I moved into an efficiency apartment on the other side of downtown, on H. Street. It was a two-story structure at the foot of a larger, more elaborate apartment building that we cheerfully called “The Big House” while mine was known as “The Slave Quarters.”
My apartment, on the second floor, faced the brick wall of The Big House. As a result, it was twilight in there all of the time. (This was also the era in which E. played Michael Furey, rumors have it.) I was unhappy about the lack of light, but otherwise I made the best of it, buying bright Indian-print throws for the furniture and covering every inch of the concrete block walls with posters, flyers, and pictures ripped from art magazines. The apartment had a small galley kitchen and an even smaller closet. Smallest of all was the water heater, which posed a problem when friends came to visit for the weekend and wanted to take a shower.
Despite the setbacks, I was happy to be there. I was glad to have a place where I could do whatever I wanted whenever I wanted. I could eat whatever I wanted as well; my repertoire expanded to include pasta salad dressed with Wishbone Italian salad dressing. I was brought up short, however, when a frozen pizza fell face down into the oven. Two pairs of rubber gloves and a can of Easy Off later, I had learned the virtues of being careful.
I did get to know my neighbors, to varying degrees. A friend from the dorm lived downstairs and kept me posted on peoples’ comings and goings—such as her neighbor, the music major who slept under his harpsichord.
Most memorable of them all was Unhappy Girl, a pudgy, choleric young woman who constantly fought with her boyfriend. One day, after overhearing a long, shriek-filled argument, a friend and I came outside and found a smoldering stuffed animal lying on the front steps, blackened. Evidently one of the loveless pair had decided to leave it as a ”gesture.” To everyone’s relief, Unhappy Girl moved out soon after.
To be fair, she wasn’t the only unhappy girl in the building. That year, as my college career wound down, I tried to decide what to do next. (See the BOT series for more on this era.) This angst, in addition to too much smoking and general unhealthiness, contributed to a winter of chronic bronchitis. Ironically, my parents turned up at Christmas with a TV set, and I even more ironically sprang for cable. I was flattened and voiceless from bouts of coughing, but at least I could watch American Movie Classics.
When I graduated in May 1990 I had no job and no real plan for the future, except to stay in town and hang with the hipsters. The only thing in my favor on that cold rainy graduation day was that I also had the key to a new apartment in my pocket. I was moving across the hall to an apartment with an actual view and actual daylight. The day after graduation, while my peers polished their resumes, I dragged my belongings down the hall to a new home.
Few pictures of H. Street remain (it was unphotogenic, to say the least), but here's one circa 1991. The Galaxie 500, Joy Division, and Tiny Lights posters were required music geek paraphernalia, as was the scratchy, too-big vintage lace dress that passed for college-to-work transition wardrobe. As far as fashion choices go, I can't explain the glasses.
A few anxious months later, I got a job. Because the H. Street place was so cheap, I lived there for another year and after a while so did E. unofficially. By spring 1991 we were looking for a place of our own. We found it right down the street.
What happened after: The H. Street building is still there. Its windows have been replaced, but otherwise it continues to look as spartan and uninviting as the day I moved in.
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