Places I Have Lived
In mid-October I packed up my entire adult life and shlepped it south on I-95. This is what that cost me.
I moved into my first apartment, one block off campus, the summer after my sophomore year in college. The unit was on the upper-floor of a craftsman-style duplex, with two real bedrooms and three pseudo-bedrooms that were actually converted sun porches, which were lovely and light-filled in the summer, but terrifyingly cold during the winter.
We lived in a brownstone off of Eight Mile in a decidedly not dangerous and predominantly gay area. To the west of us, houses began to fall in on themselves and the night became progressively darker. The streetlights were out.
Fantasies and gratitude for reality aren’t mutually exclusive! Or maybe fantasies distract from gratitude. I don’t know! It’s not greedy! Or is it?
While I was gone, I met a lot of people who live in cities and countries all over the world: Brisbane, Malaysia, Edinburgh, Montreal, Uruguay, Austin, “somewhere in Michigan you’ve never heard of, I bet.” I also met a few nomads—both singles and people with spouses and children who have given up permanent addresses to travel the world and stay in places for just months at a time.
“Why?” is the most obvious question.
+ Portable charger to keep my phone alive during viewings, $35.
+ Bottles of water grabbed between viewings, $3.
+ Emergency granola bar to keep from fainting one day in the August heat, $1.50.
Besides me, David Sedaris is the only American I know of who spent a big part of his early 20s rooming with an elderly stranger. He describes this time, during which he took up residence in a Chapel Hill boarding house out of some vague, misplaced nostalgia for an erstwhile age, in his 2007 essay “This Old House.” But the four months I spent with C.C. were a little different.
Restaurant work is smelly business. Not, however, as smelly as the most iconic of coastal Maine occupations, “lobsturin.”
I was living in New England and my landlord had an apartment above me. He would text me and say things like, “There’s a tin of muffins on the bannister.” Pretty halcyon, right? But it made sense for my small New England town where properties were rented on a handshake and a one-page month-to-month sublease. I’d never accept muffins from this landlord for fear of poison.
Middle class is as much a matter of perception as statistics—the number of Americans describing themselves as middle class has remained essentially unchanged in recent years even as their incomes and spending power have eroded. When the same term is used to describe an American household bringing in up to $100,000 per year (according to a recent poll; $250,000 if you’re Mitt Romney) and Laotians living on $2 per day (according to the Asian Development Bank), it may not be a very useful term.
It’s relative, in other words, dependent on context. It means you’re less well-off than the well-off and not as poor as the poor.
Sometimes it means that you’re a white girl in 1990s Oakland whose radical parents could live elsewhere but don’t. In that situation, you identify in key ways with your non-white classmates, neighbors, and fellow members of the local swim team — especially when it comes to trying to finally depose the fancy-pants country club team that shows up with their matching swim suits and their hubcap-size muffins and wins everything. In that case, you want what your team wants: to wrench victory from the soft hands of the enemy, even if only this once. But you also occasionally, guiltily yearn for the pop culture version of white adolescence, where everything is safe and clean, cute and funny:
If you had asked me in the summer of 2011 where I thought I’d be in a year, I would have said living a queer artist’s life in San Francisco, “writing” my dissertation. Instead, I spent the summer of 2012 moving my parents out of their retirement property in South Florida — think Boca but not nearly as bougie — and bringing them back to New York, where my brother and I had grown up.