A flat at 48 Adams Street in Mount Vernon, New York. Followed by one at 24 Adams Street. Then 48 Adams Street again. Then the entire second floor of the house at 425 South Sixth Avenue. After that, a 1,200-square-foot apartment on the third floor of the front building of the 616 East Lincoln Avenue
complex. After going to Pittsburgh for college, a dorm room at Lothrop Hall my freshman year. Five days of Howard Johnson’s and sleeping on a concrete landing on the fifth floor in a stairwell at Forbes Quadrangle (now Wesley Posvar Hall) the beginning of my sophomore year. A poorly partitioned one-room flat with a shared kitchen and bathroom in a firetrap for a row house, 25 Welsford Avenue, the rest of my sophomore and all of my junior years at Pitt.
The above is every place I’ve lived during my first twenty years on the planet. I never felt at home in any of those places, and when I’d come close, something violent or life changing would occur to remove that feeling of at least a sense of minor uneasiness. Alcoholism, domestic violence, divorce, second marriage, financial pressures, religious stupidity, more domestic violence and abuse, more siblings, financial collapse, college, homelessness, lack of funds and privacy defined the spaces in which I lived between ’69 and ’90. I was mostly lonely and yet hardly alone for all of those years. I had about as much space to think and write as I would’ve had in a bathroom stall at Grand Central before the renovations there during the ’90s (a story for another post). Which is why most of my Mount Vernon classmates and friends can testify to dozens of “Donald sightings” — me walking everywhere — between the ages of twelve and eighteen.
I made the decision after my junior year to find my own place, my own space, as close to or as far away from Pitt’s campus as I could. I took a week off from my summer job at Westchester County Department of Community Mental Health in White Plains at the beginning of August ’90 and took the express Greyhound to the ‘Burgh. I stayed with my friend Terri and her mother — a blog post unto itself — while looking all over the city and its po’ White and Black trash suburbs for anything between $150 and $300 a month in rent, one with my own kitchen and bath.
I found a nice place in Wilkinsburg, only discouraged by the distance it was from the East Busway (Pittsburgh elected in ’64 to spend twenty years building a busway instead of a subway to connect downtown with the suburbs — talk about being cheap!) and Pitt. Not to mention feeling uneasy about a slightly older next door neighbor who looked like she caroused a bit too much. I looked at places in Shady Side, Squirrel Hill, Highland Park, North Oakland, off Braddock Road and near Frick Park, even the Manchester and Friendship neighborhoods (somewhere between middle class, affluent, and student housing). The rent was either too rich for me or the places looked a bit run down.
Finally, on my next to last day to look, I found a place at 6007 Penn Circle South in East Liberty, right
across from the Shady Side neighborhood. It was a one-room efficiency (calling it a “studio” would make it sound better than it was). I had a kitchenette area with a sink, counter, cabinets, a stove and oven with a ventilation fan, and a fridge. I had my own bathroom and enough closet space for my meager clothes and toiletries. I was within walking distance of Giant Eagle, the big grocery store in the area, as well as the busway. The Highland Park Zoo bus, the 71B, as well as the 71C, ran their way to Oakland and Pitt. And Pitt was within my walking distance back then — it was more than two and a half miles from Penn Circle South to the Cathedral of Learning.
It was $220 if rent for each month was paid before the first day of the month, and $245 if not. I took the 450-square-foot flat, this despite some of the riff-raff living in the building, the hole-in-the-wall bar Constantine’s within a couple of blocks, or Kelly’s Bar for the down and out across the street. The heating and cooling, the toilet and shower, the food in my fridge was all mine. My friends Kenny, Elaine, Marc all thought it was a dump. Maybe so, especially compared to the places I’ve lived since. But it was my dump. Those eight and a half years there, I learned so much about myself and life and God and women and love. I learned how to live my life while I was in apartment 204. That began twenty years ago today. The building’s now gone (at least, it was slated to be), but the memories remain.