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.