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The first home, unremembered, was a trailer park. She knows because she sees the pictures. The trailer itself is small and has been towed from Massachusetts to begin a new life in California. Sun shines, and the baby sits in the bassinette contentedly eating soap. The woman wears an apron, and her shoulder length black hair moves as if she had just turned her head for the camera. Two men stand nearby. Their front pleated trousers hang loose as they relax, leaning against a picnic table. The war is over. Everything is possible, they bask in the sun of California.
A trimmed grass lawn shields a luscious back garden and a carefully rock garden meanders along the driveway. Thinking back, she barely remembers her two boy cousins. They arrived when she was still a baby and she sees pictures of them all together eating ice cream in matching cowboy outfits. Or they sit on the front steps, in order of height,her older cousin's hand protectively around her shoulder.
Suddenly, at five, there are no more pictures of the boys, as if they had dropped off the earth. The pictures show an incongruous gravitas on a 6 year old face.
One time she lived in a closet under a stairway. It wasn't a muggle kind of thing. It was a no rent kind of thing. It just fit a mattress and small crate. No electricity, but she would sometimes burn a candle. It was a bad time and the beginning of a very thorough disintegration. At this point in her life she can look back on it and be thankful. Rather than layering her new life, which is what most people must do, she built it back piece by piece on a razed foundation. She knows now she was lucky.
She would be the last tenant in the house. It was to be torn down the very next month, the victim of "urban renewal". She lived with fantasies of destruction and in her late teens the destruction of an entire house was a rich fantasy. It probably had been a nice home once, the rooms were large and open. It was no less open now, with doors missing completely or just hanging on one hinge. The last night as they sat around the fire she had the glorious desire to heave something heavy through the front window and she did.
The houseboat was on the Prinzengract, in the Netherlands. It was an old barge and probably could have been set to work in the canals but had served as housing for the past decade. In the winter the canals froze and looking out the kitchen window she would see the feet of skaters as they commuted to work or to home. She never saw faces, just the black pants and the shiny metal of the skates She would look out the window and think of Spring, when sedate swans would replace the skating feet and glide past in elegant repose.
Then, there was the Hamburger Home for Wayward Jewish Girls-well, it was really just called the Hamburger Home, but she liked to fantasize the extended title. Dark and massive paintings of the Hamburger family hung on the hall walls. It was clean and organized. Residence was the condition of hospital release. It was a protected space, an interim space while she found work. During the initial interview she remembers a thin, well kept man telling her she was more "sophisticated" than most of their clientele. It was only years later that she realized he was calling her a slut.
Irapetra is on the southern coast of Crete. Caretaker for a small pension that catered to students traveling and looking for summer work, she lived on the roof in a small cement block cubical big enough for a bed and a narrow table. Even on hot nights the thick cement block stayed cool and dark. She began her two year wanderings with those belongings she felt she could not leave behind. As the months wore on, they were jettisoned one by one. Now all she owned was contained in one backpack, which fit very nicely in her small quiet space.
It was the Height Ashbury, SF. 1966. She lived on the streets and often slept in abandoned buildings. The ones to worry about were those that had been on fire. Sometimes the floor would collapse unexpectedly and her foot would crash through a board. Nighttime entry into these buildings was dangerous and no one carried a flashlight ,too easy to loose, too heavy, needs batteries. For a woman alone it was dangerous, even in those days of peace and love, predators were also drawn to the Height. She had to be sure to change buildings and find safe protected nooks.
The apartment in Venice CA was a basement apartment. Not having any rugs, she decided to paint the concrete floor orange. There were no windows, so she felt the orange floor would remind her of the bright world outside. At that time Venice was not trendy and still harbored the aging denizens of the beat movement. They frequented the few coffee shops and bookstores on the oceanfront. Olivia's Place, on the corner of Ocean Park and 3rd. served huge breakfasts of eggs, hominy, ham and pancakes. Her friend Fran, at about 90 pounds was the champion consumer of Olivia's bounty.
She met her beautiful Robert in California and Montreal seemed like a way out. They told his parents they had married in California and when they arrived in Montreal there were festivities and congratulations. She spoke some French and as Quebecois they refused to speak English. By the second day she knew she was in trouble. He was given a bread delivery truck and they set up house in a cold apartment along the St. Lawrence. The last she saw of the apartment was sitting on her suitcases in the cold with a sequestered $50.00 tucked into her pocket.
For a while she lived in Longmeadow, Massachusetts. Her aunt and uncle had offered her refuge while she recovered from some poor decisions in Montreal. They were good people, a marriage of traditional Italian and Irish, very Catholic. She found herself drifting in an alien world.
Days, she worked in a lithography plant. The collating machine was an old "Macy", where paper was organized by a series of suction cups. Too much suction and pages doubled, too little and it skipped the page. She was always adjusting air flow as she walked the isles between piles of paper.
She filled the paper shopping bags with her possessions and loaded them into her boyfriend's car. She remembers stacking them into the trunk. When completed she had room to spare. Her mother had left her father the month before and it was just her and her dad in this big empty house. Creepy, so she was going too. She had enough money to rent a one room apartment in a house in Venice, Ca. She remembers it was L shaped and vaguely remembered a film "the L shaped room" and she associated her room with the room in the film.
It was an old Victorian on 11th Ave. in San Francisco. They rented the top floor, four of them. At least they had four rooms capable of being occupied. She and Persephone each had a room and they rented the others to a series of friends and strangers. Always someone coming or going, excitement and plans, successes and failures. She remembers artists, war correspondents, lost tv anchormen, writers, anthropologists and actors, all sitting around the table, smoking and discussing the state of the world and themselves. It was a world of possibilities, and they believed that limits were self imposed.
She doesn't remember much about the house in Mountain View. She does remember it had underfloor heating and she found it classy and marvelous. She, with the three others owned a film distribution company and it was when they were living in that house that it burned to the ground. The fire department had come out initially, left and the fire restarted. All records, films, contact lists, etc. were either water logged or otherwise destroyed. It was also in this house that she learned that her mother was dead. That year, the warm floors didn't get much past her ankles.
The most beautiful house she ever lived in was one in a vineyard in Sonoma County. It was a Craftsman style bungalow. A previous occupant had painted the woodwork pink and they spent a year restoring it to its original condition. The glass in the living room window had flowed slowly over a hundred year life and the view was slightly distorted and magical. Toward the end, the landlord got hinky. When they moved there they knew that this would always be the best. They thought about it, prepared themselves, and decided they were fortunate to experience such a paradise.
The house on in Palo Alto was isolating and depressing. Stucco stairs with a metal railing led to a boxy apartment among ten other boxy apartments. She thought the apartment could house anyone, so completely non descript was the decor. Walk into the living room, and on left and to the back was the breakfast "nook". Next to that, kitchen. To the right was a paper thin hallway with the bedroom and the bathroom. The bedroom window was certainly built by tall men, because the only way she could see out was to stand on a chair or on tiptoe.
The fifteen acre property looked 1500 feet down at the the Pacific Ocean and was protected and isolated by a winding road. It was owned by one couple but managed by a small group of people with dissimilar backgrounds and similar beliefs. Rules were along the lines of Fritzpearls "you do your thing, I do my thing........" It seemed an oasis of sanity in a truly mad world. She and her husband were asked to join this small select group and immediately began converting an old toolhouse in the back into a kind of hobbit hole. Complete with round door.
At the ages of 66 and 64 they bought a house. She's not sure why a bank would allow them to take out a thirty year loan, but she supposes they feel they would either get the house or the money. They know they will live there for the remainder of their lives. That is a restful feeling, to think that this will be their legacy and that this will be their last home. They put in a window and now can look out from the bed to the backyard, where the chickens and the crows raucously vie for handouts.
The best things about the house was the bathtub. It was a small sea unto itself and when filled with war water covered even the large body of her husband. About six feet long and almost three feet wide the cool white porcelain gleamed. The tub was supported by clawed feet, as if some griffin or predatory bird had been required as a penance to sacrifice flight to service the weary feet and backs of aging humans. Lying in the warm water, she would run her hands along the smooth sides, head back, supine, drifting, floating in the cupped palm.
There was one cold room and a kerosene heater. Outside was ice and snow. It was the coldest winter that Tilberg had seen in many years and the paths and streets were slippery and dangerous. As her pregnancy progressed, she went out less and less, afraid of slipping, tumbling, hurting, aborting, the baby. Inside her room was heated by a kerosene heater. Her husband was a musician and had gigs over the new year. That New Year they ran out of kerosene. She lay for a week, bundled in bed. watching the ice form on the inside of the windows.
That winter in Tilburg, they rented a room in an upstairs apartment. A very narrow stairway took them to their small annexed room. Any furniture needed for the upstairs apartments was hoisted by pulleys from the street to a window at the front of the house. This was only an observation, they had no furniture. She was pregnant and allergic to cats in a way few Europeans understand. She refused to inhabit areas with cat hair and this puzzled her landlords. That winter she lived in a room heated by a kerosene stove. Ice framed the inside of the windows.
The moved from the room in the house with the cats to a room in the back of a communal house. Radicals and students occupied the main building and they moved into a large open space that was once the barn. By that time she was over five months pregnant and still having morning sickness. The students showed her many kindnesses. She remembers Ingrid carrying two large bottles of her urine balanced precariously on her bicycle to be tested at the Maria Ziekenhous. They checked in with her often, but she always felt removed, isolated, alone, and very very unhappy.
The outer sunset in San Francisco was built on sand dunes to house the migration of post WWII vets. The houses lie side to side, each house a mirror image of the other. By the 80's the Irish had begun to move out and were replaced by Chinese and Koreans. No one strolled the wide streets after dark, no stores beckoned, at night it had an abandoned and eerie feel.
Winter and summer alike the avenues were shrouded in fog. But by walking a few blocks up to Sunset Ave, she walked through the veils and into sunlight.
Alverado street had two bedrooms, but our daughter wanted to nest up in the pantry off the kitchen. She was 9 and liked the idea of really having control of her own space. She was saucer-eyed when we told her that her decor was entirely up to her. Her choice of decorating tools were pretty much spray paint and markers.
Walking into the room was like waking into a New York subway station. She and her friends would stay secreted away for hours and without restraint mark up a perfectly good wall. The glory of it faded pretty fast.
She managed an apartment building for a while. It had 50 some units and sat on one of the hills in San Francisco. She arrived from Europe with a new baby and an alcoholic husband and they were lucky to get a job and a place to live. What she didn't realize was that her husband wouldn't be around much and her handyman abilities were a little exaggerated. She spent a lot of time with the "Homeowners" guide to plumbing, electrical and painting. Cleaning she knew. They were finally fired after a unwholesome house guest passed out on the balcony.
The house was in a run down section of San Francisco that within the next ten years would be gentrified out of existence. She wallpapered the entire front bedroom wall with a scene of earth rising from the perspective of the moon. Every night going to bed she would see the distant earth in swirling white and blue. She fell in love in that house. They met dancing and for an early present he had built her a high bed in the back room, high enough to lay flat and look out at sun shinning on far off Berkeley windows.
She's had a hard time remembering the apartment on Judah. She does remember that it was there that one day, as she reached up to touch her hair, she felt a smooth spot. Too smooth really. No hair at all, no fuzz, no bristle. She moved to a mirror. The patch was in back and side of her head, to see it she had to lift some hair that fell from the top of her head and examine the section hidden underneath. But there it was, a patch about the size of a silver dollar, perfectly round, shiny and white.
For almost a year, she wandered the streets and never lived anywhere. She slept mostly in abandoned buildings, but she remembers once, when she was very sick, some musicians picked her up and put her into a soft white bed. She fell into clean sheets that she had not experienced for months. She didn't expect this of musicians, but this was the 60's and it was a kind of adventure to pick up strays. She never knew the band name, but she thinks they may have been famous. A San Francisco Band. They cared for her and let her go.
Wadworth Ave in Venice Ca, wasn't much. No yuppies yet. It was a kind of rundown neighborhood with old houses and a variety of clientele. The house itself was owned by a remarkable man by the name of Curtis Plume. It had to be made up, right? It was an Ayn Randian enclave, complete with shooting practice in the Mohave Desert. She was pretty oblivious to this as she was hiding out. Every once in a while she would see her mother's brown and cream Chevy station wagon slide by, looking, searching, wanting to pull her back into the maelstrom.
They went to the same Community College and pooling their resources, they rented an apartment on Venice Beach. It was not to live in, but was a private, a secret place, a refuge. Slightly less than a studio, it had a tiny kitchen with room enough for a small table. The living room contained a Murphy bed, which when extended occupied the majority of remaining space. Two front windows looked over a cement walkway and looked down on the wide flat sand leading to the Pacific Ocean. The refrigerator was stocked with beer and on flush days a few nuts.
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