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“I loved the city. We were anonymous, and even then I had the sense that cities were yielding; that they moved over and made room.” ― Sheridan Hay, The Secret of Lost Things

It’s people that make a city. Lots and lots of people, often in swaths of apartment neighborhoods like those in Los Angeles and San Francisco.

My former apartment in Esseff wasn’t a charming Victorian or a hip mid-century. It was more like a nine-story bunker with identical one-bedrooms stacked like shoeboxes in a cupboard. I rarely heard a peep through the concrete walls, floor, or ceiling (exception: the rattly old vacuum cleaner my upstairs neighbor decided to run one midnight). The wooden doors weren’t so conducive to quiet, though. Every cough and sneeze out in the hallway was audible. Given that most of the apartments had a living-room door and a bedroom door, I used to wonder what the coughers and sneezers heard from within. On the upside, the place had a terrific ocean view.

My current Ellay home was built in the era of yuppies, Dynasty, and shoulder pads. The palm trees and colorfully tiled pool enchant, but the various sized apartments are juxtaposed on three levels like the blocks in a Jenga game in progress. Sound travels as if mere chicken wire and papier-maché separate the units. Sudden domestic impact above or beside (cabinet doors crashing, furniture colliding, tectonic plates shifting) can literally rock my world. Thunder Stampede (a.k.a. the cat upstairs) boosts the soundscape, frequently in the middle of a weekday night.

The white picket fence of my childhood looks mighty attractive when it feels as if the city’s closing in. Not to worry. Los Angeles and San Francisco both comprise expanses of actual houses with yards in addition to their high-density neighborhoods. Tranquility and bustle are the yin and yang of unicoastal lifestyle.

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