from wince we came

This is our past: A sunny, 3,600-sq-ft and likely not completely legal, live/work loft on Providence’s once mill-laden West Side across the street from Eagle Square and Fort Thunder, in what was originally a knife factory in the 1920s.

Low on walls given one huge room, my husband David and I relied on rugs and furniture to define living areas. We demarcated an office with bookshelves and desks made from hollow-core doors where we’d hover over our Macs. We finally put up drywall to bound David’s sawdust-generating woodshop where he built cabinets and blared music way too loudly so that he could hear it over the tablesaw, even with his earplugs in.

There were dual turntables hung on long steel cables from the huge wooden beams. Late-night DJ appearances. A massive, revolving disco ball bought on eBay. A dance floor with whirling lights in the ceiling, left over from the Cape Verdean nightclub that got shut down there before we took up residence. There was room for a balloon drop on New Year’s Eve. Room for every treasure we ever dragged home from the dumpster, side of the road, flea market and antique store. Room to ride a mountain bike. Room for David’s TZ250 and other race-fuel reeking relics. Room for parties of 30 or 50 or 80. Or more. People coming, going, spending the night on the floor. Karaoke. Hangovers.

We had a giant, rolling record rack that reeled under the weight of vinyl. A stainless steel hulk of a used commercial fridge, the Lincoln Continental of cold, found in the Bowery. Huge, leaky windows sans curtains, so the sun woke us every morning. Commercial heaters that created more wind than heat. Every year we had wood delivered in November and stacked it for weeks. Huddling around the woodstove was a January necessity. I burned my backside on it more than once.

Our cats brought in, and frequently set loose, rats… scads of them, sometimes five or six a day, until the population was eventually decimated. And mice. And snakes. And giant luna moths. And birds. And bats. I returned the snakes and things with wings to the great outdoors — and even the mice if they were cute enough. With cats lurking outside every possible hiding place, the rats rarely survived.

Outside… outside there were hookers turning tricks. Discarded condoms and their candy-colored wrappers on our front step. Walking to the corner store once led a concerned Hispanic man to ask me if my car had broken down and I needed help, I guess because why else on earth would I be in his neighborhood? Walking home from the train station one day after my commute to Boston, a guy on a motorcycle stopped to inquire whether I was “working.” (That actually happened frequently, but only once was a motorized vehicle without a backseat involved.)

We transformed a 30’x40’ patch out back into a flowery, leafy, veggie-producing paradise, complete with a dining area hidden in amidst the summer jungle. Hawks flew overhead. Praying mantises discovered it. And hummingbirds. At night, the occasional skunk wandered past as we sipped wine with friends and breathed in the scent of datura and nicotiana. From June to November, it was almost always peaceful enough to sleep with the windows open. Once a cop stuck his head in and shouted to his partner, “Eh Eddie! Getta loada dis fuckin’ place!” like it must be some kind of mirage.

It was.

We lived on the urban frontier, off the beaten path on a dead-end street in a not so desirable part of town. It was cheap for an ungodly amount of space. It was a blank slate. Idyllic. Unpretentious. Most of all, it felt defiant in a way I’ll likely never experience again. I miss loft life. The rats and condoms, not so much.