In New York, Sometimes You Have To Earn A New Apartment

It's May 4th. My wife and I have found out the hard way that, no, you can't plan weeks and weeks ahead of time to move apartments. You can start no earlier than 30 days before your move date. Fortunately, the economy is so bad that any broker or realtor we talk to bends over backwards to show us apartments.

We're on our second outing to see apartments. The first one was in Queens, about 5 blocks from where we were living then, so at least we'd know the neighborhood. The first building was new, kitchen had a dishwasher (a rarity in New York), it all looked very nice. But the one and only bedroom was exactly the size of our king-size bed. We'd have to dive in through the doorway when we went to bed. Not for us.

The company we're here to see on the 4th is 'Dynamic Realty', really enthusiastic but poorly managed and coordinated. I received calls from no less than 3 different brokers in the days leading up to this meeting, each wanting to schedule an appointment, each unaware that another agent had already booked us. And when we called on the day-of to confirm the appointment, a fourth agent answers the phone.

Me: Hi, I'm calling to confirm my 5:30 appointment with Dina today?'
Charlie: With who?
Me: Dina, we spoke yesterday. Is she there? I just wanted to make sure we were still on for this evening.
Charlie: This evening at 5:30? Yeah, sure, you're confirmed, what's your name again?

Totally just pirated Dina's client. But what did we care, as long as we saw some apartments? Maybe it'd be good to have them fighting over us.

So the wife and I are in Bay Ridge Brooklyn, a nice spacious semi-seaside community, but at the far far end tippy tip of Brooklyn. Any further away from Manhattan and we'd be in Florida. We fill out some paperwork with Charlie, we stroll through one place (decent space, nice flow-through double living room but it's a fifth floor walkup up a staircase from the Hoover administration), and we walk to another place (No no no. Under construction, building and apartment smell like cigarettes, old horrible stained carpeting). I'm taking notes on these places this whole time, but mainly for practice for when we start seeing apartments we like.

I start my exit speech: "Well, Charlie, thanks a lot, we'll need some time to--"
Charlie: Don't you want to see any more?
Us: Oh, there's more? Sure, whattaya got?
Charlie: Follow me, I just gotta get the keys.

So we walk back to the office, and we're hanging about outside while Charlie is allegedly getting keys, but we can clearly see through the enormous front window that he's working other customers. Carey and I start our deep-breathing and eye-rolling routine that is an essential part of apartment hunting, i.e. forced calmness and the attempted retention of our sense of humor.

Unknown man out on the sidewalk: Excuse me, are you folks looking for an apartment?
Me (thinking it's yet another uninformed agent of this same firm): Yeah, but Charlie's already got us, he's just grabbing a key.
Man: Oh, no, I mean, I own a building. I've got a 2 bedroom I'm looking to rent, and I was about to give it to these guys, but you seem like nice people, I'd much rather just work with you.

Weird, right? What's the catch? We chat price and location and they're doesn't seem to be any a priori reason to turn him down. So we exchange cell numbers and say that after we're done with Charlie in a few minutes we'll give him, Stan, a call.

Charlie comes back with the keys and we follow him down the block as he receives a call on his cell phone. He's walking in front of us, and without saying anything to us, without interrupting his conversation, he just gets into a car. Carey and I pause, and say to each other "Oh, I guess we're supposed to get in?" So we do. A little miffed.

Charlie shows us two or three other apartments in our price range, and they are HUGE! Bigger than our place in Sunnyside which we share with a roommate, like racketball courts with laundry rooms in the basement. But, somehow, still not nice, not for us. There's a bad mojo in them, something to do with the lighting, or the air quality, or maybe the young woman we saw in the hallway with only four teeth. Just a bad vibe. But this is just first impression, there's nothing quantifiable on which to discard them.

As Charlie drives us around, he noisily rustles and munches from a bag of black licorice pieces. "You guys want some? I had to get change for the meter so I had to buy something, heh heh. Oh yeah, this is a great area, good food, good shopping, good nightlife, good streets, good schools , good subways, good air...." And his uncreative sales pitch for the town in general drags on and on as we watch our watches and hope that Stan is still around when we're done with this ignorant loudmouth with not-so-great apartments. Keep in mind that this guy Charlie is a broker that we'd be paying about $2000 for the 'service' of delivering us an apartment. And although we are but beginning on this journey, I already feel the crushing ennui of the search settling on my shoulders, an agony I've felt but few times in my short life but which has aged me deeply. In reference to a previous post, how am I supposed to explain this pain to a future child of mine?

After the last apartment, way the hell out by the water (again, HUGE!!), we thank Charlie, take his card, and say we'll walk back to the subway from there, that we "want to take in the neighborhood", when actually we're both just dreading listening to another mouthful of licorice and spittle. He drives off and we buzz Stan.

We meet Stan on the corner and he takes us midway down the block (away from the avenue) to a brick building with a big tree in the front. Entryway is old-ish, hallway is not great and smells funny.

But the apartment is beautiful! There's a double French door leading from the bedroom to the living room, there's a red bathroom with a much larger shower than we're used to, there's a smaller room we can use for an office and music room, the ceiling lights are Tiffany stained glass, and the light is falling everywhere it should be. Part of the appeal is no doubt due to the fact that it's currently occupied and we're seeing the space 'in context', we're seeing a possible interpretation that illuminates possibilities and magnifies the charm.

We say thank you and leave with smiles on our faces. We go to Pizzeria Uno (which is less than a block away!), and although we're both thinking it, my wife is the first to verbalize "We gotta take it. We're never going to feel this way about another apartment so quickly, and that place is going to go fast." By the end of the meal, with the help of Tom Collins and some very good pizza crust, we've convinced ourselves that we've got to call this guy right now, don't sleep on it, don't see some more places, call him now. So we do, he's thrilled and surprised, we negotiate holding and security deposits, and we sign a lease on May 8th, having essentially ended our apartment search on the day it began.

All that week I remember feeling shell-shocked, adrift, because I'd been anticipating the horrible agony and time-consuming tedium of looking at dozens of horrible apartments before settling on one we could maybe stand. But finally, we had our "ding!" moment with an apartment, a place that spoke to us right away and where we spoke back.

There is a subplot that develops here in the second act, which I won't go into, but suffice to say that my wife cools ever-so-slightly vis-a-vis the fair city of Bay Ridge once she realizes that her commute to her job on the upper east side almost doubles, while mine gets about 10 minutes shorter. She has not yet made her peace with this.

Act Three: The Endgame

We'd been given the current tenant Maria's phone number so we could coordinate our departures and arrivals. She hadn't been so lucky as to resolve her living situation 26 days early (!), so we're not surprised that it's 5/21 by the time we get concretes about her schedule. We'd mentioned that, if at all possible we'd much prefer to move on the 5/30-5/31 weekend to give us some overlap, but that we'd work out whatever was best for her. She tells us on the 21st that, unfortunately, she's unable to move into her new place until the evening of the 31st. Okay, we say, we'll work out a move on 6/1 then, thanks and good luck.

That same day I call our current landlord, actually a leasing company called Bronstein Properties, to inform them of our new address and our predicted schedule. But when I say "moving out the morning of June 1st", the lady in the leasing department stonewalls with "Oh no, honey, if you're in the apartment even one day in June, you'll owe for the whole month." "Well," I say, "it's not like we'll be in residence for a whole day, we'll just need a couple hours to move out." "No, I'm sorry honey, your lease ends the 31st and you cannot be there any later than that." "But it's not like you're moving someone else in on the first. At the very least, you'll need a day to assess the damage caused by the two severe water pipe breakages over the last two years and a few weeks to repair," thinking that if I bring up those nasty incidents (wherein Bronstein violated their contractual superintendent obligations and for which we never asked for recompense), I can sound threatening, like I'm shaming her incompetence.

But, see, it's got nothing to do with her, she works in leasing! Her fidelity is to the contracts that we've signed, not to the logistics of moves and repairs and feeble threats by mild-mannered tenants. So of course she's gives no quarter and is gone. I leave a voicemail for the building manager (who is almost never in his office but who might actually have some power to help us) summarizing the problem and reminding him of our pain and suffering during the Waterfalls, for which we had reason to believe that we would possibly be shown some understanding, and be given a mere six hours on June 1st to move out, for which we'd be willing to pay a pro-rated rent, and during which, if they chose, workmen and inspectors would be free to come and begin their post-residency work. We never heard back from him.

Over the next day or so, we (or maybe just "I") come to the decision that well, we've got to move out on the 1st and we made a good faith effort to negotiate a mutually agreeable scheduling compromise based on our accumulated goodwill, and if Bronstein decides to be a dick about it and send us a bill for $1,975, we would be happy to appear in renter's court and mention ever so casually about how the fire department had to be called to disconnect the building's water supply during the first flood because the superintendent didn't pick up his phone for 48 hours, and how we lived in a musty 1 bedroom apartment for a week while paying for a clean 2 bedroom apartment. I was actually starting to look forward to the confrontation.

But then the wife comes to her senses and said to see when exactly Maria would be gone from the apartment on 5/31. It turns out she'd be gone by 5pm, so we hired movers to move us in as soon as she was gone. Usually the feisty one, my beloved sees that the best path to the new apartment should be the quickest, if not the most just.

The main problem with this plan was that my wife and I had all of Sunday to kill in an apartment where everything was in a box, and where you couldn't do anything that would make anything dirtier. It was like waiting for Godot, while staring at a clock and worrying. That was a bad day. We actually found ourselves pacing our packing and cleaning so that we wouldn't be done too early. I was bored retarded.

The moving company was just two men younger than us with a 16-foot panel truck. They showed up at 5 at our Sunnyside apartment and began loading shit up. As they worked I finished cleaning, and Carey minded the cat in the closed bedroom (the front door being propped open).


I'm not faulting them. They worked hard and we are not monks when it comes to having stuff. But it was just such an agonizingly long period of time to wait, hungry, thirsty, bored, tired, sweeping here and there but knowing you've already swept everything, one of us having to always remain in the empty bedroom with the sometimes-sleeping, sometimes-anxious cat who couldn't understand why her window perch had been taken away from her, and why she wasn't allowed outside the door. When I at last began to cry from the strain, it was because of the cat, who couldn't be made to understand. The whole situation was just so pitiful and pathetic, like Truman beating against the blue curved sky.

We just wanted to be done. And it took a long time to be done. I rode over in the truck with the movers, with the cat in a soft carrying case on my lap. Again, how could she understand? All that really got through to her was that the Brooklyn-Queens Expressway is the worst maintained stretch of paving since the yellow brick road (the one in The Return to Oz, after it gets all shitty. Too obscure?)

Even as they were moving us into the new place and we were in the home stretch, they just kept bringing things in and bringing things in and the apartment that used to hold such a magical place in our pantheon of happy place memories kept getting smaller and smaller and smaller. And there was really anything for me to do without getting in their way.  All I could do was hold the cat (who had been confined by one device or another for 4 hours at this point) and try to ignore how emotionally exhausted I was.

Why isn't the subject of emotional exhaustion addressed in the media?  On TV or movies?  We adults experience this quite a bit (or maybe it's just me), but we have no conceptual framework with which to experience it.  It just steamrolls right into our nuts.

Fortunately, moving in only took about an hour. But it was 11pm before my wife and I were really settled.

And then, the icing, the capper, the fez on the whole delightful moving day experience: as we're bedding down in the one room where it was possible, from floor comes bass-heavy hip-hop and marijuana smoke. Perfect, awesome, thank you so much. No, they couldn't hear us banging on the wall. "This is what we went to all that trouble for!?"

Fortunately Stan has been extremely helpful in this. He's taking it very seriously, we're not the only one's bothered by it, and he's laid down the law to the tenant beneath us that it's not just mildly annoying, it's actually preventing us from sleeping, and he's not afraid to wave the "E" word around.   It hasn't happened since 6/2, but we're investing in good earplugs and thick carpets just in case.

So that's the saga and the situation. I'm confident that this move will turn out to be a very positive thing for us. The neighborhood is much quieter and less city-y, in that the streets are wider, the buildings lower, and there are more family restaurants and coffee shops, as opposed to grimy bodegas and junk stores. We're about 10 blocks away from the New York Bay and when you turn southward at our corner the gorgeous Verrazano Bridge arcs across the sky above you. That bitch is so fucking big, it's hard to consider it a human construction.  Anything that fades into the misty distance is easier thought of as a natural phenomena, like a volcano, or a locust swarm  The air is cool and salty, there's a mob-run cigar store a block away (so you know they're quality), and 6 blocks away there's the largest laundromat I've ever seen: 50 washing machines, I shit you not, open 24/7.

Now if my wife could only take care of her shelter animals remotely.... Eh, I say, you need a new job anyway. I'm so helpful.

We invite you to take a walk around our neighborhood on google maps.  Does anyone want to come to the Turkish Tea Room and teach us how to smoke hookah?

“What you need is a good bleeding.” “But I already am bleeding!”

A Bad Week: a study in journalling