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My First Stint In Philly Part II
A beautiful spring day in late May. The dogwood tree in my front yard had just started to bloom, small white buds peeking out all over. The grass was heading toward long. I’d have to cut it over the weekend. But it was nice to be home. After fourteen hours in a plane, the hour long car ride from the airport had seemed a little luxurious, and stretching out on my couch and putting my feet up for a few hours was going to be absolutely fucking fantastic. My wife wouldn’t be home from work for a couple more hours, so it was just me, the dogs and the house I never got to see any more. Or at least the one I hadn’t seen in three weeks.
I got up to the front door and noticed something odd in the sunroom to my left. It was an old glassed in porch, with some sliding doors and screens. It was also the only room “in the house” where I could smoke, so if something was amiss, I’d notice it right away. I spent a good deal of time in there, reading and smoking and hanging out with my brother in law after we’d gone fishing. I guess that’s why she left them there. She knew that I’d notice them right away and wouldn’t even try the front door, which was good because my key wouldn’t have worked anyway.
I wasn’t exactly sure why they were out in the sun room. It never even entered into my mind that they contained the rest of my clothes and what was left of my toiletries. It certainly hadn’t occurred to me that my keys wouldn’t work in my front door and the dogs weren’t barking like they should have been. I had talked to my wife when I was in Munich, just before I had gotten on the plane. She hadn’t acted strange. She hadn’t said anything off, nothing that would make me suspicious. She certainly hadn’t said “Don’t come home. I’ve taken the dogs to my mother’s house and won’t be home for a few days. Now take your suitcases and get off my property.” Of course, she hadn’t needed to say it. It was written in a note in the manila envelope.
I tried my keys anyway, knowing full well that she’d have changed the locks and modified the alarm code. Even if I did get in, I wouldn’t be able to turn that fucking thing off, and then I’d have to explain to the police why I was breaking into my own house. So, I sat down on the couch and just stared at the front door for a few minutes, my brain stuttering and halting, as the realization started to dawn on me. But it wasn’t working. My brain had shut down. I was gobsmacked, numb and almost totally shut down.
No wife. No house. No dogs. Everything I technically needed was in these three suitcases. Fourteen hours on a fucking plane, three weeks and eighteen months of working my ass off and these three suitcases were all I had to show for it. No place to sleep, except the car. No one to curl up next to me, give me a hug and a kiss when I needed one. No one to curl up next to me on the couch on a rainy day and read with me. Nothing. I tried to call her, but the computerized Verizon voice told me that my number had been blocked from her phone.
Still sitting on the couch, I called my brother in law. He and I had been friends long before I had started dating his sister. We’d skated together, fished together and almost been killed together a handful of times. He’d introduced me to his sister, he was the best man at my wedding and he was my best friend. My only remaining friend. That’s the funny thing about traveling all the time. Not only do you lose your wife, but all your friends write you off as well. But he’d know what was going on. His phone rang a hundred times, and I was pretty sure he wouldn’t pick up. Finally, his wife answered and put him on the phone.
“I’m not asking you take sides,” I started, “but I expect that you know what’s happening ?” He told me that, according to my wife, it was just too hard on her while I was gone. She wanted a man who was around and that it really wasn’t working for her anymore. He told me that he had a spare key if I needed to get anything out of the house. I had to give my wife credit; she’d covered all the angles. Of course, she’d had a lot of time to think about it. “I’ve got a friend,” he said, “who needs another roommate. It’s cheap and he said you could crash there for a few weeks if you needed to.” “Gimme the number,” I said.
Anthony was an Italian kid. I called him and we talked for a bit. I found out that we were about the same age and his wife had kicked him out about six months earlier. He had a three bedroom place in Southwest Philly and was looking for another roommate. The place was cheap and a little seedy but I could move in immediately. He gave me directions to his place and told me I could meet him there in a couple of hours. “Fantastic,” I thought as I hung up the phone, “I’m moving to the Badlands.”
After driving around seedy neighborhoods for two hours, I finally found the place. It was a run down, brick row house on an amazingly dirty block. I knocked on the front door and Anthony let me into what would be my new home. It was laid out a little strangely. The front door led you into what used to be the garage; which had been converted into a kitchen and living area. It was all cheap blue carpeting and cinderblock walls. As a matter of fact, it looked exactly like what a garage converted into a kitchen should look like. There was a spiral staircase in the middle of the room that’d take you upstairs to the bedrooms and the bath, and right next to it was a kitchen table and some chairs. Anthony and I talked for a little bit. I wasn’t sure how long I’d be staying, I told him. He said that it was cool and that he’d show me my room. We went upstairs and he showed me around. It was dingy and depressing and certainly not my fucking house. I suggested we go get drunk and he wholeheartedly agreed.
Three hours later, the booze and the jetlag caught up to me and killed the adrenaline that’d been keeping me going for the last few hours. Blind drunk, we stumbled back to the house and I found that the spiral staircase was not something to be toyed with when I was drunk. It was old and not very wide, completely not negotiable by my drink numbed brain and feet. I slept in the couch in the living room instead. When I woke up the next day, I was ready to take on the world…. Until I moved. The mother of all hangovers had decided to take root in my skull and it appeared she wasn’t leaving. So I lay there on the couch for a few minutes, trying to put the previous day back together in my head, trying to figure out why I was sleeping on a vaguely familiar couch and where the hell I was. Then it all came back at once.
I got off the couch and navigated my way to the kitchen, Mother Hangover causing me to shake and stutter the whole way. A young-ish man was sitting at the kitchen table, drinking a cup of coffee and playing with something small and furry. I introduced myself and he told me he was the other housemate, Lynne. I grabbed a cup of coffee and slammed it, feeling it burn all the way down. Between the pain and the caffeine, I felt a little better than hammered shit, which was an improvement over how I had been feeling. I looked over at the table. The furry thing was doing everything it could to get away from Lynne.
“Cute cat,” I said. He told me his girlfriend had given it to him the night before, on a whim. “I don’t know what I’m going to do with it, though,” he said, “I’m not a cat person.” I sat down across from him at the table and clucked my tongue at the kitten. She was small and gray, about six weeks old. As soon as I clucked my tongue at her, she ran across the table towards me and jumped onto my shoulder. She stuck her nose in my ear and started purring, rubbing herself all over me. “Guess Pearl’s got a new boyfriend,” came a voice from above. Anthony was heading down that damnable staircase, smiling a little. I waved to him and told him that I was off to get my stuff. He tossed me a set of keys.
The AC died in mid June. This being an old row home, there were only so many windows that could be opened to get any sort of breeze running through the house. The temperature continued to climb and finally my housemates just started legging it to the girlfriend’s places every night. It was too hot to sleep, too hot to move. I would come home every night with a case of shitty beer and Pearl and I would just sit, trying not to move. We’d sit in the living room, watching whatever was on, me drinking myself stupid and her purring in my ear and sitting on my shoulder. The AC finally got repaired in late August, just in time for the weather to cool off and once it got fixed, my housemates returned as well.
Even though the place sucked, Pearl and the booze kept me from going anywhere else. It’s amazing what you can find tolerable when you’re loaded all the time. The camel’s back had to break though. It finally snapped when I found out Anthony had been using all the money we’d been giving him for bills on blow. Apparently his girlfriend had a candy habit and he was more than happy to feed her sweet tooth. Of course, I didn’t find this out in the traditional manner, with the half dead girlfriend lying on the floor, a few lines still next to her on the coffee table. Instead, I came home after a long day to find that we were the only house on the block without power. Once inside, I found a letter on the floor from the power company (that I read by flashlight) telling Anthony that he owed somewhere in the area of $2000 and that power would be restored when he paid the bill.
I packed my things into the car that night and told Pearl I was leaving. She purred in my ear for a little bit and then licked my nose. I left Anthony a note on the Kitchen table, right next to the notice from the power company. I even left him the flashlight, so he could read it. I got back into my car and left Philadelphia.