Wednesday, February 20, 2008

The places of our early love (pt 1) Casa Arleda

When we met, Marcie lived in one of the coolest old buildings in the Banker's Hill area. Cool in the sense that its architecture was distinct, its design discernibly grander than other old apartments and its decay utter and to the bone. Casa Arleda.

Casa Arleda, previously a drab off-white decaying hulk. Now in more color and higher rent brackets, and offering less entertaining drama, I am sure

Marcie had moved within the building once before I met her. While renting that unit, a pipe burst in her closet, soaking and ruining much of her clothing with rust-loaded, yellow water. She was able to recoup the loss from the building's insurance, and she moved to another studio.

Within months of that move, the building came under assault by the Health Department for innumerable complaints. Rent was suspended because of the landlords' inability to resolve its legally unlivable state. Crack heads literally roamed the halls. It looked it. Badly.

One of the aforementioned rock cocaine and/or amphetamine aficionados took it upon himself to steal cable from the elevator. He failed. He failed rather spectacularly, too.

Apparently not thinking before hacksawing, he was still working when the elevator cables snapped and he hurtled atop the old thing two full floors into the basement. He smashed his face on the edge of the roof hatch with the impact before falling through, limp, into the elevator's graffiti-splashed interior.

He lived to tell the story to me one day as I tried the elevator button. He had a long, face-spanning scab and two bad split lips. I believed him, and he was more explanatory than apologetic.

The landlord hired a security guard who apparently took over the drug trade. It was funny in its own grim, sordid way.

Marcie thrived, though. She was loved by everyone there, from the man she called "My tweaker next-door neighbor gay friend," to "The little boy with a crush on me whose mother is a freelance clown in Balboa Park." Seriously.

Whenever I visited, we had breakfast and walked out to her little third-floor hallway bay windows, which always triggered some paranoid looks through peepholes and occasionally sudden door openings.

Here was the place I would look up at when I came to her in the night, and the balcony we smoked overlooking the city on. Until someone stole the intercom system, Marcie would buzz me in. Usually, though, the gate was propped open.

But it mattered little. We looked out over the bay and the city south of us and simply lived in our little love spell. When eventually the place was shuttered, each tenant received $6,000. Marcie began looking for her new place weeks before.

Marcie and I moved in together when she left Casa Arleda. I will admit that it was not a long time between the day we met and the day we took up residence together, but it was also true that our motivation to do so was purely lust and love. But we dressed it up well.

But Marcie did have an excuse to dispel my romantic notions, indeed. Far be it from her to admit sentiment over practicality.

When she asked if I wanted to move in with her, I pretended it was not on my mind at all, pride besting both my growing need for her and our relationship's honesty for the moment.

"Oh, Jesus, Frank," I remember her saying. "Do you really need to live in a little hotel room downtown when we are sleeping together every night anyways? It's so stupid. It's a total waste of money."

I held out for four hours and whispered in her bed, panting and stroking her back and butt. "You know, you're right," I said. "It does seem like a waste of money."

I was rewarded with her happy snort, a drawn-out, delighted "hee hee hee," a happy kiss on the mouth and her quick dismount to the shower.

I suddenly realized we had both been playing it cool. But I was happy, because it was a great thing to know that she was as smitten as me. I joined her in the shower.

I moved in my meager possessions, books, textbooks, clothes, a computer and some utensils, the next day. It was my best move ever.