I was talking to a woman I run into occasionally while walking Izzy. I don’t remember how we got to the conversation, but we realized that we had both lived in San Francisco (at different times) in the same area, known informally as the fog district. I could not remember the actual name of the area, I just could remember that it started with an “E”. We parted ways before either of us could remember the name of the area. All we could remember was the Sunset District, which was on the opposite side of Golden Gate Park from where we were trying to remember. Much, much later I remember “Richmond District.”
Oh, yeah. Starts with an “E.”
"The coldest winter I ever spent was a summer in San Francisco," Mark Twain (attributed)
The Richmond District was precisely where Mr. Twain was talking about.
But that sent me down memory lane. The place I lived in in the Richmond District was an old 1-story walk-up. I was desperate to find a place so that I could move out of my ex-boyfriend’s apartment before things turned really awkward. The room had been quite cheap, in San Francisco terms. The woman who rented the room had been very excited to have me live with her because 1) I had recognized the sprouted lentils on her kitchen counter and 2) I was a vegetarian. Lentil Lady, as I always referred to her with anyone who was not her, was a very odd duck. She was likely 10-15 years older than I? She loved opera and had a stereo and numerous records in her dining room. She never played them when I was around. She never came out of her room and neither did I, really. It became more awkward living with her than it probably would have been if I had stayed at my ex-boyfriend’s. Also, the bathroom was disgusting. It was a 2-bedroom, 1-bathroom house so we had to share that bathroom and there was black mold everywhere. The worst of it was her toothbrush. It was literally covered with black mold and it appeared that she was still using it. I always took my toothbrush back to my room for fear she would use it. Once while she was away for a couple days, I borrowed some Black Sabbath CDs from a lab mate and blasted them. I felt it was sort of an exorcism.
I didn’t live there very long because it was quite awkward and quite cold. My next place was very close to school (San Francisco State University) and a ½ block from Lake Merced. I had found the listing at school and called Rose, who turned out to be a Russian bitch who had a very nice husband named Igor. I made arrangements to come over and sign the lease immediately but, by the time I had gotten there, Rose told me that many people had called and offered her more money and she decided I could no longer have the unit for $550, but for $650. I was at a loss. I took it anyway because that’s what desperate students in San Francisco do. What a bitch! However, it turned out to be a fairly nice little mother-in-law unit on the back of the house that was brand new. It was one room with a bathroom and a pull-out couch. But it was mine! Of course, it turned out that the real mother-in-law, Fiera, lived right above me and moved furniture most nights while complaining any time I tried to use my microwave to eat something.
I think I was there for a year. She was going to raise the rent again but I got the hell out of there and moved into the United Nations.
The United Nations was a lot of fun. It was an apartment just off Irving in which the owner, Mr. Lee (Chinese) rented rooms to young female students. I call it the United Nations because there was Pink, who was from Thailand. She had the front room and was very seldom actually there. Cathy was Chinese though spoke English without an accent so I assume her family had been around awhile. Cathy had what must originally have been the master suite in its single-family days because she had her own bathroom. I had to share a bathroom with Pink and an Ethiopian woman named Asmeret. Asmeret had the long, exotic features that made her look like a model, in some lights, anyway. She once told me about an Ethiopian restaurant in San Francisco that she liked and that she had gone to with…*meaningful pause*… “someone famous.” When she had said this to me, I nearly laughed in her face but I just smiled and nodded. I sometimes wonder what happened to Asmeret. Did she marry “someone famous,” did she become “someone famous,” did she become a clerk in a grocery store, did she become a strung-out junkie? Of course, I was the sole white american.
I liked the United Nations and its diversity, even if we didn’t exactly hold hands in the living room and sing kumbayah every evening. The biggest problem with living in the United Nations was once again the bathroom. Whenever I cleaned the bathroom or even just used it, I was reminded of the two weeks I had spent working as a chamber maid for a Jewish resort in South Haven. It really seemed that all I did was chase curly black hair around porcelain and hope it had all come from someone’s HEAD.
My room at the United Nations was the inner one. Most apartment buildings had an inner shaft, for ventilation I suspect. I had one window in my 8 x 8 square room and it was in that shaft. When I looked down, I could see the kitchen window of Mr. Lee and would often watch as he very expertly chopped vegetables, etc. for dinner. Mr. Lee owned a restaurant also. I tried to learn some techniques when I was spying on him but I’ll never be as good as him.
I always thought that this arrangement with four girls of different ethnic backgrounds would have made a great premise for a TV sitcom.
Down the street from the United Nations was a dive-bar called Terry’s Lodge. Terry’s Lodge was one of those places where, heading out to Golden Gate Park for my early morning run, there would still be people laughing inside and the awful smell of Pine Sol and urine would waft from the open side door. I once had a cab driver from the airport who looked just like Tom Waits. He even had the gruff voice of someone used to drinking cheap whiskey and smoking Pall Malls. When I told him where I lived, he got really excited. “Terry’s Lodge is right there!” He exclaimed.
“Yes, it is,” I agreed.
“They have a great steak dinner.”
My head could not accept that a place like Terry’s Lodge could serve up ANYthing decent. I told the cab driver that I was a vegetarian.
“Well,” He said, “Just as well,” *meaningful pause*…. “It ain’t for the squeamish.”