Most everyone has lived somewhere of questionable quality at some point in their lives, and The Casa Bella Apartments lead the charge to be the absolute worst place I have ever lived. It boasted a host of amenities that made it sound appealing on paper including: close proximity to the beach, City College, shopping, liquor stores and even downtown. There was private parking that one might call "gated" because of the remote controlled lift-gate that kept the riff-raff and their cars out of the parking lot. Finally, the cherry on the sundae, it had a swimming pool, and Donist loves to swim.
I remember it like it was many fricking years ago...I was hauling in my belongings, and luckily did not need the remote control to the lift-gate as someone had driven straight into it and it laid in pieces on the asphalt. My housemate and I lived on the 2nd floor, which was a positive in the Casa Bella neighborhood, but that was also a negative as I carried box after heavy box up the stone stairs and then along the perilously creaking and sagging floor boards of the walkway to our unit; a couple of boards had even managed to come completely loose. The inside was spacious and we each had our own bedroom, which was a first for me in those early college years and we even had a view of the large swimming pool, but I paid little attention to it as I was already going to be late for my job at the music store. I vowed to go for a nighttime swim the following evening after work.
The third problem to become all too abundantly clear (broken lift-gate, broken second floor walkway being the first problems), was that we had a wee bit of a cockroach problem. Thank god that these were not the New York style monsters that I have seen pictures of, but the inch-long and skinny Santa Barbara version that eats healthy, gets plenty of exercise and possibly partakes in various degrees of plastic surgery to maintain its svelte appearance. I am not talking a cockroach here, a cockroach there, but cockroaches every-fucking-where. The little monsters were fairly bold when it was light out, but click off the lights and wait for a moment before flicking the switch on, and a swarm would scatter madly away into the dark recesses of the kitchen. A population of them had even taken up residence in the oven...perhaps they had decided to give up on the world and end it all, in a move akin to sleeping in the middle of a shooting range.
Thankfully, the little bastards stayed in the kitchen and I never found one in my bedroom, but that does not mean that they were not there, I just never saw them. The following night after a long day at work, I found my housemate in the kitchen attempting to burn a cockroach with his lighter to little success, and I noticed that the roach motel had already put up the no vacancy sign, so with a sigh and a shake of my head, I changed and went down to the pool for a swim.
Swimming at night is a gloriously peaceful luxury that I rarely have, and I was thrilled to have the pool completely to myself. No screaming children, no angry parents and plenty of space and it was all mine. Finally, another bright spot for my new living arrangement for which I was grateful, but it was short lived.
The next morning, which happened to be both the weekend and my time to sleep in, I was awoken to Kenny Roger's greatest hits: The Gambler, Lucille, Coward of the County, Don't Fall In Love With a Dreamer and all of the rest. It was 7:00 AM and despite the fact that I actually have a soft spot when it comes to Kenny Rogers, who the fuck blares Kenny Rogers starting at 7:00 AM? This would actually become a recurring event that occurred every single weekend morning of my five month tenure at the Casa Bella apartments. Annoyed but awake I staggered to the kitchen, waving away the overly brave cockroaches and peered out the window to smile at the swimming pool. My smile went upside down when I noticed that the pool was not the typical turquoise hue that graced most pools, but instead was an off green. Green as in "yellow and blue make green." There was always an awful lot of kids in the pool during the day and if the pool was not being maintained appropriately, then...ewwww. The previous night's swim was my first and only dip in the pool.
The next month was more of the same with cockroaches, pee-filled swimming pools, and the collapsing second story walkways, but it was the coming of the rainstorms that brought out the Casa Bella's true colors. To be fair, the stretch of rainy weather was particularly harsh for Santa Barbara County, but anything that is classified as a house, home, condo, apartment, dwelling, shed, shack or cave comes with some degree of expectation that it is able to withstand inclement weather; the Casa Bella hovel must have been exempt.
Over the course of a solid week of rain, we were forced to use every pot, pan, cup and glass to catch the water from the multitude of the leaks that appeared. Glasses were used to catch the drips from the window sill, small pots were used in the living room and the biggest pot that I owned was reserved for my room, where the worst of the leaks poured but three fee from my head. One particular late evening of heavy rain, I was in the realm of being half awake and half asleep, and the water was pouring into the big pot and making a racket that was at first annoying and then somewhat peaceful, like a waterfall in the woods. As I lay there, I heard a CREAK, CREAK, CREAK and then a WHAM! I reached over for my glasses, and with just enough light from outside to allow me to see, I found a massive hole in the ceiling and a piece of plaster the size of a car's hubcap crumbled around the pot.
It was at that point that I started laughing. I was laughing hysterically and when I finally managed to pull myself together, I stood to survey the damage. Reaching up towards the black hole of the ceiling, I first felt a wet rubbery surface and with very little pressure, my hand was outside and catching the rain drops. Shit, I could have been killed or at least injured, and here I was laughing it off as if it were a big joke...most likely I had traipsed into a mild form of madness and was merely processing the events in a way that my mind could actually deal with.
We of course told the property management about the leaks and the massive hole in the ceiling, but they said they could not do anything until the rain had stopped, which made sense. When the rain stopped, they said that they were waiting on a work crew to free up their schedule so that they could get to work and that the problems should be fixed within a week or two. After that, a month had passed with no progress, a board in the walkway had also fallen to the ground below, and my housemate and I threatened to stop paying rent. By the time the work was finally scheduled to begin, we had each found other places to live and joyfully skipped through the still broken lift-gate on our way to better homes and gardens.