Friday, April 18, 2008

Unavailable space

It snowed Wednesday night and yesterday I woke to a work of falling clumps of snow as the sun rose and warmed the icy blue sky to something less anemic, blooding the horizon and warming the heavy clouds until they bushed with rising heat. It would have been my grandmother's 98th birthday and even though she is gone I still remember her as the calendar tells me the day gets closer. She was on my mind yesterday, as she has been all week, but for a very different reason. She reminded me, as I looked at houses and apartments, some less appalling than others, that she had her feet firmly on the ground and was not dazzled by wealth or possessions. It isn't that she didn't have nice things or live in a tastefully furnished home, but that she did everything with economy and a comfortable space.

I went to a small clutch of brick ground floor apartments, five to a row, to check out an inexpensive apartment. It was at the edge of Old Colorado City and near to a school. It sounded idyllic. The reality was less than ideal.

I didn't see a vacant apartment at the end of the first four rows, so I looked for an apartment where someone was home, found an open door and knocked. "Come in," a female voice called. I reached for the door handle and pushed the button. "Wait, don't let the cat out. Meathead, come here. You're not getting out." Veined and gnarled hands reached out of the shadowed dimness to pick up an orange tabby. "Okay, come in." I wrenched open the door when it stuck and walked into the only clear space in the cramped room. A huge couch was wedged against the wall to my left, flanked by a massive aquarium where huge fish lolled against the glass, hovering in watery space above a cluster of divers, coral and buildings among the floating green of plastic seaweed and sea trees, light bathing them in viscid gold and diffused blue. The door scraped a worn trough of denuded wood of the coffee table that took up a good third of the room. A big screen TV flickered with images to my left as I sidled into the room, introduced myself and asked if the woman knew which of the apartment was empty and for rent. She smiled, baring rotted and broken stumps of teeth between cracked, dried lips and tossed the cat to the frayed and dented cushions of the couch. "There's always some place open. They all look pretty much the same." She turned to me and waved me toward the rest of the apartment, crammed with knick knacks, makeshift cupboards, dishes, pots and pans. "Take a look." I thanked her and sidled towards what proved to be the bedroom.

Posters of nubile blondes covered the walls above the massively ornate waterbed wedged between dresser, a bookcase filled with bongs, knick knacks and magazines, mirrored dresser and armoir. A open door revealed a bathroom where tub and toilet looked like a single piece next to bland cupboard above craftsman drawers with little room left to open them against the ancient sink growing from the wall. The landlord told me the apartment was about 600 square feet but it felt more like 300 and nearly ever inch was packed with a wealth of new electronics and massive furniture that would have been less conspicuous in a 2000-square-foot home. The only new thing in the apartment, other than the occupants' possessions, was a Corian counter atop a worn wooden box shaped wall that cleaved the living room from the narrow galley kitchen, barely camouflaged beneath a coat of dingy thin white paint. I touched its smooth surface. "Bud made that. He's a carpenter." She pointed to the fussy Jacobean paper border that perched beneath the water-stained ceiling and framed every cupboard door. "He did that, too. Doesn't it look nice?" I nodded and smiled. "So, the landlord lets you do what you want?" She brayed suddenly, throwing her head back until I saw every blackened and broken tooth stub in her mouth. "We did it, didn't we?"

The door opened and she looked around for the cat. "Don't let the cat out." A broken shell of what was once a biker, lumbered into the room. He smiled at me with teeth as blackened and shattered as the woman's as he drifted toward the refrigerator, opened the door and took out a beer. The woman explained why I was there and he shrugged as he tilted the open bottle into his mouth and sucked down a cold stream of Budweiser. A gold skull dangled from a creased and flabby earlobe.

I thanked the woman for showing me around, offered my hand and asked her name. "Carrie." I shook her hand limp, dry hand. "Thank you, Carrie, for your hospitality." I walked toward the door, scooped up the feather-light cat in one hand and offered him to Carrie who rushed to take him and clasp him to her sunken chest. I shook hands with Bud and thanked him, complimenting his Corian counter. His thick-fingered hand was warm and rough but firm. I shut the door behind me and mounted the new wooden stairs that squatted above a pitted cement wall to the parking lot in back. I drove down the alley and back toward home. I wouldn't call the landlord back and fill out an application. The place was too small for my meager possessions and there'd be no room for my computer and desk.

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