Tuesday, May 20, 2008

Red Hooked

Joseph Erdos
Brooklyn, NY--Red Hook
August 2007
3-bdrm apt occupied by two roomies (one known, the other not) and I

I remember clearly the August of 2007 spent in Red Hook, Brooklyn. Along with a friend who I had met through a publishing program that summer, I settled on subletting an apartment right off Van Brunt Street. We had intended to find an apartment to share as roommates, but that didn't work out, so we decided to sublet for the meanwhile. In the end we ended up going our separate ways and I ended up back with my folks. He stayed on in Brooklyn.

I saw pictures of the apartment on craigslist.org--how original, right? The apartment was at Brooklyn's end. Eric and I scraped together the deposit a few days before we were set to move in. Then we took a trip to the place to pay the owners in person. You could only get there by taking a subway and then a bus from downtown Brooklyn. It wasn't that bad, but it was going to be a 45-minute commute for me to get to work in Midtown West. After we got there Eric showed me around. He had been there before to scout out the place and talk to the owners. I had not met them and never did end up meeting them.

The couple made their apartment on the second and third floors, with the main living area on the second. The third floor had a small bedroom that they used as the master along with a bathroom and a large room used as an art studio. Eric immediately told me he was picking the smaller (also nicer) bedroom. I felt I was shafted, having been left the large room with the smell of turpentine, the fold-out futon, and three street-facing windows with no curtains or blinds. But I ended up being lucky in that it was the only room with an air conditioner on the third floor. He ended up suffering, I think, for the rest of the month--it was the hottest month that year in New York, I believe, on record.

Even though I had an air conditioner, I only used it at night, so it was pretty darn hot. And then the next problem was no curtains. The street lights shined in my eyes at night, keeping me awake most of the time. So I had to do the most basic and tape garbage bags to the windows.

The apartment was decorated very IKEA style, but featured the owners' art everywhere. I felt I was really living in a New York City apartment, except this one was out in the middle of nowhere. Supposedly Red Hook was set to go under gentrification, but it really seemed to be doing the opposite. Many stores were closed, boarded up, and/or in the process of closing. One cool thing about the area is that it is filled with artist spaces--all the old warehouses along the waterfront have been mostly reinterpreted as artists’ studios. The owners of our apartment, in fact, have one. I would really love to go back and explore this stretch, something I didn't do while I was living there. Since then I've read that a winery and wine bar are set to open in one of the waterfront warehouses.

It was great being a few blocks from Fairway and Baked--now my favorite bakery. Nearby too were Good Fork restaurant, which I never made the time to visit; a great looking diner; and right across the street, Bait and Tackle bar. Sometimes I would sit on the deck when no one was home and just listen to the voices of screaming kids having a good time at the nearby public pool. Also close were the soccer fields where Hispanic ladies would sell street-style food.

Leaving on my last day was pretty much anticlimactic. It played out like some sappy leaving-New York movie. I hadn't found another apartment to rent, so I had to move back in with the folks. I packed up everything and called a car service. The driver was there way too fast, so I had to get it in high-gear and hustle on out. That night was my first time over the Brooklyn Bridge. It seemed everything was lit up that night. I was entering Manhattan, but really I was leaving. I don't think I could ever forget this subletting experience. I still haven't gone back to Red Hook, but it would be nice to return one of these days--if only to get a cupcake from Baked.

Friday, May 9, 2008

A Little Respect

Marti Johnson
Washington DC--Dupont Circle
June-July 2000
1-bdrm apt that I sublet to two young newlyweds

Months later I would wonder, "What was I thinking?"

I was living in an adorable apartment in Washington DC's artsy Dupont Circle when I got a call to do some freelance work in Manhattan. My employers would pay all my expenses and provide a salary that was higher than I made currently in the Nation's Capitol. It sounded like fun, so I went along. Then they said, "Can we interest you in working for us for a month in California?" I said sure, but wondered what to do about my apartment.

I saw a listing for an emergency short-term housing need on a church listserv, and contacted the party. The guy and his young wife were newly married and from a small town in the West. I met them and they seemed okay, so we agreed on the terms for a one-month stay. They were paying less than the rent I paid and not covering phone or other utilities, but they seemed to be honest young newlyweds with very little money. I left my worries behind and headed West.

At the end of the month, I went to New York. Turned out, my subletters had not found a permanent place to stay. So I allowed that they could remain, though I would be going home to the (Washington) apartment on weekends.

Walking back into my apartment the first time, I immediately sensed things were different. The chubby young wife, wearing overalls with rivets, was sitting on top of the high footboard of my expensive sleighbed as she talked on the phone. There was a damp towel drying alongside her fanny. I then walked into the kitchen to discover that my formerly bursting pantry was now more than half empty. They had also put my custom-made "dry clean only" raw silk and metal duvet cover through the washer, and a change dish once full of quarters for laundry was now full of pennies.

I informed the young wife that "the footboard is not meant to support your weight that way, please don't sit on it like that," and that fine wood furniture is not the place to hang wet towels.

They left a month later and I discovered the rest: they had broken irreplaceable antiques, emptied my kitchen of anything edible, opened and used packaged items that were intended as gifts for others, and generally gone through everything in my apartment. It was as though they had never been taught to respect others' property. I vowed no more subletters ever again.

Wednesday, May 7, 2008

The Stalker

New York, NY--Downtown Manhattan
February 2004-present
4-bdrm loft apt, occupied by three ever-rotating female roomies (ten different ones in the time I've lived there--and then there are all the boyfriends who've ended up "moving in" along with them) and I

My roommates and I had this really bizarre encounter with a girl we found off craigslist. I have no problem with this site because I've found all my other roommates this way and we've became really good friends. But on rare occasions you do have some strange, strange roommate encounters like our friend here.

She ("S") moved in for two weeks. It was a brief stay. I remember being in my room when I suddenly heard a knock on our front door. I looked through the peephole to see two police officers standing there. I opened the door, more than a little confused. One of the officers said he had come to check out the light in the ceiling. I was really confused and dumbfounded. I looked at the guy and asked him "what light?" Both of them got very annoyed and said they were there to check out the light "coming from a sprinkler." Then I heard S scurrying downstairs (we have a duplex) and as she walked up to me she almost butted me out of the way and said "oh I can take care of this." I was like "you can take care of this? What?"

I walked back into my room but I was very concerned. Another roommate was sitting on my bed, a little bitter herself. She was complaining to me about S taking the room she had had originally and now wanted back. At the same time, I saw them (S and the officers) walk into S's room, flashing their lights up at the ceiling and talking. They hung around for about ten minutes and then left.

S walked into my room half unannounced and started explaining herself. Apparently she'd believed she was being stalked by this guy who was really into her and wanted to date her. He'd befriended her circle of friends and turned them against her, she said. Then she told us about how she'd seen a light coming from one of the ceiling sprinklers one night while she was trying to sleep. But the next night the light was gone. She became very concerned and phoned the police to come check it out. Apparently, her "stalker" had tracked her down, entered our apartment, and put a camera in the sprinkler that he had then managed to remove within 24 hours.

S moved out the next week. You could say we were all a little relieved. Oh, and when my one roommate moved back into her/S's room, she noticed that the sprinklers had been duct-taped.

Tuesday, May 6, 2008



New York, NY--Downtown Manhattan
February 2004-present
4-bdrm loft apt, occupied by three ever-rotating female roomies (ten different ones in the time I've lived there--and then there are all the boyfriends who've ended up "moving in" along with them) and I

About two years ago I returned home one night to find a police officer standing at the top of the stairs.

As I opened the door I heard the woman shouting to another officer around the corner. I froze. She looked nervous and put up her hands and told me to stop and not come up the stairs. The next thing I heard was the other officer shouting/asking if I live on the second floor. I quickly responded that, no, I do not live on the second but on the fourth floor. I repeated this a few times in case there was any doubt.

After standing in the cold doorway for about ten minutes the officer motioned for me to pass. I quickly walked up the stairs and as I turned the corner I noticed three more police officers standing on every other step of the next flight. The lead officer looked very tense and had his hand on his gun. There was another officer at the second-floor apartment door getting ready to break it down. He was holding that weapon they use to break down doors with.

They all looked at me half accusingly. The main officer continued to bang on the door and shout "open up!" I wondered if anyone was home. I quickly brushed by them and continued up the rest of the stairs. I made it inside but I was in a state of shock. My roommates saw the disbelief on my face and I quickly told them about my brief encounter with the cops. My one roommate ran back into her room to put makeup on and go flirt with some of the officers. Another roommate wanted to run down to see more of the action in person and the other one started analyzing how the landlord could be part of the bust.

The next morning, heading downstairs on my way to work, I saw that second-floor door covered in orange tape with big black letters: WARNING. There was an eviction notice on the door and some handwriting stating the tenants were part of an illegal massage and prostitution operation. Over the next couple of weeks the tenants managed to disappear, the apartment was renovated, and new tenants were found. The overall trafficking of random men that used to drop by stopped. On occasion, I still do see men in business suits coming and going from the apartment. They’re usually wearing guilty expressions and most of them are wearing wedding bands. They tend to hang around waiting for a good twenty minutes.

Thing is, it didn't really bother me. I figure my neighbors can do as they please as long as it doesn't interfere--too much--with my living.



New York, NY--West Village
March-June 2008
Studio apt, occupied by me

So my current living sitch involves shared facilities--both the toilet and shower, each occupying their own little lockable room, are spread among three of us, which has called for personal tp rolls and a return to the shower caddy of the college days. There doesn't appear to be a person coming in and cleaning these facilities on a routine basis, judging by the mildew creeping up the nasty shower curtain, the swirls of hair, the general griminess... I don’t know, the toilet may get a decent scrubdown every other month or so, but there's really no tellin'. I suppose I could always hit up a neighbor for this info, maybe even initiate some kindof "chore chart" (heh), but the two guys don't seem to be around much, and when they are, they just seem kinda freaky.

What is clear is that no one's come w/in ten feet of that toilet in a good two weeks now--neither to clean it nor to use it. I know this because the same disgusting mess has cloaked it for as long, something I've been checking up on, eyes semi-shielded, every few days. And it's starting to crust over (siiick, yes). Here's the deal: I am absolutely not the responsible party here, and so I refuse, on principle, to do the job.

I don't know, had I known early on that nobody'd step up, I might have caved and just taken the plunger to it already. But now, there's just no way. And considering it's been so many days, I figure the two dudes are of the same mind. And so, chances are, it'll sit and sit and sit there until... what? The vermin come to town? And after that? Shudder.

I've got two months left in this place. I'll be okay so long as the toilet rooms on the floors above and below me remain unlocked a good percentage of the time. But if this changes, I don't know. French Roast is close by, and they seem to like me alright there. Or maybe I'll dramatically cut down on fluid intake. And yet the running wouldn't fare so well as a result. I could start peeing in the shower, but then what about the other thing? Cutting out fiber doesn't strike me as the best plan either.

I don't know, maybe I'll call the landlord. But how would this conversation go? "Hi Mister. Listen, there's a problem. It's the third floor toilet. There's poop in it. A whole lot of poop. And it's hardly fresh. And the guilty party refuses to man up. And so... help?"

See? That can't happen. And so, I guess my best bet is to continue sneaking up/down the stairs--fingers crossed, roll under arm--and furtively conduct my business.

Wish me luck!

Thursday, April 3, 2008

The Ooze

Tim Anderson

New York, NY--Nolita
May 1992
1-bdrm apt, occupied by me

I've never been much of a subletter. It takes so much energy, energy that I'd much rather devote to watching "cute baby tiger" videos on youtube. Yes, though nosing up in other people's business is a definite thrill, there's really nothing like being in one's own home, looking through one's own underwear drawers, delving deeply into one's own deeply buried secrets, uncovering one's own private porn stash.

But sometimes one must sublet. At least for a day or two. Like when one has to come to NYC for a job interview. Back in the early 90s, in the era before craigslist and downloadable booty taint, I found a place listed in the Village Voice by a cute aging Italian lady named Mrs. Gigante. She showed me all around her tiny one bedroom on Mott Street, pointing out the clean silverware, the flushable toilet, and the black and white television that got really good reception from channel 13. We agreed that I would be one of several people to stay at her place (me for one night and two days) for a really cheap price while she was away visiting family on Long Island. I would water her plants, clean anything I dirtied, and sleep on the couch. Easy peasy. I would pick up the key from the super and leave the key for the next person upon my departure.

When I arrived late on a Tuesday night, I dropped my bag on the floor and opened the curtains to reveal a stunning view of a concrete alley. As I stretched my neck out the window to see what other earthly delights awaited my eyeballs, I couldn't help but notice the blood-curdling shriek of a lonesome kitty-cat wafting through the air. But it wasn't echoing up from the alley three floors down or tumbling out from a neighboring flat. It was coming from inside the apartment!

Now I love cats. Truly. Any animal that is emotionally unavailable and oozes entitlement needs to sit next to me. But kindly old Mrs. Gigante didn't say anything about a cat. Surely she would have.

I followed the sound of the wailing feline, looking through cupboards and drawers, opening the closet, and checking under the bed, at no time feeling like I was getting any closer to the source of the screaming. I became convinced that the cat was trapped inside the wall and worried that I'd have to tear apart the apartment in order to save it.

Then I opened the French doors leading out to the truncated balcony and there, trapped between the doors and the storm door, was the oldest, crotchetiest, ugliest cat I'd ever seen in my life. It was orange and clearly had eye herpes. It sat hunched over and scowling, its two snaggleteeth standing like sentries at the gates of what appeared to be a mouth most rotten. It rubbed its nasty ears on my leg and emitted spittle onto my jeans as it purred. I melted.

I immediately named him (I decided he was a he) Oozy and, seemingly enamored with the moniker, he began following me around as I moved from the bathroom to the kitchenette to the settee, all the while screeching out a weathered and leathery meow that was utterly blissful in its ignorance of its own glass-shattering volume.

So had Mrs. Gigante simply forgotten to tell me about the cat? Or had I been her chump? On the floor of the tiny kitchen sat a full bowl of dry catfood and a twin bowl of water, neither of which--I swear to God--were there the day I'd come to look at the place. Oozy, in an adorably disgusting pantomime of what a cat should look like while eating, perched himself at the food bowl and started awkwardly gnawing on the nuggets, attempting to negotiate them down his dried-out throat and into his stomach, spitting and drooling all the while.

Oozy kept me up all night with his shrieking. But he wasn't shrieking out of pain or anger, at least as far as my dull eyes and ears could tell. He was shrieking because it was about all he could do to prove that he was still alive, snuggled on the couch next to me as I stroked his greasy, probably diseased tummy, rubbing his eye boogers and ear emissions onto my desperately sleepy body.

Finally giving up on the possibility of sleep around 4 a.m., I wandered the tiny apartment in search of a magazine or crossword puzzle to pass the time as I counted the seconds between the arias of Oozy's death opera. I went to the bathroom and sat down on the toilet to search through the wooden magazine rack next to it. Sighing at the lack of good prospects, I looked up to see a Post-It note on the shower curtain directly ahead of me with a message scrawled on it:

"Please put the cat back where you found her before you leave."

I fell asleep some time around six that morning and slept through my interview, my dreams assaulted periodically with the piercing mortal lamentations of Oozy as he attempted to claw his way into them. I woke at nine with Oozy on my face, shouting into it. Jumping from the couch, I quickly called the office to lie and say I'd had an insulin reaction and could I please reschedule for the afternoon.

I dressed myself and gathered up all of my things in preparation for the rescheduled interview. As I did this I realized it had been a few minutes since I'd heard from Oozy. I looked over at the door to the balcony and there he was, waiting patiently to be let out into the tiny sliver of space between the two doors, the place where I’d found him. I opened the door for him, he slid into the space, laid down, and immediately fell asleep, purring and gurgling and blowing tiny bubbles with his nostrils. Closing the door behind him, I slid on my blazer, visited the kitchenette sink one more time to clean the cat drool off my new pants and the yellow and green mucous off my shoes, and walked out, hoping that the Oozy was getting some well deserved rest. He'd had such a long night.

Renting Off The Island, Into America Normal (How the Other Half Lives)

Eric Butler
Long Island, NY--Smithtown
September 2007
3-bdrm apt, occupied by two pre-meds and I

For a short while late last summer, I was a floater. New in the city, pursuing a career in a field I had no real experience in (graphic design--that's just how I roll), I set about grabbing at any job that would have me. For the last two days of August, I let a Gucci-shaded kindergarten teacher pay me $150 to help set up her classroom for the coming school year.

The next day I was on a train to Long Island.

It was an office gig, refitting thousands of old business coupons to a new design template for direct-marketing catalogs. Nine hours a day I sat in a squat, sprawling office park on the outskirts of Hicksville (yep, real name), ignoring my coworkers, staring out the window, put the logo here, font goes Helvetica Bold, tighten the leading, italicize the tagline, save, print, repeat. The new coupons looked just as bad as the old ones; the money that companies paid for this service was money down the drain. But that's where I started. It was a month-long project, I was making $18 an hour, and subletting a small bedroom in a comfortable apartment in Smithtown's Avalon Commons apartment complex, two hours and three modes of transportation away.

It was the closest apartment I could get.

I found the place, as we all do, on craigslist.org. But searching for sublets on Long Island is a very different experience than doing so for Manhattan. First off, there aren't nearly as many listings--and most are sprinkled along the coastline as easy options for quick Gothamite getaways. But worse is that without a car, you're restricted to places along the carotid artery of the LIRR train system. A week prior to the move I spent hours a day triangulating between craigslist, Google Maps and the MTA website, praying that somehow one apartment could harmonize across the board. One did, kind of. And it was nudging up to September. So I called.

Brandon turned out to be the nicest guy in the world. He charged me $600, no security, no big deal, he was a doctor-in-training and had been assigned to St. Luke's in the Upper West Side. Instead of leaving his room empty, he put it up. When I got there, he'd typed up a sheet of helpful information for me, gave me a little tour of the place in his car, was nothing but smiles. Away he went. Have a nice time.

Only problem was, I said the place "kind of" worked because, well, it wasn't actually anywhere near the office park. In the spirit of being a floater, there lies a fundamental need to embrace circumstances. MapQuest will tell you that the space between Avalon and the office is 18 miles; travel time, 25 minutes. The job started at 9 a.m.--but I was out my door before 7. Because from the apartment I had to walk a mile and a half, literally to the opposite end of Smithtown, to beat the 7:18 LIRR to the station. Most days, slow out of bed, I'd wind up speed-walking the whole way, in an awful mall-walker fashion that stung my stomach on two levels. One very late morning I honestly had to run the full stretch, in dress clothes, backpack on, choking for air, horribly out of shape. While I was still across the street I heard the train whistle blowing. Commence dead-sprint, followed by dry heaves. See, if I didn't make the 7:18 I literally couldn't get to work until 10:30. Think about that for a second. That's immigrant-level difficulty. But then, that's exactly what I was.

The LIRR got me to Hicksville at 8 a.m., but the bus that took me the rest of the way didn't leave until 8:30. Another half-hour ride later, I arrived at my desk. The trip was the same going back, although I got off work at 5 and the LIRR didn't leave until 6:50. I usually got home around 8.

So 13 hours, round-trip.

Funny thing was, I kind of enjoyed the experience. I read something like 800 pages in transit. The LIRR makes subway cars feel like hay-strewn truck beds. And it was always dawn or dusk when I walked. Smithtown itself was kind of cute, and few things were ever open during those book-ended hours. When I turned off the main road it fell silent. There were crickets. I could look up and see stars. The sky was black instead of that polluted urban burgundy. The last leg of the walk was through this crispy, rabbit-strewn field behind a static, glowing CVS Pharmacy. As far as suburban nostalgia goes, it doesn’t get much more visceral than this.

And the apartment was a perfect match for the experience. In a cubicle all day, come home to a clean, furnished, prefab apartment unit, the same as every other unit in the complex, gas grills, cable TV, an indoor gym and weight room in the common area--as basic and American as milk. For the month of September I rented out of the city and into the new American standard. That’s the great thing about subletting: your location becomes your perspective, your perspective becomes your identity, and for a month's rent you can transform into someone else for a little while. It’s just too bad that Brandon took all his clothes with him. You know, I’ve always wanted to become a doctor.