Sunday, April 26, 2009

Pink House

From the Places I Have Lived series. Every place I have lived is in New York or New Jersey and as far as I know they are all still standing, so there is a chance I can go to all of them.

304 West 104th St (age 21-22)

One-year lease, right out of college. This was the first place I had where my name was on the lease, not just me taking a room in somebody else's apartment, or living in a dorm. I shared it with a girl, and I'm married to her now, so that worked out.

We had the apartment in the back half of the top floor. It had a living room with kitchen fittings in one corner, a small bedroom, and an old but very spacious bathroom with a skylight. I think it was a now-laughable $175 a month, but that was a lot for one person with a low paying job and another with the negative income of a grad student.

We got what we paid for: minimal maintenance, and minimal heat. Sometimes we took the valves off the radiators and watched weary little puffs of steam stagger out having made their long journey from the basement. Other times the radiators got hot.

I think we had an extra mattress serving as a couch in the living room, and a $99 black and white TV to watch. Cool. I can't remember whether we had a table to eat at. We might have sat on the floor.

The chest of drawers in the bathroom was there when we came and stayed when we left. That had to be the largest bathroom I ever had. You could have a chest of drawers in there and hardly notice.

We adopted the other piece of furniture we found in the apartment and took it with us when we left. We still have it, and we still call it the Striped Thing. It was painted orange and white, with diagonal stripes on the sides. What is the correct term for a thing like this? Can it be a closet if it is not built into the wall? It has a few shelves inside forming almost cubical spaces to put stuff. The door is panelled and has a nice brass clasp to hold it shut.

Not long after we took our next apartment I painted the Striped Thing solid green, and so it is today. I'm not sure this color is better. It certainly does not go with anything else in our current bedroom. It is faintly ridiculous that we still own found furniture from our early days but it is not the only one we have.

It was just as well we didn't have much stuff since everything had to be carried up, and later down, the stairs. The brownstone's ancient main stairway sagged away from the side wall. None of the floors were level either. I was used to that though, from previous apartments I'd stayed in. In one of them someone had a few marbles and it was fun to carefully place one on the floor and see where it went by itself.

Google tells me a Financial Analyst for Bear Stearns lived in this building in 2008 and donated $2,750 to Obama. It's nice to see he could spare more than I could. I have suggested the level of income we had back then, and the young woman in the front apartment on our floor was earning probably a similar figure by importing knitted garments from South America. The building must have been fixed up sometime in the past few decades if it now houses Wall St types. This was a good neighborhood in 1973, but 304 was the worst building in it.

The most memorable feature of the building was outside. The stone was painted pink. I don't know any reason to paint a brownstone at all, but if you do, would it be pink? I don't mean hot pink. A dull color pink. No one knew why. The pink paint was peeling of course.

I had a weird experience. I took a look at the building about three weeks before I came back with the camera, and I could swear it was still pink and still peeling. That's what I reported when I got home. I said it was in exactly the same state of shittiness that it was in when we lived there, and marvelled that a building could get neither better nor worse but be maintained to just that precise level of decay, as if it was an historical site restored and maintained as it was at a certain date. But it isn't really painted pink any more, as you can see. Did I have some kind of hallucination? Wow. It's not as if I wanted to see it pink.

How we lived our lives then was just crazy. Monday to Thursday, I worked a 3 to 11 pm shift, while she must have gone off to school early in the morning. Were we really apart from something like 7:15 in the morning to 11:15 at night, with no meals together? I think we were. And I think my fifth workday was Sunday from 2 to 10, or something like that. So we had one full day a week together, on Saturday. It's amazing what people can put up with when they don't know any better. I finally got onto a more decent 10 to 6 Monday to Friday shift around the time we moved out of here.

I told her that I am writing this and have deliberately not asked what she remembers. Some laughs will be coming. I'm sure I remember some of this wrong, and I'm sure I have forgotten things.

I'd like to include a photograph from the time we lived here, but we do not have one.

Next time: Drop.

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