Tuesday, November 24, 2015

Apartment of Regret, 1988

There was one outlet. I had to unplug the fishtank to work the coffeepot.

The carpeting smelled like a layer cake of beer.

The apartment across from mine was gorgeous, with pocket doors, a stained glass window, and the memory of my best friend. She was the reason I moved into the building in the first place. She moved out the summer I signed my lease, having lived there a year, and was fed up with the landlord.

My place was furnished with a 1950s chrome dinette set. The bedroom had a bed with a white vinyl headboard that had brass pins pushed into it, giving it a pillowed effect. It was hard.

My other furniture was wicker and it creaked. I never sat in it.

The gas oven would occasionally send out a firebomb of flames from under the broiler as you lit it. My cat was almost singed. I considered complaining, but wasn't supposed to have a cat.

A collection of poetry, discarded in the doorway among some dried leaves, became part of my permanent book collection. From it I memorized, "Music When Sweet Voices Die," by Shelley, ripe with sentimentality, and "This Be The Verse," by Philip Larkin, which I can still recite if prompted.

My landlord: a tub of a man who clipped his toenails at the desk of his main floor real estate office, who didn't like me entertaining any man in the apartment, and who I discovered once, during a thunderstorm, out on the roof by my bedroom window.

The rent was too much.

The adjoining building, also owned by the same man, had a series of rooms like a prairie dog den that were rented by the week. There was a shared kitchen and bathroom. The hall that led to the shared kitchen had an old upright piano in it, with a few missing keys.

Letters from my sister, living in Pittsburgh at the time, arrived in a mailbox at the bottom of the stairwell. I looked forward to the little sketches in her letters, and her neat handwriting.

During the year I lived there, I shopped for groceries at the Acme within walking distance, and only bought items that were a dollar or less: ramen, margarine, frozen vegetables, mac and cheese, yoghurt. I was 19 and thought I'd live forever.

My neighbors had a snake for a pet. A big one. One morning on my way out to class, he said, "Hey, the snake got loose. Keep an eye out for it." I worried about my cat all day.

One of the single room renters was a young man named Mike, who had no family nearby, and he often didn't have food. Once a week or so he'd come over to my apartment and I'd make mac and cheese with hot dogs in it, or get fancy and make my sister's ramen noodle stir-fry. We'd sit on the floor of my living room and eat and talk.

One bare lightbulb lit the stairwell. 40 watt. Squint.

Mike was simple. No pretense. He wasn't without intelligence, definitely street smart, but wasn't much of a reader. He was tall, dark haired, soft eyed, and kind. He had no family to visit on Thanksgiving or Christmas, which meant he was alone in the prairie dog den on holidays.

On Sundays I watched The Gary Shandling Show on my little black  and white 12" television.

I forget what Mike and I talked about as we ate mac and cheese, but I felt good about myself for inviting him over, the poor guy with no family.

The phone was in the kitchen. I made weekly calls to my grandmothers. One week I was recording music from the college radio station on cassette, and forgot to shut it off so I recorded my half of the conversation with my grandmother, Romayne. The music ends, and then you hear me dialing, and saying hello, and all the kitchen clinks and clanks as I did the dishes, and my responses to her.

I remember feeling guilty for not inviting Mike home with me for Christmas or Thanksgiving. I thought it was safer that way. You know, he might fall in love with me. I was doing us a favor, saving us both a very awkward future situation. I gave him my mac and cheese and thought it was enough.

I hung my college level artwork. My colorful scarves. The poster of New York. My future.

I played it safe and breezy.

Grime on every surface I tried to clean off.

Odor of loneliness.

1 comment:

Indigo Bunting said...

This is lovely, so evocative.

They fuck you up...