you can exactly judge this book by its cover. a house tilting with rot, between sixth and seventh avenue on east third street. i rented it because it had a deck and the landlord let me split the space with a cat. the deck had a great view of more rowhouses; the litterbox was like an entertainment center in a corner of my living room.
["look! he's crapping again," the photographer would stop everything and watch toonses twist himself into a half moon and drop his lunch. my own living, breathing plahdoh french fry squirter. "always at the same time. he's really regular."]
my brother had lived in duluth before i knew duluth existed. and when i told him where i planned to move, he was horrified:
"that's in central hillside!" he said.
"nuh uh!" i said. [it was. what did i know?]
"yeah! it is! a guy was murdered a block from that address a few years ago. wait. a guy was murdered ON THAT BLOCK a few years ago," he said.
"whatever," i said. "it's duluth. it's not, like, chicago."
when it comes to real estate, i can be wooed big by small charms. in this apartment it was a few paines of stained glass in the living room and kitchen. my first night in my new home i drank crowne royal and barfed grapes onto my box spring.
the apartment was narrow. using the bathroom required climbing over my bed. you had to squat by the sink to shut the door. i didn't realize my deck railing was being painted until the moment i was drip-drying after a shower in my bedroom and met the gaze of three young maintainance men. i can only imagine they developed an immediate craving for eggs, sunny-side up.
i didn't have a doorbell and the woman across the hall always locked our shared entrance. friends had to stand in the middle of third street and yell their arrival. one night i watched a man beat the shit out of a woman in the apartment across the street. this is where i learned to crouch in a dark corner, thumbing 9-1-1 into my phone ... a hobby that has lasted longer than my time in that apartment.
sometimes, if you don't pay attention, you will wake to find you have been living in a pretty shitty apartment for more than two years. you don't notice the stained glass windows that charmed you, or the litter box or the domestic disputes anymore. "oh yeah," you think. "i can actually move if i want to."
my second apartment was my most pedestrian apartment. it had carpeting. half of an old carriage house located in the posh district east of 21st avenue. my current landlord and i split the duplex with a quiet professor from st. scholastica who had turned the back yard into a flower garden. this place was clean, three levels, on site washing machine and off street parking. i had a walk-in closet and kitchen big enough for me to whip a small glass carafe of melted butter at my landlord's head while he was making lobster -- and miss. my cell phone at my landlord's head when he was doing god-knows-what -- and miss.
we had a very sibling-esque relationship. toddler siblings, i might add, each trying to out bad-behavior the other.
so we got to be the riff-raff. a ping pong table jammed into the back of my landlord's convertible. this house became a sort of clubhouse: natty light, ping pong tournaments and crave cases from white castle and screaming matches.
once i typed up a six-page chore list with a biweekly rotation, complete with a spot for his signature. he laughed and put it in a pile of stuff.
there comes a point when you wake up and all of your furniture is in a pile in the kitchen, and you know it is time to find a new apartment. an apartment with character, but without the certain bulldogish character you moved in with.
by this time i'd lived in duluth long enough to know that in order to have duluth street cred, you need a west address on your residential resume. i absolutely loved this apartment more than any place i had ever lived, and probably more blindly. 1516 west first street, located behind the duluth gospel tabernacle church, was the bane of a pizza deliveryman's day. no one could ever find it.
the summer duluth was attacked by asian beetles, farmloads were camping on my pillow, in my light fixtures, strolling along my countertop. this apartment was huge: two bedrooms, wood floors, big windows and a view of water.
i had a special room for dancing; i could skateboard from the kitchen to the living room. my leaky shower was corroding my wall and my ceiling was crumbling. in the winter, it was about 55 degrees inside; the summer was 125.
the man who owned the place was a snakey bearded shit-of-a-man, whom i was convinced had strung a toilet cam into my bathroom. he drove a crappy old car with a lawn mower hanging out of the trunk. sometimes i gave him gatorade when he was mowing or shoveling. in return, he kept my entire $675 deposit when i moved out because he said it smelled like a cat.
at some point you wake up and realize that your friend is buying a duplex and wants you to rent the upstairs apartment and so back to central hillside you go.
i've decided to not post a photo of my current apartment, since it is very accessible for your drive-by eggings when i say something controversial about a halloween costume or refer to you as a shit-of-a-man with a toilet cam.
this place has been defined by my downstairs neighbors: ruby and jamaica and the time he went all world series with a baseball bat and her jaw, the unpaid rent and how they had a very progressive relationship with their dogs -- allowing them to crap on the carpeting. then came the funny little argentinian fellow, who fell for a demure woman from proctor.
now: sneaks and biggie and whoever can still walk six blocks by the end of the night at the pio. i like to think of it as a sort of flop house.