I am thinking of walking in McCarren Park and taking an inventory of trees. Not as many as Dolores, and definitely less interesting. "This is not a park," I remember saying, "this is vacant lot full of hipsters on Pendleton blankets. This park is a lifestyle brand."
"Yeah they also have kickball" she said. And I wondered how long I'd last.
The same day I watched my new neighbor stomp a rat dead with his foot wearing nothing but cheap flip-flops. He did it so quickly and so casually. Alex looked at me, angry for getting us into this.
Still I put my plants on the bar-covered window sills and Alex brought home day-old croissants from work and we made the most of it, at first just happy our apartment was warm against the brutal winter, then realizing the temperature was actually rising inside until we slept without clothes, on top of the blankets, with all windows open and still, we roasted.
The heat announced itself with a series of loud metal pings that we called the dwarves. We lived off those free croissants and grew pale from insufficient winter coats and malnutrition. I can't remember ever taking a bath, or even what the tub looked like. That was January.
Before that, a tarantula infestation in California woods. That summer we lived off of a bulk-pack of veggie dogs leftover from a friend's baby shower, who at 22 was the first of us to get knocked-up. We didn't know it at the time, but Alex would be next.
In our shack in the woods we had nothing but a hardware store "hook and eye" latch to keep our door secure. This was not a sanguine "who needs locks" type of choice, but instead a kind of youthful safety roulette. Our neighbor kept a sawed-off shotgun by the front door and would make sure it was us coming up the path late at night. We felt safe. But sometimes search lights from a police helicopter would pass over our windows again and again, searching for someone who ran from East Oakland towards woods, seeking asylum.
Once Alex watched someone hop our fence and steal her bike in mid afternoon. They'd even made eye contact, and thus entered into an unspoken agreement to just carry on as though the other wasn't there. This was a best-case scenario. Still, when I came from work she was cheerful and presented me with a tiny lizard in a mixing bowl that she'd caught before the whole bike thing.
We passed a few more weeks like that in the shack and by the time the tarantulas got bad (one dropped from the ceiling onto my body while I was in the shower) we only had 3 days left in California. In preparation for the move we had a yardsale in the parking lot of Trader Joes — no one stopped us. The purpose of course was to downsize but we mostly just ended up buying each other's stuff, me unable to believe that she was selling her sheepskin rug and her incapable of understanding why I'd part with my Dallas Cowgirl boots.
The last thing I bought before leaving the Bay Area was a leather jacket I couldn't afford. For six months I'd been paid cash, under the table, and in that format money can feel like a lot more than it's really worth. But I needed something to make me feel on par with New York City, and I thought my vintage sundresses and wooden beads wouldn't cut it.
Alex on the other hand made clear in advance that she has no plans to let New York change her in any way. In our last days she grew out her leg and armpit hair in defiance, as she grew sad and apprehensive about leaving the place she'd lived her whole life. To cheer her up I taped up a picture of a Dominican girl in huge door-knocker gold earrings, metallic fuchsia hot pants, and brown lip-liner. I wrote "OUR NEW BEST FRIEND" across the bottom.
I tried to picture our new best friend visiting us at the shack and listening to records with us, or sharing a veggie dog on the concrete slab we called "the living room," but nope. She had to be in Brooklyn, and so did we.