I wouldn’t have called it my dream apartment. From the outside, it looked like it had survived 3 hurricanes and a zombie apocalypse. Each of the three apartments had two matching balconies located on the far side of the building which faced Tompkins park. At one time, it was probably a lovely place to sit and watch the kids walk to school or see the distant sun setting over the cityscape. But as the years flew by, the iron gates of these tiny terraces had become so rusted through it was a wonder they hadn’t fall right off the of building.
There was a stray cat living in our hallway named Tiger. I could tell by her cries for attention and food that she had probably belonged to someone. But people are cruel and they will do what they have to survive, leaving poor little Tigs on the street to fend for herself. My roommate has a bigger heart than she does a brain and would often let her into our apartment, to play with her cat, never considering the diseases that she could be carrying within her sticky, matted fur. The neighbors let Tiger in through a hole in the roof and most days she slept on the stairs. Occasionally there would be a perfect round turn waiting for us in the hallway. Although, we were never sure if it was Tiger’s as they usually looked big enough to be human.
The apartment on Tompkins was the only one Kelly and I could agree on. Our third roommate, was off on some cruise having the time of our life, and expected us to choose her a room and work out all the details amongst the two of us. She is violently irresponsible. Kelly and I hated each other from the get go. She, a right-wing Texan who loved processed food and Jesus, and I, a liberal feminist were bound to have problems. We agreed on the apartment solely because there were fewer stairs she had to climb than the previous options and I was tired of looking. After our first apartment had fallen through and I had been forced to live on my friend’s couch for a week, I would have slept in a box.
The closet doors hung lifeless from their hinges and there was a giant old mop sitting in still water in the middle of the living room. “It’s a real fixer upper, but the good thing about that is you can really make it your own.” Our realtor was young and vapid with sunken eyes and translucent skin. He paced rapidly and jumped from one foot to another as he showed us the apartment and I couldn’t tell if he was a heroin addict looking for a fix or if he was just unhealthy and needed to pee. Either way Kelly was smitten with him. She giggled as he accidentally pulled the handle off the “brand new” oven. I rolled my eyes and wanted to die. But we signed the lease anyway because I am inpatient and am great at making horrible decisions.
Kelly was gone when the blizzard hit. She had broken the living room window the night before in a high daze. She was one bong rip away from falling out of it completely as she attempted to smoke her last cigarette. She left for Texas in the morning without telling us anything had happened. So there we were, with in the middle of the worst snow storm New York City had seen in decades, with a broken window and a super named Tony who didn’t speak English or know how to use a power drill. We were fucked.
The window in my room was broken as well and there was a large hole in the wall where an air conditioning unit once sat. The only thing between my room and the outside world were two pieces of purple styrofoam and some reusable shopping bags I stuffed in between for insulation. When the city finally came to inspect our building they took the temperature of my bedroom and found that it was 45 degrees. It was St. Patrick’s Day and the warmest day we had, had in months.
Of course along with the broken window there was the lack of cold water. I know it may seem like you shouldn’t really need cold water in the winter but let me tell you, you absolutely fucking do. Without cold water to help regulate the temperature you are forced to bath in scalding hot hell fire. The landlord didn’t understand why this was a problem. “Who doesn’t want hot showers in the winter?! You crazy shikk…” He always stopped himself before he called me a Shiksa. As if being called a white whore was somehow worse than not being able to shower without burning my skin. For the record, words can’t hurt you like 300 degree water can.
The baby roaches, the black mold under the sink, and the rat poison in our drawers which made us all sick also contributed to our misery. Although nothing was worse than our landlord. He was a young, possibly inbred, shiesty Hasidic man who relentlessly harassed us for not paying rent on time (which we always did) and never shared with us so much as his first name. Each month the checks were made out to “Mr. Miller”. He did not have an email address or an office. We were to meet him out front of a small yiddish drug store and present our rent checks. If we had complaints, he always met us outside of our apartment building and brought his kids along. “You see, you see these children! I need to make a living, I have mouths to feed!” His children were some of the strangest looking kids I had ever seen. Looking into their classy eyes and porcelain skin deeply upset me. They never made a sound, they just stared at me with frozen faces as if holding their breath. I’m sure they actually were holding their breath. There is probably some strange rule that Hasidic children are banned from breathing the same air as gentile whores.
We broke the lease after a grueling 4 months. Between the unlivable conditions and my disgusting roommate leaving odd cups of milk to spoil in the fridge and leaving giant shit stains all up the back of our toilet seat, I had, had enough. After I had packed my things and moved them into my new apartment, I stood in the room and looked out onto the crumbling balcony. In that moment the room was actually beautiful. Bright light poured in through the windows and left it feeling sunny and warm. What a shame it was that it had been neglected for so many years. I said goodbye to first chapter of my New York City experience and I won’t go back, not even to check my mail.