Somewhere to Live

The following is a series of posts that were originally published on an old blog of mine in December 2006, shortly after I started a new job in San Francisco. While searching for permanent housing, I stayed in a dingy transient hotel, and was then kicked out of it (as you can read in part one of this tale). This is the rest of my story.

The Broadway Hotel, December 2

I woke up early last Sunday, the day after being told I had to vacate my home of the past month. I had a craigslist catalog of a few other residential hotels to scout out and, hopefully, check in to before my 2pm kick-out time.

I was sick.

And it was raining.

I hopped a bus down Pacific Avenue to Polk where there was a hotel with free internet access. The problem was, that’s all it had. It didn’t even have managers.

I wandered in, up, and around the moldy old building. A note told me to call a phone number — which didn’t pick up. A flimsy plastic “For Rent” sign outside listed another useless number. A more official-looking “Broadway Hotel” sign finally had a number with a person on the other end.

He asked me when I wanted to see a room, I told him now, he told me 20 minutes. I took a seat in one of the brittle chairs outside the empty office.

Forty minutes later a heavy, foreign man emerged from one of the doors down the hallway. He showed me his cheapest room: a large, damp space on the third floor. It was bigger (and more expensive) than what I’d been used to. And it was dirty.

Really.

It hadn’t been cleaned since the last tenants left.

My throat hurt and my warm forehead was misted with sweat. I felt like I was getting sicker just breathing the wet, stale air in the place.

I said I’d take it.

The man told me he’d have to figure out what to do because “the guy who cleans the rooms” was off.

The Broadway Hotel, like all the highbrow digs I was checking out, accepts nothing less than cash. So I went downstairs to the ATM outside the bar on the corner.

It was out of order.

I walked down the block a bit to a deli with an ATM inside. It only spit out a hundred dollars before running out of money.

By this time, my sister — graciously cutting her holiday weekend short to drive here and help me move — was nearby. And I was miserable. I met the manager in front of the hotel. He tried to tell me where there were some other ATMs, and I told him I’d changed my mind.

My sister pulled up, I got in, and we were gone.

The CW Hotel, December 7

I knew of another hotel — it was actually the one I almost chose in the first place, five weeks ago, when I ended up in the Golden Eagle.

The CW Hotel claims to be in SOMA, SOuth of MArket Street. And technically, it is SOMA. But the artsy, industrial, dotcom-y atmosphere of Yerba Buena Gardens, the SF MOMA, and one of SF’s eight thousand art schools — which, with acronyms like SFAI, CAISF, CCAC, ACISF, SAIF, ISFA, and OMGWTF, I can never keep straight — doesn’t extend west beyond Fifth Street or south past Fulsome. The CW Hotel is on Fifth and Fulsome — the wrong side.

It’s a stark, white building, jutting up from the relative flatness of the gas station and bus lot at its sides. Across the street there’s another parking lot, and a bus stop, and a sleeping vagrant with his cardboard collection.

Fulsome — littered with tiny shops, dirty bars, and seemingly abandoned offices — extends towards the Bay, the arts, and more-promising culture. A few blocks north on Fifth is Market Street — the new Bloomingdales, cable cars, Macys, Union Square. I don’t know if I’ll ever stop being amazed and exhilarated by the mash of neighborhoods, classes, and cultures forced so near to each other by this peninsula.

The room is nice. And decorated. With weird crap. There’s a big, backlit mirror next to the bed. The backlights don’t work. Little, dangling, colored-glass candleholders are on two walls. Wedged between a sprinkler pipe and the wall, there’s a bright red tree branch. Then there are various brochure-sized prints on the walls: illustrations of Paris and other things you’d expect to see next to illustrations of Paris. And finally: a small, wooden letter “O” hanging next to the mirror, and, on the opposite wall, a four-foot-tall aluminum “V”.

At first I though the eclectic decor was just a quirk — a conglomeration of whatever could be salvaged from some burned-out old boutique/funhouse. But then it dawned on me. It had a purpose. This was the sex room! The Honeymoon Suite, if you will. The candles, the mirror, the Paris — it all made sense. The “O” is for orgasm. And the “V” — well, I don’t think I have to tell you what that stands for… Victory!

I’m almost certainly lying when I tell you this was used as a sex room, but the thought did cross my mind — and that should tell you something about the state of my mind.

The CW doesn’t have bugs. The CW doesn’t smell bad (as much). The bathrooms are still shared, but they’re actual rooms, rather than just closets with a toilet in them. And it costs the same as the Golden Eagle. Overall, I’d say it’s a step up.

But I don’t live there anymore.

The Process of Elimination, December 16

For the uninitiated, this is how it works in San Francisco: If you want to rent a room somewhere in a real apartment, you apply. It’s like job-hunting, complete with application, multiple interviews, background check. The difference, of course, is that in this process, it’s not illegal to ask candidates about their sexual habits, political leanings, and drug dealings. But none of those things even matter because, in the end, it’s all about intuition and instinct and snap decisions based on first impressions. And I keep thinking you have three chances to make a good first impression, but I’m confusing it with carnival ring-toss. Thus, I’ve had little luck room-hunting.

Three weeks ago, Saturday (the day I’m told to move the hell out of the Golden Eagle — actually, it’s at the very moment the nameless manager leaves me the evicting voicemail): I’m looking at a room in an apartment that I found on craigslist.

The apartment, or “flat” (as you’ll call it if you’re cool), is the basement level of a 120-year-old house in the Lower Haight neighborhood. It has two bedrooms and a living room, which is used as a bedroom. My room would be the one without windows.

Only one of the two roommates is there. She’s small and bubbly and altogether glad to be alive. She shows me the room and the rest of the place, and seems to not hate me (which I think is a good sign). A few other candidates are coming by, she says, and she’ll invite back those she likes, to meet the other roommate — a guy (strictly platonic). So I leave, feeling OK about the situation — better than I felt after leaving the other seven places I looked at over the past couple weeks.

Then I check my voicemail, and hilarity ensues.

The next day, Sunday: As I’m checking out of the ‘Eagle, I get a call from the girl. Her roommate is there now and would I like to come by and meet him? Yes, I would. So I do. And he seems cool, too.

So I leave again, feeling OKer about the situation (although a creeping unease makes me wonder if my hope might jinx the whole thing).

Then, Tuesday, an email: “We’re still considering you, but we’re going to post another ad on craigslist because finding another roommate is somethin we want to make sure we do right.”

Great.

This is death, I’m sure of it.

I reply, reaffirming my interest and expressing understanding of their desire for thoroughness, while silently cursing, reaffirming my hopelessness and expressing understanding at my worthlessness as a human being.

At least The CW doesn’t show signs of kicking me out yet.

Wednesday, Thursday, Friday, Saturday: The pickings on craigslist are sparse. I answer a few ads without enthusiasm, and receive equally tepid silence in response.

Saturday evening, a voicemail: “Hi, this is the girl from the place you thought you might get but then thought you wouldn’t. If you’re still looking for a room, we’d love to have you.”

As a matter of fact, I am still looking for a room. And they will love to have me.

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