The More Complete Stranger: An Apartment Worth The Security Deposit

The alley cats of St. Charles Apartments had absolutely no interest in upward class mobility—consistently refusing the saucers of tuna and bowls of milk I’d leave for them at the bottom of the fire escape. They unanimously preferred rummaging the dumpster for scraps. 

But the dumpster was never full of food, really, at least nothing substantial enough for a gang of street tough vagrant cats. Which brings me to my first point about St. Charles: The cats were only there for the liquor remnants—only interested in taking their sandpaper tongues and licking the empties bone dry. As a frequent contributor to its daily dead soldier deposit I can offer, hand to Thor, an honest and upright account of the weekly dumpster contents: 75% beer cans, 20% hard alcohol bottles, 3% wine bottles, and 2% food. I find it hard to swallow that the cats just didn’t like me. Were they afraid of me? Afraid I was participating in underground cat fighting? Were they racist? Perhaps. But, I deduced that like most of the residents, the cats were alcoholics.

St Charles Apartments

As a frequent contributor to its daily dead soldier deposit I can offer, hand to Thor, an honest and upright account of the weekly dumpster contents: 75% beer cans, 20% hard alcohol bottles, 3% wine bottles, and 2% food. I find it hard to swallow that the cats just didn’t like me. Were they afraid of me? Afraid I was participating in underground cat fighting? Were they racist? Perhaps. But, I deduced that like most of the residents, the cats were alcoholics.

I moved to St. Charles in June 2010. It’s a century old three-story building that changes property management about every two years. I stayed there for one year and went through two landlords. There was a very distinct separation of archetypes per floor. On the first floor lived the substance abusers. On the second dwelled the working-two-to-three-jobs-single-parents. Bohemians and all around misfits made up the third floor.

All of this brings me to my second point: St. Charles Apartments are to Yakima what Chelsea Hotel was to New York between 1963 and 1984. For those of you unfamiliar with the Chelsea Hotel, it was the de facto home of Sid Vicious, Andy Warhol, Jim Morrison, Patti Smith, et al.—well known for contributing to the arts, but notorious for copious amounts of alcohol and drug consumption. St. Charles was full of poets, artist, and agents of vice. Not one day went by without hearing a party (glass breaking, screaming, running, stumbling, doors slamming, police arriving, etc.). It became an all too familiar song—a cacophony of stomping on the floors and dry heaving.

But, it was all somehow balanced by the art. Midnight jam sessions and poetry readings. Short story collaborations and painting parties in high-ceilinged rooms filled with books and antique furniture. We had intellectual discussions begetting cathartic life-affirming moments. I know a handful of Yakima artists and most of them lived in there at some point. They could tell you about the glass. And they could tell you about the times when nothing mattered but the moment.

 

The Chelsea in NYCBobbi Bowers/Flickr

The Chelsea Hotel in NYC

It took three days for my neighbor to confess: He didn’t kill the bat, but he was the one who put it in our hallway. There was a bat infestation the summer I moved in. Property management got rid of the bats, but not before my neighbor decided to have a little fun. He got his hands on a bat that apparently died of natural causes and laid it to rest about three feet from my door. I woke up one morning and saw it. And, l just walked away. Which brings me to point three: Nothing was shocking.  

That summer I:

  1. Was offered illegal substances on numerous occasions
  2. Dragged a passed out, 300-pound woman down the hallway
  3. Was told by the cops to lookout for a fugitive
  4. Caught a couple having sex in the parking lot
  5. Watched a homeless man climb out of the dumpster (2% food)

Who gives a shit about a dead bat in the hallway?

I stayed there for one year. I made great friends and I have a well-spring of stories to share. Beneath the surface, there was something very endearing about the place. I called it home. And I called every one of those cats mine.