Bourbon Cowboy

The adventures of an urbane bar-hopping transplant to New York.

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Location: New York, New York, United States

I'm a storyteller in the New York area who is a regular on NPR's "This American Life" and at shows around the city. Moved to New York in 2006 and am working on selling a memoir of my years as a greeting card writer, and (as a personal, noncommercial obsession) a nonfiction book called "How to Love God Without Being a Jerk." My agent is Adam Chromy at Artists and Artisans. If you came here after hearing about my book on "This American Life" and Googling my name, the "How to Love God" book itself isn't in print yet, and may not even see print in its current form (I'm focusing on humorous memoir), but here's a sample I've posted in case you're curious anyway: Sample How To Love God Introduction, Pt. 1 of 3. Or just look through the archives for September 18, 2007.) The book you should be expecting is the greeting card book, about which more information is pending. Keep checking back!

Sunday, February 12, 2006

Apartment-Hunting in Manhattan and Environs

How much does a sex change cost? Because if I could deal with the associated inconveniences, I think I could make back the cost of the procedure in about two years of reduced-rate living in Manhattan. Requests for female roommates are about three times as numerous as males on craigslist (and that’s a generous estimate, since no one actually specifies “male only” or “male preferred”), and females seem to get most of the lower-cost deals. (Admittedly, they get paid less, so perhaps this is only fair.) Having said that, however, I found that on craigslist alone, it was common to see between fifty and a hundred listings every day, of which ten percent seemed to be male-friendly and within my price range (which I guessed to be around $800 or less). Everyone told me, “It’s so hard to find a place in New York City!” Everyone is wrong—at least in February. By the end of my first hour’s scanning, I had thirteen prospects, all posted within the last two days.

But then I realized I’d made an error. I flew up on Friday, had a long sleepless travel experience (see above) and when I woke up late on Saturday I simply wasn’t in the mood for apartment hunting. Sunday was going to be busy—a brunch and an off-Broadway show—so I realized that my best bet might well be to do my shopping on Monday, Tuesday, and Wednesday before I had to leave at 4. Two and a half days would be enough time to find an apartment, right? So on Saturday I made my calls, and by Monday . . . only four people had called me back. Oops!
More people might contact me, but on this, my apartment-hunting trip, I had a total of four apartments to look at: two on Monday, two on Tuesday. Maybe someone would call by Wednesday and I could squeeze them in, but I crossed my fingers really really hard and hoped I wouldn’t have to settle for anything too unpleasant.

They tell you to never fall in love with the first place, but I couldn’t help it. It was $750 a month, split four ways with a still-unknown roommate and two medical students-slash-lovers. (Actually, I think he’s a medical student and she’s a working nurse; but he was from Georgia—the country—and his Russian accent was pretty thick.) The place was clean, newly renovated, had a heater that worked just fine, and—get this—was exactly the same size as the room I essentially live out of now. So right away I knew everything would fit. It turns out to be so close to the 181st St. subway stop that I could practically roll there in my sleep. But best of all, the one roommate I met—the Georgian medical student—LIKED MY JOKES. Nothing helps out a roommate situation like a shared sense of irony!

I handed him a filled-out check and said, “I have one more place to get to today, so I can’t promise yet. But I really like it. I’ll call when you can cash this.”

“Okay,” he said. “But I can’t promise the room will still be here when you get back.”

True enough—all the moving-to-New-York guides say the same thing—but they didn’t have another roommate yet. What were the odds this place would obtain TWO acceptable roommates pushier than me in the hour-and-a-half or so it would take me to get to Queens and back? I decided to gamble.

And so I took the Subway to Queens, and it’s a surprisingly long trip. 181st Street doesn’t sound particularly distant to me, since most of my family in Tucson lives at 5-digit addresses, but the streets in Manhattan are pretty dang long, and then I got turned around in the Subway station (The Bronx is up and the Battery’s down, dammit!) and by the time I found my way, it was just about 4 pm.

This second apartment was letting for a much more calm-inducing $630 a month, but the first thing I noticed when I emerged from the train was that all the houses in the area had bars on their windows. On the plus side, there was a bodega on the corner (for some reason my dream of city living includes a vegetable stand within a block), but still. My nervousness wasn’t helped when I heard two slim young black girls, maybe ten years old, talking about their day at school. (“So he was all, ‘why don’t you hit me then?’ and I punch him in the stomach real hard, you know, and he was like, crying and calling the teacher and I was all, “Shut up!” and I got on top of him and hit him again . . .”) Apparently, I am less violent than a ten-year-old girl.

I called the manager who was renting the room, and he emerged from a junk-filled back yard carrying a humidifier. He was a short, bald German guy who actually looked like I imagine I’ll look in ten years: a kind of dumpy, weatherbeaten mannikin. He didn’t laugh.

God knows I tried to be open-minded, but I’d made up my mind before I even climbed the stairs: Despite the bars everywhere, the front door had one of its street-level panes kicked in. What’s worse, when you entered the lobby where the mailboxes were, the door beyond had a very clear bullet hole in it—right at eye level. “If this is what $630 gets you in New York,” I thought, “$750 is starting to look like a real bargain.” In addition to avoiding prison, another of my life goals is to reach my 70th birthday without suffering any eye-level punctures.

“So what do you think?” he said, after showing me the room—which, by the way, was small, skinny, and had been painted a surprisingly depressing shade of blue.

“I’ll get back to you,” I said. Then I called back the first guy and told him about the bullet hole. We both laughed.


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