I had a call in the Tenderloin. I knew it was going to be a no sale once I pulled up to a rundown tenement building on Ellis Street. I miraculously found a free parking meter right across the street, looked up and saw an old Black man peering out a cracked fifth floor window. I had to weave my way through a hectic scene of homeless folks blocking the entryway as they tussled about.
I got buzzed in the thick glass door, and checked in with the building manager, a mid-thirties African-American woman with unkempt hair and a wide face. She was busy dealing with two other tenants; I stood aside and waited patiently. I asked if a “Mr. Atkins” was a resident, said that I believed apartment upgrades should be the responsibility of the landlord or City agency that subsidized the housing. She agreed, but sent me up to unit 505 anyway.
I knocked on the door. A voice told me to come in. A Black man, perhaps in his mid-70s, was hunched over in a wheelchair, seated by the cracked window.
“Hello! Did you see how lucky I was to get a parking spot?” I said cheerily.
He just kind of grunted, so I stopped the happiness and tried to be as professional as I could. His room was horribly dirty, about 12 feet by 16 feet. An old television blared atop a small crooked stool. A table the man was leaning on had a can with a spoon coming out of it. A deflated air mattress rested in the corner. His flooring was basically gone; just strands of worn-through carpet exposing aged wood planks.
“Listen, Mr. Atkins, whoever owns this building is responsible for its upkeep. Our company has a $500 minimum and I’m not sure that is in your budget.”
He responded by saying that he had a few hundred dollars now and could probably get more later and pay “a little bit at a time.”
I let him know that’s called “credit,” and involves a bank, credit check, and the like. I asked if he had anyone who might be able to buy a carpet piece leftover, or go to a garage sale and buy a rug secondhand. He just kind of stared at the floor and said “I’ll have to think about that one”
I left him saying I’d talk a bit more with the manager to see what the situation was, which seemed to mildly appease him. He never shifted his hunched position during my 15 minute stay, and spent most of the time staring out at the bustling street scene below.
Had a 5 to 7 p.m. call at a mid-1950s apartment building in Sausalito that looked like it’d originally been a motel. It had a funky pool in the center, and was adjacent to the Bay. I arrived to the third floor apartment to find furniture in the hallway. The front door was open; I was invited in by a frantic, long-haired, brunette woman in a tank top and white shorts, about 62. She was drinking coffee spiked with Bailey’s Irish Cream.
It took me a good 20 minutes to calm her down. As I asked her questions about her situation and tried to advise her, she’d talk over me, wanting me to know that she was formerly involved in the San Francisco Exotic, Erotic Ball and had known some celebrities. She finally told me that she was trying to paint the second bedroom and rent it for $100 per night for the upcoming America’s Cup sailing event. Her roommate had moved out, the building had new owners, she’d been there 17 years and was broke, $2,500 in rent arrears. She thought with the $100 a night and her being a driver, or “personal assistant,” to a wealthy America’s Cup attendee, she could make it.
I asked if she had a job. She said she ran a mobile spray tan business, but her further explanation of it just got more confusing. The problems were many, not least of which was the state of her painting. She didn’t know what she was doing, making a mess. When it came to my flooring wares, she said her budget was $200 and, as she fumbled for a cigarette, apologized for making the appointment.
Another quick no sale was at a rundown corner house in the Excelsior district south of Highway 280, west of 101. There were a bunch of low rider cars, and a couple high up on gigantic chrome wheels, known as “Donks,” parked outside at odd angles, as well as a huge black SUV on 26-inch chrome rims with a giant Raiders logo on the back tinted window. The front door with torn screen door was ajar. I could hear people and music from inside.
I rang the doorbell and shouted, “Carpet guy!” I let myself in to see a few huge Samoan guys standing around a messy kitchen, a couple tattooed 20-something females, a couple little kids and a guy sitting on a couch staring at the floor stoned out of his gourd. The place smelled of skunky weed. “Who’s the boss?” I asked,
“Reginald” A few of them laughed. One guy yelled, “Hey, Reggie, carpet guy here!”
Another massive guy, perhaps 30 and around 350 pounds, emerged from a hallway and said that he wanted a quick price for a room in the basement, but added, “Careful, though, it’s a mess and stinks down there”
“Dude, I’ve stepped over dead bodies before” I replied, to surprised laughter.
I walked down a dank thin cement stairwell to come upon a large, walled in, windowless room, about 12 feet wide by 22 feet long. Indeed, it was stinky and looked like it’d been housing a family, strewn with a mess of clothes, blankets, magazines, mattresses, broken toys and diapers. No one followed me down. I measured it in under a minute and ran back upstairs to let them know the good news: carpet comes in rolls 12 feet wide, so they could do it themselves, as our company would have to charge them “way too much”.
“I like your style, Bra…have a nice day,” the big guy said.
The Carpet Chronicles is a six-part series detailing one Potrero Hill resident’s experiences selling home flooring in and around San Francisco.