I lived on Park Place for ten weeks in a spacious apartment. We had no furniture other than two folding chairs and a card table that we bought at Target. My brother slept in the first bedroom, next to the front door and the bathroom. Tiles fell off the bathroom ceiling into the tub, which didn’t drain until week nine when the plumber extracted a plug of hair from the drain. The brown and black hair was compressed and stretched into a vaguely phallic shape, like a voodoo charm or a teratoma trapped under a young girl’s left lung, filled with baby teeth and a little beating heart. The plumber left it under the sink. I almost tripped over it.
The kitchen was no better. Two of the gas burners worked properly, enough for French toast or a pot of chicken curry, but certainly not for anything more elaborate. On the Fourth of July, I cooked pork chops, spinach, and sweet potatoes, a meal that just about strained the capacity of the stove to catastrophic failure. Early, perhaps the third week into our lease, we detached the kitchen smoke alarm. I prefer cast iron, and to cook properly in cast iron, one needs to heat the oiled metal till it splutters and blows thin smoke. The sink filled with flies, our milk went sour every Monday after Sunday shopping as though cursed, and I could barely manage to maintain a baseline threshold of cleanliness. No matter how much effort I put into scrubbing the Tupperware we used instead of china, grime seemed to accumulate in the corners with disturbing regularity. A minor tragedy. But in summation, the many minor tragedies of 600 Park Place made normal life a near impossibility. No air conditioning, broken windows, missing light fixtures, crumbling plaster, water damage, and the occasional rodent renter. Like with human cohabitants, the mouse demands a degree of privacy. When encountered in the middle of the night, on the way to the fridge for a sip of spoilt milk or a piss, the mouse darts for his lair behind the plastic garbage can. The intruder, equally startled and embarrassed, sidesteps towards his final destination with a nod of recognition, eyes turned down to avoid obligatory conversation.
The Franklin Avenue Shuttle runs above ground past Park Place. Every morning, I crossed the street, bounded up two flights of narrow stairs and snagged the train on its brief bobble between Prospect Park and Franklin. At night, however, the train still operated with the same regularity, departing in seven-minute intervals, or thereabouts depending on the style of the conductor on duty. Trains really do chug, I learned this summer: they clatter and rattle rhythmically like a predictable jazz drum kit warming up for a solo. Have you ever lived under the train tracks? Eventually, you fall asleep in a hypnotic daze, pounded into bewilderment by the continual crush of steel wheels on steel tracks. It is not a restful sleep, the slumber of those living under train tracks. But like Alvy, Woody Allen’s delicious nebechal who lives under a rollercoaster in Annie Hall, the trauma of mechanical motion becomes a part of ordinary life. I think I will miss the sound of the subway. An empty space will open in my sleeping mind, and something nasty will want to creep in, a hairy ball of waking neuroses. Right now, the train protects me from unconsciously turning daylight horrors about my palms; soon, I will need to face the plumber or the broker banging at the door and demanding to show the apartment to two clients who ‘came all the way from Texas.’ Continue reading