Places I’ve Lived: A Shelter, A Farm, and San Francisco
by Colleen Hubbard
Where have you lived, Colleen Hubbard?
Flynn Lane, Middletown, Conn., $0/mo. (I was a kid; rent unknown)
The town where I grew up was a college town, but I lived in the farm part and not the college part. My family had been farmers there and kept subdividing the farmland until my mother and her siblings and their cousins and their kids all had these little plots along the same road. We played in the woods and had lots of pets.
Daddario Road Emergency Shelter, Middletown, Conn., $0/mo (I was a kid; also, it was a shelter)
My mother went bankrupt and our house was foreclosed upon, so my mother and my siblings moved into what was called “emergency housing” — a homeless shelter in the midst of a public housing project. There was a playground and a basketball court, and a pecking order among the kids, who knew how much each family paid for their place. As the kids in one of the few emergency housing units, we paid $0, and everyone knew it. All the beds were covered with rubber mattress liners. We made our mother drive us to another neighborhood to pick up the bus.
Pamecha Pond, Middletown, Conn., $0/mo. (I was a kid; rent unknown)
The day we went to look at this apartment by a pond, my mother’s boyfriend took us out back to look at the pond and warn us never to go into it because kids could drown there. The day before we were supposed to move in, after we had moved all of our belongings, there was a fire and the building was destroyed, killing one child and disabling another. We stayed in emergency housing for a while more, then moved briefly into an apartment complex with a pool.
Grandma’s Apartment, $0/mo. (I was a kid; grandma didn’t charge rent)
After funds ran low, we moved in with my grandma, and I shared with my sister the room that my mother and her sister lived in when they were growing up. We each had our own closet and there was a mirror held to the wall with nails covered by ’60s starbursts. It felt very fancy. My aunt’s high school uniform was still in her closet.
Allen Street, Buffalo, N.Y., $600/mo. (my share)
I lived with my boyfriend in an apartment that was managed by the nephew (or great nephew) of The Great Thurston, a famous magician. He was really nice, a talented artist, and the guy who would never feed our cat when we traveled. He said it was because he’d then have to cat-sit for another tenant he didn’t like, but I suspect he just didn’t like cats. He kept a significant portion of our deposit because our cat had left imprints of his body in orange fur in the rug. The other tenant, the disliked cat owner, sent me cat-related holiday cards after I moved and my cat had died.
Greenwich Street, San Francisco, Calif., $1650/mo.
When I moved to San Francisco alone and got a job that paid more than either of my parents had ever made, I was certain that I was rich. Imagine my surprise when a banker later told me that I technically qualified as low income under certain city standards. This was a one bedroom I couldn’t really afford, and because of a boyfriend and roommates and a shared bedroom with my sister, I had rarely slept in a place alone, so I thought that every creak meant that someone was breaking into my apartment. The landlord was an elderly woman who was convinced that I was renting out my parking spot to other people, so whenever a friend parked in my garage, she would lean her head out the window and shout “Who is this one?”
Liberty Street, San Francisco, Calif., $1325/mo.
The woman who lived in this studio before me had a magnificent sense of style and was a crafter who sewed her own curtains. I have/am not. I moved out when the lease lapsed. I wish I’d brought her hand-made curtains with me.
Hinton Avenue, Charlottesville, Va., $895/mo.
A funny thing about moving into a place temporarily is that some people totally move in and other people do not. I do not. I knew I wasn’t going to stay in Charlottesville forever, so the apartment had an air of shabbiness that I never eradicated. It was also pretty expensive for a writer and part-time cheesemonger.
Farm, Normandy, France, $0/mo.
I worked on a farm in Normandy as part of an off-brand WWOF experience. In exchange for day labor, I had a room to myself while three fellow laborers who were college students from Oxford stayed in the room next door, which had bunk beds. They watched U.S. television series on a laptop and made “American-style” chocolate chip cookies with weird, small French chocolate chips that never tasted right.
Buchanan Street, San Francisco, Calif., $1250/mo.
I returned from grad school and France totally broke and with nothing but a backpack and broken dreams. But a dude friend offered me a spot in his three-bedroom house for $1,250 a month. I will probably spend the rest of my life paying him back for inviting me to move in with him during what was pretty much an impossible time to find an apartment in San Francisco, especially without a job. He also gave me a blanket and a cup.
California Street, San Francisco, Calif., $1650/mo.
That a $1650 one-bedroom apartment felt like a deal is also pretty terrifying, but such is San Francisco right now. I tell people that the building is full of ballerinas and gay men, but that’s not exactly true. There’s a chocolate salesman as well.
Colleen Hubbard is a writer who lives in San Francisco. She is waving across the courtyard to the chocolate salesman right now.