Apartment 1 – Washington Heights, New York
“Kathleen” and I agreed to meet at 5pm. Her Craigslist posting announced that she was showing a room at 158th St and Broadway. I had agreed to meet her the night before.
I am a lifelong kid from Queens and aside from participating in a clinical trial at Columbia University Medical Center, I had never been this far north in Manhattan or really thought about Washington Heights. But I needed a place to live and so I went to the location of the first Craigslist responder who got back to me. I’m not particularly picky. I kept my expectations low.
I got off the 1 train, popped a few Altoids and called when I arrived at the bottom of her building. No answer. I texted. I called again. No answers. I waited until 5:20 and left. I wasn’t terribly upset. That a “Kathleen” wouldn’t want to live with a random black dude wasn’t terribly surprising. But, being an internal optimist, I figured I’d take the bus back downtown to get the scenic tour of the neighborhood. As I was about to board, I got a call. Kathleen. She was very sorry she’d missed me and she wanted me to come up! I told her not to worry. I went back to her place.
During our conversation the day before, Kathleen told me that she was a professional trumpet player and that she would be home most of the time because she practiced during the day. She asked if that’d bother me.
“Well,” I paused. “Hopefully you’re good.” I like music. It wouldn’t bother me.
“Do you put the toilet seat down?”
I paused again. I couldn’t tell if she was trying to be funny or if she was trying to be serious.
“If I’m not in a hurry.”
“What’s your sign?”
“Good. I wouldn’t care unless you were a Cancer.”
I’m not one to make assumptions but New Yorkers make assumptions and it didn’t require much effort to make a few. She said she was 28. She wore an Oberlin hoodie. What little I knew of the liberal arts orgy suggested that this woman, at the very least, would be amusing in a progressive sort of way. Her hair could have featured dreadlocks at some point within the last twelve months. I asked her if she had. She said no.
Upon meeting her, it was obvious that her questions were meant to be both serious and funny. I liked that. In fact, I could tell quickly that I really liked her. She explained that also living in the apartment was another man, a 36-year-old Iranian pharmacist. This piqued my interest. New York City offers its people plenty to write about if they so desire. Usually such stories aren’t waiting outside one’s bedroom door. This could work.
After explaining more about the room, I told Kathleen that she sounded like and reminded me of Fiona Apple. By that I meant, everything about her energy suggested that she was gleefully disconnected from the world that I and 80 percent of New Yorkers currently operate. Every word she spoke felt about .5 seconds late. This disconnection manifested itself in ways that could be perceived as slightly strange or slightly inspired, depending on how you feel about such people. I was inspired. I love Fiona Apple. I told her to consider it a compliment. She, gleefully disconnected, casually took out her Macbook and played a Fiona Apple interview on YouTube. Within sixty seconds, she agreed. She shut off the jazz that had been playing and put on Fiona Apple’s Tidal on Spotify. I hadn’t listened to this album in years. I was stoked.
We talked as if we were friends. She asked me what was my favorite non-sexual fetish. I’m a fairly shameless person but I didn’t know how to take this question.
“No, no, no. Like. When I asked you what your sign was? That would be mine.” Gotcha.
I thought about it and came up with an honest answer. I ask almost everyone I meet why they were named what they were named. She loved the question. So we discussed how an Oberlin trumpet player came to be called Kathleen. While I expected someone who used to teach Sunday School in Idaho, she was hardly that. We talked about her lovers. We talked about why she loved Kansas City jazz. We talked about why she thought New York City had the perfect energy for her, an energy Boston did not have. This entire time, she spun a massive pot of beans and offered me a cup of Apricot juice. They smelled good. The juice tasted good. I asked her if I could charge my phone and I got comfortable. I liked the place. Relatively speaking, she liked me. From a personal and functional perspective, this could work.
This is when my afternoon in Washington Heights got interesting. I told her about the name Robert. How I felt it was too categorically normal for me. She agreed.
“I didn’t think you were black before you came here.” This assumption wouldn’t be the first time. I wasn’t bothered. Still, I reasoned, she should have known I was black.
“Wait a minute, didn’t you Google me before hand?”
“Actually no. I went to a friend’s house and we used tarot cards about you.”
Oh? Tell me more about that.
She reached for her phone to show me a picture.
“The first card was the past. And obviously we have no past so I ignored it. The next said skepticism. In that we’d be skeptical of each other. The third was daylight. How we’d have a future. Like marriage. But not really. So you passed.” She explained all this as if she was discussing the route she took to and from work every day. She was so casual about it that I took her seriously. I stayed silent. This story didn’t bother me as much as it should have.
“I told you I was a witch. A good witch.” She smiled mischievously. I laughed.
We decided that, instead of Kathleen, she’d be Glenda. We continued talking. As time came for me to visit my next apartment, I told Glenda that I had another meeting that night but that I’d get back to her when I finished.
Now. The reasons for declining this place were obvious. I took my dilemma on Facebook. The comments were brutal. But will she use tarot cards to decide who pays rent next month? Eccentricity is fun to navigate…until it’s not. I wanted the place. But I figured, if the first place I visited could be this legit, it could only get better.
Apartment 2 – Park Slope, Brooklyn
This apartment couldn’t be anywhere but in Brooklyn. The three other roommates were some conglomeration of artist, writer, design student, watchers of HBO GIRLS. We were being shown around by a journalist from Spain. She had Lena Dunham’s cheeks and Selma Hayek’s accent. Brooklyn was made for people like Maria. Smart enough to be interesting. Laidback enough to want to join her for a glass of wine from Trader Joes. As a native New Yorker, I’m typically not by enthralled by weekend Williamsburgers and the flannel by which it stands, but I’ve learned to have an open mind and just put the pickle juice back when ordering whiskey at a bar. Anyway. She was smart, pleasant and the place was clean. This was a good start.
The apartment could not have been more ideal. Little folded paper cranes adorned the wall on the living room. Wine bottles stood on the top of the refrigerator that had postcards from random museums on it. Scribbled on the wall was Alan Ginsburg’s “America”. Not a line. Everything. I asked about the motivation for putting it up. Maria wasn’t sure. She explain it had been there ever since she got to the apartment. I already thought of the apartment’s possibilities. Maybe I’d scribble Fiona’s “Never is a Promise.” Or some Patti Smith. I could walk to Celebrate Brooklyn all summer along. I’d learn how to start running. I’d eat meals of happy chickens at the commune across the street. Already, the Brooklyn in the air was starting to seep into me.
This apartment was perfect. It was so perfect that I wanted nothing more than to write a check that second. Right by Prospect Park. Right price. Right size. A window. It was also so perfect I knew I wasn’t going to be picked. Next to me was a cycling baker in the leather jacket who studied in Paris. No matter how charming and pleasant I tried to be, I knew it wasn’t happening. The cyclist had a birthright to this apartment.
This was Brooklyn in 2013. I’m Queens. I accepted it.
Apartment 3 – Crown Heights, Brooklyn
600 dollars a month was too good to be true. I knew that from the beginning. It was so cheap that I almost didn’t want to visit “Abi” and discover that what I would really be paying for was an air mattress in an oversized living room with a shower curtain dividing it. But, Abi insisted, it wasn’t. She had an actual room by Grand Army Plaza for 600 dollars. Shit. That’s so cheap that I could collect cans for a month and have 600 dollars saved and awesome calves at the same time. But, I’ve used Craigslist enough to know that if something seems too good to be true, it probably is. Still, I owed it to myself and the universe to check it out.
Cliches won again. It was a disaster. Abi explained that she was running late because she was having a fight with her boyfriend so she went to happy hour which is why she was late although she wanted to be home to clean but she couldn’t so she was really, really sorry. Or something. As we moved to enter, she discovered that the wheels of her bike had been stolen from outside her steps. She was pissed. I didn’t want to be rude. I didn’t even want to walk up the stairs.
The place was a like college dorm when all the students knew that the end of the world was a week away. No one gave a shit. She had explained that they were smokers in the apartment. Which was fine. But I took that to mean marijuana, not cigarettes. Not true. Upon entering, I gained a new appreciation for Michael Bloomberg’s ban on smoking inside bars and restaurants. Weed smells good. Cigarettes smell awful.
The funny part was that Abi worked in real estate and there she had this strange enthusiasm about the place. One of the roommates was a collector of old books. How cool right? These books were in the living room which was so crowded with junk I’d have needed. I know it’s messy but with our cleaning combined we could make it awesome! Her boyfriend apparently was the dirtiest of the bunch. Don’t worry, I’ll clean up for him. I know I shouldn’t but I love him! Had she simply said, this place looks like shit and it smells like shit, but hey, it’s cheap, I might have nodded in understanding. But, metaphorically speaking, the apartment wasn’t wearing any clothes. She kept telling me how it did.
The room itself was a windowless nothing. It was crammed between two other rooms connected by a tiny hallway. One guy lived in the living room area, next to a living room that was overloaded with so much junk I would have needed a trampoline to get over it all.
The other girl who visited the room with me seemed to like it. She was from Arizona and was a smoker and so didn’t seem bothered by the smog. Still, I wanted some indication that the condition of this apartment was not normal and it was not just me who felt that way. But Arizona didn’t. She asked Abi if it would be okay if her mother could stay over, once a week, because she was a flight attendant. Abi said it’d be okay. I thought these people were out of their minds.
As I left, I was confused. I Googled this woman. She was an actress with an entirely normal headshot. Abi is like the cousin of Kathleens of America, pleasantly traditional in every way. She had a job. She had a boyfriend. She was the most normal person I’d met on my search. How she could live like this blew my mind. At least, you’ll see how it really is!
Indeed, Abi. Indeed.
Apartment 4 – Sunset Park, Brooklyn
There are three things worth considering when looking for an apartment: how it looks, where it is and how much it costs. If you visit somewhere and are satisfied with two out of those three, take it. For instance. A windowless room by Prospect Park is different than a windowless room in Bensonhurst. A windowless room for 600 dollars is different than 900 dollars. In that way, apartment hunting is very post-modern.
Which made Apartment 4 confusing. It was just good enough to worth considering but not good enough to really like. It was 775 dollars. Neither cheap nor expensive, for my budget at least. It wasn’t a neighborhood that would inspire the next Boyz in the Hood but it wasn’t anywhere one could get your inner bohemian fantasy on at either.
The roommates were Yale graduates. Which wasn’t per se a problem but living with an aspiring opera critic wasn’t entirely my preference. They were nice. Everything about the place was nice. There was no real reason to decline but no real reason to drop my bag like Columbus at the New World and pay a deposit. Thankfully, an answer presented itself.
As I shook hands with the two, one of the roommates, a fresh faced guy wearing boat shoes and a polo shirt, casually asked.
“Are you a Giants fan?”
Hell yeah, I’m a Giants fan.
Hell yeah, I’m a Mets fan.
I instantly got defensive. He was from Philadelphia. Eagles. Phillies. Usually sports debates with rivals are kind of fun with Philly fans it isn’t fun. It’s actually irritating. I left and gave the universe a shoutout. Once again, it does its best to show us our path. Crisis averted.
Apartment 5- Stratford, Connecticut
I am crashing on a friend’s couch. He has cable and I pay him enough for him not to care that I’m there typing. He says I could live in a spare room for 500 a month. Cheap but it’s Connecticut. Not happening.
It’s so obvious. I should have gone with Kathleen. Tarot cards and witches and non-sexual fetishes aside, that was the place I didn’t know I wanted. If looking for an apartment in New York City is like competing in the Hunger Games, I should have gone for the kill quick. Sure, she was late for our meeting. Sure, she played trumpet all day. Sure, she decided to forgo Google for the screening services of astrology. But she was perfect. I liked her so much that as I kept looking at apartments, it felt like I was choosing someone better than her. And I felt bad because she didn’t deserve that because she’s perfect. So I declined. I didn’t deserve her. Which honestly is pretty fucking stupid but I learned my lesson. When a good witch comes with a fragrant cauldron of beans and apricot juice, take it.