I’ve talked about Justin before, and he’s even written for ATOB. Today I’m going to discuss the summer he moved into my apartment illegally. I should probably say he was “undocumented” versus “illegal” given political sentiments, but either way, he wasn’t supposed to be there and my landlord had no idea.
It was two summers ago. I lived in a row house with no central AC and had one other roommate. Justin landed a paid internship a half hour outside the city and needed a place to stay for 12 weeks. I offered our pull-out couch for a week until he found a place.
For three days my roommate and I listened to Justin skim Craigslist and complain about rent prices. He came from a college town where rent didn’t go above $500/month. Every listing online asked for $600 minimum.
“And I have to share a bathroom?!”
My roommate proposed an arrangement: Justin could live in our basement for $400/month and have the run of the house with a few ground rules.
Now a few things about our basement: it had a finished part and a not so finished part. Aka one half of the basement had a concrete floor and the other half had a dirt floor. The walls were all cinderblock. We rarely ventured into the unfinished part, but a month before Justin moved in, I went exploring with my friend. We found two toilets, a claw-footed tub, and a cookbook atop a rusted sink that had a pentagram on the cover. We deduced from the toilets and the torn down walls that the basement used to be the servants’ quarters.
We didn’t tell Justin these horrors when we offered up the basement. We told him about the electrical outlets, the lighting, and “it’s probably coolest place in the house during the summer because it’s underground. Really, you’d be getting such a deal.”
“And I’ll put an end table in the basement,” I added. “Spruce it up for you.”
(When I removed that end table at the end of Justin's stay, it was covered in mold spores. Oops.)
Justin told us we were fat cats for asking $400 for him to live in our basement, but accepted the deal. On the former, this actually was a deal if you consider he was three blocks from all the Fan bars and utilities were included. That child needed to live in the adult world for a few weeks.
When I told my mom what we were doing, she asked, “Are you sure it’s safe? Doesn’t your basement flood?”
“It’s never flooded as long as we’ve been here,” I reminded her. “And my roommate has lived here one year longer than me. If it flooded, I’d be just as screwed as him; all my winter clothes are down there.”
Five days later, Justin officially moved in. My roommate and I curated what clutter we kept in the basement into two separate, tidy piles. Justin had the rest of the (finished) basement. I didn’t think he’d want to expand into the pentagram territory.
He made himself at home. He hung his clothes on hangers from exposed piping. He stuck an air freshener into an outlet right by the stairs that threatened to cause an asthma attack every time I passed by. And he put a bulb in an old cracked lamp of mine that he put atop the end table. His bed was an air mattress, but his parents brought a futon a couple of weeks later.
Of course, all this was illegal. We could only have two tenants on our lease, and if our landlord discovered this shady setup, we’d be on the sidewalk with Justin. But how would our landlord find out? He never came by.
A week and a half later it rained. We’d come to find out this was a record rainfall, but we thought nothing of it. The basement had never flooded. It wouldn’t flood tonight.
I awoke to a text from Justin:
“The basement flooded. I had to go to work.”
He was joking. Or maybe it was a puddle, and he’s exaggerating. Maybe the basement does flood, but it’s so infinitesimal, it evaporates right away.
I went exploring, barefoot, in only my underwear. At first I saw nothing. Then I saw some sitting water in a corner.
"That’s nothing," I told myself. "Maybe he’ll get mesothelioma in 50 years, but he can survive 12 weeks.”
I returned to bed. Then I sat up. Where was the water coming from?
Back to the basement. I took my phone this time and turned on the flashlight. There was no water near his air mattress, in the middle of the basement, but what about behind—
HOLY CRAP, THE TITANIC WENT DOWN.
Behind my roommate’s and my boxes was a small sea. Six inches of water had pooled out from beneath the locked door into the unfinished part of the basement. I staggered through the flood, like Rose in Titanic trying to rescue Jack, only to see Jack had drowned. The unfinished part of the basement was submerged.
WHAT DO I DO?
I couldn’t call our landlord with a full bedroom set in the basement. “The flood must have carried it in,” I imagined myself saying.
Singlehandedly, I carried his bedroom furniture upstairs. I threw his mattress into my room and put the end table back in its original place. I grabbed his clothes off the hangers and strewed them around our apartment, anything to make it look like we didn’t have a third roommate.
Then I called our landlord: “Hi, our basement flooded last night.”
For three days Justin lived above deck with us. Our landlord sent out maintenance people who pumped the water away and cleared the drain so future historic rainfall would not waterlog the basement again. Justin returned to his room.
In the end, he got the best end of the deal: $400 for waterfront property for a summer.