The story of Charles Lanier, a young gay guy who rents an apartment on Lake Shore Drive on the near north side of Chicago, and the unexpected adventures he encounters from the day he moves in.
The Gay Ghost
"May I speak to Mr.... Papa-lo-vinshky?"
"This is him."
"My name is Lanier, Charles Lanier. I'm calling about your ad in the paper."
"About the apartment?"
"Yes. Your ad says it has four rooms and a bathroom. Right?"
"And a balcony facing the lake."
"How much are you asking for it?"
"Four hundred a month. It's all carpeted, except for the kitchen, of course."
"What about utilities?"
"Hot and cold water are included. You pay for the rest."
"You pay for gas too, yes."
"When will be possible for me to go and see it?"
"Let me see... Tomorrow."
"Late in the afternoon would be better."
"Fine. At 4:30 tomorrow afternoon."
"5:30. I finish work at 5 o'clock and I'll need time to get over there."
"Okay, Mr. Lanier. I'll wait for you downstairs."
"Fine. See you tomorrow."
I read the ad one more time: Lake Shore Drive & Hawthorne Pl., 4 Rm. Apt. + Bth. Crptd. Balcony w/Lake view. Call Mr. Papalovinshky: 555-9123.
It sure is a great location, just across from Lincoln Park and only a few blocks from Belmont Rocks -- that wonderful gay beach -- and only $400 a month. It was more than I was paying for the same amount of space at my current apartment, near Evanston, yet it seemed relatively cheap compared to the rest of the apartments along Lake Shore Drive. I couldn't help it but, all the while, I found myself feeling that something was wrong with the apartment. It had to have some sort of drawback -- maybe it was on the fifth floor and there was no elevator; maybe it was on the top floor and it leaked; noisy neighbors; kid neighbors; facing the Lake but no windows! I laughed at myself.
I had been looking for an apartment for two months, and so far that one seemed like the best option. Although it was $400 a month, I kept reassuring myself that I could afford it. Sure I could! Especially if I kept thinking about the park just across the street, and the Rocks a few blocks south. Besides, I was tired of taking the train all the way downtown to work, or taking my car and finding no parking space. That was a drawback -- not enough parking spaces around. I thought about it for a minute and decided to get rid of my car. I'd drive it into the Lake, or set it on fire, or anything! That old wreck wasn't going to stop me from settling down close to work, and to the beach too! I thought it over: I'd sell my car.
"Don't get all excited, Charlie." I said to myself. "You better wait until you see it tomorrow."
I was lucky and I found parking very close to the corner where the apartment was supposed to be. I looked around. Which building was it? I had thought about it all night. At that moment I saw Mr. Papado... Papako... Papaslowhiskey? -- hard to tell. I should say, he saw me. I guess I seemed to be lost and he came up to me. He had the face of a man well into his sixties, but his body put my 5 years of working out at the "Y" to shame.
"Mr. Lanier?" he called me.
"Nice to meet you." He said as we shook hands.
"This way please." He led me into a four floor building that looked rather small among the other taller buildings. I had hardly noticed it. Yet there it was, not at the very corner as I had expected, but in the middle of the block. An old brownstone that seemed to be in very good condition -- at least from the outside.
"It seems that you've put plenty of work and money into this place." I said as we walked to the third floor.
"You better believe it," he answered proudly. "Yet, I've had my rewards."
"Have you fixed it yourself?"
"Yes, a little at a time." He opened the door. "This is it."
"It looks spacious."
"The bedroom is in here," he opened another door.
"Nice. You have good taste, you chose a good carpet."
"Thank you. It's a neutral gray, to blend with whatever taste the next tenant might have. And it hides the dirt, too."
"I see." I smiled.
"And over here you have the view." He walked to the window.
"Ey! That's nice."
"Isn't it wonderful."
"Great, yes! I like it."
"Look around, feel free to ask anything."
I wandered through the living room, I inspected the fireplace, the dining room. The kitchen was small but seemed efficient. I turned the water on and off in the bathroom. Everything worked perfectly.
I looked for any irregularities, but found none. "Everything seems to be flawless," I said.
"Everything is in good condition," he assured me.
"What about the neighbors?"
"Nobody lives upstairs. I still have to make some repairs up there. And the people from the two apartments downstairs won't bother you, they are... quiet, you very seldom see them."
"So, there is an apartment per floor."
"Yes. I can't afford a bigger building. But I don't complain, I'm doing pretty well with this one."
I gave a second look.
"How do you like it?" he asked me. "When will you move?"
"I like it, yes." I smiled. "It's 400 a month. Right?"
"It's just been painted, you won't have to worry about that. Unless you don't like white. Still, white is a very easy color to paint over. And look at that carpet, it's practically new."
I looked around one more time, I paced for a few seconds and stopped again to let a series of numbers take over my thoughts. Calculations: months, money, pay check, a raise!
"I can afford it!" I almost shouted. I was trying to silence all those figures in my head before one of them would leap out of the confusion to give me a reason why I shouldn't rent this apartment. There was something irresistible about it. Something was making the decision for me, even at the risk of not being able to make all the monthly payments. "Yes... I'll take it!" I said. "Do you want my references?"
"That's not necessary. I trust you. You just move in. I'll be back with the contract some time next week."
"I'll take the weekend to move in my belongings."
"Fine. Here are the keys. Please, feel at home."
We went out. I was so happy I felt the apartment and the beach were all mine already. I walked for a while to think about what I should move in first. The weekend was only two days away and I had plenty of stuff I still hadn't begun to pack. I knew I was going to need the help of professional movers. They would take care of my bed and table, and whatever else I couldn't fit in my car. I was extremely glad I had found the place. And no drawbacks. I hoped.
"Where do I put this box?" The moving man asked.
"Put it on the table by the fireplace," I said and kept on sorting boxes.
"That table by the window, you mean?"
"By the fireplace, there..." I pointed to an empty space. "I thought I had put a table in there."
"You mean this one."
I turned around. "Yes. How did it get over there? I had just put it over here." I looked back to the empty space. "Anyway, leave it on the floor, or where ever you find space. How many boxes are left?"
"One more, I'm going downstairs to get it, and that's it."
My mind was going a thousand revolutions per minute. I didn't know I had so much junk. Where were my bathroom towels? I had to take a shower before going out to eat. It had been a long day and, although it was only four o'clock in the afternoon, I was already hungry. I thought about putting everything in its place latter. I found the towels! But where was the soap?...
"This is the last box."
"Put it next to the other one, please."
I thought about going to a small restaurant called "Snacks" on Broadway Street; I had heard the food was quite good and the clientele quite gay. Precisely my kind of place and the reason I moved to this neighborhood! Gay Town, my kind of town!
"That's it." The man repeated and gave me a look of puzzlement. "That's the last box. The end."
"Oh!" I finally came back to the mess in my new apartment.
"Just sign this," he said, handing me a piece of paper.
"This is your receipt."
"Thank you." I closed the door behind him.
"That's it." I said to myself and looked around.
The moving man must have placed the table back by the fireplace. Maybe he thought I blamed him for misplacing it.
I went out for dinner and then for a walk to let my stomach settle down. I was hungry at first, now I was full. Impossible to unpack either way. Besides, I wanted to get acquainted with my new neighborhood. One excuse was just as good as the other.
I walked down Broadway and came back north along Clark Street. It was a warm night and the breeze, unusual for Chicago, was also warm. The lights of the shops and restaurants were colorful and bright, changing the appearance of the streets and the cars into an amalgam of rainbows. And the people on the street looked like the happiest people on the face of the Earth, or should I say the gayest -- in more ways than one. It was contagious! I didn't want to go back indoors, I didn't want to go back to face the mess in my apartment.
Regretfully, I arrived at my building. I climbed the stairs and stopped a few steps short of my floor. I turned around, looked down the staircase and listened at the stillness. This wasn't the silence resulting from the absence of sound; this was the quietness that we feel with every inch of our skin; this was the quietness that results from an eerie charge of supernatural energy. My heart asked me to wait, as if it knew something mysterious, but wonderful, was about to happen. It was my head that wouldn't allow me to remain one more minute out there. My reason demanded me to go inside to reach for the security of more familiar surroundings. I hurried toward the door. Suddenly the stillness gave way to that well-known yet unwanted feeling -- someone was there, someone unseen yet very much present. I pulled the keys out of my pocket and, inevitably, dropped them. I reached for them and felt the presence a lot stronger than before, approaching closer, faster toward me. I tried the keys one more time and I swear I saw from the corner of my eye a silhouette. I felt it would have touched me had I lingered a second longer. I slammed the door behind me and stood there, paralyzed. I closed my eyes tightly, trying to rationalize what I had just seen and felt. I held my chest tightly with my right hand, while my left held on to the door knob. I wanted to assure myself the door was firmly locked.
I didn't feel like going back to the apartment and thought about calling a friend to spend the night. I thought it over. A silly idea. It had only been a nightmare. A light dinner seemed like a reasonable solution. I had a salad and went to a nearby bar for a drink. I timed my evening so I would reach home just in time to go to bed.
Easier said than done. I tossed and turned until I decided to get up. I felt uneasy and turned all the lights on in the living and dining rooms. I walked toward the window and stared at the view. The Lake was dark under a sky full of stars. The cars below seemed like traveling lights, moving rapidly without making any sound. The buildings, at the right end of the beach, looked like Christmas trees full of little, twinkling white lights. The view was clear and magnificent. My eyes caught the reflection of the living room in the window glass and I saw the shadow again! I turned around. There it was, hiding in the darkness of the kitchen, a white, human-like figure.