My friend Kim is in the midst of her yearly post-finding-out-her-rent-is-being-raised-another-$200-per-month, “but-I’m-too-pretty-to-move-to-Brooklyn” freak-out and posted this on Facebook to summarize her strife: The Worst Room.
I may be self-centered, but I think NYC is singular in its ability to rent out the very shittiest apartments for the very most amount of money. I lived in some shady campus housing during my years at THE Ohio State University, but slumlords are supposed to take advantage of unwitting college students with their futons and their Gustav Klimt posters, right? I thought that by the time my friends and I all had jobs and hints of grey hair, we’d live in modest but bright/airy/crown-moldinged one-bedrooms in the East Village. But that doesn’t exist for normal people in NYC.
The normal people I know in NYC will have roommates until they’re ready to be moved into the retirement home, unless they want to live in the ghetto. The normal people I know in NYC share a one-bedroom apartment with their brothers so they can get away with only paying $700 each. The normal people I know in NYC live in apartments where there’s no living room because it’s been converted into a second bedroom, and they still pay $1000 each. Apartments are covered in 100 years of paint layers here. Linoleum floors left over from the 70s run rampant. I once looked at a converted factory loft with bedroom walls made of plywood that didn’t even go all of the way to the ceiling, and it was $2800 a month.
And that brings me to Kamran’s apartment. There were so many times I wanted to show you where I was living, but I didn’t necessarily want to show you all of my underwear, and you know it was all over the place in a 275-square-foot studio being shared by two people. When I first started dating Kamran, I carried a tote bag of clothes with me back and forth from my apartment to his every day when I was staying over. By the end of our six and a half years together, I had a small dresser, two tables in a corner with clothes piled on them, a chair for my folded dresses, a chair for my cardigan collection, more in the two closets, and more stored in bags on the floor.
There was a queen-size murphy bed, which we actually raised approximately twice, and once was to take my infamous cape photos, one of which I will now display simply to relive my five-years-ago youth:
There was a nook with a dresser piled high with books and a TV stand with a 36″ TV. It was one of the old tube TVs that weighs 200 pounds, made by a company called Classic. (That’s my favourite part.) Kamran would’ve replaced it, only the apartment was furnished by his landlady, so he couldn’t throw anything out. The only table in the place was taken up by his computer and printer, so we ate all of our meals on the love seat on top of two leather ottomans with removable tops that converted to tables when flipped over. I bought those ottomans for Kamran for our anniversary one year (romantic!), and he was so against them at first but then decided that I could use them for storage. So every time I would want to buy something (a slow-cooker, a clothes steamer, a puppy), my BFF, Tracey, would tell me to store it in my ottoman so Kamran couldn’t complain.
The kitchen was a galley style with three cupboards (one of which I couldn’t reach), a convection oven that was later replaced with a microwave when it finally stopped working, a half-size refrigerator, a sink, and approximately six inches of counter space between that and the two-burner stovetop. There was no oven. There was no freezer. The first night I stayed over at his apartment, we tried to save a pint of Ben & Jerry’s Cinnamon Buns and ended up eating ice cream soup in our pajamas the next day. Everything I bought at the grocery store had to be used within four days. Not a single blondie nor brownie was ever baked in that apartment. Any time I pan-fried anything, every wall in the kitchen would be splattered with grease because they were all so close together and to the stove. The refrigerator would fill with ice every few months, and Kamran would need to take a hammer to it while I stood with a broom and dustpan to catch the shards.
There was a phone on the wall that connected directly to a switchboard in the lobby behind the doorman’s desk, so the next-door neighbor who spoke to us approximately three times despite my repeated hellos could simply pick it up whenever he wanted to complain about our not-at-all-loud music. Every night for the first few years, the elderly doorman would call up to tell us to come pick up our delivery from the lobby with “your food is here” in his some-sort-of-European accent. Even when he was replaced with young, unaccented men, we would get off the phone and say to each other in the old way, “Your food is here.”
The room had two windows, one of which was cut in half by the air conditioner and the other of which opened approximately two inches. It always seemed pretty sunny in the room, though, until we realized a few years in that part of the building stuck out from the rest and that the neighbors living in that part could very, very clearly see into the apartment. Where I wore very little in the way of pants. We kept the blinds closed after that. We basically had to run the air conditioner year-round, because there wasn’t enough air coming in through the two-inch crack in the summer, and the building was so old and its walls so thick that it retained and multiplied heat in the winter.
The bathroom was a heavy porcelain pedestal sink where the bowl wasn’t exactly attached to the base and could fall off and, you know, crash through the floor into the apartment below if you pushed on it too hard. The shower had great water pressure but also a healthy mold habit that required many, many replacings of the bath mat thanks to the lack of air flow from that two-inch window opening. There were three mirrored cabinets and two racks for towels but not a linen closet to be seen. The best part was that because there were so many layers of paint on the door, it didn’t actually shut. You could slam it and lock it, but then you were likely wasting the next fifteen minutes trying to pull it open again. I think Kamran and I became very comfortable with each other very quickly because of this.
Kamran paid $1750 a month for the place, which was such a drop in the bucket for him it sometimes made me crazy to think about where we could be living. I wanted us to cook dinner together in our kitchen and then eat it on our balcony and then go to sleep in our bedroom that wasn’t also the living room and kitchen. He tried to buy this apartment in the building two doors down in 2009–forever known as “Joseph’s apartment” because of the realtor who rode a Vespa that matched his blue eyes and the blue tie he always wore–and I dreamed about our life together in this place with a separate bedroom and a view of both the East River and everything down 42nd Street to Times Square. But his offer wasn’t accepted by the building’s co-op board, and they don’t have to tell you why, and so we continued our life of him staying up all night studying for law school exams while I attempted to sleep with the lights on.
But to be honest, I sort of loved living there with him. I felt more at home there than I have in any of my NYC apartments, both because I spent the most time there and because it was so cozy. We used to say things like, “I’ll be in the kitchen if you need me!” and then take two steps to the right. The lighting was just right, and everything was always within reach because the whole place was sixteen feet across. The building itself was beautiful, we could see the Chrysler Building through our window, and there was a garden outside the front door. The United Nations was right across the street, I’ll never be able to replace my favourite food delivery options from the neighborhood, and we went on the most epic walks along the river esplanade that started at 38th Street. My current apartment in Brooklyn may be bigger and nicer and much more conducive to actually living a half-normal life, but living in that apartment was living in the center of New York Fuckin’ City.