In my twenties I left New York City, where I’d lived all my life but felt was no longer a livable place , and took a chance on coming out to San Francisco. I knew no one there but had heard it was a great place for young people. I no longer liked living in New York because, aside from its being crowded, noisy and smoggy it was expensive. I’d gotten a job in the research department of an advertising agency but, although advertising was supposed to be a glamorous industry at that time my salary was far from glamorous and certainly not enough for me to have my own place. So I was still living in my parents’ apartment in the Bronx and taking the subway to work in Manhattan, not a good situation for someone my age.
In San Francisco, I surprisingly found a job with no trouble, also in an ad agency; perhaps my New York credentials impressed them. The next step was to find an apartment; I was staying at a guest house; the name in San Francisco for a room and boarding house. I found an apartment on Hyde Street and on a weekend moved in. The apartment was a studio. It was small and the furniture was old. It had a sofa bed which I’d sleep on. It was on the second floor of a three story building that looked as if it had been there since the earthquake. However inadequate it might be, the important thing was that it was my own, the first place of my own I’d ever had. And, although my salary was about the same as in New York the rent was low enough so that I could afford it. I could hardly wait until the landlord, who was telling me what a great neighborhood it was, left. He finally handed me the key and I was alone. I sat down in a rickety armchair and surveyed my kingdom. It was a defining moment.
There was a knock on the door. Don’t tell me it was the landlord coming back, maybe to tell me he’d made a mistake about the rent and it was much higher. I didn’t know anyone else in San Francisco so who else could it be? I opened the door. No, it wasn’t the landlord. The person standing there was an elfin figure who said, “Hi, I’m your next door neighbor, G-G-Gordo. How’s it going?”
I said, “Okay, I guess. I just moved in.”
Somehow Gordo had slipped into the apartment and was looking around. “Hmmm,” he said. “No t-t- television, huh?”
Gordo, I realized, had a slight stutter. “No,” I said.
“Well, could be worse.” Gordo had settled in my one good armchair. He told me there was a Chinese laundry next door and a bakery around the corner. There was also a restaurant a block away but I should stay away from it. “You have a car?”
I told him I didn’t. I was from New York and neither I nor anyone I knew had a car or even knew how to drive. “But I’d like to get a car,” I said.
“I know a guy runs a used car p-p-parking lot. I’ll give him a call.”
“Thanks. Then I have to learn how to drive.”
“I know a driving school. I’ll give them a call.”
Looking back, I think Gordo bears some resemblance to Kramer, the next door neighbor on Seinfeld’s television show. Physically, Gordo was of course the long and lanky Kramer’s opposite, but he also had no visible means of support yet somehow got along, had a lot of contacts and had no compunction about coming into my apartment at all hours. In my early days there I spent quite some time with him. He was very interested in my reasons for leaving New York for San Francisco.
“So New York was t-t-too big and crowded?” he’d ask.
“Yes, all those people rushing around. And all anyone was interested in was getting ahead, making money. It was cutthroat.”
“Huh. So you didn’t fit in to all that?”
“No, I was an outsider.”
On his part, Gordo continued to be helpful with all of his contacts. I did buy a used car at the lot he told me about. I also took three lessons from the driving school he recommended. The school had some kind of an in with the DMV so I quickly got my license although I didn’t really know how to drive. Gordo recommended practicing in Golden Gate Park and I followed his advice. Then I couldn’t park the car on the street outside our building, but he knew of a garage a few blocks away where I could keep it. Gordo also knew all of the cheap but good restaurants in the city and those, like the one close by, I should stay away from. He was a strange guy but very helpful.
Another strange thing about Gordo was that sometimes he’d disappear for a week or so. When he reappeared I’d ask him where he’d been. He’d say he had some business up north or down south. When I asked what business he’d shrug and say, “N-n-nothing, no big deal, just some business. You know.” I didn’t know but I didn’t press him any further.
I settled into my apartment. It was in the front of the building so I could look out onto the street. I moved the armchair by the window and ate my meals, when I didn’t eat out, there. I bought some cheap pictures to hang on the walls. I didn’t get a television but I got a radio and a phonograph. I could walk from the apartment to my office downtown and also to Chinatown when I wanted. I invited a couple of girls I’d met to my apartment but never got too far with them. I didn’t think that having just a sofa bed helped. Gordo was interested in my romantic endeavors and I had to fend off his questions. He might be helpful with other things but I didn’t want him intruding into my sex life, such as it was.
Then, after I’d been in the apartment about six months, Gordo disappeared again, this time for two weeks. I wondered what business he was on this time but that was Gordo so I didn’t think too much about it. I was asleep one night when there was a loud knocking on my door. I awakened groggily, turned on a lamp and looked at my watch. It was after midnight. The knocking came again. I went to the door. It was Gordo. He was unshaven and looked disheveled. “Gordo! Where’ve you been?”
“Let me in.”
“Okay. What’s going on?”
“I’m in a little t-t-trouble. I have to get out of the city for a while. Uh, can you lend me any money?”
“$500!” That would put a big hole in my already thin bank account.
“How about $300?”
“Uh, I guess so.” I found my checkbook and wrote him a check. “Make it out to cash,” Gordo said. I did so.
As soon as he grabbed the check Gordo said, “Thanks. I’ll pay you back. I gotta beat it now. Oh, if anyone comes around looking for me you didn’t see me.”
Gordon left and I went back to bed. Eventually I fell asleep. When I woke up in the morning I thought, What an idiot I’d been. I’d just given away $300. I was sure I’d never see it again. I was also sure I’d never see Gordo again.
Time went by. Someone else moved into Gordo’s apartment, a middle-aged man I almost never saw. Nobody ever came looking for Gordo. After a while I stopped thinking about Gordo and my $300. Then I got a letter postmarked from New York City. I opened it; there was a note and three $100 bills. I read the note. It said that Gordo was in New York now and doing okay. He’d gone to New York because of what I’d told him about the city. Everyone was hustling after money. Well, he was a hustler so he fit right in. I looked for a return address but there was none.
The next Monday I deposited the money. I sometimes even now think of Gordo. I like to imagine that he’d gravitated to some firm on Wall Street, probably one that was a little shady, and was doing business there and making tons of money. After about a year I got a promotion at work and moved to a larger apartment, one with a bedroom. But my fondest memory of that time is of that first place, the little studio apartment, all my own.