Sunday, October 16, 2005

Home Sweet Home

Ready with several classified ads, Mapquest directions and a rental car, I visited a handful of apartments in Durham and Chapel Hill, North Carolina. I was relocating from Houston to the Triangle, trying to find a nice home with a rent that I hoped wouldn't burn a hole in my pocket. I found the perfect place. There was just one obstacle: a little old white lady from Chapel Hill.

I'd found it advertised on Craigslist: "The most charming apartment in Chapel Hill." It was a garage apartment behind the home of an 87-year-old widow, who, I was later told, is a vestige of Chapel Hill's aristocracy. The ad showed hardwood floors throughout, old but superbly maintained appliances, molding around the windows and doors, and built-in bookcases. The apartment was, in a word, charming. I'd been corresponding with the friendly tenant, who had taken on the task of showing the apartment to assist her landlady. The tenant and I made an appointment for Wednesday afternoon.

After a quick look, I fell in love with the place. Before I left for the airport to catch my flight, I asked her the question that had long been on my mind: "How do you think your landlady will feel about a young, black man living in her garage apartment?"

Without pause, she replied, "Well, since I'm neither black nor male, that's hard to answer. But she really is a kind old lady. She's been renting this place for years. I'm sure she's had all kinds of tenants."

On my second trip to the Triangle, I visited several more apartments, but the most charming apartment in Chapel Hill was still my favorite. I made an appointment to meet the landlady in person. I drove to the house and parked in the driveway a few yards from the garage. I wore khaki pants and a nice shirt, ironed and tucked in. I'd shaved and removed both of my earrings.

To the left of the driveway was a paved path that cut through the manicured lawn and led to the house. I walked to the door at the path's end and rang the bell. After a few minutes, I heard a murmur behind me. I looked over my shoulder, and there she was--the landlady, hunched over her cane, frail, white haired and looking every bit of 87.

I followed her into the side door through a solarium and a kitchen and into the living room. The walls were covered with sepia photos of her late husband in his army uniform. There were shelves and shelves of photos. I acutely felt like I was in a white sanctuary, not because all the faces on the wall were white, but because it eerily felt like I was the first black person to ever lay eyes on them. It's a feeling that I questioned--a feeling that was the first, but maybe not the proper response. But it was visceral. The landlady and I sat in two low-lying chairs and talked.

"I fell in love with the apartment," I told her. "I would love to move in."

Silence.

"Your tenant showed me the place and I thought it was great. I'm willing to write you a check right now." But there was still something unsaid between us. She asked me how long I would want to live there, where I was from, whether or not I'd be living alone. But it was small talk--inconsequential. It was clear that I wouldn't be living there.

"Just to be fair," she said, "I would like to allow others to see the apartment." I sensed the futility of any further efforts and led our conversation to a close.

On my way out of the living room, she called out: "Can you close that door please?" I complied. I'm not sure what I closed the door on, but it left me feeling a bit blue. The charm had certainly worn off.

7 Comments:

Blogger FreakinRican said...

Maybe she smelled fried chicken on your breath and figured you were going to make her apartment too "black."

8:34 AM  
Blogger roundthewaygirl said...

Quint,

Don't give up there are too many really nice affordable apartments and houses for rent in the Triangle area. And don't lose another moment's peace over this incident.

To get satisfaction, you could call the county's housing discrimination office, and file a complaint. They will send out various folks to apply for the apartment. Besides the obvious scenario of sending another African American out to view the apartment, they will probably send a white southern belle (lets call her Scarlett) so acceptable to Mrs. Havisham (Let's give the old lady a fictional name, also)that she will consider adopting Scarlett, they'll close the deal, and Scarlett will come back with her African American husband (another equal housing employee). Mrs. Havisham will then have a fainting spell, a hissy fit, and a potential law suit.

If you decide to let this go, just know there's a special place in hell for all these old rascists and its integrated.

Peace and happy house hunting.

8:43 AM  
Blogger Pfirsch said...

I'm sorry that you had to experience that in my home state, but I think that you should take roundthewaygirl's advice.

9:40 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

The older generation seems to be a bit more closed minded about different races other than their own. Believe me, I'm white, and I know through living with my parents when I was younger, how prejudice the older people can be.

I'm sorry you had to go through that. Don't take it to heart--- just take it for what it is. An old lady with old time thinking..............it's sad and this story made me sad.

It has nothing to do with "you". She just didn't see past the shell.

Hang in there- you'll find something!

8:19 PM  
Blogger juliana said...

This was sad, but I have to agree with Anon. She's old and old poeple can't break their habits easily. Soon, she'll die (I know that sounds horrible but it's true) and then there will be more space for open minded people in this world. Don't take it personally. I'm sure you'll find something soon.

6:28 AM  
Blogger Rand said...

Quint,
I thought I'd let you know that because of you, I've created a new subfolder in my personal bookmarks. It's called "goodbutdead." I made the folder to stick blogs I used to enjoy reading, but that don't seem to post any more. Your blog is the first entry...

12:09 PM  
Blogger hanmee said...

NICE, freakin'! :)

The vengeful part of me likes roundtheway's idea.

I hope your househunt is going better and you've found something good by now!

5:26 AM  

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