ANOTHER LETTER ABOUT APARTMENTS
september 24, 2015
I’m glad to know that I wasn’t the only one who forgot about Labour Day.
When I sat down to write this I promised myself that I wasn’t going to write about apartments. Unfortunately, apartments have still been such a big thing over this last month, that I don’t have much else to talk about. So I’m going to talk about apartments again. Sorry.
But before I get to that I wanted to tell you that your last letter made me really miss Toronto. What I miss most is wandering around. I’m so new here. When I go out I need a map. It wasn’t like that back home. I could just walk. I miss just walking.
I am very pleased to say that my search for an apartment has finally—after weeks-and-weeks of searching—come to an end! I’ve found a proper place to live and now I’m starting to get settled. Well, technically I’m in a pre-settling phase. I’m getting ready to start getting settled.
I mentioned in my last letter how I got a studio in Queens for September. The good thing about that studio was that it came “fully furnished” and was cheap (New York cheap, not actually cheap), and it was roof over my head for the month, which I figured was enough time to get myself sorted out. The bad thing about that studio was that it’s a total pile of shit that I needed to escape as soon as possible.
I saw pictures of it before I agreed to rent it for the month. But pictures lie. The apartment was jammed full with stuff—really, honestly just packed—but nothing of any real use to anyone: no towels, no sheets, no sponges, no soap, no cutlery, nothing to drink out of or cook with—it was just a bunch of dusty junk, a blackened shower curtain, little wads of human hair against the baseboards, spatters of godknowswhat on the walls and ceiling, and more furniture—all side-of-the-road broken down shit that Goodwill would’ve thrown out—than a 125 sq./foot studio could handle. That first night I kept my shoes on, and slept on the naked mattress of my “fully furnished” apartment with my hoodie as a blanket.
It got better though. I made it better. I only had to live there for a month, but I can't live somewhere filthy.
Bleach and some good abrasive sponges are as good as a priest when it comes to removing sin, and this apartment had more than enough of all seven. I makeshifted a bucket out of a garbage can, rolled up my pants and shirt-sleeves, and scrubbed everything. Everything. It took a couple of days to get the floor and walls clean, and a couple more for the bathroom. The microwave was beyond saving.
Between rounds of cleaning I went out looked at a few more apartments. Didn’t find anything for a while, but just as I was about to give up entirely—this would be mid-September—I found The One.
There she was, a second floor corner unit on a little street up in the North end of Harlem. She was beautiful. We’re talking great floors and freshly painted walls, massive windows, and a cute little kitchen. As soon as I saw her I knew my search was over. She was the one for me.
Sadly, there is no love without tragedy, and ours was a union not destined to be. I couldn't afford her. I’d been budgeting for months, but when faced with actually having to sign a 12-month lease, and pay the broker fee, and buy furniture, and the whole cold reality of what living in Manhattan would cost, I realized that we just couldn’t be.
She’ll always be the one that got away.
But there was someone else. She’s an old house—can’t be sure how old exactly, but I’d say early 1900s, maybe older. Three stories plus an attic. A backyard and a terrace. A house with heavy wooden doors, a scratched up hardwoods, and an uneven foundation. A house in the Bronx near the Harlem River. A house that wouldn’t survive an earthquake, but that has a big kitchen. The kind of old fashioned house that you hope has ghosts.
I went to the house to meet with the other tenants and see if I might be a good fit, and the whole time I was giving them my best “I’m not a murderer, let me live here” sales pitch a part of me wanted nothing more than to go and explore the house. I wanted to be nine again with an unfinished paperback Snicket or Pullman in my pocket and a few hours to waste. I wanted to get lost looking for secret passages behind bookcases, and checking the wardrobes, and see if there were any locked doors in the attic. I suspect I’ll only find textbooks and mice if I look now, but I still want to explore.
I move in October 1st.
There are three other people living there already: Patricia, Lucy, and Jerome. They’re all artsy types and they’re all older than me, which I like.
After we met and they had decided I wasn't a murder and that I could live with them, we got together and had a little dinner party. There is no better way to get to know people than by eating together and getting drunk. So that's what we did.
It was a Thursday night a couple of weeks ago and Patricia cooked up some lentil chilli and cornbread, real home-cooking type food, stick to your ribs and all that. I showed up looking all spiffy, a bottle of wine in each hand—trying to impress.
The four of us spent the evening in the kitchen. We took turns poking at the chilli on the stove, and adding dashes of whatever we thought it needed. The air in the house was hot and thick with the smell of charred peppers and cilantro, and Jerome’s American Spirits. Amy Winehouse was on the stereo and Jerome kept saying, “She singing up in heaven, and getting the holy baby drunk off her tit”. And from outside we could hear the sounds of Latin music coming out of open apartment windows and so many distant radios, and the eternal low rumble of the Manhattan bound 1-Train. We became friends as we ate and talked, and toured our way through a variety of beautiful Spanish vineyards.
I slouched back towards my little hole in Queens very late that night, thinking about how having housemates might not be so bad.
P.S. I thought you should know that I'm writing from a diner. A real diner with ceramic mugs and vinyl topped bar stools, and two eggs, toast, sausage, home fries, and unlimited coffee for under $5. It’s become a favourite spot of mine here in Queens, and one of the few places I'll miss after I move. I’m up early and it’s usually pretty quiet here before 8am, just a few cabbies and construction workers. I like listening to them, even if all the Spanish is lost on me.
There are two waitresses. One looks like J. Lo (c. 2002), and the other is a real old school Spanish mamá, big hands, big voice, all kindly and tough looking like the aunt or grandmother you know not to piss off. She is the diner’s matriarch and works at the cash register. I go to the diner a lot to write and to edit some of the student stories from school. If I’m editing I bring all the hardcopy drafts with me and sit at the lunch counter for a long time just reading and making notes. My third or fourth time there I noticed the diner ladies were watching me. Turns out they thought I was a teacher. Can you believe that? I told them I wasn’t a teacher—I’d probably be a terrible—and told them what I was working on. Now whenever I’m there, they ask me about what I’m working on. Since I’m writing you I told them that. I told them I was writing a friend who lived far away. They all say hello.
I thought you’d like to know that you’ve got a couple lovely ladies down here, who make good eggs and coffee and who sort of know you, should you ever come down to visit.