Monday, April 7, 2008


It was the pebble-dash linoleum that really did me in. The full length of the railroad apartment was plastered with plastic mimicking Brighton beach, and curling up at the edges. The kitchen connected to Julia’s room, which ran into the windowless cell where Mick slept, which became the big room at the front where Gigi and I lived, with the cats. We did have a clothes rail, and a few other creaky pieces of substandard furniture, which we had found in the street, but her clothes were forever spread across the linoleum, and quite often items I hadn’t been able to find re-emerged in that pile too, bubbled up to the surface of that swamp.

We slept on a single air mattress on the floor, Gigi had bought, framing it as an efficient purchase, because we would be able to roll it up and take it with us when we moved into an apartment of our own. We moved into that so badly wanted apartment never, and sadly, the air mattress didn’t last that long. The cats, forever darting around the room, punctured the mattress as they trotted all over it. However hard we tried to reinflate it and attend to the leaks, inevitably we would wake up each morning uncomfortable, and pressed up against the painful linoleum floor, with just a thin layer of air and rubber between us.

Once when Abby came by, in the merciless heat of August, she looked around the room without malice and said, "You’re the artists." The puddle of an air mattress, the flood of discarded clothes, the hissing cats and their sodden, stinking litter box confirmed this. We did not live in Paris in 1895, no, we lived in Bushwick in 2007 and we shared with an army of cockroaches and a navy of mice. Late at night, as we rolled uncomfortably on our sinking bed, under the spluttering ceiling fan that was really no replacement for air conditioning, we would hear the scuttling footsteps of rodents and freeze. The cats were some help in deterring the mice, or rather in keeping them in the other half of the apartment, but that was not enough to persuade the landlord to let them stay. We asked, hypothetically, "If we were to have cats and they were to keep the mice under control, could they stay?" The answer was a blunt "No". I think that maybe this ingenious line of questioning, combined with nocturnal mewing, perhaps alerted the landlord to the presence of cats less spectral than suggested, in his building.

The man was not exactly Doris Day, and his love of animals did not extend as far as Gigi’s, who would feed homeless cats on the street. This brought Gigi and the landlord into conflict, he was very concerned that she would encourage stray animals in the neighbourhood. I remember that his specific worry was that the cats would find their way into his overgrown garden and die. "And the last thing I want is to have to pay someone to have to remove these dead cats from my yard," he said. That his filthy pile of weeds, broken laundry lines and old bicycles was some sort of ancestral cat graveyard, always seemed to me such a morbid scenario, and not entirely likely.

Eventually, when an exterminator turned up to deal with the cockroaches, unannounced one Saturday morning, we realised that the cats had to go. Or rather Julia and Mick realised the cats had to go since they had paid the deposit that would be lost when the landlord found out the cats remained. So, we hid the cats in a box, inside a laundry basket topped with all the clothes scraped up off the linoleum, and moved them from room to room as the exterminator sprayed the apartment. When he was gone, we smuggled them out of the apartment, still in the laundry basket and Gigi sat on the street corner with a basket of dirty laundry a sign reading "Please adopt my cats." It was high Summer, she got pretty sunburned. I returned to the apartment, walked along the corridor plastered with signs that read in broken English: "Don’t Sleep With YOUR trash!!!" and "RAPPERS and MURDERERS still walk by this door every night on their way to buy drugs. LOCK THE door!!!!"

I spent that Summer aching with malnutrition, often going to sleep in the middle of the day out of sheer hopelessness, as a way to escape the hunger. I felt as though I was experiencing the Great Depression, first hand for myself, that I was living in Dorothea Lange's dust bowl. I thought to myself, "Lord I hate this place." And that was all before Gigi left New York, and I got fired and started sleeping with Mick.

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