Places I’ve Lived: A Black Tub, Missed Sunsets, And The Original Airbnb

Where have you lived, Anna Wiener?

2009-2013, Eckford Street, Greenpoint, Brooklyn, $1000/mo.

This apartment! It felt like a stage set. I loved it desperately and didn’t deserve it at all; how my friend Maya found it is still a mystery to me. It was on the top floor of a small, three-story building; everything, including the stairwell, slanted at about fifteen degrees. When Maya and I moved in, we were told that the place used to be an illegal nightclub, with an underground tunnel to the laundromat next door. The landlords had broken down the wall between two studio apartments; we slept in walk-in closets and had two bathrooms, two living rooms, and no privacy. The ceiling was popcorn plaster and the fixtures in one bathroom were black. As far as I know, nobody ever snorted cocaine off the rim of the tub, but everyone mentioned the possibility.

The Eckford Street apartment was beautiful, and constantly surprised us with new ways an apartment can be broken. Birds lived in the ceiling and when we asked the landlords to clear them out and seal up the entry hole, one got trapped inside, leading to an infestation of maggot flies. We had water bugs and roaches, a brief spate of bed bugs, and mice; I once had a stand-off with a pigeon in the stairwell. For a little while we filled one toilet up with water from the bathtub, transported from faucet to faucet in a lemonade pitcher. One hot summer, my bedroom ceiling collapsed. My boyfriend at the time, Michael, lived down the street, which was convenient in its own ways — for walks back and forth, for meals, for sleepovers, for fights — and he went up on the roof to explore. What he discovered was that the cause of collapse was an uncovered chimney, gaping open to accept the rain.

It didn’t matter. Maya and I threw dinner parties with too much pasta and not enough forks. We chattered about our jobs and cried about the future and both tried furiously to write. We were paranoid about bedbugs and if we went to a vintage clothing store or particularly dodgy bar, we would take our clothes off in the hallway and stuff them in plastic bags, which then went in the freezer for an indeterminate spell. We fought with and consoled one another, smoked out the window and drank too much on weeknights, and were, generally speaking, deliciously, miserably, blithely 22.

After two years, Maya moved in with her boyfriend, and my friend Kelsey took her place. Kelsey had a cat, Ahab, to whom I was allergic. I was fond of Ahab and slightly mean to him, and when Kelsey was out of the apartment I’d sometimes stand in the doorway to her bedroom-closet, apologizing to the cat for not petting him. We built a swinging saloon door to keep him in Kelsey’s space, which he quickly learned to leap in order to luxuriate on my sweaters.

After Kelsey came Lee, a handsome chef who would do masculine things like oil his boots and roast chickens in milk and walk around the apartment with a towel wrapped around his waist, smelling like oak. He had no furniture, just books and a surfboard. We had a small Christmas tree that year, and when it grew brittle, Lee threw it out the window.

The landlords never raised the rent, even when our one-year lease expired, and they paid for every utility, including our electricity — we ran the air conditioning through hot summer nights and felt both lucky and terrible.

When I moved to San Francisco after three and a half years of living in Greenpoint, I did so with equal parts remorse and relief; it was the end of an era that had already ended some time ago.

 

April 2013, Rausch Street, San Francisco, California, $85/night.

I moved to San Francisco for a job, which was a great idea that I executed poorly. After two furious weeks of day-drinking with patient friends while haphazardly packing up the Eckford apartment, I arrived in April with two duffel bags — a pair of clogs, one sweater, and no towels — feeling moderately unhinged and completely unprepared. When I got to SFO I was too anxious to leave the airport (what would I do once I left it?), so I ate a sandwich at the terminal Starbucks and checked my email, did busywork for two hours before gathering the courage.

Eventually I made it to my Airbnb, where the room I rented — a selection made solely for its proximity to my office — was in an airy apartment located in a spotty neighborhood called SoMa. The apartment was not, in fact, close to my office at all; something I had misjudged because San Francisco is the enemy of cartography. The room was comfortably familiar in the manner of an IKEA showroom, and had doors that locked only sometimes. I later discovered that it was owned by a founder of Airbnb — was maybe even the original Airbnb? — because, well, of course it was.

 

April-June 2013, Beaver Street, San Francisco, California, $1240/mo.

I spent most of my time in this extremely beautiful and weirdly adult sublet crying my eyes out and trying to learn JavaScript. For the most part, these two things were unrelated; after a few months, they both stopped. My roommates also worked in tech, and we all kept different hours. The apartment was on top of a hill, facing Castro Street, and I would go down the hill in the morning for coffee and see men with defined abdominals wandering around in tiny silver nut-hammocks, and I’d walk back up the hill feeling flabby and inadequate. The room I sublet was bare, and I compulsively filled it with chairs I bought off Craigslist. One evening I invited my friend Daniel over to watch the sunset, and we sat up on the roof eating olives and crackers; there was no sunset, and then it was dark. “I thought you knew,” Daniel said. “The sun sets in the other direction.”

 

June 2013-present, Cole Street, San Francisco, California, More than I want to admit/mo.

It’s possible that I found the last studio in San Francisco. It seems irrational to live alone in a city with rents like these, but I tell myself that this is an unsustainable luxury, an idyll — an extremely selfish gift I’ve given myself for the next year or two.

The apartment is one room, under 300 square feet in total. I can vacuum the entire place without plugging/unplugging, and I’ll never cook fish in here again. I’m very close to Haight Street and its collection of sky-high catcallers, all of whom want to sell you crystals and incense and kush, and the other night a skinny man in a Joker mask was seen slipping through my building’s basement gate — but who cares? In the shared backyard are a palm tree and a redwood, and inside are my books and all those chairs and a few valiant succulents. It’s rent-controlled and sunny and it’s home, yes, and despite the above I fantasize about living here for at least the next 25 years.

 

Anna Wiener is a New Yorker who is surprised she still lives in San Francisco.

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