When I lived in Chicago, I so wanted someday to live in one of the wonderful old brownstones on the North Side. Or a greystone or a redbrick, but you get my point. A few hours to the north of the North Side where I grew up there were just old plank farmhouses (which may have received new white aluminum siding from Sears), dull long ranch homes with massive picture windows, or some tri-level monstrosity that passed for modern cool, with long gravel driveways and a basketball hoop on the garage door. When I finally got to the CITY, the brownstones just seemed so different, with history before 1963 and that weren’t splattered with manure spreader remnants. I had visions of settling into one of them, with the warm oak floors, small rooms with tall windows, steep stairways, long hallways, an iron gate out front, maybe sitting out on the front stoop on a pleasant summer evening with a hipster baby cooing and bouncing on my knee, watching people walk by and cars circling to try to find a parking spot on the narrow tree-lined streets.

Well, that didn’t happen. It’s expensive to live in the Lincoln Park/Old Town area of Chicago, and the rents on those charming old places were crazy and completely out of my very modest league. So some readjustment in charm was needed to be able to stay in the neighborhood, and Rienzi Plaza was my first Chicago apartment, at Clark and Diversey.

There was certainly great novelty in living in a high-rise, which I had never done before; I had never even lived in a building with an elevator or a communal laundry room. It was a small one-bedroom; just two white boxes of rooms with a tiny kitchen and a bathroom with shower water that was so bleachy you thought you’d come out of there as Edgar Winter. The windows looked out over some chain restaurant and the roar of their HVAC system added to the city ambiance. Unfortunately, the rental agent did not inform me at the lease signing that half the building was designated for Section 8 occupants, and after a year of sketchy people in the laundry room drinking beer and wild children running around the halls at 2AM, it was time to look for a new place.

I wanted a home with more old character, and walked the streets up and down most of the spring trying to see if some magic low-rent sign would go up in one of the brownstones. I waited and waited for something great to come by, and it wasn’t coming and we’d already given notice that we were bailing from Rienzi. So what did I do on a snowy April night? I put a panic deposit on a mid-century yellow-block place further south on Clark Street by Fullerton – a 3rd floor walkup above some stores and a very busy bus stop. This was very close by.

It was bigger – 3 rooms! – but with a vile brown-and orange roach-filled mini-kitchen that was so unappealing I cooked no meal in it even once. The laundry was located down in the creepy basement in one of the other buildings, so you had to go outside down the 3 stories of slippery metal fire-escape-style stairs in all weather, which means I tried as often as possible to take copious loads of laundry back up to Wisconsin for my mom to do. She actually would smile and be happy about this. The bus at the stop massively rattled the old single-pane windows ‘round the clock, the TV and phone reception was piss poor, and the stairs got real, real old.

Next spring, another house hunt, down Fullerton by the El stop at Sheffield right by the DePaul University campus. This was a major step up – a large and totally renovated former monastery (or nunnery, something religious and maybe celibate) called The Sanctuary. For $1100 a month we had a nice 3-room ground floor apartment in a historic building with a stacked laundry in the galley kitchen, TWO bathrooms, AND a dedicated underground parking space AND cable TV! There was still a rumbling bus stop, but at least there were better windows to muffle it. Heaven! It really was more than we could afford, but hey.

Fate either kindly or cruelly stepped in at this point, because a few months after we got settled into this new joint, DePaul bought up the whole building for student housing and we received notice that we HAD TO GO. I had kind of figured out that my vision of the homey-yet-elegant yuppie family brownstone life was completely not happening, and I was looking for a major change. So that last spring as I turned 27, we piled into the NEW Toyota Camry station wagon which we also couldn’t afford (thanks again Mom, that ’68 Firebird was a hazard) and drove across the Plains with two screaming, shitting cats to move to Colorado, a place I had visited briefly only twice. We stayed for 15 years.

The entire inspiration for this post was this recent interview with Ray Davies from NYC’s NBC station. It takes place on a old Brooklyn brownstone apartment stoop, hence the segment’s name, Talk Stoop. He says some very interesting things, as he usually does, and some of them are probably true. He also kisses the interviewer and gets a kiss back, which is so totally a Ray thing to do. And it's a very me thing to do to take one thing and make it into another thing, huh.

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