The first time S. and I moved to Pittsburgh, it took us three trips to the city to get an apartment. On the first visit, we looked at apartments in the strip district, because I had the notion that living in a little flat tucked between an Italian food warehouse and a dried flower shop would be romantic. Once we actually saw the flats, which were made almost entirely out of concrete and no larger than the kitchen in my then-current apartment, I abandoned any notion I had of a bohemian self and returned to West Virgninia and the classifieds section of the Post-Gazette.
I don’t remember our second visit beyond the fact people kept renting their apartments before we arrived to view them, but on the third visit, weary from the preparation of moving and desperate for a place to live by the time my graduate program began, we visited two apartment buildings run by the same landlord in Shadyside. We entered both apartments from Negley Avenue and so really only knew a few facts about Shadyside: 1, according to my graduate school guide, Shadyside rested on multiple buslines, making transportation to and from school easy, 2, lots of students from Pitt and Carnegie Mellon called it home, and 3, it fit within the “no tunnels, no bridges” rule S. and I had already heard uttered from time to time. And because the apartment wasn’t falling apart, and there was a handyman on the premise, and we so desperately needed a place to live, we signed the lease before learning what our neighborhood had to offer.
I think I will always remember walking out the backdoor of the apartment building on that steamy July afternoon, the sky nearly white from the heat, and walking towards Walnut Street, not because Walnut Street is so fantastic but because I never lived anywhere, even in college, like it. Clothing stores, coffee shops,a gym, restaurants, pizzarias, bars and markets lined up block after block, designed for my own convenience. A straight, two-mile shot to the university and my Pittsburgh cocoon was instantly created…to Oakland for teaching, classes, poetry readings and coffee with friends, home to Shadyside for dinner, studying, drinks, trips to peripheral neighborhoods like Squirrel Hill for movies and downtown for nice evenings on the town.
S. and I stayed in the apartment building for the full three years of my program. Everything a person needs to accomplish can be accomplished within the couple-mile radius of Shadyside, which appealed to my innate laziness right away. I could work out, grocery shop, buy lightbulbs, grab a cappuccino, drop of my drycleaning, go out for dinner, get my hair cut…all by walking five blocks in any given direction. I grew so lazy and comfortable in my neighborhood that girlfriends and I would meet in our pajama bottoms for coffee before going to yoga class. We resented outsiders, men and women who came in to shop for the afternoons from the suburbs, for cluttering up our sidewalks, for pushing their ginormous strollers through the coffee shops, for being the reason drink prices went up on weekends. When I said goodbye to Shadyside, I said goodbye not only to the neighborhood but to the network of people who buoyed by throughout my rather arduous graduate school experience – the manager at Doc’s, who would buy me a drink when I felt blue, my hairdresser, Cory, who was helping me achieve Sarah Jessica Parker tresses, the butcher at Shadymarket who always cut the most beautiful lamb chops , Brian, my yoga instructor, who taught me to meditate – I said goodbye to people who over time help you create a whole entire existence. I remember putting the mixed cd my friend E. had made for me, driving away from the city, heading towards Ohio, the feeling S. and I had made a terrible mistake the only company in the car with me.
Well, of course. Things change, and I won’t go into the dozen reasons moving to Michigan was a Good Thing for me, nor will I go into at least the same number of reasons returning to Pittsburgh was as well. When my current employer hired me, and I needed to start a few months before S. could join me, I naturally gravitated to my old neighborhood, for the sake of comfort – for knowability.
Again, the duress of finding an apartment quickly. Again, a hasty move. But we found an apartment in Shadyside, one with a new kitchen and hardwood floors and nice neighbors. The first few months I lived there without S. and glorious months they were – I played a lot of Amy Winehouse and took long baths and drank martinis. What was old was new again and I renewed my relationships with the manager at Doc’s, my hairdresser, my dry cleaners. I had been gone less than three years, which isn’t terribly long in the scheme of a lifetime, and it was easy to melt back into the neighborhood I had loved.
Cut to a month ago
For the one hundredth or one thousandth time, S. and I walk ed out onto our apartment’s front porch only to be greeted by a pile of dog poop wrapped in plastic, left on the ledge. We were often greeted by steaming piles of dog shit because our upstairs neighbors, who had one dog when we moved in and adopted a puppy over the summer, were generally too lazy to get the feces all the way to the garbage can and left them, inexplicably, on the front porch for all to see. Maybe one of us could have called up the gumption to make the transfer for our neighbors but we were both so exhausted we prevented ourselves from doing any activity beyond eating, reading, and trying to occasionally sleep.
As it turns out, student neighborhoods are fabulous. For students. Three years may not be much when it comes to memory, but I believe there is a lifetime between twenty-seven and thirty-one. The parties on our street alone were aggravating, but even more disruptive were the drunk students who wandered from party to party, drunkenly “Woo-hooing” and screaming into their cell phones. The noise on the weekend might not have been so awful it we hadn’t lived below the neighbors who adopted my arch nemesis, Miles the Puppy. Miles the Puppy DOES NOT like to be left alone, and whenever his owners left him at the same time, which was often between work and school, he would howl, bark, and cry until they returned. He never, like most dogs I have experience with, grew used to his crate; he never cried enough to put himself to sleep. No, Miles would spent the first few hours of his abandonment barking and crying but by hour three or four he would begin throwing his body against his crate, moving it slowly across the living room above us, instigating fear in his sister-dog, Maggie, until they both howled and wailed until one of their owners return. And because both of our neighbors did shift work, and left at 4 in the morning, the Miles and Maggie routine began around 4:15 Every. Single. Morning. No matter what we did we couldn’t avoid the wailing, but neither could we adjust to our morning wake-up call, so all we really did about the situation was complain to one another.
All of that noise, though, is not conducive for two people in a relationship, neither of whom are great sleepers to begin with. Waking up in the morning to lazily-left dog poop only magnified the problem. We were so tired and so irritated that the neighborhood I once used to idealize as the kind of neighborhood that takes care of its residents became an ongoing source of anxiety for both of us. We couldn’t get machines at the gym, my yoga classes always overflowed with students (the kind of students so brazen they wore their pajamas around the neighborhood) so, I couldn’t move into warrior II without hitting the student next to me, there were never open tables in any of the coffee shops and the bars were louder, smokier and played worse music than I remembered.
“It seems to me,” S. said during one of our long walks this autumn, the sun glowing through the tree branches and the Andy Warhol-like lithograph of Obama’s face peering from every other window we passed, “that this is what it feels like to outgrow something.”
That was just it. We had outgrown the neighborhood we used to dream about living in when we were stuck in suburban Detroit.
We moved, I think, just in time, right before the howling dogs, the poop on the stoop, the parties around our neighborhood, the Sunday morning vomit on the sidewalk, before it all bled into the things we loved, like dinner at Doc’s and drink at Le Mardi Gras, crepes and cappuccinos for brunch and our beloved butcher. We moved just soon enough, knowing we’d come back regularly – every few days, most likely. After all, we only moved two miles away, into a neighborhood that for all intents and purposes feels like an entirely different city, while still allowing us the ability to walk, anytime we feel like, to the land of graduate students, where at midnight the party is just getting started, and it doesn’t matter if your neighbor left his dog poop for you to step in, because just last week you vomited in his bushes.