We had no idea who called code enforcement but whoever it was had complained about us illegally renting rooms, tying up street parking, and causing general neighborhood shoddiness and potential house price decline. Basically someone thought we were a public nuisance and wanted us out. Boris, the homeowner and my landlord, informed the two men in suits standing on our doorstep that we were not renters, but family. And that is how I became the wife of Boris, an overweight, sweaty, Bulgarian cab driver. Lucky me. Boris then pointed to Jane and said, “My sister.” Jane eyes bugged out of her head. Then she forced a smile and nodded. My other roommates were on trips, but unbeknownst to them we’d become cousins. The two men didn’t blink an eye. Still, they wanted to see the place, so Boris gave them a quick tour of the house and like that they were on gone. I couldn’t believe it. I’d only been living in the house for two days.
Boris bought the two-story foreclosure in Forest Hills, a prestigious section of Queens, for $200,000 ten years before I moved in. At least that’s the story I heard. The home had five bedrooms and each went for $200 a month, two of which were illegally constructed. At some point my bedroom had been the other half of the living room and Jane slept in what had once been a sunroom. There were three more bedrooms upstairs on the second floor and two commuters shared the attic, which wasn’t half bad for $75 a person. My second crash pad in three months, I wound up living there for a couple of years and not once did Boris raise the rent. This was good and bad. Good because my quality of life was actually quite nice for a first year flight attendant making very little pay. Bad because my quality of life was so nice I did not dare give it up to move into the city, not when I’d have to share an expensive but tiny one-bedroom apartment with a ton of other flight attendants, especially since I spent so much of my time away from home! It’s because of this vagabond lifestyle that people with regular jobs seek out flight attendants for roommates. We’re never home, yet we’re still expected to pay half the rent. No thank you. So while I dreamed of living in Manhattan at some point in my life, bridge and tunnel I remained.
Boris lived in the basement. None of us had ever seen the inside of the apartment he called home, nor did we want to. We were too afraid of what we might find – a dead body, a blow up doll, a closet full of women’s clothing, or even worse, our clothing, we just didn’t know. It was bad enough taking the short flight of steps that led down to his door where he’d hung a wooden box for us to drop off the rent without having to worry about him walking out at the exact same time allowing an accidental glimpse of whatever lurked inside! We had no explanation for our fears other than Boris did things a little differently. He used kerosene to remove the linoleum floor. He kept a carton of eggs and a block of cheese on a concrete wall under the green and white striped awning that hung above his door. He wore the same blue sweat pants that bunched up around his gigantic calves with thin white socks and brown leather lace up shoes that had seen better days. And he’d hole up in the basement avoiding us at all costs. We always knew he was there because the dog would disappear. We even knew when he was on his way home from the city because Monica, the psychic dog, would bark nonstop twenty minutes before his yellow cab would pull into the drive.