Places I’ve Lived: An Attic, Immigrant Housing, And Valet Views
by Brittany Shoot
We’ve all lived in some places. Where have you lived, Brittany Shoot?
College Ave., Iowa City, Iowa, $225/mo.
Screw living in the dorms. The annexed third-floor attic of an incredibly sweet elderly lady’s house was my first solo digs. Free driveway parking, free cable, giant front porch, fire escape I could sit on, and all sorts of furniture and a mini-fridge came included. My first and only hotplate, also courtesy of the owner. We shared the bathroom on the second floor, where I took baths in her claw foot tub. Sometimes she’d make too much popcorn and leave a steaming bowl on the stairs for me. I was getting ready at the kitchenette/all-purpose sink in my room when the college radio DJs announced that the World Trade Center had been hit. My landlady died that spring. I was allowed to keep living alone in her house until summer and paid my rent to the bank that handled her trust. One night I went looking for something in her pantry and found a staircase I hadn’t known existed. Her daughters gave me some of her things, including a cookbook I still have.
Ridgeland Ave., Iowa City, Iowa, $333/mo.
Weird oblong apartment in always-unlocked building near frat circle. Roach-infested dishwasher. Disgusting dingy gray carpet. Had to look up street on a map because I’d blocked it out by now. Lived with lifelong best pal Dan and eventually hostile female zinester roommate. Two bathrooms, split by gender. The female roommate was known to bring home stuff after dumpster diving like ratty area rugs that she never had professionally cleaned. Dan kept betta fish. We had a white board, where the girl left increasingly passive-aggressive notes as the year went on (never have a white board). Someone put an Aaliyah poster on the outside of the door with her eye cut out around the peephole and called it Cyborg Aaliyah. Dan and I also spent entire year “hiding” my inflatable Scream all over the apartment to scare each other.
Ellis Ave., Iowa City, Iowa, $350/mo.
Ditched the angsty girl and moved in with just Dan one block over. The building looked like summer camp bungalows, and we had some cement porch space out front. I took a solo ten-day trip to Japan that spring because I wanted to feel out of place and alone (I succeeded). Dan and I started to grow apart. He was (suddenly?) a neat freak; I started going to the gym every day. I got new friends, and so did he. Were barely speaking to one another by the time we moved out. Kind of broke my heart.
Iowa Ave., Iowa City, Iowa, $450/mo.
Single girl studio (except that my boyfriend always slept over or I slept there) above a fratty bar (Malone’s?). Thumping bass came through the floor, and was especially bad on weekends. A walk-in closet led back to the bathroom. Noisy pigeons roosted in the AC. Was just around the corner from Prairie Lights, excellent pizza and Indian food, and minutes from most classes and at least one of my five concurrent jobs. Dan called one day shortly before I moved away and demanded that we reconnect, so over sushi, we did. I drove out of town forever the day I took my last final.
Holton Street, Allston, Mass., $425/mo.
Three-month summer sublet in a duplex where I lived with about six other people, including twin Harvard guys who shared a futon and possibly a girlfriend. Washing machine and dryer in basement. Street parking was nice, but neighborhood was dark as hell. I was followed home one night on the walk back from work. I screamed loudly at the guy to quit following me and caught up with another lady walking home from work, who yelled right along with me. Church across the street hosted a block party. I wandered over with one of the roommates and understood nothing because everyone spoke Portuguese. Ate a lot of vanilla yogurt and berries that summer. Never fully unpacked because I knew I’d be moving again soon.
Egremont Road, Brighton, Mass., $633/mo.
The only place I stayed longer than a year up until that point, and that was only because I had an enormous room and walk-in closet for the same price as the other roommates’ much smaller rooms. Generally horrible building with occasional mice. The front door to building often broken or left open. Somewhat useless back porch/patio, from which we hurled our sofa upon moving out. Abysmal property managers I later tried to take to small claims court because they gave our apartment key to realtors, who would wander in without notice at all hours to show the place. (We eventually changed the locks and filmed the realtors trying to break in anyway.) Stayed through seven roommates in two years (if you count the one guy who never even moved in). Mostly great roommates, only one super crazy racist girl, and one guy still a close friend.
Colborne Road, Brighton, Mass., $1750/mo (total)
Hard to remember exactly what I paid here because rent included $125/mo parking space. Bargained down the price too, which seemed like a major achievement, especially against the broker’s advice. Also, there was a pool! Only stayed one year before moving abroad. Had moving drama that involved three Christian men with a church van helping us transport our stuff at the eleventh hour. My European then-boyfriend-now-husband got his travel visa waiver a month later and moved into my room. Someone should have moved out, but we all put up with the bad vibes (her, bitter; us, obnoxiously in love) for a year. The kooky landlord (who did not know my boyfriend was living there) talked down to us because we were young supposedly-single women. He once brought us a sack of cheap hairbrushes as a peace offering and then kept our security deposit because by then neither of us lived close enough to come back for it. I still think about how he stole my money, which seemed like so much back then.
Ordrupvej, Charlottenlund, Denmark, $1,500/mo. (total)
Moved in sight unseen because the boyfriend/husband went ahead of me to find us a place. Were forced to live in the shittiest building in a wealthy Copenhagen suburb because of punitive laws about what sorts of rental agreements immigrants (yes, even those married to Danish citizens) are required to have. Came awkwardly furnished with a white couch, frosted glass desk, and shitty kitchenware, especially strange given that the landlady was a professional chef. One tiny closet, narrow kitchen with a door that could not be closed, wood-paneled refrigerator, (non-working?) fireplace, shared clothesline in yard, and a small cement balcony. Called the cops twice on unemployed abusive couple across the hall that fought violently all day long. In the evenings, walked twenty minutes or biked five to townie-watch and eat soft ice in Bakken, the world’s oldest amusement park. Sometimes went to Bellevue Strand beach on weekend mornings to stare at horizon and talk about our future. Stayed two long years until a colleague living downtown moved and offered to hand off his apartment (with an immigrant-friendly lease) to us.
Møgeltøndergade, Copenhagen, Denmark, $1,000/mo. (total)
The only way to reach the main room was to walk through the bedroom. No closets at all but large private and lockable storage area in basement. We had to buy a refrigerator; in Copenhagen, everyone takes theirs when they move. (We didn’t.) Only the second place I’ve lived as adult where I could reach the on-site laundry room without going outside. Lots of light, natural and from the street lamps directly outside our windows. Had to buy blackout shades to be able to sleep. Quiet but urban neighborhood, bike parking behind a locked gate, close to the best falafel in town and three different grocery stores. Also within walking distance of excellent iced coffee, green grocers, and the best rock venue in the city. Noisy kids and nosy moms were in the courtyard 24/7. Adults ignored me; kids asked questions about our cat, which I proudly answered in my broken childish Danish. Some evenings, an ice cream truck guy would park right in front of our place and ring a giant bell to signal his arrival to the neighborhood. We paid it forward and sublet the place to another of my man’s colleagues when we moved back to the States.
Stockton Street, San Francisco, Calif., $2,195/mo. (total)
Landed our “junior bedroom” (read: glorified studio) after applying for a dozen apartments and seeing probably 30 in about four days time. One small closet. Compact dishwasher. Roof access via private covered deck, from which we look at the Bank of America building and wonder what it’s like to be a banker. Across from a major hotel with valets running around at all times of night and a cabstand, the block is well lit and unofficially patrolled by hospitality professionals. Also on top of a steep hill and tunnel, so no one comes up here unless they live here or are tourists lost between Union Square and Chinatown. Next door, the building manager (who used to manage this building too) signs for and holds packages when we’re not home. Pay additional $300/mo to park car in public garage four blocks away. The building has a crazy winding staircase out front, and tourists often stop to take photos. It isn’t technically famous, but you can catch a glimpse of it in David Fincher’s The Game if you look closely.
Brittany Shoot moved even more frequently when she was a kid, though only within a 25-mile radius back then. She always pays rent on time.