Photo by Justus Hayes
The Doctor and I weren’t hung-over, since we were still drunk from the night before. That morning we ventured out to the western fringe of Park Slope to view this mysterious townhouse that Anya had bought. Along with Harris, friend and fellow casualty of the previous evening, we staggered down 4th Avenue under the steely reproach of a grey sky. We three were met in front of the house by Anya and and her husband Kurt. Harris and I were meant to move into the basement, and were lured here with the promise of ridiculously cheap rent, as Harris and Anya were friends from university.
The house itself was much like the others on the block: overpriced real estate in the densest city in the USA. Not the trendiest part of Brooklyn, but give it a few years. A bit run down, okay, a lot run down, trash piled in the front beside the low stoop. Dirty windows. Red bricks. The front doors were bright yellow, though, unlike those of its neighbors.
Anya rifled through a handful of loose keys, found the one she needed and jabbed it into the lock. She cracked open the front doors and we filed in, like a tour group that had been seriously ripped off. The interior was dark green, I guess the previous owner was going for that sunken-submarine effect, Decay Under the Sea or something.
Anya was going a mile a minute about how everything was going to get repainted and refinished and refurbished and re-everythinged. Kurt was just being a silent German guy. Me, I was trying not to check out Anya’s ass in front of her husband.
As we trooped through the darkened hallway of the neglected house and descended into the damp basement, my eyes tried in vain to focus in the deep brownish-grey. I wanted a Maglite, not just for the illumination, but so I could bash anything that popped out at me. My brain told me to look for lotion in a basket.
Anya had talked the basement up in a big way, and the advertising did not even remotely match the product. This basement was meant to be a two-bedroom apartment, pending some pressure walls and a renovated kitchen. Yeah, right. In fact, walls and a kitchen would have been a great start, as none were in evidence.
The basement had no working lights. Forcing a window to allow some sunlight, Harris sighed, and in that sigh was a rare admission of defeat. Two people could not share this space unless it remained an open-plan studio. Harris and I could not live in an open-plan studio. A kitchen would be necessary as well, unless we planned to survive on take-out and cannibalism.
Still, the basement did have a bar. Yeah. An L-shaped wooden bar with weak-ass shelves running the length of it. No sink. No stove. Just a bar. As we prowled the basement, I fantasized about a speakeasy down there, with some kind of special secret knock to get in, a dartboard and personalized mugs for the (ir-)regulars. Okay, it’d be three knocks, then a pause, then three more knocks, then another pause, then a knock. Then I’d let you in. Operating hours from 2am until 6am. Word-of-mouth only, right of admission reserved. We could maybe even have a crooked pool table. Yeah. The lowest-ceilinged bar in Brooklyn. Nobody over six-two allowed.
I fantasized the speakeasy into existence as I climbed back up the stairs and continued to the second floor.
The door was locked. I pulled it free of the jamb with the tiniest effort. I told myself that I must possess some sort of super-strength, effortlessly yanking doors free of their jambs. That would be awesome. I could use my powers for crime. Sweet. Chase Bank was always screwing up my account, now I could get my own back. Plus interest. Hell, yeah. Heroism and villainy aside, that door was in sad shape. The deadbolt lock was basically tacked onto the door, fitting into a rotted slot (great name for a band) hastily drilled into the doorframe. The lock fell to the floor at my feet. Clunk.
Someone should fix that, I mused aloud.
The electricity was switched off, so everything was sort of half-lit, augmenting the haunted-house vibe that the place had going on. The anemic sunlight lit up the floating motes of dust that spun around our heads, as well as the mischief in The Doctor’s eyes; he lives for this shit.
Let me tell you about The Doctor. A shortish male, mid-30’s at the time, gingerish brown hair. His eyes will tell you he’s a grouchy old man or a hopped-up teenager, depending on the moment. He is a doctor of computer science, and is capable of building a functioning PC out of items found on the street. He has demonstrated this several times. As a younger man, he ran for office in Australia with the (wait for it) Marijuana Party. And what a party it must have been. People actually voted for him.
The Doctor knows that “Arabian Goggles” are when you hang your nuts into someone’s eyes. I bet you didn’t know that. I couldn’t tell you what lowering one’s balls into someone’s eyes has to do with the Middle East, but that’s not the point. The point is that The Doctor knows what Arabian Goggles are, and that’s how come you know now, too.
The Doctor and I went straight past the pocket-sized bathroom to the kitchen.
Yikes. Several of the ancient, yellowed tiles crumbled beneath our feet. It felt like stomping on a giant ancient skeleton’s face, a Paleolithic beat-down. The walls looked like if the Brady Bunch ran a prison camp in French Guyana. A sort of yellowing brownish stucco-covered fake brick, cut into irregular chunks in a misguided effort to look like… I’m still not sure what they were going for with this, but they definitely failed. The countertop was about as smooth as Edward James Olmos’ face, but it lacked his coolness. And it was green. Olmos is not green.
The cabinets were making a bid for freedom from the wall to which they were so unjustly bound. The shelf over the sink was demonstrating dreadful posture, sagging petulantly, sulking.
Dust bunnies roamed wild, obeying no master. The window gate was chained shut: to keep people out or in?
The cabinets beneath the counter had no interior shelves, so they were just big, dusty spaces for dead rodent storage.
I looked up and was pleasantly surprised for the first time in what felt like ages. Tin ceilings. Yes. Major selling point. In reasonable condition, too. Wow. So there’s that. The stove, though. It must have been a convention hall for those that crawled or skittered.
The refrigerator had some rust clinging to it, which was weird considering the vinyl coating of the doors shouldn’t really be oxidizing. We figured we’d have to deal with it ourselves, since landlords (and –ladies) are by nature slow when it comes to replacing appliances. In our current state, though, the future was a fuzzy abstract, a million miles away from this teeming hutch of dust bunnies.
I opened the fridge and a tiny part of my soul died. Some of that shit in there was once edible, but now it was simply vegetation. Ever see Aliens? Some nasty business in there. My eyes watered like I was sporting onion contact lenses. The fridge would require an exorcism in order to once more contain food in a sanitary fashion. There were, though, three Coronas tucked away behind a colony of mold. I pulled the beers out; I could almost hear the mold protesting, “Bring your own, you bastards!” Mold can be so rude. I slammed the door in the mold’s face, passing a beer to The Doctor.
I have a fold-out bottle opener key ring, passed down from my grandfather. An old-school promo, before all the weak plastic merchandising. This bad boy had a folding knife, nail file and screwdriver-tipped bottle opener; engraved on the side was “Old Granddad: Head of the Bourbon Family.” I couldn’t bring it onto planes anymore, but we weren’t on a plane.
Cheers, Doctor. Under the circumstances, ten in the morning was not too early to start drinking. Some might have argued that we hadn’t yet stopped drinking from the previous night, and they may have been right. The Doctor and I toasted, the clink of the bottles underscored by the sound of Harris chundering in the dankness of the basement. The third bottle went into my jacket pocket for later use. Better to be caught with than without.
They say, “Start as you mean to go on.”
We explored the second floor: lots of cool but neglected prewar details: crown moldings, pocket doors. Exposed brick along the western wall of the apartment, and a fireplace in one of the two bedrooms.
The smaller of the two bedrooms had a doorway leading to an adjacent office, big enough for a decent-sized desk, wheelie chair, and maybe some shelves.
Being residents of NYC, The Doctor and I immediately recognized this space as the third bedroom. It would need to be occupied by someone of smaller than average size, we reckoned. An Oompa Loompa, ideally.
Also, the Lilliputian room had no closet, so this hypothetical flatmate would have to keep his or her clothes either in one of the living room closets or in a dresser, which would leave about ten square feet of floor space, assuming a full-size bed. The doorway between this room and what would be my room would have to be transformed into a wall, which would mean that the occupant of this room would have to venture across the landing and enter the front door of the flat in order to use the living room, bathroom or kitchen.
Okay, mildly inconvenient. If the rent was cheap enough, though, we knew that someone would take it. The Doctor and I came up with a figure of $450, which anybody in NYC would have to be completely insane to pass up, even with the sore lack of floor space. Having said that, you’d have to be nuts to want to live in what is basically a walk-in closet. Conveniently, nuts was just the quality we’d look for in a flatmate anyway.
With a rent of nineteen hundred dollars per month, this, as a three-bedroom, would be a stellar deal for the neighborhood. Sad when nineteen hundred bucks is considered cheap, huh? Okay, fair point, but how’s the pizza in Duluth? Yeah, I thought so.
Harris, horrified by the basement, decided to stick with his current apartment in scenic Brownsville. I could understand: the local hooker on his block would be devastated not to see him hurry past every morning on the way to work. She has feelings too. Also, if he moved from his current neighborhood, who would regale us with tales of cars stolen from in front of the police station?
That Harris, a Gulf War Part One vet, was turning this place down should have shot up some kind of warning flare, but hindsight is always 20/20. Hey, the Doctor and I were sold, figuring we’d solve the third-flatmate problem easily enough. And that’s how we decided to make Flat Two our home.
In the back bedroom we finished our beers and looked out over what some may once have called a yard. I remember thinking “quarry”, “dump”, “where the bodies are hidden”, and so forth. You’d get tetanus just looking at it.
Yeah, the place had charm. The place had character. Okay, so the place maybe had a few issues, but it also had a soul.
How hard could it be to turn this place into a home?
Jordan Matthew Yerman is a writer, photographer and actor. He has been around the world two and a half times. His still-unpublished novel, ‘Porn-Fu’, is making the rounds, and he is hard at work on a follow-up, at least when he isn’t taking photos of neon signs and toy robots.