Me, Sher, and Ad

Me, Sher, and Ad
Bro Adam and sis Sher, my rocks!

Thursday, November 24, 2011

My Worst Apartment: the Mole Hole

Back in the mid 90's when I was a partying twenty year old in Philly, I looked at my apartment as just a place to sleep. I got up, went to work, ate out, maybe came home to change, and then went out for the evening until sometimes 5 to 7 am. I was a hard partying kid. I have no regrets. It was all in good fun. I lived alone for the most part, other than for a stretch with my great roommates Greg and John, when I lived with them on Rittenhouse Square. My only other worthwhile companion was Smokey the Cat. My favorite apartment was at the Claremont apartment building at 10th and Clinton. I had a wide spacious studio apartment. I considered it a walk up as I didn't trust the elevator.  It creaked and shook between the 2nd and 3rd floors. I loved that apartment though and have fond memories of it. 

My worst apartment was the Mole Hole. I named it after I discovered the back 1/3 was partially underground. After living with Greg and John for a couple of fun crazy years, I decided that I needed to get my own place again. I had been relatively lucky with apartment hunting for my first two besides the Rittenhouse Square apartment so I figured I would just look at one or two sites. For me, it became all about location!

My entrance way was on the left side of the bright green plant. Can't see it? That's because it's barely a 2ft wide alley!

I decided that I wanted to live in the Olde City neighborhood of Philadelphia. I loved the art galleries, the old factories slowly being made into lofts, and the historical sites like the Betsy Ross House and Ben Franklin's grave. It was also far enough away from the hustle and bustle of downtown Center City Philly that I felt like I was in my own neighborhood without the hassle of running into everyone I knew.

I looked at two apartments. The first one was too expensive in the long run. I jumped on the second one at 2nd and Race Street. It was a cheap studio apartment in the the rear first floor of an art gallery owned by a middle aged Swedish couple. I gave it one walk through and decided that this was it! Soon, though, I would realize why it was so cheap. Granted the only entrance was down the brick covered dark 2 foot alleyway, but I figured I weighed 135 lbs and could easily slip down it. Also, there was no door bell to reach me in the back and large people had to walk sideways, but it was nice and secluded from the noise of the city. Oh yes, one other thing. Visitors would have to run thrown a gauntlet of dripping water down the brick alleyway. ICK!

I signed the lease almost immediately and made arrangements to move in. I brought my big sis, Sheryl, down to see my little apartment in the hippest neighborhood! It was the first time I saw her truly speechless. It was also the first time I saw her openly sob immediately upon walking into the apartment. "Can you get out of the lease!?!?!?" she quickly asked. "Uh no...," I began. She sobbed again openly. I said, "It isn't that bad!" Sheryl asked me how many I had looked at and I told her two. She said I should have looked at more, and I should have consulted her, and asked again if it was too late? I drowned her out in my mind. I was sure this was a find and convinced myself I would love it. At $235/mth rent, I would learn to love it! That was June. It would be a couple weeks before I would begin rethinking my apartment choice.

The apartment itself with three long narrow rooms, one after another. The first room was the kitchen/dining room. It had a small window, 1 ft by 1 ft which opened. That. Was. It. One the gallery side end of the building, it had a doorway blocked off by a sheet of plywood from the gallery in the front. (Months later, in an act of defiance, I would play club and disco music at high volume to disrupt my landlords' gallery openings when they wouldn't repair my tiny bathroom.) The front room was about 10 feet by 6 feet. The bathroom was right off of this room. It was small enough where you could sh*t, shower, and shave without moving from the same spot. It was that small. The toilet frequently backed up. I often found roaches crawling up from the drains. Curiously, there were none the day I looked at the apartment. I always said they were in cahoots with the landlords.

The second room was the living room. With my futon, it became the bedroom too. It was about 8 ft by 6 ft with a large 5 foot picture window. I loved the window, it looked over the little back patio but unfortunately, also created a sauna like atmosphere in the summer. The apartment often heated up to over 90'F until I started covering the window with a layer of bed sheets.

The back room, which was supposed to be the bedroom, was the most interesting. I found that as I walked further into it, it sloped downward unnaturally, like there was a sinkhole beneath it. Looking at it from the patio, the room actually slanted underground into a little hill behind the row home. Hence, the name Mole Hole was born. Also, there were no windows in this room, and the walls were just painted cinder block. Well, I figured, it will be cool in the summer! And oh it was. Nice and cool. Unfortunately, there was no heat in the room and during the winter, I actually froze water back there. Since there was also doorway closing it off, I had to hang 3 wool blankets across the doorway to keep out the cold. Even the mice and roaches didn't dare go back there.

Soon, my friends were offering to meet me out instead of coming over. The one friend who did stay over had his car stolen from out front of the apartment. My only guests were either the landlord dropping by unannounced, sometimes surprising me in my naked glory, or my dear trusted feline companion, Smokey. Smokey had the crazy habit of catching the mice and roaches and leaving them for me on my pillow as gifts. Ah ... what a good and thoughtful kitty. Thank you Smokey! Rest in peace! My neighbors played rock music constantly until 4 am. It annoyed me only sometimes as I was usually out with friends until at least 5 am.

Well I knew I wouldn't be staying for another year, but for $235/mth rent, I sucked it up. Needless to say, my landlords and I did not part as friends. For years afterwards I could recite various Swedish curse words they yelled at me for constantly complaining about the apartment. Sheryl helped find me a great apartment at16th and Spring Garden St, just 5 blocks away from her apartment. I think she liked having me closer. I  made out with free meals.

What did I learn from this experience?  Location isn't everything. See many apartments. Get other people's opinions. Choose an apartment with a window you can actually fit through. Don't pick rodents and vermin as possible roommates. Choose an entrance way with an actual door bell and one wider than 2 feet.  Lastly, DO NOT take an apartment just because it is cheap! It is usually cheap for many reasons and none usually are desirable.


  1. Love this one... I know those neighborhoods from working and living in Philly until I moved to Maryland. When I lived in the city, I worked at the Inquirer and Daily News...selling classified ads.... I hope that you didn't find that apartment through one of our classifieds.

    Jack Ross

  2. Thanks for the comment Jack! LOL. I did answer a classified. It started off "BEWARE! BEWARE!"

  3. Great story!!!

  4. I only have one question..did your mom ever visit the place?

  5. And I though my first apartment was bad. My worst apartment was in Long Island ina basement, and you could not watch Tv or listen to the radio or have any privavcy in the bedroom (if you know what I mean). I was not even allowed to have a mini washing machine. The walls were too thin, and te landlord complained of the lough motor on the washer. And yets she tolerated the loud planes that few over every 5 minutes; you could not hear yourself think, and I froze my can off every day in the wintertime.and Cockroaches was the least of dealing with landlords and the landlord lived over my head, who ahd a kid that made noise any time during the day or night! I got no sleep for a friggen year! It was no fun! I was afraid to breath! She had me dating every man she knew and also convinced me to work for her and her friends cleaning their mansions. Was afraid to say no, because the rent was so cheap! Believe me, I learned real quick when the lease was up, MOVE! One year of pure hell! Since then I bought my own home! Thanks G*d for I was tired of moving every 6 months or after a years lease, a year of regrets that first basement cheap apartment! Apartments are for the ignorant as I believe now! I pray I never have to rent again! Owning is cheaper in the long run!

  6. This was a great story! Thanks for sharing. And to Maureen, my Mom was not in the area at the time and ... maybe that was a good thing? LOL