At the end of the month, Sean Keane is moving out of his apartment of four years, a South Berkeley four-bedroom apartment known affectionately as "Ward Street D." This week, Zembla will present pieces involving or inspired by Ward Street D over the years, a final tribute to the apartment where Sean has spent years, like the Seaver family of sitcom lore, sharing the laughter and love.
Breaking Up Is Hard To Do
I broke up with my landlord yesterday. We've known for a while that things were coming to an end at Ward Street D. Aaron was going to San Diego, I got a job in San Francisco, and Gene wanted to live across the Bay. We were growing apart from Ward Street D. The new paint job and extra couches couldn't hide the fact that we'd become different people, different apartments. We'd been staying together for the sake of the cheap rent, but by now, we were ready to move on, see other apartments. Still, it was with a heavy heart that we called Aziz to our place. You can't break up over the phone, after all.
Aziz was his usual exuberant Pakistani self as he entered the apartment, but he seemed to sense something was up. Gene gave him the rent, and then told him we needed to talk. He broke the news as gently as possible, but it was clear that the announcement had shaken Aziz. Gene moving out was a blow, but not an unexpected one - Gene's globe-trotting ways and motorcycling bravado made it clear he wasn't going to get too attached to any one apartment or landlord. But I had been there for four years, through broken heaters and flooded kitchens, through ant infestations and wasp swarms, from crazy geriatric dog-owning neighbors to crack-dealing youthful dog-owning neighbors. Aziz and I had had something real.
Stunned by the announcement, he stammered a little bit. "How long have we been together?" he asked. "Four years... four years..." He told us about buying the apartment complex, how he'd turned it into a livable, gangster-free space eight years ago. His relationship with us and Ward Street D had never been about money, he assured us, and I believed it, especially since I'd only been paying $375/month. Aziz told me how much he'd liked and trusted me, letting me handle the turnover of roommates without question. He'd never had any problems in our four years living there, he told us, stopping just short of saying we were the best he'd ever had.
Aziz didn't ask about our new landlord, and I didn't bring up the subject, out of respect for his feelings. He asked that we get our security deposits from the new tenants. I agreed, knowing it would be less awkward that way. By the end, Gene and I were promising to come back and visit Ward Street, lying that we would be back "all the time, sure."
I had trouble looking Aziz in the eye during this whole talk. He'd been a great landlord, always making repairs promptly, never hassling us if the rent was four or five days late. He was always there for us when the water heater would burst (usually every four months or so), paid us the interest on our security deposits, unclogged the massive balls of hair in our shower drain. Was I making a mistake in leaving?
I saw myself in six months, standing outside Aziz's place in the rain. "I made a mistake!" I'd yell. "I think about Ward Street all the time. I keep reaching for a house key that isn't there. I haunt the Richmond BART line all night, getting off at Ashby without even realizing it. Please let me rent from you again!"
But it would be too late. The place would be rented to someone new, and Aziz would have moved on. Maybe he'd tell me then how my departure hurt him, how he waited for me, but eventually moved on to other tenants. He'd try to convince me that moving out was best for both of us, as we'd grown as landlords and tenants, and he'd been able to increase the rent tremendously. I'd leave in tears, cursing my foolish decision and gentrified SF rent.
Then the crack dealer began revving his Camaro in the back yard and his pit bull started barking and there was loud rap music blasting from a car idling outside and I realized that I hadn't loved Ward Street for a long, long time, and you can't live on nostalgia, even if it is only $375/month.