As a prospective tenant I’d estimate I’ve toured dozens of Seattle apartments and houses in the past decade, though few as swank as those in this month’s feature on rental perks. There was the one with the curiously large carpet stain shaped like an undiscovered continent. And the one that looked onto a raucous length of Broadway where nightlife revelers stream by like escaped extras from a Fellini film. “You can’t hear anything during the day,” the property manager triumphantly explained. That was the same place with a waist-high bong abandoned in the living room, unacknowledged other than with a flat, “We’re having the unit cleaned on Monday.”
To rent in this town is to know a whole new dimension, another Seattle always just a step out of the frame of nontenants’ view—the tense dance with landlords, the rising costs, and resultant search for another place to live. And let’s not forget the travails at the end of your lease: packing, cleaning, the deposit you still don’t get after cleaning, and, in my case, the naked man.
I arrived at the empty house—future site of a new condo development—in the early morning and squeegeed the sweat from my brow with a forearm before slipping the key in the door. It was my final trip back after two nights in the new place, there to grab one last item—an old laptop that barely worked, but hell if I was going to leave it to be bulldozed with the rest. I sensed something off as soon as I entered: a trash bag where I hadn’t left it and an unfamiliar dog leash on the floor. Two timid steps forward. And stop. Before me stood a man, tall, muscular, maybe mid-20s—and naked from unkempt mohawk to toe. I was frightened. The squatter was frightened. We froze like Rodin sculptures.
Like I said, another dimension. In the new Seattle, we’re displaced in ways that don’t even occur to us. Some of us get to find another house when the old one gets razed. Some, like the naked man, must wander from one abandoned ruin to the next. Renters are often in the position to see it up close.
And when I did, and when the unclothed guy and I finally spoke, we both agreed to leave, packing what we needed and stepping out into the morning.