I heard on NPR someone is doing a survey to assess rental increases across the country. They’ve got a formula for the data that takes into account any actual improvements the landlords made to justify the jump. Those don’t count against their karma.

What I want to know is: what happened to all the dumps? There ought to be dumps. If we’re not going to insist on a living wage or universal basic income in this country, we need a lot more dumps.

My ability to make it as a post-larval adult relied on the existence of dumps. The available rental space around our university was an excellent source of these treasures. I no longer remember if I ever signed a lease on an apartment, but in any case students sifted in and out of the local dump supply like beans in a GI tract. Nobody spruced up between tenancies. Any new paint was rolled on by a tenant and was probably purple or black. The ceilings still bore the accumulated hash oil of previous residents. When I moved into my second apartment things were looking pretty spiffy. My roommates had moved in earlier and already chiseled stalagmites off the floors in what they still called the Dog Shit Room and the Cat Shit Room.

Most of us renters would send a squeak to the landlord if the pipes broke or a raccoon moved into the kitchen, but cockroaches, rats, and exploding light sockets were below the threshold of intervention. Odds were good there was some kind of activity going on in the apartment that one wasn’t eager for the landlord to see, and so the owner lived a life of leisure popping a Schlitz down at the Legion Hall while tiny checks rolled in monthly from names he’d never heard of.

Our apartment was pretty cool-looking from the outside but was held up mostly by interior layers of psychedelic paint and adhesive ceiling stars. I know that when all four of us bought waterbeds and began filling them up, especially the two upstairs using a hose through the window, we didn’t have much confidence in the structural integrity of the place and we went out for grinders while they were filling, just in case.

There were protocols. Wait until the toilet tank filled up and jiggle the handle if it didn’t shut off. Midnight snack, flip on the light switch and close your eyes until the skittering stops. If you can’t find a jar, stand your cigarettes up like soldiers on the end table. Let your friends know about that rotten third step.

That house was as close to campus as you could get, so naturally the school acquired it and hired a couple guys with stout gloves to push it over, and erected something or other. Parking lot, I think.

It was squalor, and we matched it like squid in coral. But any fool could summon the coin to share a house with their buddies and their various bedmates and stay out of the weather. Haul in a beanbag chair and an Indian print bedspread and you were good to go. The crappiest job would net you shelter and beer money and you could take an extended road trip just for the adventure of it until your car broke down and your cash ran out, and you’d be able to find another dump wherever you landed. It might not be much, but it meant Freedom.

Where’s that freedom now? The landlord has put in stainless and granite and a farm sink and a subway-tile backsplash and built-in USB ports and you’re going to pay for it. Can you get by with stuck drawers and drafty windows? Good luck. If you do find a dump you’ll still be paying more because that rising rental tide lifts the leaky dinghy along with the yacht. If you want freedom now, you’d better have the scratch for it.