The Harlot.

Easily my favorite "feature" of our old apartment was The Harlot. Not that our apartment came with its very own lady of the night that we could conveniently fold up and keep under the couch. The Harlot was a label, left there by some creative person who took advantage of circumstance.

In the kitchen, there is a series of pipes that provide plumbing service to both us and the apartment above us. We can hear them taking a shower, flushing the toilet, and doing whatever water-related activities they might do. The pipes rattle, they shake, but we got used to it.

One of the pipes ran diagonally right above the sink. Around one end of it was tied a little red bow out of a small piece of ribbon. It was the kind of little red bow you might expect to see on the end of a blonde braid, not on a length of pipe. Although, I'm not really sure what kind of ribbon you would expect to see on a length of pipe.

The ribbon was charming in a bizarre kind of way. But about a foot away from the bow was the real deal, The Harlot.

Apparently, these pipes were made in the Queen City, Charlotte, North Carolina. Or maybe the company that made them was based there. Or maybe the owner of the company just really liked that book about the spider. Whatever. In any case, the word "CHARLOTTE" was printed on the pipe. All of the pipes had been painted that lovely bland color of antique white that graced the walls and ceiling and anything else that wasn't quite boring enough in the apartment. And so you could read "CHARLOTTE", but only because the letters were raised.

Some time before we moved in, someone happened to notice the amusing possibilities of the word "CHARLOTTE". They took a quarter or a key or their fingernail, and they scratched the paint off along some of the middle letters, leaving the word "HARLOT" standing out in dark gray letters amid a sea of antique white.

Brilliance. Like graffiti for the inventive.

I like to imagine that it was a handyman, maybe the guy that painted the pipe. Like maybe this guy wants to be a writer, he's obviously meant for something more than house painting. This is how he breaks the monotony of his job. I wonder what other words he scratches into apartments.

A few months ago, the pipe above The Harlot started leaking, and our maintenance man came in and worked on them. He had to bring in some paint to get rid of the water stains that were left by the leaks, and he painted over The Harlot. It was a sad day.

This weekend, I said goodbye to my first apartment, that hidden hole. I took the little blue key off my chain and set it down on the counter. I took a final look around the kitchen and I saw "CHARLOTTE", and I hated her.

So I took one of my remaining keys, stood on the tips of my toes and carefully scratched out H-A-R-L-O-T. Because it's funny, it's goofy, and somehow it fits right in to that ridiculous place I lived for two years. The apartment would not be the same without The Harlot with her little red bow. I surveyed my work, which was not quite as tidily done as before, but still good, and then walked out the door for the last time.

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