It occurred to me a few minutes ago that the only person I can legitimately write about is myself. Despite a fairly large number of people who populate the anthology of stories I’ve been writing about since 1980, no one has actually been comfortable with this particular form of attention.
There is then, this guy. Asian male. Fifty years old. Divorced. Lives alone in a downtown bachelor’s suite in a boarding house in Edmonton’s Little Italy neighbourhood. Calling it ‘Edmonton’s Little Italy’ neighbourhood is an almost euphemistic effort to avoid using the proper name of the community, McCauley, which is known for its high concentration of public housing, churches, homeless shelters, and social service missions. While there is a steady urban renewal effort underway, McCauley still isn’t the kind of neighbourhood people are impressed to hear that you live in. It is the kind of neighbourhood where fifty-year old divorced men live alone in boarding houses.
This guy, Azusa, lives in a bachelor’s suite he has named St. Mark’s after the basilica in Venice, in a boarding house that his landlord has named Gallagher House, after the original name of 109 A Avenue where the property stands. Gallagher House was built around 1912 and has that make-shift look of a building that has been maintained over the decades with whatever spare parts happened to be available at the time. The lathe and plaster and baseboards and cast iron heating vent covers are all original 1912, but the gas stoves are from the fifties; the linoleum from the seventies. The railing on the second story landing which Azusa shares with the other bachelor suite is “built-up”. The original railing was apparently deemed too short at some point in the house’s history. Instead of removing and replacing it, a second set of six-inch balusters was affixed into the old handrail, and a second handrail attached atop, bringing the whole jerry-rigged piece into compliance with the building code.
One lighting fixture in Azusa’s apartment is a T5 flourescent that looks like a piece of office surplus along with a large patch of grey institutional carpet in the living/sleeping area of his 300 square foot bachelor apartment. And enhancing the extemporary look of St. Mark’s was Azusa’s two rules for furnishing and decor. Rule one was that everything either had to be collapsible or have two uses like his folding tables and chairs, his sofa-bed, a small suitcase that you could sit on like a stool, (a Zuca Bag, they were called), and storage-box benches. The second rule was “if you can’t fix it, make it look like it is supposed to be that way” like the cylindrical glass vase he used to catch the drips from his leaking kitchen hot water faucet. Submerged in the vessel was an action figure of Matoko Kusanagi from the classic anime film, Ghost in the Shell, as though she were in a generative protein bath.
The second story of Gallagher House isn’t a full story so the ceiling of Azusa’s apartment is steeply pitched on the west side, making the west wall only five feet high; half the height of the east. But Azusa was inspired when he first offered to move into St. Mark’s in December of 2013. He had seen the room once when it had been the landlord’s home office before being rented out as a bachelor suite that had been originally dubbed, “The Crow’s Nest”.
The fellow who first rented the Crow’s Nest was bugging out from his previous accommodations. The roommate he had moved in with was a stranger who had become increasingly strange during the few months they had lived together. So strange in fact that a secret midnight move-out was the most viable course of action when he took possession of the Crow’s Nest. Hearing the story of his predecessor’s move in made it unsurprising to Azusa that he had, in turn, moved out of the Crow’s Nest on very short notice, leaving the landlord, Beatrice Adams, somewhate desperate to rent the space as soon as possible. To encourage Azusa to take it, she granted him permission to modify the space, within reason, as he wished.
When Azusa started working on the Crow’s Nest, half of the walls were still a cerulean blue from the days when it was Beatrice's home office. A single unfinished plank horizontally bisected the wall of the kitchenette as a single, space wasting shelf. The small south-facing window was curtained with a large piece of purple construction paper.
Azusa painted all the cerulean walls in different shades of creams and beige, like the walls of the Church of Santa Croce in Florence, or the cloisters where Cosmio DiMedici studied, except for a small wall where he hung the painting of three ducks on a shore that his first girlfriend gave him on this thirtieth birthday. The Duck Painting was done in colours that were pleasingly complemented by a cerulean blue wall.
For the west-side 5x10 half wall, Azua ordered a poster of the Florence skyline, a view of the Duomo as seen from the Piazza Michaelangelo with “the backcloth of the Tuscan hills” (Deborah Howard, The Architectural History of Venice, P.4) rising far in the distance. It was a cheap trompe l’oeil, so obvious in design and execution, but so effective that no one who saw the room failed to feel as though they were on a spacious Italian balcony looking far into the distance, rather than cooped up in a ten-by-ten room in McCauley.