Tom asked me to write a column for Trop, which is a tremendous honor. I was thrilled and attempting to brainstorm ideas until I realized I was also suffering from a bad case of writer’s block. I’ve never really experienced writer’s block because I have an obsessive mind with obsessive thoughts and an impressive ninety words-per-minute typing speed (from a childhood spent on Instant Messenger). But now I have it, and it’s real, and it’s bad.
I was preparing to give up on this column, which is a thing I’ve started doing recently (giving up). I’m medicated for an anxiety disorder and taking Zoloft, which chills me out to a pretty severe degree. Life no longer feels like a merry-go-round that I’m desperately clinging to in the midst of a rainstorm. It feels more like the soft sand just outside the merry-go-round where I’ve been tossed thanks to the forces of centripetal acceleration.
Anyway, a few weeks ago, my sister visited Los Angeles, and a few glasses of wine into the evening, she asked me to share the “turquoise carpet” story with her friends. I proceeded to do so, and they all laughed (mostly my sister), at which point my sister said:
“THAT SHOULD BE YOUR COLUMN. THINGS LIKE TURQUOISE CARPET.”
This was as close as I could come to a creative epiphany in my current blocked state. And so, without further ado, here is turquoise carpet. It is the opening subject for this column, and will hopefully set the tone for subsequent installments.
It was the summer of 2012—the summer in which my anxiety disorder was peaking and would lead to a nervous breakdown (and Zoloft prescription). At the time, my noise sensitivity problem was also peaking because the two often go hand in hand (anxiety and noise sensitivity).
I had just moved to a new Silver Lake apartment and was ready to settle down. Yet, in the process of searching for this apartment and carefully avoiding all of the conditions that can be conducive to noise (hardwood floors, single-pane windows, street-facing, tenants on the above floor), I had somehow failed to acknowledge that the apartment was directly situated next to the building’s pool pump—a device that emitted a faint screeching sound, day and night, every day of the week, every day of the year.
While a normal person would have filtered out the sound or never even noticed it, I became fixated on it. I knew this fixation would never go away and that I would sooner go insane than get used to it. I explained the situation to the landlords, who gave me a one-month window during which I could leave without paying a lease breakage fee. I promptly took to Craigslist and searched for a new apartment, refreshing the listings every chance I got.
In the process, I experienced what many people have experienced in the Craigslist apartment search: the one annoying listing that floods the search because the owner came up with some magical scrambling of words to trick the system and violate the posting-limit rule. What was even more frustrating was that this apartment was nearly perfect, so I was constantly tricked into clicking on it. Perfect, except for one thing: the turquoise carpet.
Like bright, bright turquoise carpet throughout, including the bathroom.
Given that I was feeling particularly sensitive and insane, I wasn’t prepared to move into an apartment that would fill my peripheral vision at all times with a hue of turquoise.
One night I was out with friends and drinking heavily. I came home around 2 am and automatically pulled up Craigslist, searching for an apartment. I landed, yet again, on the turquoise carpet apartment and decided at this time to email the listing and express my grievances. I was too scared to do this under my real name, though, so I created a fake one. I was too drunk, however, to create a name and email that actually matched each other.
From: Sarah James <firstname.lastname@example.org>
Date: Thu, Sep 13, 2012 at 2:13 AM
Subject: Echo Park apartment
I’ve noticed your postings on Craigslist because you’ve been advertising this particular apartment for several weeks now.
I just wanted to let you know that the reason no one has rented your place yet is because the carpet is turquoise and this is extremely disturbing and disgusting and uncivilized and most humans would rather live in really compromised circumstances before agreeing to live in a place with bright turquoise carpet.
Honestly, what I suggest is that you replace this carpet immediately. If you do that, then you’ll have a really coveted 1 bedroom to offer in the desirable neighborhood of Silver Lake / Echo Park.
Until then, honestly, no one will want to live in this apartment.
Again, I highly recommend that you change the carpet.
I recommend that you do this as soon as possible.
Also it is foolish and pretentious that you post this apartment as frequently as you do on Craigslist. I don’t understand the motivation. Are you hoping a colorblind applicant will come across the posting?
I suggest that you stop flooding Craigslist with your posts and just change the carpet.
Please let me know if you have any questions.
The following morning I sent this exchange to some friends, including my sister, who at the time did not find this to be very funny. She told me the email was cruel, and how could I do that, and what if the recipient was emotionally unstable? Of course my anxiety-ridden mind entertained the possibility that I would now drive this apartment owner to his/her suicide, and thus was compelled to write the following:
From: Sarah James <email@example.com>
Date: Thu, Sep 13, 2012 at 10:28 AM
Subject: Re: Echo Park apartment
Dear apartment owner,
I wanted to apologize for the tone of my email last night. I was intoxicated when I came home to write it.
I do really think that you need to change the carpet, if it’s not too expensive, and then this place will rent quickly.
Just wanted to share that piece of advice but didn’t mean to express it as bluntly and meanly as I did.
The owner never replied.
As you can see from this story, I was really suffering during this time in my life. I had just moved into an apartment that I needed to move out of due to the indiscernible sound of a pool pump. I questioned how I had gotten into the situation—how I hadn’t noticed the sound when I first saw the apartment, and whether there was something self-sabotaging in my psychology that would prevent me from ever living comfortably in any apartment.
A week later I would find what I believed was the perfect apartment and move in. A few months later, I would experience a full-blown nervous breakdown.
Shirin Najafi is a writer living in Los Angeles. She graduated from Columbia University with a degree in economics and worked in investment banking before deciding to quit and become a writer. She performs the voice of a cat in some videos (www.magicalstew.com) and is currently working on her first novel.