Wednesday, March 28, 2012

Our apartment on Comm Ave.


The apartment I lived in the longest in Boston was in an old piano factory that was later converted to artists-only-residences. The artist thing had obviously died out a bit by the time we moved there, but it was still full of creative, adult people. The rooms were full of beautiful shiny floors, exposed brick, and high ceilings; my best friend and I shared the loft that hung over the living room. It was in a diverse section of downtown Boston; a short walk from the Orange Line. It was the coolest place I'll probably ever live, even though we filled the classy space with typical college student junk; a futon and cheesy pictures, cheap furniture stolen from the street or trucked on the T from the Bed Bath & Beyond at Fenway. Epic times were had there, and I still miss it.

Equally epic times were had at Kathy's old apartment on good old Cummings Road, a typical college student apartment on the border of Brookline and Brighton, where so many hours were spent with so many of my favorite people.


But often, the place I find myself thinking about the most is the last apartment we lived in, the first place Kathy and I lived together, officially, on Comm Ave in Brighton, where we lived for just barely a year.

This apartment lacked both the uniqueness of the Piano Factory and the nostalgia of 17 Cummings, but something about it was special, to us.

There were so many amazing things about the location of this apartment that sometimes Kathy and I list them off and the magnitude of awesomeness is so great we can't believe we even lived there. First, the front doors of the apartment building were lit-ra-lly across the street from a T stop. I mean a T stop on the B line, the absolute worst of all T lines, BUT STILL. There was a little hill the T trolley would descend before reaching our stop, and if we craned our neck out the windows of our apartment and saw a trolley waiting on the hill, we could often run down the stairs and cross the street and hop on it as it rolled in.

We were so close to the stop and the trains were normally so loud that we could hear train announcements throughout the day up until one or two AM or whenever the last train creaked through. "Washington Street, doors on the right. Next stop..." This seemed like it would be annoying at first but I grew to sort of enjoy it. Hearing the T all darn day encompassed what is so great about city living--it is impossible to ignore the world around you, because it's constantly shoving itself in your face, whether you like it or not.

Aside from the T, the apartment building was also directly across the street from the Brighton Cafe, a cheap diner full of generally poor service and solid diner food, including a counter with good iced coffee and good donuts. We definitely went there quite a few times, but when we think back on it now, our thoughts go like this: "OMG, remember when we lived ACROSS THE STREET FROM A DINER? It's like a scenario from an urban sitcom! How come we didn't go there every day? We could have been regulars and known everyone's names! Or we at LEAST should have partaken of the iced coffee and donuts more! Come on!"

What we DID partake too much of was the 7-11 that was also literally steps from our door. This was convenient for whenever we needed milk or eggs or some such thing and could run out in our pajamas to get it, but it was also dangerous in that any time I thought to myself, "Hey, I could go for eating an entire pint of Ben & Jerry's RIGHT NOW," I COULD.

There was also a Whole Foods right behind our apartment. Yeah. We didn't go there.

There was ALSO just a few doors down from the 7-11 the glory of PIZZANINI, OUR FAVORITE PIZZA DELIVERY PLACE. Except we didn't even have to order delivery anymore, because we could WALK TEN STEPS AND GET IT. (Although let's be honest, we often groaned about having to walk those ten steps.) I believe the glory of Pizzanini has been discussed here before; it's too big for me to get into here; there's just not enough time.

Also steps from our door: a Thai restaurant we for whatever reason hardly ever went to, and Tasca, a romantical tapas restaurant which was lovely and which we did partake in frequently. The choices of all the different, random little portions of food you could get always felt so neat and joyous, like a fun game of food. And the pitcher of sangria we normally got felt more like a fun drink made by your mom during the summertime than alcohol. I mean, how could you say no to this:


You were entered in a raffle type thing each time you ate there, and somehow, while we rarely won this raffle when we lived ten steps from the door of the restaurant, after we had moved to Oregon, both Kathy and I received emails telling us we had free tapas waiting for us at Tasca, for months. It was such a tease to our freshly Western, missing-Boston hearts.


The kitchen of this apartment was spectacularly small. I think the size of it flabbergasted both my parents. More than two people couldn't fit in it comfortably, and even then you were only able to stand next to each other, not really across. The floor was this awful cheap linoleum that was curling up at the edges. 

When we first moved in, we were greeted in the first few weeks by finding several dead bee bodies around, and then some live ones. It should be mentioned that NOTHING IN LIFE frightens me more than bees. Nothing. I hear a buzzing and I cover my head, squeeze my eyes shut, and freeze like a statue, chanting, "Go away, go away, go away," inside my head until whoever is next to me--normally Kathy--can pat my head and assure me it's okay. Alternately, I scream like a child and run away. This is a bit of a conundrum for someone who loves gardening so much.

Anyway, so we called our landlord--who was this rental company based out of an office at the Harvard Ave stop on the B line, right next to Marty's Liquors and Bagel Rising that was staffed almost entirely by  young, douchey Massachusetts dudes recently graduated from BU that made my stomach uneasy--and they brought in this exterminator man who reminded me entirely of my Grandpa Chuprevich, unkempt shirt and large belly hanging over his saggy jeans, frank and nonplussed about everything in a gruff yet casual voice. 

I was alone when he came over and casually informed me that there was a nest of wood hornets, or some such terrifying thing, inside of this window right here. He asked me for a broom, or a newspaper, or something, I can't remember, and smacked the window a few times to see if he could rile any of them up while I practically peed my pants. He then informed me that he'd close it off but depending on the window and whether the majority of the bees were in or out of the nest at the time, in the morning either all the bees would be gone or a whole shit-ton of them would be invading the apartment. He said this all nonchalant like, hiked up his pants, and left after fifteen minutes. I spent the next 24 hours freaking out, not being able to sleep, shutting the bedroom door and pushing a towel up against the crack between the door and the floor to prevent any possibility of a bee attack. I did not contemplate what would happen if I had to pee.

The bees did not attack. We were okay. As I write this, I have a sneaking suspicion I have told this story before, on this blog. I have written a lot of things on this blog at this point, and I have a notoriously bad memory, so pretty soon I will just be repeating myself ad nauseam and the ten people who really love me and this blog will continue to read them anyway. But it was a really traumatizing story. So. 

This window also looked out into this strange square of a space in the center of the building which I suppose one could call a courtyard, but really was just a tiny barren piece of concrete, which we had to cross in order to reach the laundry in the basement on the other side of the building. There was something about crossing this space that made me feel deeply uncomfortable, like someone could jump from the shadows and murder me at any moment and no one would know, even in the middle of the day. To cross it at night truly felt like a horror movie.


The bathroom was equally tiny, and the shower head was attached to a slab of wood strung across a window at the top of the shower in an arrangement that is quite hard to explain and which, again, I believe left both my parents rather stumped when they saw it.

In addition, cheap plaster fell in chunks from the ceiling. This happened a lot in the bathroom, but soon began happening throughout the rest of the apartment. These bits of ceiling happened to fall a lot at night, and the quick, soft patter the falling bits would make would startle us the way any unique noise startles one in bed. Then we would wake up in the morning and walk into the hall and say, oh, right. Just the ceiling falling, again.

Like most old apartment buildings in Boston, there was no AC and the heat was provided by old hissing radiators that worked in uneven bursts. You basically had no control over your radiators, most of the time. They were ancient demons that worked when they wanted to, and they often decided that when they did want to work, they would blast you with heat until you felt uncomfortable and sorry that you had ever wanted to be warm during a Boston winter in the first place. The one radiator in our living room took to spraying boiling water all over the place randomly, warping the floor boards and ruining whatever we kept in a ten foot radius.


This was also the apartment where we got our first pet, our Lily. She liked looking out the window at the world, at the thrilling action of Comm Ave.



We just discussed tonight how Lily has become the most underappreciated pet by people who visit us, because our two other animals are such attention whores. Okay, so Cleveland is an attention whore. And Toby is big, so you can't ignore him. But Lily these days spends most of her time sleeping, hidden away somewhere in the house. She has no desire to entertain strangers.

But the truth is Lily has known us the longest, and she knows us the best. She is the calmest and the most loving. She is the one who knows when we are upset, who curls up next to us in bed when we're crying.


This was on the day I brought her home from the animal rescue place. We didn't know if she would run away and hide when we let her out of her box, but she followed me everywhere and cuddled with me all day in bed. We were already soul mates.

The area of Brighton we lived in also had a somewhat large Russian population. Between Pizzanini and the 7-11 there was the Babushka Deli, and the basement of our apartment building held an eye doctor's office catering to Russian clients. During the day, old Russian ladies would congregate on the corner, in white padded sneakers and bunched up pantyhose, scarves around their heads at all times of year, simply standing there on the sidewalk next to each other, not talking, taking in the not very exciting scenery of the 7-11 and the T pulling into the stop.

Our living room got the best sunlight, and the three windows in it bulged out of the building in a bay window type of formation. We had the best chair by the window, that we had taken from Meredith and Zoe's old apartment when they moved, that I think originally belonged to Meredith's older brother--thanks, Tom, was it Tom?--and I remember sitting in it with the sun shining in, reading the current month's National Geographic on my days off and feeling absolutely at peace.

I suppose one could say Kathy and I were slightly irresponsible that year we lived there, the year right after we had graduated college. This is a weird time for a lot of us privileged enough to finish college. Some people don't have a problem, some people get good jobs right away and are good at those good jobs. We knew some people like that, and we were proud of them. But the rest of us say: Okay. So. What now?

I half-assedly applied to a bunch of publishing jobs before realizing I didn't really want that world, even if I had actually gotten any job offers. Kathy didn't really want to enter the journalism world. So the degrees we had worked so hard for and paid so much for dangled there while we tried to figure out who we were and what we wanted to do with ourselves, and we worked crappy jobs. She worked retail, I made lattes. But the thing is, we still worked full time, we still worked hard. We worked with diverse, interesting people. We came home each day with tired feet and lots of stories to bitch about. We became friends with really great people, that year. We perhaps weren't doing what we were supposed to do, we weren't building up our resumes or buying business casual work outfits, but we were still very much alive and productive, and I think we were very happy.

We have lived in the apartment we now live in in Portland for longer than either of us have lived anywhere else on our own. We have put more work into this apartment than any other, and we have also had more space to fill than in any other apartment. Whittling down the abundance of STUFF and JUNK we have now, to real city apartment standards again one day, will be a very long and arduous process. I love the life we've created here, and I'm proud of it, to have moved across the country on a whim and made a life for ourselves. It takes a certain kind of stupidity but also a certain type of courage to do such a thing. And to be honest, we needed to leave Boston to really kick start our lives, to figure out what directions we wanted to take, to not be stuck.

But I still miss it sometimes, and look forward to having it again--the possibility of all those things, so close, within walking distance, all the places you can go just on your own two feet, or just by public transportation. I miss being able to overhear arguments and discussions on the street below your window, the creaking of trolleys on old train tracks, the humanity exploding everywhere.

And the particularity of that one space on Comm Ave, that first space that was just ours, just the two of us, and how lovely and natural and comfortable that felt, from the start.

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