Brooklyn Bound

Just three images provided me with untold amounts of fuel for my dreams.  A fireplace complete with slate mantle, two windows looking onto lush trees, and a kitchen devoid of the clutter and Pier 1 kitsch I had been living with for the last six months.  No hundred-bottle wine rack loomed in the living room.  Light spilled through unseen windows and reflected off freshly painted drywall that bore no trace of grubby handprints.  In a word: heaven.

I prayed for my apartment search to end here.

My emails to the owner of the building were frantic and worried, like a girl who had just been on a date with the man of her dreams but she wasn’t quite sure that he thought that she was the woman of his dreams.  Instead of the whole “I hope he likes me” saga of unrequited, desperate infatuations, mine was the “Dear fucking sweet Jesus, I hope I get this thing.”  I hadn’t even seen the place in person.  I didn’t need to.

The apartment was in a section of Brooklyn I had not yet attempted to conquer.  Admittedly, my familiarity with the borough in general did not stretch far beyond the Bedford subway stop, the shortest distance across the water from Manhattan.  And even then, I would get lost once I surfaced from the underground immediately.  North 7th?  Manhattan Avenue?  Driggs?  Where the fuck am I? I routinely spun around, squinting like a tourist and always heading in the wrong direction.

Brooklyn signified unchartered territory, territory that I was initially uninterested in.  The landscape always struck me as drab.  The small homes that lined the residential streets were wrapped in wood siding; the old brick so common in Manhattan architecture seemed in short supply on this side of the East River.  Everything felt scaled down here: the masses of people, the building height, the energy.  This wasn’t my New York, I thought.

Then I started to think about “my New York” and what it meant to me now – nine years after I landed at JFK airport for the first time, eight years after I moved here for school, seven years after I moved away.  It had been ages since I lived here full-time, but I had been shuttling back and forth for the better part of my tenure in Los Angeles.  I didn’t realize it, but I had been experiencing New York in the same way I had been experiencing LA – working, partying, living carelessly within the nonexistent confines of my early twenties.

But I changed.

That lifestyle wore thin around two years ago while living in Los Angeles.  I stopped going to the same club three nights a week.  I put my heels away, favoring more sensible footwear no matter what the occasion.  I started enjoying more subtle social interactions, ones that I could hear clearly enough and didn’t involve the uncomfortable spray of saliva that inevitably occurs when a drunkard forces his/her voice over the thumping bass of a 2 a.m. party and into your ear.  It could have been that my sober lifestyle was catching up to me, or maybe I was just growing up.

I was boring now; I had unknowingly primed myself for Brooklyn.

I waited on the subway platform to transfer.  Trapped heat from the day stood lazily around me, steeped in that same dirty-earth smell it always has.  A man sweetly picked on the metal strings of a steel guitar and when he stopped no one clapped.  The moment made me feel awkward.

The subway arrived and I entered, noting that the line used the older trains that had been steadily replaced more modern ones when the chance arose.  This was the kind with the orange and red chairs and the silver-sided walls etched with the nonsense graffiti of bored teenagers.  Like being in the belly of a robotic Ronald McDonald.

It was quiet when I exited the subway.  No one pushed past me.  No one spat or blew snot out of their noses and directly onto the street.  My heartbeat remained at its own version of homeostasis – a chronic and mildly stressed flutter that leaves my chest only in sleep.  And so I walked.

Trees greeted me with greater regularity as I moved further from the subway stop and soon I was under the closest thing to a New York canopy a borough can offer.  A fading blue sky peered through the green, making me feel small.  I inhaled, happily.

I sat outside of the building, watching nervously as a couple that had just finished viewing the apartment exited onto the stairs.  “It’s really beautiful,” one of the two said as I passed.  I smiled, saying, “Oh, good” though I didn’t even know what that meant.  I didn’t want them to say it was beautiful; I wanted them to hate it.  I didn’t want to have to compete for my future happiness.  I wanted to live in those three pictures.

The landlord shook my hand.  We introduced ourselves.  I stepped into a lobby with a paper chandelier and thoughtful jute carpeting up the stairs.  Already I felt at home.  Above me, a door stood propped open.  Through it, wood floors, appropriately aged with the wear of ninety years, gleamed in the dusky light.  And when I eventually stepped on them, they welcomed me with comforting groans.

My voice wavered nervously as I toured the apartment.  It was too beautiful, too large, too perfect for words – and when words sometimes came out, they were clunky and stuttered.  I praised the owner for the attention to detail and the obvious love and care that went into making this place feel like a home.  We discussed typical renter topics but my mind was elsewhere.  I wanted to live here.  I had to live here.

I bid the landlord farewell, telling her again how beautiful the place was.  I waved goodbye and took off down the street, my chest expanding with the air of hope and my eyes welling with overwhelmed tears.  Save me, I thought.  Save me.

Beyond the trees, sun danced its last dance with the water.  A boat passed, obliterating the shimmery wet.  Again, I inhaled.  It was nice to see the city from a distance; the separation was welcome.  It would always be there if I wanted it.  It would always be there if I needed to return.  If ever I was to be exciting again, if I longed to dance until sunrise, if I ever cared about all of the expensive clothes in my closet or looking beautiful… it would welcome me back.

But I don’t think I’ll be accepting the offer any time soon.

*As seen on Flipcollective.com

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Chill Out, White Girl

Some of my favorite worldly translations are between Chinese and English: they never make sense and I am always confused, left to stare at a bag and wonder what might be the consequences of eating its contents.  Last night, I found these gems (among many others).

  • Salt Walnut Kernel — “Need of High Quality Service” reads the tagline
  • Milk Drink — After China’s melamine scare two years ago, I don’t think I’ll be consuming any of their products involving lactose, even if it does have the cartoon of a child grinning wildly; he can’t possibly be having that much fun with such a generic product.
  • Tai Lake Roasted Fish Snacks — Also in Anchovy.
  • Vegetarian Meat Dried Sea Moss — Huh?
  • Coconut Sport Balls — For a really good time.
  • High Gluten Flour — Never to be found at Whole Foods, surely.

The aisle housing the spices interested me for two reasons.  One, they were cheap as hell.  Two, the descriptor “powder” was added to the end of every spice.  For instance: Cinnamon Powder, Ground Coriander Powder, Ginger Root Powder.  There was something unsettling about the word, making me question the authenticity of the spice itself.  Were spices technically powders?  Were these not actually spices but some strange powdery incarnation thereof?

Though banned in restaurant cooking – though maybe not in this part of town – MSG could be purchased here in all forms.  The bottles were usually advertised simply as “Seasoning” and followed by a year indicating it was established nearly one hundred years ago or longer.  It came in big cans, small cans, saltshakers, even liquid form if you felt so inclined.

Also worth noting was their prepared food counter.  Amongst sautéed mushroom and cabbage dishes to go were seasoned (and unseasoned) chickens’ feet, boiled to pale perfection.  As I stood at the cash register paying for my items – rice seasoning (Lord knows why) and Taro Root Sticks (a snack that looked delicious but ended up tasting strangely of fish) – I resisted the urge for any impulse buys.  And trust me, my taste for chicken feet has always been… well, it wasn’t that hard.

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REcovahhhhh!

I take the bike closest to the door.  This was a strategy that worked well through college; if ever you needed to pee, cut out early, or field an important phone call, you could sneak out relatively undetected.  Such measures are necessary in group exercise classes.  Punking out prematurely, red-faced and dry heaving, is frowned upon, and if you have to do it, you should at least be able to attract the least amount of attention as you can.

The man at the front of the class is meaty and thick with the overdeveloped thigh muscles of a running back.  He wears a black tee shirt with Iron Man silkscreened from collar to hem.  “How’s everybody do-ennnn?” he bellows into the room.  His voice is that of a Russian Rocky Balboa.  Moscow meets Philly.  Oh, I am in for a treat, surely.

He saddles onto his own bike, announcing to the classroom that he’s made a new CD.  As the class wears on, I endure club house remix after club house remix of any and all popular 80s song.  No stone is left unturned: Madonna, Cindy Lauper, The Cure.  The benefit of these terrible tunes is that at times I don’t even feel as though I’m in spin class, but instead fist pumping at 3 a.m. somewhere in the Meat Packing District on a Friday night.  Bridge and Tunnel time.

“Only another seventy miles to go, my friends.”  It is a joke he uses throughout the class; the mileage never changing, although I had hoped that this was a rough indicator of the true distance we still had to travel.  But no, always “Another seventy miles, my friends!”

His lexicon is not one I am familiar with yet, and it will require multiple visits back to begin to understand him fully.  The music explodes through the black speakers above and his voice barely makes it through the reverb.  After each intense burst of peddling, he yells out, “REcovah!”  After which point, I watch as he turns his resistance down on the bike and happily recalibrate my own.

I notice the way he looks towards my back corner of the room and I allow my hair to fall around me, obstructing my face and, hopefully, my small chest.  What little bouncing these boobs do during the class, I would prefer to keep to myself.  Later on, while taking a curious stroll through the class while we are all on “climb mode” he moves my hand to the front bars, where they are supposed to be.  And while I appreciate the corrective sentiment, I notice that he does not offer to adjust the hands of the girl next to me.  He leaves his sweaty hand on my sweaty hand for an inappropriate amount of time, patting it before he leaves like that pervy grandpa your mother won’t let you be in the same room with over Christmas.

Later, he comes back and does it again.  My muscles and my soul groan in discontent.

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NYC Apartment Hunt Part I

The hunt started frantically.  Must.  Move.  Must.  Move.  NOW. It was a chant that followed me with every footstep, interrupted my thought process in each social interaction, upset my stomach to the point of ulcerous twangs.  I had to find a place to live.  And I had to find a place to live in New York City, one of the hardest markets in the globe.  Here, hesitation and unpreparedness led to dire consequences: losing the apartment of your dreams, or at least the apartment that was “just okay” that felt “sort of safe” and was in an area that you “didn’t hate that much” but was a reasonable $1700.  Vomit.

Craigslist searches brought only studio apartments or “Junior 1 Bdrm” – a self-aggrandized studio with walls, serving only to make the place seem smaller and more claustrophobic.  If I was lucky, maybe there would be a relative bargain on the outskirts of Alphabet City, a place where back in 2002, my roommate told me to wear close-toed shoes because of the likelihood you’d step on heroine needles.  This might have been an overreaction, even for 2002, but her parents were from Brooklyn and their perception of streets A through D would be forever be filled with ghosts of tenement buildings and drug addicts.  But where there once were slums and bums, there are now gut-renovated, spacious apartments for a slight discount…and a hefty walk to any nearest train station.

I went to see a couple of places, both of which I ran from quickly.  The first was a cheap spot on the Lower East Side.  When I arrived into the apartment, I was sure I never saw pictures of this place, or – what was more likely – the realtor lured me in with impossible visions of inexpensive, “Pre-War” beauty, only to con me into traveling the four flights of stairs into this dark hellhole.

The current tenant or tenants stood awkwardly in the kitchen while the sweaty man whose name I think was Mike showed me the apartment by merely standing in the center of it and spinning around in 360 degrees.  Florescent lights glowered angrily above us, turning the cheap maple cabinets a sallower shade of yellow.  There was a blowup mattress in the bedroom with a view to the back of another building.  “It’s quiet back here,” Mike said.  Great, so my neighbors won’t ever hear when I put a bullet in my head come January, I thought to myself.

In an effort to fall asleep that night, uninterrupted by the terrors of real world existence, I circumvented viewing of the bathroom entirely.  I rushed down the tiled hallway stairs and out the door, just in time to watch the sun set against gray clouds, which from that apartment, seemed like it had done years ago.

My next attempt was in the East Village, an area I found relatively civilized compared to the rambunctious LES with its uber-hipsters and Pabst Blue Ribbon, cheap Mexican food and lazy ceiling fans … a lifestyle choice so noisy that when you sign a lease, the LES offers you nothing but “If you can’t beat us (and you won’t), join us.”

I met a woman on the corner, both of us unattractively glowing from the heat of the day.  She walked me down the street, telling me that the unit was on the top floor of a five-story building.  We walked up the grimy stairway, not unlike any other grimy New York stairway I’ve been in.  The stairs wrapped around and around and around, until there were no more stairs to climb at all.

The apartment was small and narrow with dark brown trim around each window, which served only to make the place feel like it was closing in on itself.  It was another junior one-bedroom.  There was a small kitchen, a small bedroom, and an area that wasn’t quite a living room and wasn’t quite a breakfast nook.  Neither kitchen table nor couch could fit there within reason.  I would most likely use it for my psychotic fits in the middle of winter.  I could pad the area up nicely and board up the window so as to not throw myself through it.  That’s what I would use this space for.

After the singular minute required to view this apartment had passed, the realtor offered to show me another apartment in the building.  I thought I heard her say it was a basement unit, but out of politeness, I agreed – this is something I do often, and something that does nothing more than waste my time and their own, while providing them with the false hope that their actions will lead to something, in this case, commission.

We walked down, down, down until we reached a hallway where blue plastic garbage bags sat stacked on top of one another.  Past the bags was a brown door that the realtor opened onto a room that seemed to live in perpetual darkness, all day, year round.  Stacks of empty Bud Light cans rose from every available surface like cobalt stalagmites.

Through the living room, I caught movement from the top of a wooden bunk bed.  A head rolled to its side, sleepy eyes looked back towards the door.  As this wasn’t my apartment or my life, I reserved my judgment, but, Jesus Christ, it was 3 in the afternoon.  I felt like I’d just accidentally opened the bathroom door while someone was peeing, or, in this case, the less charming alternative.  I whispered to the realtor, “Um, someone’s sleeping in here,” and fled out the door two steps behind me.

As we walked back above sea level and I told her thank you for showing me both apartments, the last of which was a little on the dark side for my taste.  We shook hands and I walked away with a new resolve to never look for apartments in this city again.  A resolve that I’d break a few months later, much to my benefit.

To be continued.

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Waiting

I long for the quiet of winter.  The falling leaves of September.  Layers.  Jackets and scarves and leather gloves.  Falling asleep to the sound of an air conditioner has rattled my brain for the better part of two months.  Rattling my thoughts until they fall out my ears.  I long for the quiet.  For the rain.  To hear it outside of my window, tapping on the sidewalks, washing Chinatown into the gutters.  The spit, the mildewed cabbage, the Little Italy garbage.  The early evenings.  Darkness descending on the city and eventually causing mild depression.  The heat depresses, too.  It wraps tightly around the city like a blanket in a dry sauna, unwelcome and immovable.  We gasp for breath through the soupy ether, inhaling nothing more but hot air.

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