"Tuscaloosa is the Paris of west-central Alabama, and Northport is the Versailles to the Paris of west-central Alabama." - Alex Chambers
Last month, I moved from my horrendous apartment in Tuscaloosa to a quiet house in Northport. I admit I didn't really look through my apartment thoroughly before I signed the lease. I was desperate. I'd taken a room in a house owned by another grad student. He claimed he wanted a quiet roommate so he could study for the Bar exam. It seemed like an ideal match, since I had just recently returned to grad school after two years in Liberia. I needed to reintegrate into American academia (more reading, more computers, and no salutes from security guards) and finish school.
At first, everything went fine. Then my roommate came out. I'd noticed he was gay the first moment I'd met him, but now he was comfortable telling me he was gay. I'm older than the average grad student. I spared him my stories of ActUp meetings, or getting my head bashed in by Houston cops while protesting the '92 GOP convention, and just said no problem.
My roommate took "acceptance" to mean "permission to throw loud orgies", which he did. More than once. In the living room. Now let me say, I'm all for gay orgies in theory. When MoveOn sends me a petition to support gay orgies, I'll sign and give them $10. But I'm not for drunken,violent, drug-fueled, surprise (to me) orgies in the living room. Not because all of the participants were male, but because they were loud, and smelly. (I guess that's the male part.) I also objected to one of the participants pulling a knife and attacking the other guests. Oh, and my roommate attempted to break into my bedroom while I was attempting to sleep. He didn't get in - like any experienced NGO worker under siege, I had the sense to barricade the door. So I moved out and took to the apartment as a boat in a storm. Did I see the crumbling walls, rat's nest in the pantry, black mold, trash, graffiti, exposed wiring, etc.? Not really. I saw a stunning lack of orgy and signed the lease.
As I've heard it, Texas residential leases are based on old oil leases. Oil barons would chisel oilmen out of their profits by citing minor lease violations - dirty dishes in the sink, marks on the floor, etc. Alternatively, they erected such shoddy housing that the tenant literally paid for nothing. Texans reacted by amending lease laws to prevent these abuses and guarantee that everyone had a decent place to live. When I rented out the house I owned in Austin, I had to improve it before I could legally lease it.
Alabama lease law seems to follow the old sharecropping model. The owner is under no obligation to the tenant. There's no guarantee that the rental property will be safe, or that the owner will make repairs. Fortunately, my new landlords are professionals who seem interested in maintaining their property. The house is lovely - I have an office / guest bedroom, living room, dining room, a large kitchen, laundry, and a wonderful porch. My neighbors include Mary's Cakes and Pastries and The Southern Letterpress, both owned by incredible people. I write in the quiet evenings, and sip coffee while watching rain fall into the birdbath.
But enough about me, let's talk about what I'm doing. In two weeks, I'll be one of several featured speakers at Object X: Water, sponsored by Creative Campus. I have some ideas, but haven't finalized my talk yet. Classes resume tomorrow. I'm mostly ready to meet the new students. Mostly.