Years ago i moved to New York on Labor Day weekend.
Interestingly i had forgotten until tonight, with a throbbing migraine prohibiting sleep, i stumbled across a set of articles on the NYTimes website about first apartments and moving to NYC on Labor Day weekend.
Funny, how we forgot some things.
At that time I was moving from Washington, DC to a job at the Joyce Theater and was “dating” a man whom I reallllly loved but, to my (still) deep sadness, discovered did not love me as much. We had been having a long distance relationship for two years before I moved – interestingly we both lived in the same two different neighborhoods for most of my time in NYC but didn’t stay in touch after we broke up.
Anyway, it was a crazy time – i stayed with two girlfriends from my former undergraduate college in their small one bedroom in the east 80s but spent the first weekend with my boyfriend. It was my introduction to NY as a resident – I had been visiting almost every month for the past several years.
Through an acquaitance from my former DC job, I found a sublet for a couple of months on West 16th and began the search for my own place. Today I can’t recall how or why I ended up with a three bedroom apartment in Manhattan Valley – except that it was only $800 a month and I had a former college friend who was interested and then all of a sudden my youngest sister was going to move up from Baton Rouge. And I was taking home about $175 a week (yes thats right) at the Joyce. To this day, I don’t know how i lived on that but we did in those days. (ok, to date myself, the subway had just risen to 60 cents).
Still, it was a huge financial undertaking and I had to borrow from two sets of friends to get the deposit together. It was a “two bedroom” railroad tenement flat with a small room behind the kitchen. I insisted on bars and a fire door escape on the back window to the backyard (the room behind the kitchen). I had the front two rooms and then there was a little hallway and the front door opened right opposite the second bedroom (there were three windows here into one of the air shafts) and then a small bathroom off the hallway which ended in the main room with two windows (one air shaft – one the back “yard”) and then the kitchen – actually a good size) and then the “small extra room”.
The walls had been spackled with something horrid that made them all bumpy (i hated them), but there were new applicances in the kitchen and hard wood floors and well, it was what I could afford.
The neighborhood was really dreadful – this was NOT the gentrified Upper West Side or anywhere close – half of the block was burned out; we were only two houses away from that (in the middle of the block). The heat was pretty nonexistant . There were mice (not after I got my first cat though). And the landlord was an Orthodox Jew so you couldnt call him on Saturday to deal with anything; not that he took care of much. (He eventually sold the building to a realty company in Bensonhurst – who paid me to vacate the lease. Going to their office is a whole other story)
But i had a lease and an apartment in New York City.
Years later after I had moved to a more respectable and safer address (west 85th st) and then to Park Slope, my friends and family said that cab drivers, taking them to the apartment on their visits, would ask them if they were SURE that they had the correct address. One actually told a friend, that he would wait to make sure it was the right place. My father actually visited and stayed with me in the apartment along with his second wife – looking back, I can’t imagine that I would let a child, much less a daughter, live in that apartment or that kind of neighborhood – but well, that’s another story too.
We were the only white girls on the block. (I remember seeing one other white guy) But mainly it was full of Hispanic and black families – mainly Hispanic, especially in my building and near it.
One winter Sunday night , I came home from one of my various temp secretary jobs at law firms (the high pay from those jobs enabled me to work in arts management in those days but also deprived my social life). The cab turned off of West 110th Street and down Central Park West and as we came up Amsterdam we found the street was blocked by fire engines. It seemed as if all the neighborhood was standing at the corner.
I pushed through the crowd towards the sidewalk and was stopped by a fireman.
‘But i live on this street – I need to see if my apartment is ok”
While he was answering, i heard in my ear a gently accented woman’s voice, “Honey, you are fine, its not your building,”
I turned and there was a woman I had never seen standing there – her hand reached to mine.
“its ok. It’s the house next door to yours.”
“Oh, thanks” I weakily said gazing down the street to the fire hoses midblock and the water streaming in the windows . As I turned to continue our conversation, there was no one standing where the woman had been just a crowd of people..
I never did see her; but she was right, my apartment was fine – no water damage just a faint smell of smoke for a few days.
That next summer, I moved to a fifth floor walkup newly renovated studio with a skylight – for $800 a month.