This post is part of the series #WhereILivedWednesday started by my dear friend Ann Imig of Ann’s Rants, so head on over there and read all the memories of former domiciles.
“First & First”, we called it. In 1990, the cross-street of First Street and First Avenue was not only not the hipster land it is today, it was downright scary and dangerous. And depressing. Really depressing. Did I mention that it was depressing? The block was depressing, the people were depressing, and the building I lived in was so depressing that a dog who lived on the top floor apparently couldn’t take it any longer and committed suicide by jumping off the roof. When we heard of his demise, my roommate Mary and I shook our heads and whispered, “We get it, Butch.”
There was only one reason to live in a building that had been put up as temporary housing in the 1930′s and never upgraded to “permanent”–the price. The one-room studio on the 5th floor was $600 a month, so we each paid $300. Which, of course, is dirt cheap, but after living there about a week, we started feeling like the landlord should be paying us.
No photographs remain from First & First, so allow me to try to paint the image in your mind and pay your therapy bills afterward.
The walls and floor of the 225 square-foot room were raw, splintery, unfinished, unpainted plywood and there was a three-inch gap between them, which was quite handy for looking down into the interior–or shall we say, “bowels”–of the building and seeing veritable armies of mice doing gymnastics practice. There was a little door in the corner, which you would assume was the bathroom, until you opened it and realized that the “room” was only big enough for a toilet and the door would only shut if you sat all the way back on the seat and tucked up your legs. Along one wall of the studio was a mini-refrigerator, a sink and a shower stall. And in some strange twist of fate–and plumbing–the sink and the stall pipes were connected, so on one occasion when I was showering while Mary was washing dishes, I looked down to see spaghetti back up out of the drain and wrap itself around my foot.
“We get it, Butch.”
There was a creepy little bodega immediately outside our front door which I would occasionally step in to for a pack of gum, always checking for razor blades in the packaging. On one visit, I was feeling cocky and decided to look for a carton of milk in the refrigerator unit, only to discover that it was unplugged and empty. When I mentioned this to the man behind the cash register, he gave me a blank and faintly sinister stare, and I quickly dropped the matter. Two days later, the front of the bodega was cordoned off with orange police tape because there had been a shoot-out and there were a number of bodies inside. Mary patted my shoulder and told me I could purchase my gum and milk at the brothel down the street.
“We get it, Butch.”
I will say, however, that poor Butch may have survived First & First if he had had Mary as a roommate. Despite the body count and mouse count, I recall First & First first and foremost for its laughter and love. It goes to show that the most depressing of locations–did I mention that it was depressing?–can be overcome by the spirit of a truly wonderful friend, the kind of friend that makes staring down into the bowels of a tenement building at cartwheeling rodents a fond memory.
But the spaghetti foot bath? Not so much.