Sunday, August 29, 2010

You Know It's Time to Go When...

You know it's time to move out of your apartment when...
  • The toilet seat lid breaks off.
  • The mailman removes your nametag from your mailbox.
  • The lightbulbs on the bathroom mirror go out, one by one, and you don't replace them.
  • The knob falls off the kitchen cabinet and you can't screw it back on.
  • The wireless internet service is so spotty you have to repair the connection every five minutes.
I don't think I've ever slept well in this apartment (except when on Nyquil or codeine), having been terrorized by mice or ghosts or poltergeists or my own brain turning on itself most nights. Last night was no exception, waking up at 3 a.m. hot and anxious, the amber streetlights seeming brighter than ever with the blinds and curtains removed from the front windows.

I look forward to sleeping well again one day. I know it won't be tonight, in a new room with new smells and new sounds and new lights to keep me awake. But although I'm bringing my bed with me, I hope to leave the ghosts behind...

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Saturday, August 28, 2010

Welcome to My World

Last night a friend told me that he tries to keep up with me, but that my blog is "depressing."

Sorry.

I know that some posts are depressive - downright down in the dumps - but I like to think of this blog as being a sum of its parts, overall a story of prevailing over slings and arrows. It just so happens that there have been more slings and arrows than anything else as of late.

I'd like to think that there is some chance of hope in life, that avoiding regret means working toward something rather than constantly running away from something. But taken one post at a time, yes, I suppose my challenges, my philosophies, my disappointments, my heartbreaks are, indeed, depressing.

But such is life. You can't always get what you want. But what you want isn't always what you  need.

And this blog is my attempt at figuring out the difference. I'm sorry if that brings you down. Welcome to my world. Try living in my brain.

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Photo Essay: My New Neighborhood

In preparation for my move tomorrow, I went to pick up my keys today from my new roommate in Astoria, and took the opportunity to have another look around the neighborhood.

Although I always knew it was New York City's most renowned Greek neighborhood, I was struck by how Mediterranean it really did feel, right down to the archway through which I must walk to get to my building's front door, which is set off the main street in a courtyard that reminded me of the medinas of Morocco and Tunisia.

I suppose it's fitting for me to move to such a Mediterranean enclave after all my travels to North Africa. I'll feel comfortable there.

While searching for the nearest Citibank, nail salon, Rite Aid and Key Food, I spotted a few other neighborhood delights which make me slightly more excited to move...

...like the gorgeous curve of the elevated train platform at 30th Avenue...



...many varieties of meat...



...fresh and cheap produce...







...amusements...









...and North African wine!



I know that you don't really know a place until you live there, so I'm reserving judgment until I spend some time in my new nabe.

But that doesn't keep me from getting annoyed when I have to wait 25 minutes for the N train at 59th Street.

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Thursday, August 26, 2010

Laundry Day Conversations

When I lived at NYU's Third North dorm for a few months in the Summer of 1997, I hooked up with Jesus-bearded NYU student named David who used to wait in eager anticipation for girls taking their laundry in the elevator down to the basement.

"Laundry day girls are the best," he would say. "...They're usually not wearing a bra."

Today was my final day of laundry in my old neighborhood before moving, and although I was wearing a bra, I was clad in tiny shortie shorts and a too-tight Whitesnake t-shirt whose bottom hem roll turns it into an out-of-style belly shirt. With laundry cart in tow, I stopped into D'Agostino's to buy a cucumber and some chicken to tide me over before the move on Sunday.

I rolled up to the chicken case and waited patiently while the meat man restocked the organic thighs and removed the expired ones. I felt a little self-conscious with my own bruised thighs so exposed in the fluorescent light.

"Oh, excuse me," he said, and started to move away, but I stopped him.

"No, no, no rush, I can wait."

He kept stocking but then thought twice about it and started to say, "I can't let you..." but I stopped him again and said, "Listen, you've got five left. I can wait for five. I'm not in a rush."

The meat man's gaze - behind his thick spectacles and squinted eyes - alternated between me and the chicken, until he finally said, "It's nice to see you...It's rare to see someone so nice...and so beautiful."

"Oh, well, that's very kind," I said. "But I'm not usually so nice. And I'm usually much more beautiful."

With only the slightest pause, he responded, "Well, I don't see how it would be possible to be any more beautiful than you."

Then he assured me that he was married and wasn't giving me a line, thanked me again, and let me shop for my chicken.

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Wednesday, August 25, 2010

Desert Island Discs (from Extra Criticum)

I wrote a new post for Extra Criticum that I wanted to share here too, click over to read...

Desert Island Discs
Excerpt:
I couldn't put all of my CDs in storage. After 13 years of working in the music industry, and having inherited my father's penchant for record-shopping, I've got a lot of CDs. So I allowed myself to cherry-pick the few discs that I absolutely cannot live without, for however long I will be in that month-to-month living situation in Queens while I look for a job (or a life) elsewhere.


View the full post here.

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Tuesday, August 24, 2010

Only Memories Remain

Besides the nearly 19 years I spent in my parents' house - at least 10 of which I spent trying to get out - this is the longest I've ever lived in one place.

As much as I'm glad to leave the dirt and rampant mice behind, it's still hard to extract myself.

Now that most of my things are in boxes and bags, I'm left with the memories of not what I had in this apartment, but what happened over the last (nearly) seven years on and near East 26th Street.

  • Going to Rodeo Bar alone, and meeting Nada Surf's lead singer, who asked me, "Do you want to go make out somewhere?" I happily complied. (See also: Nada Surf's "Inside of Love," featuring the lyrics "Making out with people / I hardly know or like / I can't believe what I do / late at night...")
  • Playing Spooky Spinner, a Halloween-themed version of Twister, at Halloween parties in an apartment that should not have been able to hold so many people
  • Dancing to Bowie's Young Americans and The Black Crowes with Phil
  • Waving goodnight to Mexico Lindo's waitstaff and busboys, who always watched my comings and goings with a wave and a smile
  • Living so close to Edith 
  • Walking home from everywhere - Brooklyn, Lower East Side, East Village, West Village, Union Square, Herald Square, Times Square, even the Upper West Side
  • Taking cabs anywhere (especially if it's raining)
  • Walking through Madison Square Park and past Gramercy Park
  • Post-hike happy hours at Wild Edibles

I know there are new adventures to be had. A big part of me is glad to leave behind the reminders of the adventures I'll never have again.

I guess I just thought I would be in a different place now. I didn't think I would still be going through this alone. I didn't think I would still be single. I didn't think I would have to live on less than I had in my first apartment in Greenpoint.

I've already cut the clutter so much in my life, trimmed the fat, cleaned out the people who aren't really my friends. How much more can I spare before everything is just...gone?

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Sunday, August 22, 2010

Open Letter to My Future Roommate

Dear Roomie:

You seem really sweet and laid back. You waited and held your spare room for me for weeks while I investigated other potential shares with a number of unsuitable roommates. And now you genuinely seem happy that I'm moving in next weekend.

So for that, for all your sweetness and calmness and patience, I feel I must let you know what you're getting into by choosing to live with me.

I haven't been a roommate in nine years. I don't think I remember how to be a good one anymore. I don't think I ever knew.

I might buy my own toilet paper. I only like Angel Soft.

I might set the toaster oven on fire when cheese drips off a slice of leftover pizza I'm twice-baking.

I might cry a lot.

I might hide from you in my room.

I might leave dirty dishes in the sink for a long time.

I might drink too much wine and spill all my secrets.

I might blog about you.

I will try to take up as little room as possible in our small apartment we'll share, as my body slowly disappears and my possessions follow suit.

I will definitely walk around scantily clad in a nightie, because that's what I actually sleep in every night. I can't sleep with pants on.

I will pay the rent and the utilities. I will lock the door. I will turn off the stove.

I will leave the lights on because I don't like walking into a dark room.

I might not ask you how your day was.

I might not seem very happy to be there.

I might not stay very long.

O my roommate, I am heartily sorry for what I might do, and what I might fail to do.

Love,
Me

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Friday, August 20, 2010

The Next Chapter, The Next Borough

I really feel like I waited until the last possible minute to commit to the next place in which I was going to reside in New York City, and it turns out, it was the first place I saw.

Thank God my poor future roommate held onto his spare room for all these weeks while I met a number of other unsuitable roommates like the clean freak, the stand-up comic, the drum instructor, and the one that smelled like cat pee.

But I had to explore my options. I had to give myself the chance to share a room in a luxury high rise in Long Island City or on Wall Street - to finally have a doorman, laundry, and a dishwasher, my God, a dishwasher! Unfortunately, these places were not meant to be.

How is it that the first place I ever lived in New York City was actually the best? On May 19, 1997, I drove a truck through a torrential downpour and thunderstorm down from Syracuse to Paramus, NJ, where my friend Tim and I stopped for McDonald's and I had a nervous breakdown, asking Tim to take over driving through the Lincoln Tunnel and the streets of Manhattan. We pulled up to Third Avenue and E. 11th Street and dumped my belongings in those huge gray rubber rolling bins and moved everything into NYU's Third North tower as quickly as possible.

I had a doorman back then.

I had free utilities back then.

I had a courtyard where I sipped wine and wrote by candlelight, and made eyes at the cute college guys passing through.

(Let's just forget that I had to share a suite with five other girls and our shower room constantly flooded.)

But when it came down to it, when choosing my next apartment, there were three things I was really looking for: 1) that it be temporary, 2) that it be clean, and 3) that it be safe.

My future roommate was willing to give me his spare room on a month-to-month basis, and living with a guy gives me a certain feeling of security. The apartment, though small, looked great when I saw it, recently painted with new cabinets, which is more than I can say for the apartment I'm leaving behind. We'll see what crawls into bed with me once I'm moved in.

My inner spirit of adventure knows that I should embrace living in Queens, a borough I've only visited (though sometimes overnight) and haven't lived in. I'll be near friends. There will be new bars and restaurants to discover, and the local Greek cuisine.

I don't know how long I'll be there, but I hope to make the most (and the best) of it while I can.

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Monday, August 16, 2010

A Quick Step Away from My Life

I was reticent to leave New York this past weekend when I still have so much packing to do, and I still haven't found a place to move my stuff to two weeks from now. But I'd been wanting to go down to Bucks County for a little small town escape, and this seemed to be the last chance I could do it before complete and utter upheaval took over.

It turns out, it was just what I needed.

What can make me happy, despite hemorrhaging savings, joblessness, homelessness, loneliness and heartbreak?

Fireworks so close you can not only see their mirror image in the river below, but also the explosion off the barge from which they're launched.







A hike up historic Bowman's Hill through a wildflower preserve to an observation tower.







A bike ride along the Delaware Raritan Canal past various bridges, mills, tracks, milestones and other vestiges from the old railway.



Four hours in the sun on a farm perfecting my aim with a .22 caliber rifle.

[image redacted]

I'd been locked up in my Manhattan apartment too long, surrounded by boxes, staring intently at Craig's List and waiting for new emails to come in or the phone to ring. I had to get out and live for a couple of days.

And now I'm back. I don't have a renewed sense of optimism or purpose as I'd hoped. But at least I got a couple of days off from my life...

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Tuesday, August 10, 2010

I Had to Turn It Down

I was supposed to go look at another apartment this morning.

I've only seen one so far in my current apartment search, and I'm reticent to commit to it without having seen a few more and really weighed out my options (both in New York and out).

I didn't mind that it was in Red Hook, near the waterfront, on the other side of the BQE - a good ten minute walk (at least) to the F and G trains.

I didn't mind that it was only 300 square feet.

But I was stopped dead in my tracks when its current tenant called me last night to "discuss the apartment."

"I mean, I'm a 26 year old woman, and I've never had a problem..." she began. "But there are just some things you should know before you come."

"Yeeeesss...?"

"The front door doesn't lock. It's never locked, and the landlord refuses to put a lock on it."

Uh huh.

"But I've never had a problem."

OK.

She continued, "But just so you know, there are like four guys who sit on the stoop every day and drink 40s all day long. It's the same guys all the time, and I've never had a problem."

OK.

"So the building is kind of scuzzy. I mean, my apartment is nice, I love it, but the building looks gross. And it kind of smells. It's dirty."

I had to ask, "OK, so what about pests then? Cockroaches? Mice?"

She paused. "Well, I've never seen one in my apartment. But in the hall...on the sidewalk outside...Yeah, cockroaches. But it's New York!"

"But what about mice?" I pressed. I've lived long enough battling the creatures that feed on the scraps from the Mexican restaurant downstairs, and then spend all night scratching through the walls.

"Oh, well, see, there's this population of feral cats in this neighborhood, so I think they're why I've never seen any mice."

I nearly choked on my own saliva.

Without missing a beat, she protested, "But the street is wonderfully mixed. There's a nice lingerie shop, some cute boutiques and cafes, but there's also the slaughter house right in the middle of the block."

Gulp.

"So do you still want to come see it?"

For some unknown reason, I was still considering it. Considering spending over $1000 a month to live in hell, in Brooklyn, rather than pack up my things and move to Small Town U.S.A. where I could probably get a whole house for that.

The dealbreaker for me? She would need me to move in immediately, and pay a half month's rent while I was still living in my current apartment. That was too much for my bank account.

"You know what?" I said, still hesitant. "All things considered, I'm going to pass."

She didn't seem surprised, and quickly said goodbye, good luck, and jumped off the phone.

She wasn't much of a salesperson, but thank God for her honesty.

Is that the best that New York City can do for a subletter?

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Sunday, August 8, 2010

What Am I Waiting For?

My West Coast friends have been urging me, "Come on, just move out here already..."

My New York friends flash their eyes in panic, "Oh my God, what are you going to DO?"

I went to look at an apartment today in a town I don't know if I want to stay in, in a neighborhood I don't think I want to move to, in a space I would have to unfortunately share with someone with whom I am not romantically linked. Yes, the place is available. Yes, it is clean and nice. Yes, the price is right.

But it was the first apartment I'd gone to see in nearly seven years, and so I asked the current tenant - my potential future roommate - to give me a few days.

Why wait?

Because I feel like I need a reason to make whatever my next move is. I'm dying for New York (or its residents) to give me a reason to stay, but at least I'm already here. Complacence might just keep me here because for whatever reason, I need something to pull me out to California. Life's tide is not just drifting me out there.

I'm not choosing not to decide. I'm just waiting until the last possible moment. I'm waiting for an answer to be revealed to me.

When I was considering quitting my job in 2008, it took me a full six months to finally do it. I kept mentally delaying the process - after I return from Morocco, then after Labor Day, then after my birthday, then after Halloween, then after New Year's, then finally after I returned from a business trip to Turks & Caicos, an icing on my professional career that I felt I'd earned and deserved. Once I settled on that date, I knew it was right.

I've considered dozens of options of how to live the next of my life, from joining the Peace Corps to buying an RV to embracing homelessness, but so far, every option has turned against me in one way or another. I figured the one thing that might keep me in New York - besides a job - was the opportunity to have a real romantic relationship, something that feels worth staying for. But although I've caught a glimpse of a glimmer of hope a couple of times over the last six months, my dates and potential mates continue to cancel, avoid, overpromise, underdeliver, and pretty much altogether disappear without explanation.

I have just over three weeks left on my lease, and now I know, it's too late. No one is going to ask me to stay. No one wants that kind of responsibility.

And no one is asking me to move anywhere else.

The entire world is one big blank slate. I will be somewhere in it on my own (naturally). And only I can choose what to do next.

Thankfully, three weeks is enough time to get serious with a potential employer, and to seriously romance future clients. It's enough time for a miracle to happen (or, as my sister puts it, magic to happen in a most unexpected way).

But am I, once again, waiting for something that will never arrive?

My hope is that I will have something to run toward instead of run away from. It was hard enough running away from a job I couldn't stay in any longer. The only thing that allowed me to do it was the thought that I was running toward something I couldn't identify yet.

I still can't, but I'm still looking for it.

In the meantime, the clock is ticking...

Related Posts:
Open Letter to the Universe (Avoiding Regret)
Disregarding Deadlines (Avoiding Regret)

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Tuesday, August 3, 2010

Life on the Curb

I've been cleaning out my apartment for the last two years, in anticipation of this month's move.

But now it's getting really hard.

After I'd already dragged some shelves out to the curb for the trash collector or garbage-pickers, Edith came over on Sunday night to help wrap up the glasses and dishware and started asking the hard questions.

"Do you really need this many plates?"

"But I already got rid of a bunch of them!" I protested.

"OK, just asking. And you want to keep all of these glasses?"

"Yes! It's my Evinrude glass from The Rescuers! And my Pepe Le Pew glass!" I pleaded.

"And these shotglasses...?"

"They're the only ones I'm keeping!" I was really trying to keep it together.

My mother compulsively cleaned out the house regularly, purging herself of old belongings, and forcing me and my sister to do the same. Every spring and/or fall, she'd force us to take inventory of our records and get rid of ones we never listened to. It was always hard for me to get rid of possessions I'd worked so hard to get, but when forced, I regrettably sacrificed my Urban Cowboy soundtrack and Disco Duck album.

There's a scene in The Virgin Suicides (the movie and the book) in which Lux's mother punishes her for missing curfew by threatening to burn all of her rock and roll records. Lux drags the record crate down the stairs with difficulty - probably more than physically necessary - and sobs and begs her mother to stop with every record that gets tossed into the fireplace. When the fumes prove more trouble than they're worth, her mother brings the records outside and leaves them on the curb.

I feel like I'm being punished.

I have to sell the couch I waited seven years in New York to buy, a couch I was so proud of that I held a housewarming party in its honor. I have to sell it because after August 31, I have nowhere to put it. And frankly, I could use the money.

I have to sell my TV, VCR, DVD player, and stereo components because I have nowhere to put them either, and it seems like a waste to keep them in storage. I rarely watch TV, and never use the other electronics, but trading in my boom box for a real stereo rack system in the late 90s felt like such an accomplishment, yet another step towards living in a real apartment and not just a transplanted dorm room.

Unlike my mother, I'm not a very materialistic person. I don't feel the constant need to buy things. I never developed a taste for expensive handbags or shoes. But the few things I have - crammed into a studio apartment - sometimes feel like all I have.

After this apartment is gone - an apartment I've grown to hate, and be imprisoned by - what is there left? No job, no office, no bed, no children, no pets. My music, dishes, movies, mementos locked away in storage. Things I've used and worn over the last 17 years since my parents kicked me out (some relics from childhood, longer) now being used and worn by somebody else, maybe smelling like me, tasting like me. Will they one day feel heartbreak when they put on that dress, a heartbreak of unknown origin inherited from the unknown prior owner?

So what am I being punished for? Quitting a job that would have killed me if I hadn't killed it first? Allowing my parents to disappear quietly? Being so foolish as to move to New York City in the first place?

Maybe it'll get easier with every load I roll over to Goodwill in a cart, with every shelving unit I leave in shambles among the black garbage bags and blue recycling bags from the restaurant downstairs. I guess it's too late to stop now.

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