The next morning Jane and I walk down Riverside Drive. The tall trees in Fort Tryon Park still have some leaves and the branches cast shadows across the sidewalk. The autumn air is warm. It must already be in the 50s. I realize no one moves to New York for the weather, but I live in a place where snowfall has been recorded in every month except August. Today damn near feels like summer.
“What time is your broker appointment?” Jane asks and we bound down the steps into the A train subway station.
“You have plenty of time.”
We swipe our Metro Cards. It’s rush hour and a downtown train comes within minutes. And since we’re one stop from the top of the line we get our pick of seats. Once we’re settled Jane opens up her bag and starts applying make-up. I am completely fascinated with the way she curls her eyelashes and applies blush at 30 miles an hour without poking herself blind.
Generally speaking, despite running the Silicon Valley, Indians cannot tell time even in the advent of the digital clock and continue to operate on IST --- Indian Standard Time. I however am punctual and arrive early to meet the broker, Kim, a slim, friendly Vietnamese woman. She has me fill out so enough paperwork that I feel certain I have just killed a rain forest in order to rent an apartment.
Kim and I gather our things and take a bus to the subway. In an effort to get my bearings, I am trying to pay attention to the names of the streets and stops. I am transforming from tourist to transplant. Once on the Upper East Side I remind Kim that I am looking for a safe building with an elevator, laundry and I don’t want to be on the first floor or anything called garden apartment. I have seen enough Sex and the City and Will and Grace to know better. She smiles tightly at me, much like how you tolerate a screaming toddler before leading me down streets filled with quaint buildings and trees jammed into metal planters.
Apartment One: The superintendent, a gruff Eastern European man with a bit of a belly, lets us into a lobby that smells like fish curry and burned toast. Inside the apartment the tenant’s cat gets in the super’s way and he picks it up and throws the animal across the room. Now I am not a pet person, but I am stunned. I think the cat is stunned too, because it makes a wincing meow and jumps off the couch, over the coffee table and into some dark corner very far away from us. It is a first floor apartment on the north side of the building, so it going to always be dark. And the living room is bursting from the couch, TV and wine rack. The u-shaped kitchen is no bigger than a closet and bedroom was full from a dresser and a twin bed. It is $1600. YIKES! I don’t think I can live there!
Apartment Two: is a few blocks away, under renovation and on the third floor. For some reason I thought this would be THE ONE. But once inside I see the bedroom is bigger but not by much. In the hallway I open the three closets and sigh. “Where will my handbags go?” I ask Kim.
Apartment Three: we don’t even enter. I stamp my foot on the sidewalk and refuse. It is located above a pizza place. Kim is not at all happy with me. But in my mind, restaurants equal bugs. I have more cleansers under my sink than the cleaning aisle in any store. I will not pay ludicrous amounts of rent to live with roaches and rodents.
Apartment Four: is located on the fifth floor of a walk up. Did she forget I said elevator? Since I upset Kim at the previous apartment I huff and puff my way to the top floor. I am a profusely sweating out-of-shape mess, while she in her two-inch heels and a large carryall is explaining the features and the rent, reasonably priced at $1650. I refuse this apartment, too. My collection of ridiculously uncomfortable shoes and devotion to wine will no doubt result in me tripping, hitting my head on the banister and passing out on the third floor landing.
Apartment Five: is on the second floor of another mid-sized walk-up. To my delight the bedroom and the living room are decently sized with two big closets and storage space above. The downside is that this apartment showcases the world’s smallest bathroom and kitchen. The sink is jammed up against the toilet, which jammed up against the standing shower. There isn't room for a toilet paper stand, and I doubt this place meets any building code! The kitchen is equally perplexing, doubling as the hallway between the bedroom and living room. The sink and two-burner cook-top atop a fraternity boy beer fridge are separated by 12 inches of counter space.
“How does anyone cook in here?” I ask.
I earn a quizzical look and bored reply, “It’s New York. No one cooks.”
Finally, I shoot a dirty look. “I cook,” I say forcefully.
“I can also show you a 400 square foot studio in Midtown for $2500.”
Let’s see, an even smaller apartment for even more money. No thanks …