November 14, 2010

Say Goodbye to Marlowe’s Sink


When hunting for a new apartment, it’s usually some small, unanticipated, unadvertised detail that closes the deal for me more so than the spacious closets or the hardwood floors. In Minneapolis it was the fact that the apartment had an alleyway entrance and a panoramic view of a brick wall. In Philly, though I took the apartment sight unseen, I was delighted to discover that it, too, had a view of a blank wall. Even if I had seen the apartment beforehand, I would’ve taken it for just that reason. And when I moved to Brooklyn it was the bathroom sink that got me.

           I sometimes get funny looks from people when I tell them I snapped up my apartment solely on account of the bathroom sink, but it made perfect sense to me. It was a nice enough apartment otherwise too—good location, plenty of sunlight, the price was right—but it wasn’t until I stepped into the bathroom that I was completely sold.

           The bathroom itself was apparently an afterthought during a renovation some decades earlier. It sat a step higher than the rest of the apartment, and jutted off the living room at a weird angle. When I first stepped through the door to take a look around, it was as if that strange angle had shifted me into another dimension and time. All the fixtures—the toilet, the sink, the old clawfoot tub—were from the 1940s. When I stepped through that door, I thought, I stepped into Philip Marlowe’s bathroom. The chipped porcelain sink hung off the wall with exposed pipes beneath, the hot and cold spigots perched on opposite sides of the basin. That was where Marlowe shaved in the morning, or washed the blood off his hands. I was smitten.

           A moment later I stepped out of the bathroom back into 1990, and told the landlady I would take it.

           Over the years the landlady repeatedly offered to replace all those old, beat-up fixtures. Other people suggested I make things more “convenient” by picking up one of those Y-shaped doo-hickies to connect the two faucets. In both cases, I adamantly refused. Nobody was taking Marlowe’s sink away from me. That tub either, even though it was beginning to rust. The technology in the apartment might have changed out of necessity, and the world outside the windows might have changed due to rampant assholery, but in my bathroom it would always remain 1947.

           Well, time goes on and things go bad, and it’s no longer an issue of the sink being taken away from me, but me being taken away from the sink. And the tub, and the kitchen, and the whole damn place. The hints had been building for a few weeks until it finally became evident that I was being nudged out.

It’s a situation so many others have found themselves in recently. The long-time owner of the building (a dear and wonderful person) couldn’t afford the upkeep and the hassles anymore, so put the place on the market. For years Morgan and I had dreamed of buying the building one day, but the timing was bad and that simply wasn’t going to work out. Before I knew it some perky bubble-headed real estate agent was tromping rich dullards through my apartment. A few were interested in the building, I was told, but none of them were interested in having a creepy old blind guy lurking about upstairs like Peter Lorre. They wanted the place all to their dullard selves.

I could’ve fought it, I suppose. Taken it to court. But I couldn’t afford such foolishness, and there was no guarantee it would do me any good.

So after twenty years, I’m suddenly in the position of having to find a new place to live.

           Morgan of course immediately offered to let me move in with her, but I’m a stubborn, foolish old goat.

           Looking for a new apartment is going to be a lot trickier than it was last time around. Last time around I could still see some. And last time around I had some money in the bank. Both are gone now, but undaunted I set out, with no money and no sight to find a new abode.

           A fellow I know recently compared looking for an apartment in New York to being a contestant on a Japanese game show. I think he has something there. In fact I’d be willing to expand the analogy, to say life itself (at least these past several months) is kind of like being a contestant on a Japanese game show. But as I told him, I just wish there were occasional commercial breaks, or that the goddamn show would ever, y’know, end.

In general, I tend to be a fairly calm person. There’s little in this world, I figure, that’s worth getting all twisty and antsy about. But there’s something about the prospect of moving that pushes me to near-suicidal levels of stress and anxiety. That helps explain why I’ve stayed in one place for twenty years—I simply didn’t want to face the prospect of moving again. I know people who move three or four times a year—just pick up and go to another place, no sweat. I envy those people. In my case, I tend to curl up in a little ball and rock back and forth until forced to do otherwise. I was like that even before the whole “blindness” thing kicked in. Now it’s all been amplified considerably.

           Where I’m living now, I know where everything is. I can walk through the apartment without fear of injury or collapse. I know how to get to local stores, and where various products can be found within those stores. But it took years to reach that point.

           Given that there’s no way I can afford to continue living in this neighborhood if I’m asked to pay what passes for normal rent (my rent has always stayed far below market value), it means re-learning all these things elsewhere.

           On the bright side, a new environment might well be a good thing. The people around here are just plain awful. Man, they dredge up all my hatred just by walking down the street. Getting away from them might wake up the ol’ brain a little bit. But between now and then, there’s still the issue of finding a place, boxing up all this crap, and figuring out some way to get it from here to . . . wherever. There’s also the matter of saying goodbye to Marlowe’s sink.

           It only makes sense, in a curious way, that the day after I found out I had to go, it was announced that the fucking developers down at Coney were shuttering Ruby’s for good.

           In the midst of all this I can’t blame my landlady for putting the building up for sale. She’s been nothing but kind through the years, and she’s just doing what she has to do. I can’t even hold any grudges against the people who are buying the place and tossing me out. Not at all. I wish them all the luck in the world with that karma of theirs.


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