In the spring of 1993, I graduated from college and, deciding to attend graduate school on the same campus in Natchitoches, Louisiana, moved out of the dorms and into a small apartment with my then-boyfriend. The place I found was a grimy 1-bedroom about a 5-minute drive or bike ride from campus, for which we paid the princely sum of $150 per month. Even in 1993, that was cheap, and the apartment was worth every penny. Among its charms were the roaches that infested every nook and cranny, holes in the walls so big one could put a pencil through them, a front-row seat for the crack deals out the back window, 1 million year old grimy carpet, and a crazy landlady and vaguely unaware landlord.
The summer before I rented it, I'd happened upon a young, stoned boy playing guitar on the stairs; he was, with 10 or so of his friends, renting the entire upstairs. He gave me a tour, and I remember being struck by the punk-rock flop-house air of the place: mattresses on the floors of every room, no furniture, and doors everywhere, opening into every other room, it seemed.
A few months before we moved in, my boyfriend and I were riding our bikes around one night, and happened upon a house fire directly behind the place which would become out home. A cop standing outside, monitoring the situation, yelled at us to get away -- not because of the fire, but because we were in a "bad" neighborhood. Another time, a friend and I sat in the empty lot across the street, and an officer stopped to warn us that it was unsafe -- though he ignored the two young black women who were walking across the same lot. The apartment stood at the edge of the touristy historic district (like a New Orleans for the elderly) and the much rougher and poorer African American neighborhood that made up the bulk of the town. We were a block too far into it for white kids, it seems, and I got stopped and offered rides "home" by cops more than once as I was walking to my front door!
The apartment was most of half of the upstairs of a sprawling former wooden-sided warehouse, probably used when the Cane River still connected to the Red River and thus into the Mississippi. The building had become a used furniture store more than half a century before.
By the time I moved in, the upstairs had been split inexpertly into two apartments, with a thin storage hallway made of drywall and filled with broken air conditioners and ancient dishwashers and boxes of books, running between the two. I rented the one on the right -- it had a bigger kitchen but no closet in the bedroom.
The layout was roughly as follows: the entire downstairs was an open room, filled with junky old furniture -- probably the main origin of the roaches, since they love nothing more than to live in sofas, feasting on glue and pasteboard.
On the right side of the building, a rickety stairwell rose from the porch to a back door, which was bolted from the inside.
On the left side of the building, far back, were two blue wooden doors that probably predated the Great War. These doors were tricky; part of the year, they were difficult to open; later, something deep underground would shift, and they'd be impossible to lock or, at times, even to close.
From these doors, one could walk straight through into the furniture store, or take a sharp left onto a wide set of wooden stairs that turned 3 times and went under two internal windows. At the top of these stairs were two doors, one on each side.
My apartment opened into the kitchen. That room opened the the left into a tiny nook which housed a refrigerator and a small table and a window that overlooked the stairwell. It also opened to the right into a living room, which opened onto a small hallway. From there, one could enter the small bathroom or the bedroom.
Because of some unknown history, each of these rooms had at least one door onto the middle hallway. That summer, we lived alone above the furniture store, and we'd often open all our windows, and break into the other apartment (which wasn't locked anyway) and open the windows there, leaving all the doors open as well to create a cross draft. Any time we left the apartment in this state, when we returned, it would be sealed up again. Landlord and downstairs tenants all insisted they had nothing to do with it. A later neighbor would insist the ghost did many things in the apartment, but other than the windows and doors, I never saw any spooky activity.
There were two additional rooms, one behind each apartment, which were not rented out normally. these opened onto a glassed in porch. At one point, a neighbor did rent one, but we were forbidden to go on the porch because it was dangerous. Of course, I went out there a few times, but as I didn't have regular access, it was rare.
The floor of my kitchen had a foot square hole in it, which I discovered when I pulled up the carpet and tile. The stuff was rotting, and painting the floor with gray flooring paint made the place look infinitely better. The hole in the floor was covered with a grate from an old freezer or oven. I asked the men who ran the furniture store, and they told me an interesting story:
Back during prohibition (but it could have been any time into the 1950s, I'd guess), the downstairs was a furniture store and the upstairs was a gambling parlor and brothel run by the same men. The men would lock up the downstairs at night, and drink bootlegged liquor while they ran games and whored out the girls. As they made money, they shoved it through the hole in the floor, into the locked building below. In the morning, when they were sober again, the money would be collected in a pile, safe from burglars and ready to be counted.
I have no way of knowing if this is true.
I lived in the apartment for 3 years, leaving in the summer of 1996 for Utah. I carried my castoffs down the rickety stairs and left them on the porch; they'd be gone, scavenged by the poor neighbors, before I got the next box or item down to the porch.
Last month, I visited Natchitoches, and found the building abandoned. It breaks my heart a little. Roaches and all, I loved that apartment.
The front doors were hanging open, and I stuck my head in to see, though I didn't venture in. $150 / month for 38 months a decade ago did not entitle me to walk around, I decided.
I'c never noticed the wallpaper in the warehouse; I call it the Federalist Paper:
It took me several minutes to notice that someone had had a little fun with a brick; the front window stood shattered inward. College kids, probably, or bored teenager -- the town has plenty of each.