by Bethany Ball
A few months after I arrived in New York City, I was homeless.
My friend Joe, who I’d rented a room from, hadn’t paid the rent on his sublet and the locks had been changed. Joe, en route to Chicago, wasn’t too concerned. I was frantic.
A friend tipped me off to a building—a nearly burned out structure on the desolate block of 109th and Amsterdam—that a woman from Calcutta had just inherited from her uncle. When I first met Elizabeth, she was on her hands and knees in a simple colorful sari, hand-sanding the floor of one of the apartments. She wore a mask over her face, which she did not remove. When she stood up she came to my waist. Elizabeth was kind enough to let me live in one of the unrenovated apartments, until a renovated one opened up. The problem was the renovations never got done. The apartment had three large bedrooms, kitchen and a large living room with a fireplace. But it was all rubble, dust and debris and, it appeared after months of ‘repairs’, it would never be anything else. Elizabeth hired drug addicts and crooks. They tore down windows without reason, cut pipes, smashed tiles and pulled down the drywall. They put wood studs in the middle of living spaces for rooms they never finished. Keys to my apartment, furnished by Elizabeth, allowed them to enter my apartment whenever they pleased and I would often return home to find things left behind; a sweat jacket, a pair of jeans, that day’s New York Post.
I lived in the one room that locked. I covered holes in the wall with a photograph of my great grandfather with his violin. A water-damaged print of the Virgin and Child covered up another. The rest of the apartment was filled with bric-a-brac, bug-eyed Keane figurines, clothing and furniture, piled floor to ceiling in the other two rooms.