Places I’ve Lived: Confederate Atlanta, Pre-Big One San Francisco, Dog Park NYC
by John Ore
Where have you lived, John Ore?
Glendale Terrace NE, Atlanta, Ga., January 1993 — April 1994, $500/month
Several months after graduating from the University of California and suffering the indignity of living at home, I secured my first post-collegiate apartment paid for with my own paycheck. I called it “Melrose Place on Acid” (for those of you who remember the original Melrose Place). It consisted of two three-story buildings facing each other across a swimming pool, its tenants an almost even mix of straight and gay in a pre-gentrification Midtown Atlanta. I knew absolutely nothing about life after college; I bought bottles of jug wine for a housewarming party I threw. Hillbillies, club kids, professionals, married couples and wiccans all met at the pool after work each day to get absolutely shitfaced, and possibly hook up. Perfect for my transition from college to the Real World. While this place was a boon to my romantic life — I slept with two of my neighbors, but I ain’t saying who, because I never kiss and tell — it quickly devolved into a gossipy, petty, grudgey environment after a year or so, with every perceived neighborly slight amplified by the pool. Just like the TV show. When a high school buddy suggested we find a house to share together, I bolted.
Myrtle Street NE, Atlanta, Ga., May 1994 — August 1995, $525/month
A sweet 1920s bungalow just around the corner from Melrose Place, closer to Piedmont Park and down the street from a bar called Blake’s that had a Sunday Night Drag show that locals called “going to church.” I lived there with the aforementioned high school buddy, and eventually his college friend. I remember this house fondly: spacious, classic details, front porch swing and back deck. Also, it was pink. And we threw some amazing parties, got into the local rave culture, and disastrously kept ferrets for a few agonizing months (God, they are horrible: they shit their weight every day, they stink, and get fleas). During inevitable power outages from thunderstorms, the neighborhood transformed into an instant block party of misanthropes roaming the streets double-fisting cocktails.
We’d have stayed there forever, but the owner was a doctor and was getting divorced. So the house went on the market, and we had to leave. We took the ferrets back to the pet store and decided to go our separate ways.
Penn Ave NE, Atlanta, Ga., August 1995 — February 1996, $495/month
A short stint in a one-bedroom in Midtown that turned out to be a lemon: a passive-aggressive neighbor insisted on sitting outside my front window on what she considered a “shared space;” faulty central air resulted in astronomical electric bills, and its part of the city electric grid would lose power whenever a squirrel farted. When the remnants of hurricane Opal made their way up to Atlanta, we lost power for close to a week while surrounding blocks were back in business almost immediately. I once saved the lives of my girlfriend, another high school buddy, and myself when I inexplicably suggested we park a little further up across the street during a rainstorm. Upon exiting the car, a massive tree whose trunk you couldn’t encircle with your arms fell across where we had just contemplated parking (knocking the power out, obviously). Finger of God, as they say in Latvia.
Confederate Avenue SE, Atlanta, Ga., February 1996 — March 1998, $425/month
After saving our lives, this high school buddy invited me to move into his newly-purchased house in the up-and-coming Grant Park neighborhood. Seemed like a no-brainer considering how cursed the Penn Ave. apartment was. I lived there with him and his brother for over 2 years, including some memorable moments in Atlanta sports history: the 1996 Olympics were a (sketchy!) walk away, I witnessed the bombing at Centennial Olympic Park, and the Atlanta Falcons and Atlanta Braves went to the Super Bowl and World Series (respectively). At the time, the property backed up to Superior Rigging and Erecting, the source of countless juvenile jokes. Unfortunately, a Superior crane is also suspected of running over my friend’s cat. I think karma eventually paid him back: he met his wife at a Halloween party we threw at the house. We had a pool table and lots of booze-fueled nights playing pool and dancing to Leftfield until the wee hours. But I had a girlfriend at the time, and longed for my own place again.
Fulton Cotton Mill Lofts, Boulevard SE, Atlanta, Ga., March 1998 — March 1999, $691/month
This was one of those places that looked too good to be true, and turned out to be. An old bag and cotton mill that spawned the historic Atlanta neighborhood of Cabbagetown was converted into in-town lofts in the late 1990s. The complex was cosmetically appealing, located on the edge of some hip emerging neighborhoods, but shoddily constructed and managed with a ruthless incompetence. Unsealed brick walls that rained debris onto your bed and paper-thin sheetrock that revealed the specific sexual choreography of each neighbor overcame the charm of my bedroom being in an old elevator shaft. My favorite memory was driving home from work, idling in traffic a few blocks from home, and watching a handgun skitter across the pavement and rest against my front tire, discarded from a late-model jalopy hauling ass in the other direction. That, and hearing my upstairs neighbors stage, perform, and break down drag shows all weekend before retiring to full expository sex. No judgments, I’m just trying to sleep at 3 a.m.
I broke up with my girlfriend, longed to move back to San Francisco, and was sick of the sadism of the management company. The week I moved to San Francisco one of the buildings in the complex (luckily unoccupied and under construction) burned down, making the news due to a spectacular rescue of the crane operator. I considered this yet another good omen for moving.
Francisco St., San Francisco, Calif., March 1999 — August 2002, $1,300/month
My first apartment in San Francisco was on the north end of North Beach, and stunningly included a parking space. “Famous” for my 4th of July parties, where we’d grill on my roof and huddle under blankets to watch the muted colored explosions in the fog over the bay that passed for fireworks.
When I got laid off from a start up three weeks after September 11, 2001, I spent a few glorious months walking my girlfriend’s dog (a rescue from Calaveras County) to Aquatic Park through Fort Mason, along the Marina Green to Crissy Field and Fort Point; biking to Sam’s in Tiburon; trying to write two screenplays; snowboarding at Sugar Bowl and Squaw Valley on Tuesdays; and spending too much time in Palo Alto. There was absolutely no reason to leave this apartment. But I had a doomed relationship with a girl who lived (in order) in San Mateo, Palo Alto, and Belmont, resulting in the long-distance relationship up and down 101 and 280 that no one craves. We solved that by moving in together (uh oh).
Noe Street, San Francisco, Calif., August 2002 — May 2004, $2,600/month
First time I’d cohabited with a romantic partner. Hands-down one of the most gorgeous places I’ve had the privilege to occupy. A garishly-painted pre-1906 earthquake Victorian in Noe Valley with a backyard garden and partial use of a full basement, where I stored wine and hockey gear. The owner had a framed picture postcard dated from 1903 showing a family in front of the house, proving that it had survived on the bedrock of Noe Valley. He welcomed us with a vintage Coleman’s mustard tin full of dog biscuits and a bottle of wine. He lived in another, more garish and awesome, Victorian across the street that he believed was inhabited by ghosts. Friendly ones.
Along the way we got another dog (a rescue from Fresno) to hang out with the first one, and the two of them proceeded to demolish the manicured garden, chew on the back porch railings, and steal a defrosting London Broil from the sink. In one of the gutsiest moves ever pulled by a dog, the younger mutt watched as I unwrapped a burrito from Taqueria Cancun and set it on the coffee table in anticipation of enjoying some quality time in front of the TV. I then watched as she approached the burrito from the opposite side of the table, never breaking eye contact with me, and slowly took a silver dollar-sized bite out of the burrito in front of God and everyone. I was more proud than angry.
We eventually fell prey to the lure of predatory loan products, the idea that our relationship had a future, and the dream of American Home Ownership to pay less in mortgage payments than rent. But it required a move to the East Bay.
Ramona Avenue, El Cerrito, Calif., May 2004 — June 2006, $2,100/month (mortgage + HELOC)
Moving the the East Bay was a bit of a culture shock, but having gone to school in Berkeley I was a little more prepared for the relative calm of El Cerrito. You could still hear the BART trains, but that wasn’t enough for my girlfriend. Four months after buying my first house, ever, she dumped me, leaving me with a mortgage and two dogs. Luckily, I had been able to 1) take advantage of ridiculous (toxic) loan products of the time to keep payments down, like interest-only 5/1 ARMs and taking out a HELOC before I even owned the place, 2) ensure that the title was in my name only, and 3) somehow time the market in 2006 and sell the joint when I moved to NYC to chase my (now) wife. Spoiler alert.
But it was a great split-level 1940s job just north of Berkeley with a fenced yard for the mutts, a close college friend only blocks away, and kooky-cool neighbors that helped me get back on my feet. It was a goofball idyllic sort of neighborhood where I could walk my dogs to Albany High School to play fetch and easily ride my bike to Golden Gate Fields to play the ponies. I had a good job in Emeryville, a rec-league hockey addiction at Oakland Ice, and a coterie of friends and neighbors to hang at neighborhood joints like Club Mallard, Nizza La Bella and the Mel-O-Dee.
Again, I figured as long as I stayed employed, I had it made: I owned property in the Bay Area. No need to move, ever. Except…I sort of fell in love with someone…
W 72nd St, New York, N.Y., July 2006 — August 2007, $3,000/month
…Someone who decided to move to New York.
One of the most stressful (first world) experiences I’ve had was putting my two lab mix mutts into kennels, paying $200 for each, and watching them be loaded into the belly of a United Airlines flight from SFO to JFK. The flight attendants could tell I was nervous: I’d told them I had two dogs traveling in cargo, immediately ordered a gin and tonic, and proceeded to spill the entire cocktail in my crotch before taking a sip. Mercifully, it was replaced with a double, on the house, and a load of paper towels.
Sight unseen, scoped by my future wife, this was my first experience with the eye-popping sticker-shock of NYC rental prices and the predator that is known as a rental broker. I’m still ashamed that I could afford, and pay, that much in rent. It was a corner apartment on the 11th floor (unit 1111, which is fantastic numerology to a craps aficionado like myself), with the requisite tiny galley kitchen and competing space for the dogs and my hockey gear. My first Thanksgiving in NYC, I tried to cook a turkey, and found that the roasting pan wouldn’t fit in the oven. Luckily, the turkey still did on an improvised rack.
On the same block as The Dakota, I’d walk the mutts past tourists taking pictures where Lennon was killed. Used to run into Conan walking his golden retriever Hudson before he moved to LA, and we’d pretend neither one of us were famous as our dogs played together. We’d later elect Obama together. Feeling the spirit of unity that America shared, my girlfriend and I moved in together. I’d passed the NYC tryout.
W 70th St, New York City, N.Y., August 2007 — September 2009, $5,000/month
What’s cheaper than one person paying $3,000 a month? Two people paying $5,000! Obscene, broker-fee-sourced, but in a brownstone steps from Central Park with a solarium and private roof deck. We had the fire department visit once because a disgruntled neighbor was jealous of my grilling skills. It was a bit cramped for us and the dogs, was unfriendly to hockey players and dog walkers due to the 4 floors worth of walkup, heavy rains resulted in waterfalls from the light socket into our toilet, but the landlord was a well-intentioned Palestinian dead-ringer for Fred Armisen. And that roof deck…we still long for it…
Over a year plus, we moved in together and got engaged and watched the marathon and Thanksgiving parade and went to Lithuania and came home a married couple in this apartment. It was tight and expensive, so when we outgrew it, naturally we moved to Brooklyn.
Brooklyn, N.Y., September 2009 — present
The idyllic existence. We bought a place in a coop building in Brooklyn. I’m married, a father, and the dogs still have a park to poop in. This is close to the longest I’ve ever lived under one roof — post-college — which is comforting. More space, a place to grill, a better mortgage and interest rate and all of the boring stuff that equates to stability. Which, when you think about it, can be a sought-after commodity in New York and this life.
John Ore lives in New York.