?” She raised her eyebrows, rapping the wooden spoon against the pan. “That’s when you need a ribbon.”
So. What do you say? Perhaps you’d like to risk life and limb and come visit?
I’ve got plenty of room. Upon arrival, all guests are issued a laminated copy of the Evacuation Route. And a flashlight. And a whistle. On a ribbon.
One warning: do not try to rob or abduct me. I have enough mace, courtesy of Dad, to stun a herd of buffalo. And that window way up there? I can leap out of it and be sprinting down the street before you’ve finished tying your shoe.
That’s how I sprained my ankle last weekend.