Thursday, November 4, 2010

The End of Porch Fashion

On Friday afternoon, I was relishing my day off, enjoying a cheese quesadilla in my underwear and husband's Captain America shirt. It was one of those rare nothing-to-do Fridays where I could flip open my laptop and spend all day writing. Utter bliss.

Then: a staunch knock on the door. Gestapo-worthy.

This triggered my little chihuahua into a panic. Her alarm system activated, and I hurriedly rushed her to the kitchen, simultaneously looking for a pair of pants.

"Sabrina. Open up. It's Tatiana."

Worse than the Gestapo, it was my landlord. A tall, deliberate Ukrainian woman, who scared the shit out of me. In two years, I'd never placed a work order because I was scared of getting yelled at or having my rent increased. The first week I moved in, I accidentally locked myself out of my apartment one night. She appeared 30 minutes later in her pajama pants with a scowl that could sober a baby. "You must be SERIOUS, Sabrina. You grow up. This can never happen again. I charge you $100 if this ever happen again."

Guess who developed OCD that night?

As I approached the front door, with no pants on, I had the immediate sense of bracing myself. For all her no-nonsense, Tatiana was also extremely non-confrontational. If she received a noise complaint, you wouldn't hear about it for months. This hands-off approach to management came in handy when my brother needed a couch to crash for X months or when my husband and I bought a puppy without permission.

About that.

I was never trying to artlessly break the rules by bringing home a 3 pound chihuahua, but our neighbors had cats. Giant ones. And I justified if we could litter box train our puppy and teach her to be quiet, she was no different than owning a giant, sociopathic feline. That's right, I call Dexter on that shit. Cats have no remorse.

As I unlocked the door, I wondered if I still remembered what Tatiana looked like. It always sort of surprised me. I knew she was tall and her accent robust, but then you remember she lives in Hollywood and that's where silicone lip injections and DD boobs throw you for a loop. I opened the door, and was met with a familiar snarl.

"Sabrina, you have dog?" She said. This was a question.

I stared at her blankly. The puppy alarm system had not stopped barking from the kitchen. How had we slipped under the radar this long? We had Sophia for almost a year, and not a single complaint.

"Please, come in," I said and stepped aside for her boobs. It was the only phrase that came to mind. Didn't Olivier Martinez invite in Richard Gere after Richard found out he was fucking his wife? I took a deep breathe and opened the kitchen door. Sophia waddled out, trepidatiously. She feared strangers.

"Landlord tell me to check if you have dog. Neighbors complain. If you have dog, she say, you must give up dog or you move out in three days."

I felt my stomach sink somewhere in my lower intestines. Tatiana wasn't the landlord?

"You are no allowed to have dog, Sabrina. No. Dogs. Allowed."

Perhaps she was speaking in the third person. Foreign people do that, right? Pronouns.

"Landlord does not allow dogs, ever. Cats, yes. But dogs not allowed."

"Tatiana," I said. "I understand where you're coming from. But Sophia is trained. She uses a litter box just like a cat. And we're very strict about barking. If we'd known someone had a problem with it, we could have done something. No one said anything to us.

My husband and I are not planning to have children. Just this puppy. She's our family and we can't give her up."

Tatiana shrugged without empathy. "Then you have 3 days to move out."

Oh holy hell.

"Three days? Tatiana, I've lived here for over 2 years. I can't move out in 3 days, it's not possible. Please just give us some time to find a new place. If we absolutely cannot compromise on the dog, give us a chance to get something else lined up. This is coming out of no where."

"I don't make rules," she said. "Three days."

Suddenly, tears spilled down my cheeks. I picked up Sophia in my arms. This wasn't a decision. This was an eviction notice. And I looked around the home I helped build, the place where I'd spent Christmases and New Years, the place where my husband proposed to me.... the idea of leaving was devastating.

Not prepared for the emotion they call sadness, Tatiana was immediately unnerved by the perspiration coming from my face and said, "Stop it. Stop crying."

"This is our home, Tatiana. We were planning to live here for years. And you're telling us we have to leave," I said. "I know it's not your fault. I know we broke the rules. But we were good tenants. Our rent was always on time. We didn't ask for anything. We loved this place and built our life here."

"Maybe you write letter," Tatiana relented. "To landlord. And tell her what you tell me. Ask her if you keep dog. I tell you now, in 23 years, she never make exception. But you write letter. And don't tell her I told you so."

I wiped my eyes. It was the wispiest of olive branches but at that point, I would cling to anything. "Okay. I'll write her a letter," I said. As if that would help. As if it would make a difference. For 5 or 10 minutes, I actually believed it might.

Tatiana pet my dog before she left. She told me she had a dog once in the Ukraine. She loved dogs. This was not her rule.

I called my husband and broke the news. I couldn't stop myself from sobbing. After Tatiana left, and I heard myself say "maybe if we write her a letter," I knew we were doomed.

The next morning, my husband, brother (who was still crashing on our couch), and myself went in search for a new apartment. We decided to make the best of it and try to upgrade from our current studio to a one-bedroom. It would be impossible to beat the incredible city view, but if we could stay in the same neighborhood, I could be happy.

We checked out a few places. One without air conditioning. Another that looked like it was from "The Shield." Then we found Kaitlin Court - a beautiful courtyard complex 4 blocks from our old place. The manager met us - and Sophia - and said if we signed a piece of paper saying she was a service dog, she could live there.

On Sunday, we moved out. It was the longest 20 hour day of my life. Packing, boxing, moving, lifting. It never, never ended. But the emptier our studio got, the more it reminded me of how little we had when we first moved in. I remembered having nothing more than a couch and some silver ware.

At 3 AM, my husband and I came upstairs to get the last of it. We walked through our empty apartment. Our first home. There were so many memories here. So much love and excitement and good news and fights and makeup sex and movies. We held hands in front of the balcony, where I had photographed so many vintage dresses. You could see all of Hollywood from our window.

"This is hard," I said.

"I know," Sean said.

We both cried, quietly. "You know, honey. I know this is especially difficult because we were kicked out. We didn't choose this. And I know this place has always felt perfect to us. But Sophia is not welcomed here. She's our little girl. And if she's not welcomed, then it's not perfect for us."

I nodded.

"Let's build a new home. Our new place is beautiful. And though it won't be the same, we can make it better. It will already be better because we'll have Sophia."

He kissed me. I nodded, knowing he was right but not ready to say so just yet. I took the keys off my key ring and placed them on the kitchen counter.

"It will be okay, sweetheart. I love you."