Friday, September 22, 2006

way to make things more complicated

Yesterday, crying a little, I wrote out my thirty days' notice. Then I put on my coat and threaded my way through the piles of art supplies and books I'm sorting to pack, and walked over to the management office, up Polk Street, past the Wags dog-washing place where I stopped as always to count how many dogs were waiting for their sudsing. Twelve on the floor, one orange one in the tub closest to the window, wet and watching longingly as the dry ones got tickled by a visitor.

The receptionist made me wait for another woman, S, to take my notice, and S held me for a little while to ask some questions. Apparently D, the manager of my building, disappeared more or less in the middle of the night; "got in his mobile home and drove to another company up north." I'd known something was going on, because I got a call from them the last time I was in LA. They needed to reprogram the front door intercom and they didn't have all the information they needed because D had taken it with him. Along with, it seems, some leases that were in the middle of being processed, and a bunch of other stuff. The office has been in a froth trying to fix things. S wanted to know if there was a special key to the laundry room (the closet next to my apartment, with its one washer/dryer stack and the hot water heater), and if there was anything else I thought she should know. Weird. But we talked a little, I kept it light, and got out as fast as I could; I had an interview to go conduct.

I just got a call from S a few minutes ago. She called the building's owner--the architect who designed it, who lives on the third floor--in Singapore and told him I'd given notice. And he is, she says, very sad to hear it, and wants to know if I would consider staying if the rent increase were lowered. 5% for month-to-month, 2.5% if I sign a new year lease. This is versus the 9% month-to-month in the notice I got in August, or 5% for a year lease. "This was D's idea," S told me. "The owner told me he didn't want to raise the rent that much, but D said go for it."

I can't imagine what either man was thinking when they agreed to that--a concrete-floored ground-floor one-room studio in the Tenderloin, with no closets and no possibility of pet ownership, for more than a thousand dollars a month? What planet are they living on? The unit above me, with carpet and closets, recently stood empty for eight blissfully quiet months.

Maybe that's what the owner is thinking about. Or maybe our friendly little conversations in the hall, the fact that I really do love my place, and my early-adopter status are part of his vision of the home he built for himself here.

I'm torn. I'm supposed to go look at a month-to-month in Oakland this weekend, in a venerable live-work community I've always admired. It would be a share, but it would mean twice the space at less than half the rent, the chance to take one of my mom's cats, and a financial flexibility I haven't had since I moved into the expensive place. I could think about buying a car, for example (and I'd want to; the location's, um, isolated). I'd be around other artists instead of the over-coiffed Gap employees or whatever they are who are my neighbors now. I could work a lot less.

But I love my place. And find the neighborhood soul-crushingly sad. And like being four blocks from the library and the BART station and the farmer's market in one direction, AX and Indian food and Dottie's True Blue Cafe in the other. The Arab guy at one corner store calls me "cousin" and hugs me when I go in for sparkling water, a can of chili, a Haagen-Dazs ice cream bar. The one at the other corner store knows me by name and used to run out to yell hello to me until I asked him to stop because it's weird enough at night for me to be walking through all the other people trying to get my attention to give them some money or booty or whatever before having to ask the people smoking crack in my doorway to please let me through.

And then there are the dogs waiting to be counted and washed.

There are very few places I've lived, as an adult, that have felt like home. Everything's been so temporary. Even my last bout of Oakland--five years in one house--was never meant to last that long. For a while I was moving once a year--I learned to get itchy once the initial lease had run out. When I moved in here that was all supposed to change. I was going to make a place for myself. Everything was going to come out of the boxes. I would paint if I wanted to, hang things, accumulate plants, have mail sent to my home and not a post office box.

It's really a very Jewish dream, now that I think about it. Put down roots. Not live as if you're going to have to leave in the middle of the night, the family silver sewn into the lining of your coat, prepared to sell the gold out of your ears to buy passage if that's what it takes (and how many women learn, when they get their ears pierced as children, that this is the reason it is done, as much as adornment?) And do I have to point out that Jews and ghettos go together like pickled and herring? I mean, they made the word up for places where we live.

As I said, torn. We'll see what happens in Oakland.