I Loved New York
How the holy grail of New York real estate ended my love affair with the city
My mom and dad fell in love in New York. Legend has it they met in a bar. He was on the prowl. She was out with a friend. He commented on how her fur coat was too warm for the weather. She replied,“This is Smokey the Bear. He goes with me everywhere.”
“Well Smokey,” my dad said, “meet Hairless Harry, ” and then he gestured to his suede jacket.
It’d be cool to say it was love at first sight. But from that exchange, I don’t think it was.
As a kid,my father’s jobs sent us careening through the Midwest rather than rooted in the New York my parents waxed poetic about. Life was filled with track housing and strip malls instead of brownstones and skyscrapers. I hated it.
My mother insisted that living in New York City meant giving up creature comforts we had in the suburbs. “Creature comforts are for suckers who have no sense of excitement,” I said.
“Well,” she replied, “sometimes it’s good to be bored.”
After college, I high-tailed it to the Big Apple. My first night in the city, I took the subway up to Central Park and then walked down 7th Avenue. Seeing all that neon was better than a first kiss. My heart swelled, my stomach filled with butterflies. I was in love.
Like many relationships, those first few years were a whirlwind. I quit acting and became a playwright. I lived with several strange roommates (the coke addict, the agoraphobic pothead, the chick who only ate frozen peas). Got involved with questionable men (the actor who I’m pretty sure was knee-deep in credit card fraud). Cultivated a resume chock-full of random jobs (science teacher, nanny, window dresser at Ralph Lauren). Learned how to ride a bike through Midtown without getting killed. Paid for groceries using change I found in the couch. Partied. Got my front teeth knocked out. Partied some more. Got a therapist. And did theater, lots and lots of theater.
When asked if I considered living anywhere else, I’d laugh through a hungover/over-caffeinated/Camel light-soaked haze and answer, “No.” I’d finally found my home.
And then I scored the Loch Ness Monster of New York real estate— a rent controlled apartment in Manhattan. It was a gigantic two bedroom for $800 per month gifted to me by a friend whose new wife wanted to live in Brooklyn. This was the kind of deal you don’t let go of— ever. It was as if the city had asked me to marry it and I said, “Yes!!!!”
Of course, there was a catch. In fact, there were several:
1. The lease was under my friend’s name. I had to pretend that he still lived there, otherwise we’d lose the apartment. No big deal. I left a six-foot long poster of him starring in the Merchant of Venice hanging in the hallway. I kept his name on the buzzer and the mailbox. And I perfected my, “Oh you just missed him,” for the super.
2. When my friend originally moved into the apartment a decade prior, it was a shithole. Instead of having the landlord do repairs and risk the rent being raised, he got his cousin to fix up the place. The end result was questionable at best— walls textured like English muffins, large gaps between the molding and the plaster, a shower that overlapped the frame of the bathroom door and a broken ceiling light in the living room that hung down, wires exposed. My parents were slightly horrified. Friends from out of town wondered how I could live in these conditions. I thought it had “character”.
3. Because the apartment was rent controlled, the landlord refused to fix anything. Big deal, I thought. The only thing that went awry in my last apartment was a loose soap dish. And who really needs a soap dish?
The first few months in my new pad were bliss. And then reality set in.
An Abridged List of Crazy Shit That Happened in the Apartment
- There was a brothel being operated across the hall. The Johns repeatedly peed on my front door. Once a very large pimp named Latrone rang my doorbell at two in the morning. I didn’t answer.
- Every faucet leaked hot water at full force for two years. My apartment was like the Amazon. I think I single-handedly caused the drought in Atlanta.
- A construction worker fell through the ceiling in the extra bedroom. Six weeks later a four-by-four section of the same ceiling collapsed. On both occasions, the super’s solution was to tack a piece of plywood over the hole.
- The landlord began renting the apartments above and below to tourists. For a solid month, the people upstairs had fight club and threw parties, downstairs they practiced violin for 12 hours a day. It made writing impossible.
- A pipe in the radiator burst and flooded the living room with a geyser of steaming hot water. At 5 a.m. Good morning, indeed.
- I had a mouse problem. Then a cockroach problem. Then a rat. Then another mouse problem. Then pigeons. Then bugs from the pigeons. It was like I’d become the urban Dr. Doolitle.
The apartment had me constantly on edge, which in turn made the chaos outside— the late nights, the throngs of people, the pace of life in general— lose its luster. There was no reprieve. Inspiration was gone. My anxiety grew. My mood darkened. I was a pain in the ass to be around.
During this period of time I started going back and forth to Los Angeles. I’d never really been sold on the city (okay, I thought it sucked), but I had TV and film meetings and needed to be out there for a few weeks at a time.
Here’s the thing about L.A.— it creeps up on you.
There was space. There were affordable apartments in nice neighborhoods. I could buy all of my groceries at one store. I didn’t have to see people if I didn’t want to. There’s no chance of getting the February sads, because February in LA is 72 and sunny. Traffic sucks, but it’s nothing like sweating through your dress on a hot summer day in the Times Square subway station.
On my last trip out, I was on a hike with two friends, complaining about my neighbors and theater and money and one of them said, “Just stay here.” I was afraid of giving up my apartment. “Why are you holding onto something that makes you miserable?” she asked. I didn’t have a good answer.
So I went back to New York for four days, packed up the apartment and said goodbye to friends and most importantly, to the city. The breakup was quick and painless. I don’t regret it at all.
Los Angeles doesn’t give me the same rush of excitement that New York did. But that’s okay. My mom and dad weren’t sold on each other upon first meeting and 41 years later they’re still trading barbs over cocktails. I guess not every relationship needs to be a whirlwind.
Sometimes it’s good to be bored.