Posted by: thezedword | November 2, 2008

This old house

We asked her nicely. Rather, I asked her nicely. Stacy didn’t want to deal with the trouble of stripping the wallpaper, painting the high walls of our apartment flat and then painting them again in a few months. When Heather, our landlady, stumbled over a polite veto, Stacy jumped quickly at the opportunity.

“You can say ‘no,’” the quitter offered.

“OK, no.”

It’s not that the wallpaper in our apartment flat is bad, per se, just dull, lifeless and a bit quirky. Since being plastered up, it was painted over, and the paint has chipped away in some spots and the seams are all fairly obvious. In one corner, the wallpaper looks wrinkled, like someone grabbed the top of the wall and the bottom and twisted. Heather assured this was the only real problem with the wallpaper; it had happened when a support under the house slipped and that corner of the flat — the middle of the house — started to sink a bit.

That’s just the first thing you notice about this flat we live in. Actually, the first thing you notice is that it’s halfway up a hill, so you have to climb up 49 steps (or come down 65 if you start at the top) past a graffiti-covered wooden fence. The graffiti looks more like a mural though than random tags, leading me to believe it was a project hosted by the city or the condo owners next door, much like the graffiti walls in Los Angeles. The house we live in — the front-bottom quarter is our apartment flat — is around 100-years-old and was converted into four flats some 60 years ago. Our landpeoples, Heather and Richard, bought the house 15-years ago and have rented it out ever since.

Once you get in the front door, (which, for you Tim Taylor-types, we think is the original front door of the house because it’s the only front door of the four flats that isn’t actually one side of a bay window), the thing you might notice before the wallpaper is a loud PING! A floorboard or something is lose under the house that bounces down and hits a tile if you step on it in the right spot. Heather assures us it’s perfectly safe. It’s kind of fun. Then the smell will hit you. It’s a kind of stuffed up, moldy, grandpa-type smell. It’s not us, we swear, it’s the stinky couch.

This is Colac Bay. Our coffee table borrows a color from here.

This is Colac Bay. Our coffee table borrows a color from here.

We inherited two pieces of furniture when we moved in. One is a bean bag chair that had a serious bean deficiency and the other is a couch with an odor so powerful that a laundering of the cushion covers, a healthy Febreeze regiment and a Scotch Guard bath have failed to exorcise it. We needed some new furniture and we needed it fast. So we made daily trips to the Salvation Army. Unlike it’s U.S. counterpart, the Salvation Army is not just a place where hobos and people who listen to punk buy their clothes. We’ve seen people in three-piece suits walk in like it’s Ikea and purchase a vase and stand to put it on. And it’s actually got a pretty good selection. Granted, there’s the odd sofa that would be right at home on the set of Mad Men (I said it was cool, Stacy said ‘no’) and the desk that’s adorned with Rainbow Bright stickers. Then again, sometimes these are the best bargain. We got a table for ten bucks that harbored spiders, had two wobbly legs, and was covered in a mixture of concrete and five old coats of paint. A few nails, a broken hammer, many hours of stripping and two layers of Colac Bay-colored paint later and we had ourselves a coffee table.

The delivery men from Salvation Army walked down those 65 steps often as we practically furnished our entire apartment with items purchased there. So many items, in fact, that we got a frequent buyer discount on a TV stand. (The guy at the front said pointed to the Yankee-fan Kiwi he works with and said, “He wants to give it to you for $15 but I’ll take $10.” Take that, Yankee fan!) Sometimes, you even get a twofer from the Salvation Army. Hidden between the cushions of our $65 two-and-a-half seat, feather-down, odorless sofa, we also got two used nail files and a pair of underwear. I did not check to see if they fit Stacy or me before throwing them out.

Right down the street from Salvation Army, there are also a pair of second-hand stores where we got microwave that fails to heat anything and a stuffed duck named Chester. I bought Chester one afternoon after a job interview. I had seen him at the store the day before and when I called Stacy after my interview, she was out doing some errands. So I ran by the store and bought Chester. I had to go up to the lady at the front counter and ask, “Excuse me, but how much is that duck over there?” We walked over to Chester and when I told her I’d like to buy it, she said, “So, that’ll be one duck then!”

Chester at the beach.

Chester at the beach.

One small step for duck, one giant leap for duckkind.

One small step for duck, one giant leap for duck kind.

Chester checking out Stacy's butt.

Chester checking out Stacy's bum.

I told Stacy I was going to get a haircut so she wouldn’t expect me to be home. I rushed back, set Chester in front of the door with a water bowl, sat on the sofa and waited. She was a little less excited at the prospect of getting a guard duck than I thought she would be. “Did you seriously — how much was it?” “How much do you think he was?” “Seventy dollars?” “Ummm…” “You paid seventy dollars for a stuffed duck?” “Well, we don’t need to buy any food for him and he’ll fend off thieves while we’re gone!”

The next day, when she went to the bathroom, I ran and put Chester in front of the door. He startled her because she apparently wasn’t anticipating a dead stuffed duck to be awaiting her when she came out. She yelled and I ran up to the bathroom. “Awww, how cute. He missed you and followed you.” One of my friends suggested I pee on the floor and then when Stacy finds it, yell at Chester and put him outside. Stacy no longer speaks to Chester. He allegedly creeps her out. I’m hoping eventually things will be a bit more like this:

If what you’re looking for is out of stock at the second-hand store or at the Sallies, there’s also good old fashioned sales. We’ve only been here for seven weeks and one store, Briscoes, has now had three sales in which everything in the store was 20-50% off. They even ran out of names for their sales. The first one was the Spring Sale, then the Labour Weekend Sale, which was last weekend. This weekend it’s the blasé Four-Day Sale. I’m not complaining, just hoping the store’s profits aren’t as bad as their creativity because we got some sweet towels from there. Over at the aptly named Big Save Furniture, we found a queen-size bed and boxspring that only put us back US$500. And it comes with a super-comfortable wool top layer that wicks off moisture in the summer and keeps us warm in the winter. Considering our bedroom is situated in the damp corner of the house that’s dug into a hill and it’s cold and windy almost every week, it’s well worth the discounted price.

Resting my feet while on the phone in the kitchen.

Resting my feet while on the phone in the kitchen.

Thankfully, our bed was delivered before we got our washing machine ($115, including delivery, on, the very useful eBay of New Zealand). Otherwise, getting the bed into our room would have been extremely difficult. The brilliant minds that converted this house into flats decided to put the washing machine in the middle of the thoroughfare from the living room, through the small kitchen and into the bedroom. It’s a serious fire hazard and fire hazards are something we have to worry about since our lights flicker when you plug a computer into the wall. I’m usually worried that doing more than one thing at a time, like reading with a light on while attempting to preserve milk in the fridge, may not bode well for this wooden house. The woodenness of it, however, does allow for me to fulfill a lifelong dream of mine. Since the window frames are old and wooden, there aren’t any places to attach screens and the windows aren’t slats, but open up completely. So I can open a window in the bedroom, climb out, knock on the door, climb back in, walk into the living room and say, “Is someone here?” Or I can knock on the door, leave Chester there, and wait till Stacy opens and finds him. Oh, the fun a pet duck provides.

The kitchen is also home to the all-important Coke bottle, the one upon which the entire structural security of the house relies. Heather informed us when we were looking at the apartment flat that there is a leak on the roof that trickles down through the two stories of the house, into a tube in our kitchen closet, which feeds into a Coke bottle that sits below the world’s smallest and least efficient water heater (Don’t even think about washing the dishes before taking a shower). I am unsure why the leak isn’t just patched up on the roof but as long as we empty out the Coke bottle, an ostensible peace exists between us and the rest of the people in the house.

By far the weirdest part of the whole flat is the bathroom. It’s about as wide as the length of my arm, but as long as half the apartment flat. You could fit about nine people in it front-to-back and no more than one-and-a-half side-to-side. You have to walk through the shower compartment to get to the rest of the bathroom. This region of the bathroom earned it’s name because there are two sets of doors in the bathroom: one between the kitchen and the shower compartment, and one between the shower compartment and the toilet. The shower compartment is home to a closet-sized shower (why couldn’t the leak just drain into there?) that I’m told is not a good place to shave your legs. I have not tried. The original shower head pointed below my shoulder blades, so we decided a removable one would be a good investment. Of course, it didn’t fit because the old shower head was made on Mars by someone who ignored New Zealand standard bit sizes. After a pair of conversion bits, some electrical tape, and more thread tape than you should ever need on a plumbing job, we got the thing to maintain water pressure. Now I can rinse the conditioner out of my hair.

The one window in the house that does have slats, though, is in the bathroom and it is impossible to close it enough to keep the hellish Wellington winds out. We eventually bought a thermal-backed curtain for the draughts. Even after that, the linoleum floor was still freezing on your feet, especially when you wake up in the morning and go from the wool-warmed-and-moisture-wicked bed to the toilet. The long, narrow and crooked shape of the bathroom isn’t carpet friendly, so we improvised. At Bed, Bath and Beyond, yoga mats were on sale. We bought two, did some creative snipping and viola! The bathroom floor is now lined with green, cushy yoga mats. Unfortunately, we couldn’t carpet the whole floor with it; the linoleum isn’t level and the bottom of the doors aren’t cut straight, so it catches in some places if you put anything on the floor. The only place this becomes an issue is in the shower compartment and we just throw down a flowery Briscoes towel on the floor in there. The most important thing is that my favorite sleeping spot after a night of heavy drinking — on the floor in front of the toilet — is now warm, comfortable, and can help me increase my balance and coordination.

Those are the quirkier parts of our apartment flat in a nutshell. I think that trying to explain everything about the apartment could make this post even longer and more boring than it already is, so, with the magic of YouTube and Stacy’s digital camera, here’s a lightning tour of our place:

Oh, sorry, that was the Tour De France. Here’s our place:

(Time Magazine, if you are reading this, that video was in no way intended to be an adequate representation of my journalistic skills or bed-making potential.)



  1. I gotta take a time out when I want to read your posts!

    Rowdy is the man! Well, actually a dog…. But then Chester is the man! He rocks! That’s so funny!

    I started working on that e-mail but I always have some work laying around… and when I get home I’m so tired that I couldn’t feed my pet duck if I had one. That’s another advantage of having a stuffed duck at home.

  2. i wanna meet chester.
    your tour made me lol irl.

  3. Chester is great! Is he a native KIWI?

  4. Stacy and Zach,

    Next time you ask for a care package, ask for Damp Rid, if you are still having moldy and mildewey conditions! Perhaps you can purchase it in NZ, but maybe not! Check BBB! There was no BBB when we visited a few years ago!

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