Rear Window

Thom took me up on the roof one Sunday to teach me to watercolor. Sadly, my work did not survive. His did. 1984
Thom took me up on the roof one Sunday to teach me to watercolor. Sadly, my work did not survive. His did. 1984

My apartment was built in 1915. It is one of three in a series of redwood framed buildings on Jones Street, a block down Killer Hill from Grace Cathedral. The wood theme continues into the interior with faux redwood wainscoting. It has large bay windows on the street side and in the lobby there was once an art nouveau stained glass peacock.window. That was gone within my first year of living there. the little Chin girl broke it playing ball.

The Chins were the landlords and could have cared less about art nouveau. Their interest was in the monthly rent not architectural heritage. There were other Edwardian anachronisms in the apartment like the pull out ironing board in the kitchen and the working bathroom sink in the front room closet. I’m guessing the closet doubled as a dressing room for Joan before she dashed off to work.

Then there were the interior window wells. They were designed to provide light and circulation to the back rooms but they also gave you sight and sound into your neighbor’s units. You might be standing in the kitchen confiding to a friend sotto voce but if the window was open your secrets would be broadcast to 11 other units. On the bathroom side of the building you never wanted to leave the window open if you happened to be experiencing explosive diarrhea. It’s called common courtesy

I used to watch the back neighbors in the next building because our dining room windows were perfectly aligned. They were an older gay couple in their late 30’s. I was 25 so to me they were OLD. And they did OLD things like dye their hair in the kitchen sink or have their friends over on Saturday night for drinks and Yahtzee. As the sound of their drunken laughter and slamming of the dice played out in the background, I would be picking out my outfit, making sure it was one I’d never worn before, and doing a line of coke to get me amped for the club.

As we both recovered on Sunday afternoons, their routine never varied. At 4:00 the one guy would go out, probably to one of the beer busts in the City, while the other stayed home alone. He would draw the drapes for privacy although I don’t think he realized that I could still see silhouettes from my side. His special time would begin, this back and forth, back and forth. He would be moving constantly, crossing the room in a straight line, never stopping. This would go on for at least an hour, sometimes rapidly, sometimes slowly. I just kept watching this figure go back and forth, back and forth. I had no idea what he was doing, maybe some kind of aerobics.

One afternoon we were both home in the midst of one of our semi-annual heat waves. Everyone had their windows open to cope. At 4:00 his drapes were drawn but the window remained wide open. And I could hear what was going on. It was big band orchestral music, he was ballroom dancing. It now made sense, the coquettish throw of the head, the elegant glide, his mastery of the various tempos, the Cyd Charisse twirls that dazzled every beau. He was the belle of his own personal ball and his dance card was always full.

Despite this rather odd personal fantasy, he did have a rugged, aging Mediterranean look to him that was appealing. So I would sometimes visit the vending machine. We might be suntanning on the roof in our speedos, or taking out the trash in our underwear. There would be a nod, a wink and, if the partner wasn’t around, a brief assignation at my place would follow. This would happen a few times a year and continued for about a decade until it died a natural death. After that we would always exchange pleasantries on the street, sometimes a 30 second catch-up or sometimes just a wave.

Still life with speedo, 1979.
Still life with speedo, 1979.

About two years ago I ran into Cyd at the corner coffee shop. He had deteriorated badly, was stooped over and had trouble getting around. With a hollow look in his eyes, leaning on a cane and in obvious pain he said that he was scheduled for major back surgery the next day. There was a finality in his tone like this could be it. I wrote down my phone number for him, which I’m sure he didn’t have even after all these years, and told him to call me if he needed any help during his recovery.

For months I heard nothing and assumed the worst. I asked some of the longer term neighbors if they knew anything, a couple of them didn’t even know who I was talking about. The anonymity of urban life. Then I ran into his partner on the street. It had been a harrowing surgery but he was recovering. He was in rehab and might be there for up to a year. When I did finally see him again, he’d lost considerable weight, was extremely mobile, and in excellent spirits. So we returned to our traditional exchanges of pleasantries, catch-ups and waves.

Yesterday I saw him at Trader Joes. Since he had been forthcoming with his dramatic news a couple years ago I thought I should share mine. Which is not easy for me to do. I told him that after 40 years we would no longer be neighbors. I was being evicted. He didn’t understand so I repeated it. Still nothing. From his confused look I realized that his ailments may be more than just physical. So I elaborated. The new landlord was using the Ellis Act to evict everyone in the building, some of the other tenants had already moved out and by next winter we would all be gone. Our building would be completely empty. He glossed over it with a blithe smile, “well, it’s always something isn’t it?”


The Eviction Story



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