So we moved. You know this already, because I complained about it a thousand years ago, before my five-day internet blackout. Why did we move after only living in that place for a year and a half? Telling this story requires a bit of bellyaching on my part. Sorry about that. Also there are a lot of barely-justified digressions. I’m less sorry about those.
To sort things out properly, we have to go back to…
It's been a brutally cold winter, but the world is starting to thaw. I allow myself to indulge in the daydream that I might actually see the sun again.
It’s been a year since we moved into this apartment after that whole unfortunate business over the last twelve years. Things are quiet. This isn’t the best place I’ve ever lived, but it’s not the worst either and we’re finally living within our means.
This house must have been glorious when it was built, which was probably sometime during the Taft administration. It was no doubt a proud house in its day. It's got fancy roof work and a lot of space. Now it’s a sagging thing of rotting wood and shabby windows. The front porch steps are gone and the paint is peeling off the outside like it’s too ashamed to cling to the structure anymore. It’s been split into an upstairs and a downstairs unit. Even though we only have half the house, we still have three bedrooms, plus a living room and an office. Those house-builders of 1930 sure didn’t mess around when it came to living space.
After years of scoffing at silly videogame worlds where you have to traverse every room in a house to get through it, I find it kind of funny to find myself living in such a place. To get to my bedroom I have to walk though every other room that isn't a bedroom or bathroom. The vast majority of places I've lived have been built so that the downstairs is a loop. Others are built around a major hallway. Some have both a hallway and a loop. So this business of walking through rooms feels odd to me.
So the linear videogame house isn't as implausible as it's seemed. Having said that: The house in Gone Home is still goofy pants.
The earlyEarly for ME, anyway. morning roar of machinery tells me that they’re back. Squinting in the bright sunlight, I step out on the porch. Sure enough: The water company seems to be conducting a strip-mining operation right in the middle of the street. They did this same thing last year. Now spring is here and they’re at it again.
My downstairs neighbor walks by. Let's call him Fred. We wave. Fred is a nice guy. He’s the brother-in-lawOr something like that. of our landlady, and she sends him up to our place once in a while when something needs fixed. He moved in last fall, and keeps to himself. Sometimes I forget he’s down there. I hope my kids don’t bug him too much. I’ve got three teenagers, and I can only imagine what their stomping around must sound like on the other side of these old wooden floors. If it bothers him, he never says anything about it.
I make fun of the dilapidated outside, but the truth is we’re really lucky to have this place. Even with the traffic headaches, the sketchy neighborhood, the frequent police visits to the apartment building across the street, and the water company's total war on the city roadways, we would be hard pressed to do better.
See, we chose this apartment because it had and a strict “no smoking, no pets” policy. I’m ludicrously allergic to both. A vast majority of apartments around here allow pets, and of the few that don’t, lots of tenants are jerks and sneak an animal in anyways. So it’s always really scary trying to find a place to live. I don’t want to sign a year-long lease and then turn on the heat for the first time to suddenly get blasted with animal dander that’s been lurking in the duct work since the last tenant moved out.
Maybe I should explain how animal allergies work. I want you to understand what a pain in the ass it is to find a place to live, and most people seem to intuit allergies very wrong. They act like pets give off this Shamus-killing aura around them, like kryptonite vs. Superman. I tell people I can't visit them because of their pets and they'll say, “Oh, no problem. I'll put the dog in the other room where he can't bother you.” Or maybe, “Don't worry about it, my dog barely sheds at all and I vacuum all the time.” But then I'll be outside and a dog will come within five meters of me and they act like it's a suicide bomber that will kill me on contact. This is wrong. All wrong.
Dander seems to have the same root as “dandruff”. It’s microscopic sloughed off skin cells. More to the point: It’s dust. It comes from you and (if you have them) the pets in your house. Assuming you're indoors, then it's all around you, all the time. It hangs in the air, getting breathed in and out. It gets into clothing. It works its way deep into your hair. It settles in the duct-work, in the curtains, and the carpets. It clings to wood and paper. It finds its way into the tiny imperfections of painted surfaces and worms its way deep into the moving parts of household appliances.
After a while it will settle on horizontal surfaces, and if given long enough it will become so thick you'll be able to see it with the naked eye. “Oh, it's dusty in here,” you'll say, and then you'll wave a feather duster at it, kicking it back into the air again. “There, all the dust is gone. Now my friend Shamus can come over!” Every time you take a step on carpet, or flop down on the couch, or move the drapes, or change clothes, you're stirring that dust around and keeping it in the air.
It's usually harmless. People breathe it all the time. But for some reason, a few of us have immune systems that have incorrectly identified animal dander as something invasive and dangerous and will (ironically) harm us trying to kill the lifeless dust.
In my case the allergies inflame my asthma, which is where your airways swell until air can’t pass through them. Like most mammals, I have this powerful hankering for a regular supply of oxygen. It’s always seemed really stupid to me that the mere presence of a small furry animal could interfere with this process.
If you and your pets vanished this instant, dust would continue to settle around your home. Which means you’ve got dust in the air right now. I don’t care how clean your pet is, how fancy your furnace filter is, or how often you vacuum, there’s no way you’re cleaning that stuff out of the air with conventional means. Which means it’s physically dangerous for me to go inside. Sorry.
Perversely, this means that if you have a pet, the object in your house that I'm most intensely allergic to is your computer, because a typical computer holds a phenomenal amount of dust. It's even more dangerous to me than the pet itself. Sure, the pet is making dander all the time, but the fans and crevices of your PC hold more dander than your pet could make in a week. (I found this out the hard way a few years ago, when a friend brought his computer over so I could fix it. Now this gives me a really great excuse to refuse to fix people's computers.)
Where was I? Oh right, apartments…
See, this place was about the best we could possibly hope for, allergy-wise:
- Wood floors. Carpet can hold onto animal dander at Shamus-killing levels for a long time. The half-lifePart of the reason people misunderstand dander is because of terrible metaphors like this one. of kitty dander must be years.
- No sign of previous pets. The last tenant left a huge mess behind, but there wasn't any sign of animals.
- New duct-work. The owners gave the upstairs and downstairs isolated heating systems, and in the process replaced the ducts and installed a new furnace. That's one less place for dander to hide.
- When we moved in, our landlady warned us severely that if we snuck a pet into the place that she'd have us evicted, no second chances. On one hand, this was kind of annoying because it meant she wasn't listening when I explained that pets were literally hazardous to my health. On the other hand, it meant that the house would stay pet-free and she wouldn't let another tenant slide.
Our strict “no pets, ever” requirement, along with the usual space / price / location concerns, meant that our apartment search was really rough. This was basically the only place suitable for us in the entire city. It might be kind of dumpy, but it has the most important quality of all, which is that it won't kill me. And for that, I can put up with some peeling paint.
Still, I hope the water company moves on soon. I think two straight summers of deafening construction is more than my sanity can take.
 Early for ME, anyway.
 Or something like that.
 Part of the reason people misunderstand dander is because of terrible metaphors like this one.
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