This is a tale I have been meaning to tell for quite some time. I was held back by fear of discovery, by fear of what a simple Google search might wrought. If they ever knew…if they ever found out…the consequences would have been catastrophic.
I fear no more.
In a sense, this is not a new story – truly, what story is ever new? It is, if you will, a tale as old as time. This is a tale of good versus evil. It is a tale of right versus wrong. It is a tale of sanity versus unbridled what-the-fuckery. It has agony. It has deceit. It has floss. Mountains upon mountains of floss.
This is the tale of my landlords in New York.
When I enrolled as a graduate student at Prominent High-Brow University, I had the choice of spending my spring semester in either London or New York. For me, there was no question: it had to be New York. It was to be the fulfillment of my very dear, very cliche, high school dream. (High school kids, come up with more creative dreams). I partnered up with a fellow student, an impossibly cool hipster named Lizzy, and we began our search for the most perfect New York apartment through the most reliable of sources: Craigslist.
Of course, the most perfect New York apartments cost somewhere in the neighborhood of eleventy-bajillion dollars per month (discount if you promise the landlord the still-beating heart of your first-born child). “Most perfect” went out the window. So did “barely tolerable” and “definitely-not-a-crack-den.” Eventually, we decided to settle for the “there’s-a-decent-chance-we-won’t-be-stabbed-here-in-broad-daylight” New York apartment.
We did what any good art history graduate students would do: we researched the crap out of Craigslist. We spent weeks carefully cultivating a list of prospects. We had both heard enough horror stories to know that we couldn’t agree to any place sight unseen so we would have to make the trek to NYC. Being the good art history graduate students that we were, we didn’t exactly have a lot of time. We only had one weekend in November for the trip. That gave us less than forty-eight hours to run blindly through the largest city in the country, weed out the “definitely-a-crack-den” options, and make a decision. We got organized. We got prepared. We made appointments. I downloaded the NYC subway map app.
Lizzy and I boarded the DC to NY Chinatown bus late on what would become a fateful Friday night in November. We finally rolled in around 1:00 AM. As late as it was, I was not too tired to take in the awe of the city. I stared at everything and snapped pictures like the most touristy of tourists. I was too tired, however, to remember the real name of What’s-His-Face, Lizzy’s friend who was letting us crash with him in Brooklyn. And I was definitely too tired to bar hop in sketchy parts of Brooklyn for the next three hours. Which we did. Even though we had about eight different locations to scope out in the morning.
After about three hours of sleep and four cups of coffee (for me – hipsters run on pure essence of their hipsterness), we began the search. Our first stop on Saturday was our least likely prospect. We had added it at the very last minute because the couple renting the space was just so damn persistent. The space was, if pictures could be believed, definitely not a crack den. In fact, there was an entirely possible chance we would never be stabbed there outside of the hours of 2:00-6:00 AM. It seemed too good to be true. The ad described a room in a “light-filled” apartment in the West Village for $2,000. The room would be ours but we would share the apartment with the couple. It was far and away out of our price range so Lizzy and I decided we should look at it first to get it out of the way.
First impressions count a lot when looking for a place to live. For the record, that neighborhood in the West Village makes a fabulous first impression. We took a peek at our subway map app and discovered that there was a direct subway line from one end of the block to school in Midtown. There was Starbucks on either end of the street and we were only a ten minute walk from Magnolia Bakery, also known as Cupcake Mecca. Then we saw the building itself and a little part of us began to cry. The building was this mouthwatering five-story brownstone with a bright red door – just like every perfect New York brownstone that all those TV shows and movies unrealistically insist that every real New Yorker lives in. Lizzy and I both gave a little groan of longing as the couple buzzed us up. We stepped in the elevator, which shuddered adorably as it climbed to the top floor, and we knew that all of our other prospects were going to fall far short of this place.
Mr. and Mrs. West Village, in my infinite wisdom of NYC as gleaned from watching Sex and the City ad nauseum, struck me as very classic New York. They seemed to carry off this odd amalgamation of glamour, bohemia, and New Age. They were both born and raised in Manhattan – she had lived in the West Village most of her life. She was a photographer and he was an art dealer of some sort. They were both raised Jewish but were practicing Buddhists. They only ate organic, of course, but most restaurants nearby were organic anyway (obviously). They had a house in Long Island and were hardly in the apartment anymore these days. A cleaning woman came to the apartment every two weeks so we never needed to worry about making a mess. They seemed eager to take us on right away, ready to take a down payment. We told them we had some more apartments to check out, mostly in Brooklyn. “Oh, you can’t live in Brooklyn, dolls,” Mrs. West Village said smugly. “You’ll come back here.” Lizzy and I both knew we could never afford the place, and so we took one last wistful look and begrudgingly went on to view lesser apartments.
The search quickly descended into a long and arduous expedition. The NYC subway system proved to be infinitely more complicated than the DC Metro (stupid useless subway map app). Not only that, but it took a lot longer to get from one place in the city to another than we thought it would. We had to cancel appointments simply because there was no way we would make it on time and people didn’t want to wait for us. When we did make it to an appointment, well, it was just one problem after another. There was the two-bedroom apartment in Midtown that four girls already lived in…and they expected us all to share one bathroom. There was the gorgeous place in Brooklyn but the dude wanted a commitment through September and our semester ended in May. Then there was that other place in Brooklyn that was definitely in the vicinity of at least one legitimate crack den. Plus, there was a screaming baby who lived downstairs.
We felt somewhat defeated on Sunday morning. What’s-His-Face and Some Other Guy took us to a place on the Lower East Side for brunch. Lizzy and I fiddled with our poached eggs as we ran through our options one more time. The West Village room not only our favorite space, but it turned out to be our only legitimate option. We were not prepared for this. We couldn’t afford this. But there was literally nothing else we could do. We didn’t have another chance to come to New York before the semester started. We couldn’t be homeless for the first few weeks of school. Lizzy decided we should call the West Village couple and explain our predicament. They seemed so nice—maybe they would lower their asking price. So Lizzy called. Mrs. West Village answered. Not only would they lower the rent, but they were home right now and we could come over and settle the whole thing before our bus had to leave in two hours.
We should have known something was off when they asked us to help pay for the cleaning woman. We should have known when they didn’t have a formal lease for us to sign. We should have known after looking at her less-than-mediocre photography. But we didn’t know. We gave them our money. They gave us keys. We were panicking. They were there. They seemed normal.
We were doomed.