Apartment-Hunting in Manhattan and Environs
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.