Empire State of Mind, Part VII

It’s baa-acccck! We’ve had nearly a month long break from Empire State of Mind. Check out the last installment HERE. Ok. Here we go.


The next apartment was my last shot. Literally. I'd seen every place on my list. It was in Park Slope. I'd never been there, but my grad school roommate (who stole my barstools from our apartment), a Harlem native who hated Brooklyn, had talked about the Slope as the only place worth living in "that" borough.

I got lost looking for the realtor's place. But in my search, I'd stumbled onto 7th avenue, a treasure trove of restaurants, shopping, coffee houses, and a New York Sports Club (ie a gym.) The streets were lined with beautiful, wide brownstones perched on streets with leafy trees (cue A Tree Grows in Brooklyn by Betty Smith.) I immediately understood the hype over Park Slope and began picturing myself living in one of those brownstones. I'd sit by the window and create art on my laptop while playing Miles Davis on Sunday afternoons like some character out of a Spike Lee movie.

When I finally found the realtor, he was cranky and short with me. He said he only had one apartment in my range on his to-show list.

He gave the location and rattled off some details. It was 3 blocks from the subway and that subway was across the street from Prospect Park and a movie theatre. If I walked 2-5 blocks in almost any direction, I would be in the midst of lots of things to do. Location, location, location, he said, was the only thing that mattered in this city.

I immediately wondered how bad the apartment was.

As we walked, I saw a laundromat and a Chinese food takeout on the corner. I deduced this was convenient for late night food runs and getting clothes washed since I already knew there was no washer/dryer combo in the building.

We walked up to a townhouse. It wasn't like the big spacious brownstones I'd seen earlier. It was green and white with siding that had seen better days, but not its last.

The interior was... interesting.* To say, the floors and steps needed some work would be an understatement. But everything was clean and there were there were two doors and three locks, lots of security, to get into the building.

The actual apartment was... not bad. I never would have lived in an apartment like this in the Old Country, where A/Cs, new appliances and plush carpet were basic living. But in comparison to what I'd seen in NYC that day? It was above average. And if nothing else, it was on the top floor—check— so no one would ever walk around above me.

The bathroom was the size of a broom closet. Literally. If someone held open the front door, they could trap me in there because of the way it was positioned. The kitchen was small and renovated with counter tops that looked expensive. (I immediately thought about the bar stools that my grad school roommate stole. I've never gotten over that.) I liked that there was a "window" opening from the kitchen to the living room just like at my parents house. Speaking of the living room… It was tiny, and narrow with a powerful ceiling fan. Not quite central air, but better than nothing. And it had two sets of mirrored walls. Not what I would have done with the place, but still a nice touch.

There was another room too, big enough for... an office. I thought back to the luxury two bedroom in Greenbelt for 1k where I’d been planning to make the second bedroom my work station. Life is funny.

I knew then I'd take the apartment.

The office also had four deep closets, which as a fashionista, I appreciated too. I stood there wondering what this room had been before it was cut up to make "my" apartment. I giggled to myself. My own place? I thought it really hit me. So I  giggled again.

The "office" led into the bedroom, which was massive. HUGE-NORMOUS, and not just by New York standards. It has a fireplace and mantel. I figured I'd put my pics of Ace, Tariq and maybe even Blue Eyes there. **

After my tour, I met the owner. A gentleman in his late 50s  who lived on the bottom level with his wife, daughter, and their granddaughter. They were Puerto Rican, like most of the ungentrified block. I have no idea what he did for a living, but his wife and daughter were nurses and the kid was well-mannered. Good sign, especially the latter. You can tell a lot about people by how their toddlers behave.

"I'll take it," I told the realtor.


Of course, there was the matter of money. Straight out of college, I had the benefit of credit, since my mother had the brilliant idea to get me a card when I was 16. Amazingly, I never went wild with it. (I still have "excellent" credit.) But as a first-time renter with no job history to speak of (internships don’t count), I needed a co-signer, ie my parents. I'd had the presence of mind to bring my offer letter stating my salary and my parents' pay stubs with me, so I was approved pretty quick. But there was still the issue of the out of state bank account and getting the money in the right hands. I couldn't just write a check for the first, security, and broker's fee (10% of the first year's rent). I had to get a money order from my home bank (there was no Bank of America in NYC in fall 2002) or have the money wired to the realtor. Great. (This shouldn't be a problem for most of you by now as you can just transfer it online between banks.)

For the continued peace of my relationship with my parents, I will omit the unpretty details of what comes next. Maybe I'll tell it in a book someday. It involves some ugly acts (note the plural) to stop me from moving to New York. I still get pissed when I think about it and I don't want to publicly or privately dredge up old ish.

Let's say it was a definitive turning point in my understanding of life and I because of it, I encourage anyone who moves anywhere without the full support of their family to 1) travel with their routing code and bank account number so they don't have to deal with any drama; 2) get a studio she can afford so she doesn't need help from back home; and 3) when possible, have your own. It's worth the sacrifice to save your long-term sanity.


Alas, what should have been a done deal that day was done the next day.

I returned to Maryland on Sunday with a year-long lease on a $1100 per month non-luxury apartment in my name, I wondered how Peter would react when I told him I was heading North. For good. And because I was leaving for a two-week vacation the next day, we’d only have one day to say goodbye.

I felt excited and like sh!t all at the same time.


*Months later, I would have one of my girls over to watch SATC re-runs on a lazy Saturday and she would enter the building for the first time, look at the steps and carpet and assess, "oh, it's under renovation!" Um, it wasn't.

**"Eventually" my mother would visit the apartment and declare it a "dump" because the bedroom floors sloped, but I barely noticed even after living there two years.