I already loved the clawfoot bathtub, the red brick Queen Anne house across the street, the brilliant view of downtown when you parked out front, and the separate bathroom taps for hot and cold that made every handwash either scalding or freezing. I loved the fire escape, where you could sit in the middle of the night, in almost any weather, staring at the old trees in the courtyard, hugged by the brick of the building, watching rustling branches of ash trees and slivers of sky. Out there, I smoked with friends, planted impatiens, and told secrets.
Former and current tenants told me stories of 3004 Grand’s wild past. Back in the day, people paid their rent only sometimes, like when the heat and water were on. Prostitutes delivered the goods. Squatters squatted. For a while, the cops ran a sting operation out of a first-floor apartment, selling crack to white assholes from the suburbs. By the time I got there, the hookers and crack had rambled on.
I was living with smaller challenges: the frustrations of Tokyo-sized living quarters, and the landlords’ moderate neglect. I had only enough floor space to do carefully choreographed sun salutations. My furniture was a Chinese puzzle. I had to move one piece to the hall to make room for moving something else. To throw a party, I had to physically rearrange the entire place, moving my mattress to the hallway, tucking up my Murphy bed, and stashing everything else in the closets and under tables.
I scrubbed the wooden floors and sweated. Once a year, I repainted the fire escape with a gallon of white. I never wanted to bother the landlord. My rent was $350 forever, and I was constantly afraid they would raise it, or evict us all.
My friends were constantly telling me that I didn’t need to live in such a dump. I told them I loved it.
One night the cops came, guns blazing, and had to talk someone out of the building, late at night. It sounded like they thought he had hostages. I huddled on my sofa, imagining being shot by a stray bullet. One night, a drunk resident fell through the glass of our front door. I noticed when I came home very late: wait a minute, the glass is never that clean.
The end came slowly. When tenants moved out, they were not replaced. My next door neighbor moved out. I watched his bathroom decay like a Japanese art project through the window on our fire escape. The bathtub grew dust and then fuzz.
Finally, they did evict us all. In the last month, it was just me and one other woman in the whole building. She was twice my age, and the matriarch of the place. She brought me little treats from the bakery where she worked, and left them in front of my door.
Even though the place was so tiny, it took sixty-some boxes, seven friends, and three days to get me completely moved out. On the last trip down the stairs, I imagined passing the ghost of myself going up, over and over again, wearing ball gowns, interview suits, pajamas. Then I drove down the hill to the landlord’s and dropped off the keys.