I remember the September I lived in a flat above a shop on Main Street in Alhambra. The front windows looked out on the marquee of the photo studio downstairs, and the broad swath of asphalt, and the brick building across the street with the theatre and assorted small shops on the ground floor and the dance studio upstairs. The back windows opened on the roof of the photo studio, which extended further back from the street than the apartment did. The side windows opened on air shafts, with the red brick walls of the neighboring buildings only a few feet away. All day, the brick would collect the heat, and all night that heat would sweat out into the rooms. I was never cool in that place, but it was my first apartment and I loved being there. Even with two irritating flat mates and their obnoxious friends who infested the place like rats, and with the noise of traffic on the busy street, with the light from the street lamps glaring through the front windows all night, and the ever-present heat, it was still my romantic urban dream and film noir fantasy come true.
Now, in this unexpected place, when this unaccustomed night heat provokes my memories, I wonder what became of that fantasy. It is still there, in the back of my mind, of course. But I wonder what happened to the power it once had to make me willing to endure such discomfort and inconvenience, merely for the chance to indulge it? Today, I would probably insist on air conditioning in such a place. I'd probably want the gas turned on so I could have hot water, as well. (We never got around to that, since my flat mates decided to move out before we got together the money for the Gas Company.) And I'd probably be unwilling to put up with the noise, unless the neighborhood was much more interesting than Alhambra was, or probably is, even now.
Still, when I remember the way the sunlight fell on the wall in the air shaft, or the way the curtains looked from outside when they would flutter out the unscreened windows in the breeze, or the blinking lights on the theatre marquee in the evenings, and the sound of piano music drifting above the traffic as the vague forms of dancers moved behind the dusty windows of the dance studio across the street, and the smell of fresh bread from the bakery down the block, I think that perhaps I surrendered that dream too easily. The pines and the empty town, those were someone else's dream. I can adapt, but I can never really forget.