The following is a series of posts that were originally published on an old blog of mine in November 2006, shortly after I started a new job in San Francisco. While searching for affordable, permanent housing (a seemingly futile endeavor), I stayed in a dingy transient hotel. This is my story.
Arrival, November 9
Between a tattoo parlor and an adult entertainment store (call 989-LUST), a dirty-white “Hotel” on a haggard blue awning invites me in, and up the carpeted steps. Like most San Francisco streets — if you pause a moment in your rush — the hotel’s fragrance is a soft mixture of B.O. and urine, with hints of dust and smoke. Where one scent stops and another begins, I defy you to identify.
The room, 10 by 10 feet — fifteen dollars more than the 8 by 8 — is more inviting than I’d hoped. I don’t know what color fuchsia is, but I’m tempted to say that is the color of the small dresser and nightstand. A thin comforter on the twin bed matches the burgundy freckles in the teal carpet. There’s a mirror on one wall, and a painting of an impressionist’s river on the other. Other artifacts complete the ambience: a lamp, a dining room chair, a small sink, and an indentation in the wall (meant as a closet).
And the smell! Oh, glory of glories! It smells like… a hotel room! A crisp, sanitary scent. This quickly wears off, of course, but it is enough to give me at least a moment’s illusion that this is not hell. I drop two bills for a week. This is my new home.
This particular stretch of Broadway, between Montgomery and Columbus, is known affectionately (my guide book assures me) as The Strip, and is saturated with “adult entertainment”: strip clubs, burlesque shows, peep shows, video and paraphernalia stores. This seems intimidating, but thankfully this strip is just that — a thin sliver, quickly bypassed. A block away begins my journey with the Beat writers and SF literati of the past. North Beach (which is not a beach, but a neighborhood) lies northwest, and creeps up Telegraph Hill’s sloping west side. This is where literature was born in the 50’s. It makes me wish wish I’d read something by Kerouac. And two blocks away, Washington Square spreads before Saints Peter and Paul Church, which towers briefly before being dwarfed by Coit Tower atop the hill to the east.
So here I am. I still don’t know how I got here.
Bugs, November 16
I was planning on growing my hair out — long and insulating, for all those cold, lonely winter nights. But I think I’ll buzz it all off instead, because I’m pretty sure I have fleas.
I feel I may have misled you by giving the impression that hotel life was better than horrible. Consider this my editorial correction.
I mentioned the smell that permeates the whole building, with my 10×10 square as the lone olfactory oasis. This conglomeration of foul odors seems to concentrate in the narrow hallway outside my room — what I’ve come to think of as… The Hall of Doom! Doors are staggered along both sides of this 20-foot stretch of carpet. From one door, there’s a steady hum-buzz, like a noisy air filter or maybe some kind of sulfur-mining equipment. Another door suggests my grandfather’s dirty-clothes hamper — he was a sweaty man, and, before he died, lacked convincing bladder control. The other doors, seldom open beyond a crack, hide untold and terrifying mysteries.
I must walk down this hallway every time I want to shower or use one of the three toilets I share with 30 neighbors on the second floor. Two of these toilets were seemingly installed during the crazy, low-flow, conservation days of the ‘80s, because they’re made of flimsy plastic and have a difficult time with what those in the plumbing industry refer to as “flushing.” So, four times out of five, I’ll enter the little toilet-closet to find that one of my overzealous neighbors (God bless ‘em!) has donated a few too many daffodils, gumdrops, and rainbows. The poor low-flows just can’t handle it. So with these two, I usually have to catch them right after the cleaning lady’s had at them (without a touch of sarcasm: God bless her). And even then it’s a bit dicey if I’ve got daffodils of my own.
Fortunately, there is one toilet — if you’re lucky enough to find it unoccupied — that offers relief: Peerless Brand, from Evansville, Indiana. It looks like it’s as old as the building — sturdy porcelain, with curves so inviting — and the water pressure! This sucker was built to handle the Kaiser’s cronies from the Great War and those Nazi scum. It don’t take crap from nobody! (ahem) However, there is one villain who can defeat it — a scoundrel not uncommon, I imagine, in the chemical-drenched trenches of WWI. Often I’ll enter this toilet-closet only to be assaulted with a veritable wall of gaseous villainy. The good news is, it doesn’t smell like smoke. No, there’s no scent of dust or B.O. here. It’s not even urine. No, what we have here is the stench of 100% Grade-A, all-natural, old-fashioned, heaping portions of p—
Oops! I almost forgot to mention my bug problem.
Early in my stay I noticed an uninvited mite scampering along the seam of the hotel-provided bed comforter. (I’d already planned on spreading my own sheet over the bed and using my own blankets.) No big deal, I thought. You know what they say: “You have to kiss a few frogs…” But then on laundry day, as I lie on my uncovered bed, there he was again — the flea that wouldn’t flee. To be fair, I’m not sure if they’re fleas. They might be ticks or some other manner of blood-sucking critter. After I squashed him between pieces of napkin, I found a bright red ooze — the telltale sign of the beating of that hideous heart! I hope and wonder if it was my own.
And — not a moment ago — I caught a glimpse — then another — of everyone’s favorite scurrying, scavenging, antennae-wiggling, Meet the Parents-directing, nuclear-holocaust-surviving bugger.
And yet, somehow the pastel pink nightstand makes it all seem not so bad.
Thanksgiving Reflections, November 29
I had to alter my plans for a caustic Thanksgiving blog. I’d planned on writing about how thankful I was that I had a nice place to live that was clean, and that I don’t get bitten by bugs and then attacked by bacteria resulting in a staph infection that makes me sick for a week. Then, I’d say, “Oh, wait. I’m not thankful for that. Because I do live in a dirty-gross hotel and I do get bitten by bugs and I did get a staph infection that made me sick for a week.” We all would have had a good, ironic laugh, and that would have been that.
But that’s not that.
I’m being evicted.
Yeah. I’m being kicked out of my $200 a week, 10×10, stinky, infected, roach-infested hotel room. I have 24 hours to get the hell out.
Why? you ask. Good question. Is it because I didn’t pay my rent? No. Hmm. Was I boisterous and disturbing to the other guests? Of course not. Well, maybe I left the front door unlocked at night, letting in strippers and bums? Unfortunately, no. Then what?
I haven’t been at my job long enough.
No, I didn’t just change the subject. That’s the answer. I had to fill out some bullshit rental application (already ridiculous for this prepay-by-the-week situation), and the rental gods deemed my one month on the job insufficient (and apparently they don’t care about my previous employment).
I find this entertaining — in a kick-me-in-groin, catch-22 kind of way — because of course the only reason I’m in this shithole is because I’ve only been in town one month and I haven’t established myself and found a permanent place to live. Why else would I be here?!
The manager seems like kind of an asshole, and this whole system they have here is just effed up. I really don’t believe I’m getting kicked out because I haven’t had a job long enough, although I can’t imagine what the real reason would be.
Whatever the case, it’s “So long, Stinktown” for me.
Come back later this week for the rest of the story. And to read even more, even less true stories from me, give me money.