Thursday, February 10, 2005

In the hermitage

In another life, I'm sure I was a hermit. Living in a cave, avoiding contact, maybe making obscure prophetic pronouncements to those who tracked me down. You know, being weird.

It wasn't until I moved to the Upper West Side that I ever really lived alone. I had roommates all through college, and for the first five years that I lived in New York. Jeannette, my first NYC roommate, and I moved from Arizona to a tiny apartment on the Upper East Side. We had known each other for a few years, but had never actually lived together. Among our friends it was well known that Jeannette was organized to a surreal degree; we used to joke that everything in the apartment was arranged alphabetically.

"Have you seen my keys?"

"Your keys? Hmm. Did you look between the kangaroo and the kiwi?"

"Uh ... no."

"That's where they go."

It was only her amazing neatness which allowed us to survive in a small space. I was more of the clean-kitchen-but-messy-bedroom type, so it was an adjustment for me. I came home one time to find my nice wool work pants stuffed willy-nilly into our tiny metal built-in bathroom hamper.

"Hey," I snotted, "these are dry-clean pants. They don't go in here."

At this point Jeannette's head sprouted cobras and asps. "WELL, THEY DON'T GO ON THE CHAIR EITHER!"

How to Always Remember to Hang Up Your Pants, in One Easy Lesson.

From that apartment I later moved to another slightly larger place which accommodated three. At first it was me (in my first year of graduate school) and two lovely girls from Montana who were new to the city.

I would sometimes call home from my part-time job, because I sensed that Colleen, the more open and vulnerable of the two, was probably upset right about then. Sure enough, she would be having her afternoon cry. She missed Montana so much; she missed the fact that you could say hello to people on the street there. I had taught her that you had to walk with purpose, don't go goggling up at the big tall buildings, always look tough, and don't smile indiscriminately. One day she was particularly upset.

"I was walking home today, and I saw myself in one of the store windows," she said through her sobbing.

"Yes? What was so bad about that?"

"I saw myself and ... I'm one of the angry people."

Goodbye, Montana.

After the Montana girls, it became me living with my partner Jonn and a rotating series of third roommates. That's how precious space is in New York; you can actually sublet your tiny second bedroom with a loft bed to people who will be glad to move right in and live with a couple. We tried occasionally going without another roommate, but I was still in school, and there was a lot of rent to pay.

Finally, there was an upheaval; I was out of school, my relationship ended, and I had to find a new place to live. I wound up on West 84th street, in a tiny apartment that was a perfect bachelor pad. I got it almost by accident; the realtor showing the place confessed it was her first day on the job. She had a Lisa Kudrow-esque sense of humor; when I was filling out the apartment application, she said "Put your daytime contact number on the sheet."


"Oh, just anywhere."

(As I go to write) "No, not there!"


"Just kidding. That's fine."

So there I was, single and in a new apartment, living alone for the first time. I had no furniture, and was sleeping on fold-out foam futon-chair, snuggled under a terrycloth bathrobe.

It was about a year or so after I moved there that I left the corporate world to try pursuing my writing career. I was working freelance doing desktop publishing, working odd shifts, never working in the same place too long. Once I got used to the "playing hooky" feeling of being home during the day during normal work hours, I enjoyed the freedom. Third shift was difficult, as you feel that you're just living one long day with no divisions, and start to lose track of what day it is. But second shift was perfect for my night-owl-ness.

I was spending a lot of time alone, more than I ever had before. I had always had roommates or boyfriends; I was always very comfortable with that. Living alone was a new experience, and it was good. I was never lonely; I read or wrote music or wandered around the neighborhood. I learned the truth of the saying that New Yorkers are so often alone in a crowd. I noticed the other people like me who ate alone in diners, involved with their newspapers or books; people who went to the movies alone, as I enjoyed doing. My next door neighbor had lived alone in her small apartment for thirty years. Living alone required a sort of ascetism that I learned to appreciate. It made me at ease in my own skin, listening only to my own thoughts.

There was a time when I was on the phone all the time, keeping up with my friends across the country, running up huge long-distance bills. Now I began to change; I wasn't so conscientious about keeping in touch. I was drifting into the rituals of alone-ness. I saw friends, I went out, I socialized, but in the end I could return to the cocoon of my apartment.

Of course, solitude has its perils. On one occasion I had been in Chicago, working on a show; on the day I arrived home, worn out, I returned a few phone calls, and then crawled into bed. I didn't get out of bed for almost a week, struck down by illness brought on by stress and exhaustion. Since I didn't really need to be anywhere, I wasn't missed.

The little hermitage on 84th street seemed to be a perfect reflection of my life during the nine years I lived there; just room enough, and no more. For a long time I never thought I would want to live with someone. I had probably gotten too far into my idiosyncracies, entrenched in my own habits. I came and went as I pleased. I liked the silence.

But of course, things change. Not long after I met David I seemed to be always at his apartment. It was easier to cook dinner there, as he had more of a kitchen space than I did. He also had a way of making an apartment an inviting space, where after eight years in my little apartment I had gotten lax. Then, little by little, we were living together. The transition happened magically, invisibly.

My little monastery no longer felt like home. It was time to move on.

The hermit had come out of the cave.


Anonymous Anonymous said...

god, stop writing such good stuff. you make me jealous and late for whatever i pretend to be late for!

5:43 AM  
Blogger jwer said...

Also, I think you might be talking about a different David... have you MET David?

6:21 AM  
Blogger David said...

Perhaps I only make spaces inviting to those with whom I wish to have in my home. The others always feel this mad compulsion to leave. This is because I've licked everything, and those who are incompatible with my DNA are rejected.

6:50 AM  
Anonymous Scott-O-Rama said...

Normally my attention span wanes reading any blog entry over three sentences long (Damn TV ruined it). You blog kept my interest though. Well done!

4:35 PM  
Blogger Zenchick said...

hmmm...I find your home quite welcoming. But maybe that's because of Goblin?

8:13 PM  
Blogger jwer said...

I think it's because you didn't know that he's licked everything...

5:49 AM  

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