Another version of this piece--with nice photos--can be read at my official web page, A Curious Man.
We’d been staring into the snow-colored plaster walls in the dark house in Emeryville for five days last December, sunk by the dousing of a lovely light, when I turned to Elizabeth and said, “What do you say we get out of here?”
We found our new home in mid-January. After the worst move I’ve ever made (and I’ve made nearly 40), we officially arrived under tilting and sagging towers of bankers boxes—reminding me of medieval siege machines--on February 1. We’re by no means done unpacking yet, but, every once in awhile, a happy cry rises to the ceiling: “Look, dear! Floor!”
We’d been talking about moving to the Piedmont Avenue area for some years. We played often along the avenue and become familiar, friendly faces to a variety of merchants, bartenders and other habitués.
“When we move, maybe we should try to move here,” I sometimes said, while darkly aware that after decades of aiming at and missing every neighborhood I ever wanted to live in, I’d likely shoot wide again, hit something like E-ville. Maybe downtown Hayward. By the freeway. Across from the Southland Mall.
Our new place is a two-bedroom quarter of a 4-plex near the top of the hill in the hilly Grand Lake neighborhood, California, located between Piedmont and Grand Avenue, east of the 580 freeway, a few blocks west from the independent enclave of Piedmont.
The apartment is estimated to be 900 square feet, a significant shrinkage from our 1,500-foot-square beautifully tiled E-ville palace. We shook off and shed away many objects—at least a good third of my books and Elizabeth’s grand piano. Yet, skin and scale remain. Except for perhaps the piano, there’s been little mourning, at least by me. Tear the bandage, pain bursts and fades quickly.
The front of the new building isn’t much to look at: a plain yellow adobe face, windows at the corners. The garage is what nabbed our attention: no light, no plumbing, but huge, especially by Bay Area standards.
We enter our place on the left, up concrete steps and a paved path between rows of greenery--juniper, fuchsia, Agapanthus, lavender--to a heavy, weathered oaken gate that won’t click
shut; right, up short brick-red painted steps and we’re at our front door in the rear. Shoes off.
The living room—at the back of the unit—is large, cozy and welcoming. It has that beige color now ubiquitous in apartments everywhere—Dentist Office Decor, I call it. I theorize this scheme is popular with landlords, because it provides a blank canvas on which prospective tenants can better paint their own room-scape. Still, nothing beats a well-planed wood floor. In greener circumstances, I’d walk away from such blandness, but when we saw the stacked washer and dryer in the kitchen, we decided to sign on.
Other sacrifices: Both bedroom and office—at the front of the house--are 11’ x 11’ each, whereas the bedroom and office in E-ville were large to enough to swing a pride of lions. Large to where, like the rest of the house, they were difficult to keep clean. The new bathroom is amusingly tiny, with the entrance door and closet door opening into each other, but the shower head is extremely soothing: millions of tiny fingers drum on my sore back. (Among the startling facts I learned from this move, one is that I am now in my mid-50s).
We had DirectTV for eight years and were fond customers, but, unfortunately, the DTV tech and the landlord couldn’t reach agreement about the dish placement, so, with vast trepidation fed by a visit to Yelp!, we signed up with AT&T U-verse—sponsors of the iPhone, a device that so overwhelmed us with fabulousness that we got rid of it before it could empty our pockets. As for the U-verse, so far, so good. The DVR is a definite improvement in the age of atomized individual. I can easily keep up with International Mystery and TCM’s 3:00 am screenings of foreign films and other obscurities.
A more significant loss—to the amateur chef—is the kitchen. The drawer and shelf space is somewhat less than the E-ville house (which had been imaginatively, if not conveniently, designed), but the counter space is smaller, to where there’s likely no room for a microwave. I’ll get used to that again. Until I moved in with Elizabeth eight years ago, I’d never had one, ever. Pots and pans will hang on what wall space we have, a set-up I once found homey and attractive, until it was ruled corny and unfashionable sometime in the 1970s (a stupid era design-wise anyway).
The dining area is also small, so we’ve decided to buy a drop-leaf table, both to save space and to increase the prep area. I’m researching on how to cook well in a small burrow. Advice welcome.
But the biggest, most profound sacrifice of all is this—we can’t have a cat. Memories of Flo and the framed photo of her I gave to Elizabeth will have to do. We listen for her calling from the Shade.
In the Great Scheme, though, these are minor failings. Our new home is warmer, cozier and so much easier to take care of. The acoustics are warm: Bach and Ellington sound softer and sweeter in the soul than they ever did in the grand cave of our E-ville auditorium.
Because we’re on the first floor, there’s little direct sunlight, but the neighborhood is so open to the sky, reflected sunlight softly filters in everywhere, a gold and silver shimmer. At dusk, we can see the golden redness in the west from our bedroom window.
As I edit clients’ material, write these essays and struggle to get Dragon's Ark to market, I look out the soft-curtained window into a wide, bright neighborhood. If I’m lucky and alert, I sometimes see the postman coming up the walk.
It gets better. Come back and see.
Photos by Author
Copyright 2011 by Thomas Burchfield
Thomas Burchfield's contemporary Dracula novel Dragon's Ark will be published this Spring by Ambler House Publishing. Other essays and postings can also be read at The Red Room website for writers. He can also be friended on Facebook, tweeted at on Twitter and e-mailed at tbdeluxe [at] sbcglobal [dot] net.
Causes Thomas Burchfield Supports
The Nature Conservancy; Africare; Capitol Public Radio