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 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.