I only once in my life experienced a real cold-water flat. This was in New York on Avenue A, in what is now called Alphabet City. I was staying with this woman for two days, I believe, uninvited on this occasion, sleeping across the end of her bed. I was 18 or 19 years old at the time.
Except for the lack of hot water, there was nothing especially unsavoury about this woman's apartment. She hadn't been living there very long and the second night I was there was the first time she decided to take a bath. Heating water on the stove for the bathtub apparently worked fairly well. I didn't get to sample it.
Here in Sydney, Steve/Sylviane does have hot water. But somehow the phrase "cold-water flat" does keep coming to mind.
"I'm sure that you'll get along with my flat-mate Peter," Steve had written me. (I've been fairly successful in using the masculine name, but less so at using the corresponding pronoun.) "Everybody always likes you."
"Peter is willing to baby-sit Cassiopée so we can go out at night together sometime."
Well, this was a considerable misrepresentation of the situation. True, there was no major difficulty between me and Peter. All I knew at first was that he was very seldom present, and when present was locked in his room most of the time.
The main problem, I eventually learned was between Peter and Steve.
Anyway, when I arrived I didn't yet know what the plan was. Steve had talked about finding a hotel room for me, and then told me how to find his flat when I arrived, and I had thought that I might be staying there only a day or two.
This apartment (not really a flat by the San Francisco definition) was actually fairly large, but somehow the space was mostly not very usable. As previously described, Steve and I were sharing a somewhat small bedroom, sleeping not in the same bed but almost side by side except for a different in height of about half a meter. Steve's 7-year-old Cassiope had her own bedroom next door.
As far as I was concerned, this arrangement seemed reasonably okay, despite the fact that there was really no room for me to unpack my suitcases.
But Steve kept talking about how unsatisfactory the apartment was for her. She couldn't decorate it and arrange it and make it her own. She couldn't even walk naked to the bathroom, she said, "because it would completely freak Peter out."
With three months left on the lease, I didn't see this as sufficient justification for moving. It seemed obvious that there was something else going on that I wasn't being told.
Steve told me only that he had let Peter sleep on the floor in the room he had been sharing with Cassiopée at a backpackers hostel, since Peter had got into an argument with the manager and got kicked out of his own room. And they decided that it would make sense to find an apartment to share, which they did. According to Steve, they got along fine for several months but then got into a big argument and after that Steve started avoiding Peter, frequently coming home late, leaving Peter to pick up Cassiopée from school in the evening and baby-sit her. I was never told what this argument was about and, following my usual custom, I didn't ask.
Peter was/is heterosexual but had no interest in being sexual with Steve. Which makes sense, after all, if one accepts Steve's own evaluation of himself/herself as a male. Maybe if I hadn't known Steve so well when she was Sylviane, I might have had major difficulty in that respect myself.
It would take quite a bit of space to fill in all the details about these people you don't know. So let me just say that the arrangement between Steve and Peter had been typical of arrangements between friends, with nothing written down, and that as usually happens, afterwards there was considerable disagreement about what had been agreed to and who owed who what. I have to say that the more I heard about the situation, the more sympathetic I became to Peter's side.
On the other hand, Steve had certainly paid the initial deposit ("bond," in Australia) on the apartment and the first two-weeks rent, and had been making regular payments afterward to the real-estate agent for his share of the rent. Whereas Peter was consistently behind in his payments and had concealed from Steve a number of warning letters from the agent. In fact, unknown to Steve, there was a letter from the agent warning that the lease would be terminated on what turned out to be the Saturday after Steve moved out. This was not exactly a notice of eviction, which can only be issued by the court (the "Tribunal"), but rather what might be called a notice of a notice. Well, you don't need to know about all that.
The point is that Steve now has a new apartment for himself and Cassiopee and, for the time being, me, although after two months here now, I leave tomorrow for San Francisco.
This apartment, like the previous one, does have hot water, but it must date back to the 1930's. Certainly no later than the 1940's. There are separate hot and cold water faucets on opposite sides of the bathroom sink, at least a meter apart, so washing one's hands takes a bit of practice, since the hot water is very hot. The kitchen sink also has separate faucets, instead of a nozzle that swivels. There are two electrical outlets in the living room and two in the kitchen, one in one of the bedrooms and none in the other. But so far, the wiring has proved quite capable of dealing with several extension cords.
Despite the inconveniences, though, Steve really likes the apartment and I have to admit that it has its appeal for me as well. The big deal is that it has a real (although very basic) kitchen, with a door. And a real kitchen table, big enough to seat three adults and one kid. Much as I like bars, the sort of bar one finds in a contemporary kitchen is, in my opinion, no substitute for a good honest kitchen table that one can sit around and smoke at and drink wine at and talk late into the night. For my part, I don't smoke and never have, but I've always found something nice about sitting around a kitchen table with a few smokers.
The living room is for watching the movies one has rented, of course.
Being here in this funky apartment has been in some ways a reversion to an earlier period in my life, when I was in my early twenties.
I have never felt that I really knew a woman if her apartment looked like it was ready for a photo shoot for the magazine in the Sunday paper. It would be totally unfair to use the word "hippie" in describing Steve's apartment, but "bohemian" quickly comes to mind. And not bohemian chic, but rather we-don't-have-much-but-we-have-the-basics bohemian. Or perhaps "improvisational" would be a better word.
But I have to admit that in some ways, the improvisational approach to life as a whole has become very old for me though. I get tired of always being the designated adult, as well as the designated sober person, listening to drunken conversations where the same sentences keep repeating over and over again. ("But he changed the locks," Steve kept saying, speaking of her former roommate after Steve had moved out, but at a time when he was continuing to pay rent on the old apartment.)
But I shouldn't exaggerate. The drunkenness is rather rare, and, I think, more psychological than due to the actual alcohol intake, which amounts to only a couple quarts of beer or a couple of bottles of wine between the two or us.
It's nothing like some of the women I've previously lived with, who needed a breakfast beer and sat around drinking tequila all evening or even all afternoon.
(Here the story ends. Somehow I lost interest in writing any more.)