November 11, 2018
Fort Stevens State Park, outside Astoria, Oregon
I have been trying to write two essays for weeks now, one about the difficulties of living in a tiny camper with two large dogs and the other about the housing crisis. I haven’t gotten very far with either one – in large part because I’m in the throes of the housing crisis and thus I’m living in a tiny camper with two large dogs and ARGH. It is unbelievably time consuming and also, I mean, I hate to whine but JESUS H. CHRIST IT IS DIFFICULT AS FUCK.
On an average day I get up around 7 and then I go get into the truck. The dogs are already
there, because you see, they don’t actually live in the camper with me: they don’t fit and they hate it. Therefore the back of the cab of the truck, where a backseat should go, has been converted into plush – a layer of memory foam and FOUR dog beds on top of that and a blanket on top of THAT – if somewhat cramped, dog quarters. Then I drive the truck to the beach and we all tumble out and go for a walk. That means I have to have my pockets full of bags to pick up poop and my camera around my neck and so on and so on. Then it’s back into the truck – Django, who has terminal cancer which has hardly slowed him down at all, cannot get into the truck unaided. I have a big heavy ramp and a set of big heavy stairs. Usually I use the stairs. I have to get them out of the back of the truck and set them up while keeping Django, who as I mentioned has not slowed down despite the giant tumor on his ass, from charging up them before they are in position. As I do this I have to keep an eye on Perdita who probably has already jumped into the truck but if she spots or smells an elk or a deer – or a cow or bison or any large herbivorous mammal, actually, a horse, an elephant – will be off like a shot.
Then it’s back to the camper, where I tie the dogs up. This is frowned on at campgrounds. It’s flat illegal at private campgrounds and that’s why we live in the park, even though that means we have to move at least every two weeks. So I have to be careful where the dogs are tied up and if they bark I must drop whatever I am doing and charge outside to stop it. Some campsites are better than others. Django is also very damn good – unbelievably good, really – at tangling himself and Perdita into huge improbable knots. Then I feed the cat who is trying desperately to get out of the camper and who could blame her and then I feed the dogs and then I make coffee and my own breakfast and because tiny camper, this is also way more complex than it should be.
OK! The dogs are good for a max of two hours tied up so then we go for another walk. Sometimes then we get back into the truck and run errands or go somewhere else for a walk. Repeat, with a walk about every two hours, which means a big long walk at least twice a day and multiple times in and out of the truck. If it’s raining, then what? Well, that’s why I bought dog Camelot – a huge and expensive pop up tent – but after just a few short weeks of using it I have given up. It weighs 100 pounds (quite literally) and putting it up or taking it down takes about one to two hours of heavy back breaking labor for. . . what? Nothing much, because while it’s mostly waterproof it’s still not great in pouring rain and it’s too damn cold now for me to spend much time outside and, well, I seized a moment when it was completely dry to put it in its case and now it’s in my storage unit waiting for me to start selling photos at craft fairs. So when it is raining the dogs hang out in the truck, which is cramped, and I feed them in the camper one at a time. Did I mention that they hate the camper? Then we have a walk just after dark and they go into the truck for three or four hours and then another walk at 9ish and then they are in the truck until about 7:30 the next morning. Yes, it’s a fulltime fucking job and I’m over it. I can’t in good conscience leave them in the truck that often – it is not spacious back there and they are not young – and I can’t leave them tied up if I’m not right here watching them, so my options are limited.
Am I bitching about being forced to walk with dogs on the beach every day? Yes. Yes, I am. We are walking about four to five miles a day, 10,000 steps according to my phone. It is good for me no doubt and you would think I would be losing weight but instead it just seems like my fat is getting fit. My fat is getting fit, my money is dwindling alarmingly fast – it’s not free or even particularly cheap to live in state parks – and I just want somewhere to live I can leave the damn dogs alone for a few hours. Then I could get a job. Maybe.
Why don’t I have this? Well. There is a thing called a housing crisis in America. I had heard about it and I knew about it in the abstract and I was sympathetic but I had been wafting above it borne on the wings of privilege. I owned my own house for the last ten years. It had been a decade since I looked for a rental and while that wasn’t a fun process back in the day, it was doable. I blithely assumed that this was still the case.
Haha! It is not! There is nothing for rent, in Astoria or Asheville (I am not looking in Asheville but I know it is the case) or, I suspect, anywhere. Almost literally nothing – like, the pages of rentals you could scan in 2008 has become a page. Maybe half a page. And if you have two large dogs (have I mentioned the two large dogs?) and a cat there is really, but really, nothing to rent: that page of rentals has dwindled to four listings, two of which are for apartments that don’t allow animals over 20 pounds and one of which is an RV in a park that doesn’t have sewer hookups. And, because the internet, which has brought so many wonderful things to our lives such as Twitter and Facebook and jesus wept, has made it easy, even if you can find a place to rent, you must pass a comprehensive background check before you can have it. You have to pay for the background check, by the way – even the KOA across the street demands one if you would like to rent a monthly RV space and they charge $75. Per person. I can, these days, pass a background check, but not everyone I love can say the same. Yes, if you have ever gotten in trouble, you will pay for it forever in today’s America. There is no forgiveness and no second chance and were you wondering why there are so many homeless people? Now if you have found a place to live – and I hope you can afford $1500 a month, which is what everything costs and is alarmingly close to the most I have ever MADE in a month – then you have to come up with the usual deposits and extra deposits and extra fees and, well, that is why there are tent cities in the underpasses. All two of the rentals you might stand a chance of getting demand a years unbreakable lease, by the way, and again thanks to the internet, you will not be able to just walk away from that. But you could get an airbnb if you have $150 a night! There’s airbnbs galore!
So I am living in a very very tiny camper in a state park. The camper leaks. Do you know the feeling of sleeping carefully on one side of your bed while pretending super hard that the saturated other side of your bed is not seeping over to you? I do. And even when it doesn’t leak (I have been patching and it hasn’t been raining, thank you universe) the condensation is intense: despite the tiny dehumidifier running 24/7 and pumping 16 ounces of water out of the air every day, the windows and walls are still running with moisture every morning. Nothing. Ever. Dries. And that’s a problem when you’re at the beach with dogs and your shoes and your hoodie are wet and they are wet and the towels you use to dry them off are wet and the towels you use to soak up the water that runs into your bed are wet and the sheets are wet and, well, you get the picture.
No rentals. I thought I would be able to buy a house. Unfortunately, while I was marveling over the way my Asheville house had gone abruptly up in value, the same thing was happening in Astoria. There is not a lot for sale here. There is even less for sale in my price range. I have seen everything within 20,000 dollars of my price range and it is. . bleak.
There was a house with wallpaper peeling down from the walls and ceilings in huge swathes and a lot of stickers extolling the benefits of weed. That house had no driveway or yard – you got into it by following a strange little path through someone elses’s yard – and it was perched high up on the edge of cliff that the porch was preparing to leap into. There was a house that came with a black cat named Heathen, where squatters had set a fire on the kitchen floor, burning through the piss soaked wall to wall in the living room and exposing the foundation cracked in half, a common theme. There was a beautiful house with a huge crack in the basement floor and no access except steep stone steps. There was a painfully respectable house on a busy busy street with stairs so steep they might as well have been a ladder. There was a floating house on a river ten miles away. There was a cute little house that was actually part of a compound, a family meth compound, good morning uncle cousin buddy, pass the pipe!
You get the idea.
And then there was a red house on a dead end street, high above the river. It needed a new roof and a new furnace and every inch of every wall was covered with cedar paneling and I thought, this house needs work but I can do this, if I can get it cheap enough, I can put in a furnace and a new roof. I met the neighbor and liked him. I fell in love with the yard and the porch and so I negotiated and put money down and set a closing for early December . .
and then I had it inspected and
it needs a whole lot more than a new roof and a furnace because it too has a crack across the basement floor, as well as pages and pages of other problems that a coat of paint and a floor sander won’t fix.
So now I’m still living in the state park with no end in sight. I am about out of ideas. I am about out of money – I will have money soon, but that money HAS to go towards another house – and I don’t know what to do. I brought a lot of this on myself, I know – please do not email or text me to remind me of this in a helpful manner and please do not suggest I go back to Asheville, where I would be in exactly the same boat except without the consolation of the beach – so I am sorry to whine about it but.
It is NOT entirely my fault that I am in this leaky boat camper. While I was not paying attention, the world changed and not for the better.
There used to be rentals in this country, you know. There used to be houses. There used to be jobs. You didn’t used to need a side gig on top of a full time job to barely pay your rent. You didn’t used to need to turn your car into a taxi and your house into a hotel and still be barely making it. I cannot believe we are not rioting in the streets, because for fuck’s sake the rich are too rich and the poor are too poor. Everyone is being sold a bill of goods when we’re told that this is all our own fault, that we need to pull ourselves up by our own bootstraps. It is not all our own fault. Choices have been made to bring us to this state. Greed brought us here. And we’re being lied to when the right wing points fingers at immigrants or gays or whoever the bete noire of the day might be. They are not the enemy. We are not the enemy. The enemy is within. The enemy is the rich and the corporations and capitalism itself, which has outlived its usefulness. The world has to change and it needs to do it fast.
Meanwhile, I’m living in the fucking park and it pretty much sucks. But the scenery is spectacular.