“I don’t see what I’ve done so wrong that I can’t live like everyone else in the world, live in a house and have a house that I can call home.”
– Sam (pseudonym) qtd in Besides one’s self: Homelessness felt and lived, by Catherine Robinson, p.93.
Last night I was able to get a proper look around at the studio, which as a real estate category is a brilliant demonstration of how cultural capital attracts cash capital by inferring arty, voluntary poverty and obscuring the always-at-work and the compulsory. I’d managed to clear some of the surfaces thanks to the introduction of a loft bed (thanks in turn to a sweet young man and his dad who drove out from Bankstown to put it together, muttering to each other in Macedonian about warped bolts and missing screws).
The place has been painted white in a great hurry – there are splashes of paint everywhere and bits of wall that have been painted around fittings, revealing a previous, khaki-coloured coating. Angry graffiti peeks out from behind the new paint: BURN DOWN THIS ROACH INFESTED DUMP is probably the one that well, burns the most.
Bits of floorboards are rotting away, and have been unconvincingly replaced with sticky tape, in clear and brown varieties. There is mould on the ceilings, around the skirting boards and the sink.
The shower is a very interesting capsule, lashed into place behind the sliding door that demarcates the bathroom. Disappointingly, only one of the many features the capsule boasts (including a telephone for those urgent saturation reports) seems to work. On the bright side, it’s the shower head where the water comes out. And it’s steady, hot and strong!
The owner had told the agent they would put a burner and microwave in, by way of providing cooking facilities, before I moved in. They didn’t, and when I asked the agent about it he asked me if I’d purchase them myself and then have him reimburse me. I bought a burner, being both uninterested in and unable to afford a microwave. Three weeks later, the agent asks if I can just take the price off my next rental payment.
The guy who lives directly above me plays a lot of jungle and house music which is by turns endearing and stabby-making. I’ve been sleeping on the floor, hipbones digging into wood, as relentless beats propulse and thud above me.
Two women live together in the room next door. They like chilies and are looking forward to my budding habanero plant doing its thing. There’s a quiet man who lives in the room at the front and two others upstairs that I’m yet to meet. There are two bathrooms between them all, one of them outside and one upstairs. There’s a lot of random stuff piled up in the front and back yards.
Next door is a typical local party house, apparently occupied by French, samba-loving, hippies.
I’ve agreed to pay $1130/month for this place (by cheque, because it’s the only option that doesn’t incur a charge beyond the ten cents on each cheque), and I’m so happy to be living alone again – surrounded by books, shutting the door to the world and sitting down (on the floor, at this point) to read and write. I feel free and rich.
I am the first residential tenant in a boarding house, my dwelling managed by the agency charged with boutiquifying this part of town on behalf of a certain billions-dollar property developer. The old wooden doorways and window frames, the high ceiling, a strip of red seventies tiling and “separate kitchen and bath”, along with those delightful floorboards, are the selling points; as of course is the location. “No junkies”. If you make it look like part of a burgeoning inner-city real estate portfolio, it seems, style will actually become substance.
I imagine the assumption here is that as a (relatively) high cultural capital, (relatively) low financial capital young professional I’m perfect for this gentrification test run. I’ll keep it clean and scrub off the mould and pretty it all up with the climbing plants currently sitting limp on the kitchen floor, tendrils reaching out to nothing. Slumlord and agent both get a nest egg and I get a romantic, minimalist microdive for approximately forty per cent of my income. And we all get to live. somewhere. Like everyone else in the world.
I laid down some futile ‘Goodbye Friends’ pennyroyal and tea tree infused paper strips, wondering how vegans in Manhattan deal with roach infestations and trying to remember how that joke went about sharehousing with roaches in that scene in Fame (the real one). Roaches do seem to live forever.
Because I’ve been working at a university this month I’ve been able to apply for and arrange the tenancy “from work” – having the use of printing, photocopying and scanning services. A marvellously timed blessing. I can also get net access there and I live close enough to campus to walk down on a cool evening to check my email, tune into Twitter, download things to read back at home.
I think they’re wrong about the climbing plants. There might be more to these long-armed organisms that coil around structure: snaking and greening, choking and blooming.