So a few people noticed, and asked. Here’s a long-winded answer, because I’m like that.
After I left college, I spent about six months in Boston doing the couch-surfing thing, wearing out my welcome with a small group of friends. I got to spend a few months in a semi-stable room in Sylvan‘s house in Mission Hill, but only because Caleb hadn’t gotten back from his most recent walkabout yet, and in the winter of 95 I found myself uncomfortably close to being actually without any real place to stay, but with just enough money finally saved up to take the first place I could get. Which I did, which worked out every bit as well as that always does.
There’s a short list of people in this world that have pissed me off enough that I’ll continue to Name their Name as a warning to others, and with that in mind let me just say that on the off chance that he didn’t follow through on his stated ambition to drive to Mexico and drink himself to death, I would strongly recommend against renting a room from a small troll by the name of David Millette. Unless, of course, you like having your possessions rifled through, your relatives abused when they call, and your other roomates sexually assaulted. Oh, and let’s not forget the joy of being eyefucked by his parolee boyfriend, listening to his amphetamine-fueled tirades and running into his underaged-and-overdrugged club tricks in the kitchen.
When, in the spring of 1996, I got my first Real Job (at the late, lamented BBN Planet) and the subsequent first Real Paycheck, I did three things, in exactly this order: cried, bought a new pair of jeans, and gave Mr. Millette his final rent check and a threat of bodily harm if he ever went into my room again…
…which was nice and dramatic, but I didn’t actually have any place to move into, so I roped Dave’s other tenant (who was enjoying his stay about as much as I was) into looking for a new place with me. I’d never done a proper apartment-hunt before, and found the whole process pretty intimidating: real estate agents would pick you up in a car, whisk you away to see three or four places in terrible shape that you probably couldn’t afford, and then drop you off when your head spinning. After about two weeks of this treatment, we finally found The Place: a 2-bedroom floor-through in a 6-unit duplex in Jamaica Plain, right on the subway. It was $750 a month! We could afford it! We passed the credit check! I was saved! And two days before we were due to have all the checks in…Dan called me at work and told me that he actually didn’t have the cash, sorry.
I remember walking around Davis Square in a fog of rage and desperation. There were two weeks left in the month, I did not have enough money to make the required first, last and deposit on my own. I would have sooner choked on my own tongue than ask Dave for an extension, and I had no place to store my stuff even if there were anyone left willing to let me couch surf. Then a stillness descended; the calm of knowing that you only have one option: I walked up to the nearest pay phone, called the rental agent’s office, and in my best Calm Corporate Drone voice, said I’m so sorry, spot of bother, my prospective roomate seems to have decided he would prefer other lodgings — it’s August in Boston, which means in a few weeks the city will be crawling with students looking for space, would the landlord mind greatly if I were the sole tenant for now? Oh, of course I can afford the deposit on my own!
And they bought it. Almost a decade later, I’m still amazed.
That taken care of, there only remained the matter of the money, which I did not have. Almost, but not quite: I was $350 short. With the brazenness of the completely desperate, I asked an unreasonable favor of a woman who barely knew me: Amy Chused, a co-worker at BBN who I’d traded emails with once or twice before starting the job. I outlined the situation, helpfully pointed out that she’d know where I lived and worked, and threw myself on her mercy. Two days later, I was standing in the kitchen of My First Real Apartment, handing a signed lease and an envelope of cash to an unctuous real estate agent who handed me in return a pair of keys and showed himself out.
I skipped — actually skipped — up and down the length of the apartment. I think I may have clapped my hands. I’m certain I said “my apartment!” at least two or three times. (Amy, thank you again.) That weekend, I spent 24 hours straight moving all of my worldly possessions in a borrowed Honda Civic with a failing clutch. The next sunday, in response to an ad I’d placed on a mailing list, knocked on my door and asked about the room. I had a place of my own, and a roomate I liked. We called it the house of the Purple Tub, and we lived there for three years.
In 1999, I took a job in NYC, Kriss found a better place, and we packed it up. When I left, sweeping up the last of the debris after the moving company had finished, I found to my surprise that I didn’t miss the place much at all. It had been a great First Apartment, it was infinitely preferable to what had preceeded it and we’d thrown some brilliant parties there, but it had also featured incredibly dodgy wiring, an electrical fire in the opposite unit, a brief infestation of junkies in the apartment above us (which caused a less-brief infestation of cockroaches), and a landlord with a charmingly old-world laxity about his assorted legal duties. It was wonderful at the time, and I have no nostalgia for it at all.
My place in here Brooklyn, however, I am going to miss a lot.
I found my current apartment on a long-weekend trip that I made for the sole purpose of flat-hunting. I came prepared for battle: a list of acceptable neighborhoods, a list of questions for the realtor, and a flashlight on my belt to inspect floorboards and closets with. I pulled up the New York Times and called about ten rental agents. I had five days to find a place, and had already told my job in Boston that I might have to take another five if nothing panned out this time…
…and I took the first apartment I saw. It was perfect. It was in the same neighborhood as Miranda then, about ten minutes walk away. It was two floors and a basement of a rowhouse. It had a washer and dryer. It had a back patio. The bedroom had a 12-foot ceiling and an enormous closet. There was an office. The kitchen was large enough to have an island in the middle. And somehow, impossibly, it was in my price range.
That was just about exactly five years ago, and I haven’t stopped loving this apartment for one second since then. (Not even the time I found a flying cockroach in the office.) I painted the bedroom lavender with purple accents. I hung things on the walls. For the first time in a decade, I was able to unpack all of my books. I cooked an entire Thanksgiving dinner in the kitchen…twice. I listened to my upstairs neighbor break up with his boyfriend, play Cher for months on end, and then finally hook up again. I accidentally flashed the neighbors more than a few times. I slept friends over five at a time. I filled it, no, permeated it with books, papers, gizmos, tchotchkes and thingys. Each room bears my stamp. It’s horribly cluttered now, but it’s my mess and no one else’s. I love the neighborhood: I have favorite restaurants, delivery guys who know my name and number, booths at the local pub I prefer to sit at, and stores I go to when I need to buy people presents. I’ve made friends, lovers, enemies and food here. I could keep on doing it for another five years.
And I’m leaving it.
Sometime between July and September (pending some negotiations with the landlord), I’m moving in with Miranda, to Inwood, at the top of Manhattan. After nine years together, it’s time to give cohabitation a try, and no matter how much I try to rationalize it, her place just makes much more sense: she owns her apartment, and it will be less than a third as expensive as this one. If either one of us loses our jobs, we could hold out for a long while there on savings. (Not to mention that my rent is going up again this year while my salary is quite static.) Plus, her apartment has one thing mine doesn’t that I suspect will be helpful for successful living-together: doors.
This is the first time that I’ve ever left an apartment when I didn’t feel it was pretty much time to leave. It’s a strange sensation, like breaking up with a lover because you’ve taken a job overseas, or like stopping writing a story before the end. I’m excited by the idea of moving in with Miranda, jazzed by the idea of deliberately constructing a home with another person, intrigued by the possibilities of an apartment where it actually makes sense to spend money on interior work, and curious to see what it feels like to be a Manhattanite — but the idea of actually packing up my home and leaving it forever fills me with sadness and dread.
But I’m pretty sure that I’ll be back. In the next few years of my life, I want to spend some time living on the West Coast, and hopefully some time living abroad. But Brooklyn’s got it’s claws into me pretty well, and when it comes time to consider where I want to be as I’m getting older and less mobile, a house near Prospect Park will probably sound like just the thing.
Now if you’ll excuse me, I have some packing to do.