150 Calyer Street

28 Aug

The building is a four-story walk-up with green vinyl siding.  It sways noticeably in the wind.  One time the front window in the living room fell out – it got pretty chilly in there for awhile.  One time the gas line to the stove broke and was too expensive for the landlord to repair.  We used a hot plate for at least six months, but we took money off the rent at least, and there were three of us living in the place at that point so the price was good.  But weren’t there always at least three of us living in the place, if you factor in the long-term guests?  I was sleeping on the living room floor then: we were still in disarray because of the bed bugs.  Someone would place a pink urinal puck by the radiator in the first floor hallway as an air freshener and they would replace it too when it fell apart.  It couldn’t have been the landlord – that was more work than he was capable of.  He would call us begging for rent in advance, in cash. His hands were covered in scabs or scales or some kind of skin disease and even though he was Polish he would say “mamma mia” when he got desperate, which I really enjoyed.  I enjoyed so many things there.

Somehow this ugly building is land marked – it falls within the Greenpoint historic district – and there are 9 open violations on it, which seems surprisingly small.  The earliest city account on record is a 1901 plumbing repair, so the place was probably built before the 20th century.

It’s where I spent a lot of my twenties.  It’s where a lot of my friends spent a lot of their twenties.  It’s okay to celebrate that, right?  I’m turning 30 in a few days, like most people do at some point.  No lesson learned or anything like that, don’t worry.  There was a great little blurb in the paper the other day that said most people feel pretty good about themselves at age 18, then start feeling steadily worse until age 50, when they turn it around.  By age 85 they feel even better than they did at 18.  I hope that hasn’t been your experience.  Although how you relate to the past is up to you.  One nice thing about the present is that you can use it to redeem as much heartbreak as you like; you’re the writer.   The best title for an autobiography I’ve ever heard is Goodbye to All That.  For sure!  But also, see you in my memories.  Forever.  That’s kind of wonderful.

Kenneth Koch has a poem, “To my Twenties,” that yeah, is inherently cheesy, but also fantastic and tough to shy away from.

How lucky that I ran into you

When everything was possible

For my legs and arms, and with hope in my heart

And so happy to see any woman–

O woman! O my twentieth year!

Basking in you, you

Oasis from both growing and decay

Fantastic unheard of nine- or ten-year oasis

A palm tree, hey! And then another

And another–and water!

I’m still very impressed by you.

And much more from there.  It seems the entirely correct relation when looking backwards.  I think it will be more and more difficult to get embarrassed.  Some mornings I wake up and I can remember what it felt like to wake up at different points in my life and I feel sad because those points are over with forever.  I miss a lot of things.  We had a boom box in our refrigerator that played reggae music every time you opened it.  I really enjoyed that.  One time I was cooking a hamburger (cheeseburger!) at 11am with the window open and my shirt off and I was smoking a joint.  Man, that was awesome.

I don’t know: thanks to everyone I ever shared my life with there.  We did pretty good I think.  I seem to recall it pretty fondly.  You live not just a life but also a lifestyle, and maybe you don’t even know it and then in subtle ways it changes and is gone.  What were we up to?  Who knows, but thanks again for all of it.  I’d also like to thank my marked lack of ambition – you’ve never let me down old buddy.  What a ride.

(Originally posted June 11th, 2010 on Takethehandle.com)

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