07 August 2006

The Last Day is just the Beginning (part 1)

(Not a direct sequel, but a continuation of the 2004 travel saga begun here: Trip Prep; The Screws of The Man: Part 1, Part 2, Part 3)

14 months.

14 months living in a store front in San Francisco only to confirm my first impression: a cool place to visit, but not somewhere I wanted to live. Normally, I would've trusted my gut, but a couple of SF buds hooked me up with a live/work situation through a friend of theirs. I had recently had an apartment fall through in LA the day after I'd been given the keys, so a place to live where I could bypass the usual applications and lease agreements was tremendously appealing at that time. When my car got totaled the day before I was supposed to move to SF, and one of the other drivers commented, "Maybe someone's trying to tell you something," with an upward glance, I just shrugged and said, "Maybe," to be polite. Ill omen or not, I was moving to San Francisco because it was the convenient thing to do at the time.

Studio 2A month later, my 14 months at the studio began. It was a store front really, with a big front window street level, French doors with long vertical glass windows, an uneven linoleum floor, high ceilings, a couple of back rooms with no doors, a tiny half-bath, and a long, narrow side room with a series of rectangular openings to the main room that would be my bedroom.

Elroy was renting it at the time to use as his art studio, a playpen really for an energetic guy making good money at an art gallery. To get more use of it, he agreed to let me live there in exchange for work on his various extracurricular projects. The first thing I did for Elroy was shoot and direct his video entry submission for The Apprentice. Believe me when I say I'm sorry he didn't make it on; we had a good bonus schedule worked out for each level he attained.

Studio 1The studio is easily the strangest place I've ever lived though I was not the first to call it home, I was the third. The first guy to live there converted one back room into a kitchen and set up the other with storage shelves and a bathtub and shower rig that drained into the kitchen sink. My bedroom was 6'2" wide and 16'6" long, but most of the length of it was under the slope of stairs that led to the upper floors from outside. The whole time I was there, I slept on Elroy's queen sized air mattress which basically covered the span from wall to wall.

Even though other people had lived there before, the studio wasn't meant to be residential. Elroy told me that if the landlord ever happened by and asked about my bedroom that I should just say the room was for breaks if we were working late. He assured me that Gary knew people had lived there, they just had an unspoken agreement to never mention it to keep everyone out of trouble.

Gary worked across town somewhere so he wasn't really an issue, but his ancient mother lived above me. The rent checks I coaxed out of Elroy each month were made out to her. Being entirely unofficial, I was always anxious those months when wrinkled Mrs. G would knock on my door because Elroy had been too busy to drop off a check on time or during that especially unpleasant period when he withheld the rent in order to renegotiate his lease to a lower rate. (I'm still amazed that worked- I most certainly would get kicked out if I tried such a stunt.) Mrs. G would raise her eyebrows, put out her hand, and speak expectantly in her thick Chinese accent. That she wanted the rent was always clear. I would apologize, tell her I was trying to reach Elroy, emphasize "Soon" or "Today," and abundantly nod my understanding until she would leave.

It wasn't until the day I left that I realized just how little English she spoke...


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  1. What a unique place to live....and now it's time to say goodbye, huh?


    PS I've linked you up!

  2. What a gorgeous place--my inner wannabe Bohemian Rent fan is drooling with envy. My closer-to-the-surface, grown-up pragmatist doesn't envy the rent (little R) situation.

  3. How cool? But did it feel safe living in what was basically a store front?

  4. Claire: I was more than ready to go when I left there.

    Cheryl: It was definitely flawed, but it had its good points too. I lived near some of the most gorgeous parts of the city.

    Neil: It helped that I lived in a pretty safe neighborhood, but first thing I did upon moving in was add an extra bolt lock to my front and back doors. Mail coming through the slot made me jump for a long time, and people occasionally trying the door always unnerved me.

    It was harder getting used to the space not really being my own. Elroy would show up sporadically to paint (he'd usually call first). AP, however, was doing work-in-trade for office space and was there most every weekday but could never give me a firm time as to when or if she'd show up.