Edited by Diane Mapes
When I was twenty-two and out of college a little more than a year, I moved from New York City, where I’d grown up, to San Francisco, where I was born but had never spent much time—consciously, anyway. I found a charming, cozy studio apartment in the Marina and paid what my friends with roommates considered an insanely high rent—$650 a month—to live on my own.
It didn’t seem strange to me. I’d managed to get single rooms through four years of college (you just have to know which dorms to ask for) and loved the independence of living alone. I was never more than a few feet away from study groups, parties, advice, and company, but I never had to deal with someone else’s snoring, dirty laundry, homesick phone calls at 2:00 AM, or loud sex in the single bed on the other side of the room.
I’d always had roommates at summer camp; first dozens of them, and then just three as we got older and earned four-to-a-bunk status. And I’d also had numerous housemates when I traveled and lived abroad, which I did intermittently in my late teens and early twenties. I’d lived with quiet males and loud females, filthy slobs and neat freaks, friendly sorts who showed me their hometowns and introduced me to their families and hermits who rarely emerged from their dens. There was a Kiwi rugby player who ate microwaved tinned beans with ketchup over toast every single day and never washed his dishes, and a woman in Leningrad whose religion dictated (so she said) that she chant loudly every morning at five o’clock in the precise center of the tiny room. And there were many others—the couple who broke up because of me (more accurately, because she learned from me that being independent might be easier than putting up with her worm of a boyfriend); the sweet, slightly odd older man who introduced me to Cointreau; the high school seniors who held pot parties downstairs every night when I had to get up at the crack of dawn every morning for work.
Needless to say, by the time I moved to San Francisco, privacy and peace of mind were worth far more than $650 a month.
The week I moved into my studio, a friend of my mother’s offered to help me with errands, since I didn’t have a car and didn’t know my way around. I wanted to find a good hardware store where I could pick up a few things. The apartment had two huge walk-in closets, but the top shelves were very high. My mother’s friend said—slightly tongue-in-cheek but mostly seriously—”That’s what you need a man for!”
The truth was, I really only wanted a stepladder.
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