In August of 1986, I left Center City Philadelphia in the blink of an eye - thanks to the unconditional support from my father, who showed up when I needed him and helped me find my footing in unchartered waters. That whole story is here.
Although there are more tales of my city in the early 80s to share - I wanted to jump ahead to those self-imposed exile years of my life in the late 80s. When I placed myself in a new world and learned the fine art of detachment and starting over.
My first month was spent so on the fringe, I felt as if I was in another world. I secured a job working third shifts at WAWA#108, located minutes away from the end of the city - on State Road. To get there, I traveled an hour each way via two buses - then walked the final 1/2 mile to the store. Thank God I had a walkman to keep me company. When I wasn't working, I was sleeping on a couch in a house that represented my life -- the house was located on the last street in the Bridesburg section of Philadelphia - when I stared out the kichen window in the back of the house, I saw a good stretch of empty lots, abandoned 18-wheelers and then the Betsy Ross Bridge. The land had been cleared for a combination of ramps from the bridge and an expressway, but the neighborhood protested, so the plan was scrapped and everything froze in time. Ramps stopped in mid-air. Weeds took the place of workers. The street where I slept was a dead-end.
I had found the end of the world ... or perhaps it found me.
Finally, after a humbling experience of cutting everything and everyone out of your life and starting over on someone's couch - my father helped me secure an apartment. It was located on Roosevelt Blvd (US 1) and was this odd space located in a traditional-style home from the 1940s. There were two apartments in the first floor, two on the second and one on the third. I took 2-R .. thankfully 2-F was just storage, so I was somewhat alone.
Here's my first apartment lease - from October 1986. Rent for the 1-bedroom was $320 a month, which included utilities. The property was owned by a polite, but detailed older man. One who was on site just about daily -- doing some home repair project or mowing the lawn or checking up on us to make sure we weren't abusing his property.
The man in the front had lived there since the owner bought the place - nice guy but kept to himself. I assumed he was one of those old drunks. 1-R was vacant soon after I moved in, so I didn't have to worry about making too much foot traffic at least for the start. Above was an older man who also seemed to keep to himself and was rarely home; I later found out he played the horses.
I had gone from being the center of the gay community to living in a apartment house with 2 old reclusive straight men. I grabbed my brown poly pants and my tan poly/cotton shirt and Wawa apron and trudged to work via two buses and the walk. The thing that made me take the space (besides the emotional need to be settled after an exhausting 4 years) was that the place was furnished...But check out the detailed notes my landlord typed into the lease - as to what the apartment contained ...
Apartment contains: refrigerator, 2 kitchen stools, living room sofa, 1 occasional chair, modern bedroom suite (bed, bureau, night table), 2 green room size rugs, 1 table lamp, 1 night table lamp, pedastool with green fern and a few nicknacks and ashtrays, 1 bissel sweeper. Lessee will not install any air conditionier, washer or dryer or freezer. No electric oven broiler permitted. No redecorating permitted. No animals or pets permitted.
OK - when you're at the end of your rope - you take what you can get. The fact is, it was great, since I had nothing. All I had taken with me was two bags of clothes, my records and stereo. However, let's pick this apart: the fridge was about 5 feet tall, the living room sofa (along with the rest of the furnishings) was straight from 1959. The green fern? Plastic.
Oh, why try to explain - here are some pictures of just what the place looked around spring 1987. Grant it ... I was grateful, don't get me wrong. But man... click to enlarge