Leaving Home by Steven Schrader

When I was twenty-one I rented a furnished room on 77th Street off Columbus Avenue for ten dollars a week.  It was large and sunny.  The kitchen consisted of a hot plate and a small sink; the bathroom was in the hall. The owner, an older, gruff man, lived on the first floor.  “Are you sure you really want the room?” he asked.  I assured him I did and shook hands on it and gave him two weeks rent.  I was living at home, two blocks away on Central Park West, working as a copy boy for Home Furnishings, a trade newspaper.  I thought of the studio as a place to write and also where I could invite the women I hoped to meet.  I wasn’t quite ready to leave home entirely.  My mother fussed over me and would offer to make a meal for me whenever I came in.  We would eat in the little breakfast room with light blue walls.  After dinner I’d sit at the kitchen table  while she washed the pots and the dishes, which I would dry.  Lizzie, the maid, did my laundry every week.    

The first few nights I walked over to 77th Street after dinner with my notebook and a book to read, but the lights were dim and the furnishings cheap and impersonal.  I left after a short time, feeling depressed.  By the end of the first week I realized I couldn’t stand going there and on Saturday afternoon I slipped the key under the landlord’s door with a note saying that something had come up and that I would no longer be needing the room.

Fifteen years later, after my separation from my first wife, I temporarily returned home until I could find my own place.  My mother was now seventy and wandered around the eight-room apartment most of the day in her housecoat, talking to herself about her childhood in Poland.  My father was rarely home.  When he was, he usually talked on the phone in the foyer or watched TV in the living room with the door closed.

Within a month I found a studio apartment on the second floor of a brownstone on 85th Street near Central Park West.  My window faced the street, which was noisier than I expected.  The neighborhood was in transition.  Down the block was an ugly-looking five-story apartment house with shiny blue bricks, which seemed to have call girls living in it.  Cars pulled up all night, with the drivers honking their horns and gunning their motors.  Late at night I’d hear men call out drunkenly and try to make appointments with the women inside.   

A friend had built a loft bed for me by the window, with a desk underneath for me to write on.  On weekends my seven-year old son stayed on the floor on a blow up mattress.  As a treat I sometimes let him sleep in the loft bed.  When he wasn’t there I would press the repeat button on the phonograph and play music all night to lull myself to sleep.  One night I woke at around three to go to the bathroom.  The Rolling Stones album “Exiles on Main Street” was playing.  As I climbed down, the ladder of the loft bed broke loose and I crashed to the floor.  Mick Jagger was singing the line, “Got to scrape the shit right off your shoes.”  The needle skipped back a groove from the impact of my fall and he sang the words again.  I sat on the floor stunned.  I must be dreaming, I thought.  This can’t be happening to me.  This isn’t my life. 

I stayed at 85th Street for about six months until a friend nearby offered to sublet her apartment to me for a year so she could join her boyfriend, who was in graduate school at the University of Illinois.  Her place had views south to the Empire State Building and was spacious and pleasant.  Soon the doormen got to know me and smiled and greeted me as if I belonged there.



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Steven Schrader