Wednesday, August 5, 2009

I Don't Think I Smell Good

It's quarter past nine in the morning and I've been up for three hours, a feat generally only accomplished when I have to be at an airport. I'm procrastinating and listening to The Poseidon Adventure in the background because I'm moving on Saturday and the apartment only seems a little packed. I paint a lovely picture this morning: I'm wearing my best friend's college lacrosse shorts (circa 1996), a girly tank top that reads "Treasure Chest" exactly where you would assume it would, and what were once pink flip flops. I am not wearing deodorant which is probably what accounts for that smell. My legs and underarms could use some attention in the depilatory department, my eyebrows need tweezing, and my upper lip is begging for bleach. All the clean clothing has been packed, so the next four days are going to be outfitted by whatever is still on the floor - so, no underwear pretty much.

I am thirty-two years old and apart from the college years in Massachusetts, have only ever lived in Manhattan. I knew I would only ever live in Manhattan. This was my home and I wasn't moving anywhere (except maybe Paris, which is like New York but with French people and more bakeries). So for the ten years since college ended I have made my home in Manhattan. Sort of. You see, I can't afford to live in Manhattan. Pretty much no one I know can. True, most of the people I know do live in Manhattan, but few of them in places the average 32-year old would consider a home. Not wanting to spend the better part of my patchy salary on shoeboxes, I made the decision early on to be an urban homesteader i.e. live uptown. Really, really uptown.

I made my first home in an illegal 3-bedroom sublet on 110th street at a time when 110th street was still terra incognita for the college educated white girl. Cab drivers dropping me off would ask if I was sure this was where I wanted to go. It was a great apartment that I was eventually evicted from for being an illegal occupant in the first place. By the time of my eviction, NY1 had done stories on my very block and how nice it was and how other college-educated white people should certainly move there, essentially raising the average rents to a point where I could no longer happily afford to live there.

Enter a disastrous one-year experiment in Spanish Harlem - a neighborhood I assure you was not gentrified then and is not gentrified now (seven years later). I lived in a street-facing first floor two bedroom with my roommate and frequently also with my boyfriend, right next door to a chicken slaughterhouse. No, I did not make that up. You can go check it out on 117th street between 2nd and 3rd avenues. This apartment had a lot of problems, the most notable being the vibrant sidewalk culture. By vibrant, I mean loud and constant. I called the cops (the precinct, not 911) numerous times for noise complaints. At 4am. On a Tuesday. Because someone though jacking up the radio in his car and testing out his oversized speakers was a neighborly thing to do in front of my window. Again, at 4am on a Tuesday.

We fled from that place. This time it was the roommate, the boyfriend, and me, searching for something that would accomodate all of us and have some of those creature comforts, like an elevator, a super, and ground clearance. But now it was 2003. People had been hearing things about this place called Harlem, and it wasn't even remotely possible to find a deal in any of the neighborhoods that were actually up and coming. I saw an apartment overlooking the 1/9 train station on 124th street - and yes, you do notice that subways come by every three minutes; don't let a real estate agent tell you you'll get used to it. I saw a "four bedroom" apartment through, and I'll say it, the only real estate agency I would never advise anyone to use, Manhattan Apartments, and was berated by the showing agent for walking out within thirty seconds.

"What's wrong with this one," he sighed, "it's a four bedroom!"
"I couldn't actually fit beds in any of the rooms."
"You could fit a twin!"

I found a great apartment with four actual bedrooms, thus realizing my dream of having a dining room, and had the money in hand when we were informed the police department would be taking that apartment effective immediately to perform surveillance of known criminals on the block. Awesome!

But finally, we found what was, cosmetically, a good fit. A three-bedroom apartment on 146th street with an elevator, a super, and the poor man's porch: a fire escape. The price was right and we signed.

Fast forward six years. If I was not moving out this weekend, it is entirely possible I would be committing a series of felonies against, well anyone who looked at me funny. My landlords? Classic slumlords. When calling the office to ask for the mailing address (we've paid automatically through the bank since day 1) to formally submit our resignation, I was asked a series of questions before the information was freely given, and by freely given, I mean the woman at the office sighed repeatedly and relented after I asked if there was some special reason for keeping the address from me, a government secret perhaps.

Here are just some of the problems with the building:

1. Filthy
2. Elevator frequently and mysteriously out of service (including from the last weekend in June through Labor Day last summer)
3. Super obviously has second job as superhero as he is never ever around except when
4. Blasting the same 6 songs from his stereo in the courtyard below my window pretty much any evening the weather is nice
5. Illegal gambling operation in first floor apartment sanctioned by management as they installed the "security camera" in that apartment
6. Broken front door. When door is not broken, it soon becomes broken as neighbors bash door in when they forget keys
7. Occasional pharmaceutical sales in back of lobby
8. Buzzer has been broken for three years - no requests for fixing it have been responded to
9. Leak in bathroom from apartment above frequently resulting in my returning home to three inches of water on floor; also gaping hole in ceiling from water damage. No repairs scheduled
10. Neighbors let dogs pee in public hallways

Now I know you're wondering how on earth we stayed here for six years. We didn't mean to. In fact, every year we only signed on for One More Year, but then we didn't do anything about it because the status quo was what we knew and I didn't want to leave Manhattan, though I certainly didn't want to move any further uptown. My original roommate moved out and to Brooklyn, his replacement, a very bad decision from Craigslist who still owes us lots of money, also fled when we asked him to make good on his back rent, but we just didn't know where to go and, there were some upsides.

Our below market rent allowed us to do other things with our money, specifically travel. By my count, since moving here in 2003, we have been to the following places: Bahamas x2, France x3, Corsica (technically still France), Cayman Islands, Portugal, Egypt - that's 1.5 international trips per year. This has been a good thing. But we hate it here. We hate everything about it. We hate that there's no truly edible food available for delivery and that the grocery store looks like something from a post-apocalyptic nightmare. We hate that we're pretty sure our own neighbors broke into our car. We hate that our neighbors break the door and leave their trash in the halls, both in bags and just as loose refuse. We hate that nothing ever gets fixed and more often than not new things get broken. But what we could not abide was that every year as the quality of life stayed the same or tumbled, the rent kept going up. Sure, it's still the cheapest 3-bedroom apartment you'll find, but it's no longer dirt cheap. So I said in March that I didn't care where we went, but that we had to get out of this place before I went completely off the deep end.

So I started getting on board with the idea of the outer boroughs though, sadly, I'd be trading one marginal neighborhood in Manhattan for a marginal neighborhood in Brooklyn. As the economy kept tumbling I got hopeful: perhaps we did wait long enough and the decently sized two bedroom apartment of our dreams, south of 92nd street, could be found. Sadly, no. While that 2.5 million dollar two bedroom apartment is now closer to 1.8 million dollars, that's still about 1 million dollars more than we could comfortably afford, and that's after hitting up all existing relatives for dough. Yes, there are $800,000 two bedrooms, but I've seen them and they're not for me. I won't be spending 60% and more of my income to live in a 10x10 bedroom with a 8x13 living room. No thank you. I'll go back to my original plan of waiting for them to discover something horribly toxic endemic to living in New York that only people who were born with have immunity to (and this saves my better half because he was, in fact, born in Manhattan).

Then the unexpected happened: his company got bought, he found a new job, and the job was in Westchester. Suddenly we were not going to be moving to Brooklyn or Queens, we were going to start looking at the novel idea of renting. A house.
The idea had been tossed around, ostensibly for years. He's a suburban boy who has always hated the idea of apartment living with its cramped quarters and utter lack of outdoor space. I took one look at where he grew up and swore I would never live someplace like that. Everyone looked the same and you had to drive everywhere - even if you just needed a Milky Way bar at midnight. Then there was the drunk driving, the cultural vacuum, and the evils of something called lawn care.

But a lot can happen over the course of a twelve year and counting relationship. Perhaps I've mellowed. Or perhaps it was the perfect storm of events: my increasing homicidal tendencies coupled with the new job. So we found ourselves talking to real estate agents who didn't expect 20% of the rent in fees or the blood of a virgin to seal the deal. We named our price and then saw ACTUAL HOUSES. Lots of them. All over the Westchester area. We had a couple of dealbreakers: no multi-family houses, a decently sized backyard, a basement, but we still ended up seeing nearly 20 houses, all but two of them perfectly livable.

Sure, I wanted the least practical of the bunch: the four acre on a lake creaky Hansel and Gretel cottage, but it had no garage and no basement, and was really really far away. So we looked at the rest and, after some crying on my part, settled on the one that made the most sense: good space, two-car garage, 10 minute commute for him, 2 minutes to the train station for me. There was just one problem.

The house is in Greenwich.

As in Connecticut.

As in the place he grew up I swore I would never live.

But I'm kind of excited. You see, I now have a car. A shiny red VW Jetta with a 2.5 liter engine and a five-speed manual transmission that purrs like nobody's business sitting in my garage in Connecticut. I'm going to have a dining room complete with a lovely bay window. I compromised on the kitchen, which is a little small, because there's an enormous laundry room downstairs that I'm going to turn into a prep kitchen complete with metal shelving and room for my chest freezer, wine fridge, and ice cream maker.

Yet there is always a caveat. This one was unavoidable. The love of my life, right now? In San Francisco for work, while I clear out our apartment and box things, and sweep up mouse shit (did I not include major vermin problems as one of the things I hate about this apartment? I don't know how I could have missed including it, it's evidence is EVERYWHERE). Yes, my wonderful mother is coming over later today to help me box up plates and glasses (because if I did it on my own, there would only be dangerous shards when we unpacked later), but I am frankly overwhelmed. Who knew we had this much crap? And as I look at what's not coming with us, I'm even more amazed. There are about 15 boxes of books, but there are also about two bookcases worth of books that will no longer be members of our family.

So why blog?

Because Saturday evening at a get-together a girl I had gone to middle school with said, "you should totally blog about your move and the transition." I don't know if it will be funny, and I don't know if I'll stick with it (I have a horrible track record), but I'm going to try. And now I must, must, must, return to the task at hand. However, writing this down has shamed me.

I just put on deodorant.


  1. Love this! Looking forward to my first visit. xx

  2. What a way to go!
    Keep us posted on the new developments. I just hope Greenwich can handle you.

  3. Wow, I'm speechless. And by speechless I mean "howdy!" from the midwest.

  4. Been drinking much pop, Eric?