It was my first place and by first place I mean a bedroom to put my stuff where if I wanted to leave my dirty socks on the floor for a week I could. Except that I had a girlfriend at the time who probably wouldn’t be too keen on having a boyfriend who wasn’t capable of picking up a pair of dirty socks and depositing them into the hamper five feet away. That being said I was king of my bedroom and had use of the kitchen, living room and my own bathroom. It was just like being home except now I was the one bitching about cable bills and not my father.
The problem with working from eleven at night until seven in the morning is that you are sleeping when the rest of the world is working and working when the rest of the world is sleeping so it ends up being a pretty solitary lifestyle. Then the weekends come and you have to figure out how to get your weekend back to the point you could interact with other human beings. In theory you do this by going home Friday morning and getting just enough sleep so you can be tired enough to sleep when everyone else is going to bed Friday night.
This is where being my father’s son comes into play where I only require a couple hours of sleep to stay up the better part of a decade. So after visiting with my girlfriend who still lived at home and getting the hairy eyeball from her mother at about midnight or so, I knew it was time for my weekly ritual of hanging out at the grocery store for a couple of hours. By this time I was a relatively accomplished home cook, but being short on money as most eighteen year olds are I was relegated to window shopping at the grocery store. Looking at all the ethnic food we didn’t have growing up in New Hampshire and thinking, do I need guava paste? After a couple hours I’d take my ramen, rice, pasta and cheap cuts of meat back to my castle.
Charlie, the man I was renting from initially came across initially as a kindly seventy year old man who was fiercely proud of being Armenian and would regale me with the history of his land and his people. Not being very good at world history and having a short attention span besides, I would quietly nod knowingly and wonder how long I had to sit there before I could take my leave and tend to the pile of dirty socks that had accumulated before my girlfriend came to visit. It wasn’t long before I came to see a different side of Charlie.
I came home late one Friday night after a weekly shopping excursion with shopping bags in both arms, using my elbow I flipped the light switch to expose a fully naked twenty something year old woman of color approaching me. You could have knocked me over with a feather when she approached me and asked “can you give me a bump?” Eh, ah… give you a… I’m sorry what?! You know, a bump… you have any coke?! Uh… no, I think all I got is ginger ale.
She chuckled and patted me on the shoulder as I stood staring into her dull sad yellowed eyes and dry almost cracked lips. “What’s going on?!” asked an annoyed Charlie who was standing at the top of the stairs wearing only boxers. The woman turned and ascended the flight of stairs and disappeared into Charlie’s bedroom with him following. After shutting the door they proceeded to have a muffled argument as I put away my groceries in stunned disbelief.
I slept in the next morning and coming down the stairs Charlie and his companion were in the kitchen making fried chicken and collard greens. Charlie introduced the woman looking fresh as a daisy as if the night before had never taken place. I sat staring as she used a brown paper shopping bag to coat the chicken and she explained how she grew up in Louisiana and this was how her mama had made it. As I had nowhere to go and a love for fried chicken I decided to stay and eat. It was some seriously amazing fried chicken and I remember being fascinated by the texture of collard greens with bits of ham hock and the magic that is potlikker.
I moved out of there a couple months, several of these situations, and many different chemically dependent women later to my own apartment. A couple of years later I read Charlie had been shot to death in his home by a young woman and it was apparently over a drug deal gone bad. Charlie was giving these girls money or drugs to support their habits in exchange for sex.
No there isn’t a happy ending to this story of one person taking advantage of another’s weaknesses but then again life isn’t always a sit-com where everything gets fixed in thirty minutes. It was a life lesson on what comes around goes around. It taught me that you shouldn’t always take advantage of a situation just because you can. And it was a primer on potlikker, collards and really good fried chicken that would serve me well when I moved to the south.