Tales From the Bottom of the Film Business

Wednesday, July 05, 2006

Craig's List Anonymous

When I was in Latin America, I made a friend who told me that everywhere she went, she liked to go to AA Meetings.

"I don't have any problems with drugs or alcohol," she said. It's just a great way to meet people."

Later, when I found out that she was a pathological liar, I realized that this should have rung more alarm bells than it did. But still, I thought it was an interesting concept.

Apartment hunting can be the same way. I almost became an addict of the process. Every few hours, I found myself sneaking off to go online and check and see what new apartments had gone up on Craig's List. Even when most of my options were like this:

"Semi-communal living situation available in vegan household of five people, four sweet dogs and one friendly lizard. Meat-eaters allowed if you use your own plates in the privacy of your own room."

"Cute room available in charming apartment in trendy Fort Greene, close to shops, restaurants and bars, steps from park. Own very private room (approximately 4 x 6) can fit dresser, full bed, desk and bookshelf (very high ceilings). Share fully furnished living/closet space (3 X 3), kitchen (1 x 2), and bathroom (.75 x .60)."

"Crown Heights East. Beautiful studio apartment with garden. English basement with good light. Small window faces interior well. Newly renovated kitchen. No stove but extremely energy-efficient hot-plate and mini-fridge. Only 10 blocks to G train."

And so on. If you've ever apartment-hunted in New York, or possibly anywhere else, this will all look familiar to you: the code words ("cozy" = "sized for finger puppets," "up-and-coming area = dangerous to walk in after dark"); the lying realtors ("That apartment's gone but I have another one that's even better -- although it has no elevator or laundry room, is the size of a holding cell and is miles from anything most people would call civilization. But most people aren't limited to your price range..."); the high hopes quickly dashed by reality ("Yeah, I thought the ad said 'terrace,' not 'fire escape?'"). The thing is, where you sleep isn't just where you sleep, it's also, potentially, where you read, hang out, listen to music, watch movies and "Top Chef," cook, eat, talk on the phone, shower (hopefully often), laugh, cry (hopefully not often), have friends over, have sex (hopefully often), do business, write, edit, send snarky e-mails…Okay, that's telling you way too much about me, but you get the idea. So it's not just shopping for a new place to live. It's shopping for the living itself.

That's what you really need to read between the lines of what once was newsprint and now is mostly code: the possibilities of not just location location location and/or someone to help you pay for rent and cable but the live-ability a new situation with perhaps new friends, connections, even romantic possibilities – if, say, that tiny two-bedroom off Third Avenue is not to your liking but the cute Australian guy who lives there is.

If you go apartment by apartment, the history of my years in New York reads like this: First year in grad student dorm with random roommates who I never really got to know; case in point: one of them was from Taiwan and only finally, during our last week together, did she ask me why I had Andy Warhol's Three Maos on my wall, something she'd clearly been appalled about all year. Next two years with Boyfriend P in Studio With Huge Closet on 13th Street rented to us by Crazy Cat Landlady, became addicted to Balduccis' truffle ravioli and other fine food items, despite the fact that we could not afford to shop there. After break-up with P, two years with Junior High School Friend K in Very Large East Village Apartment Above Benny's Burritos That I Never Should Have Given Up, where the mice and roaches didn't matter too much since the two of us were just starting to work in film production and we were lucky if we were home 6 hours at a stretch. Then, first year in the wilds of Brooklyn (well, not really, it was Park Slope), where I shared The Nicest House I Will Ever Live In -- complete with central vacuuming, who has that?? -- with R, her son J, roommate S, and their cats. When S's cat, Velveeta, had a dispute with R over Velveeta's indiscriminate smashing of R's pottery, S moved out and R's fiancée, B, moved in. Two years more in same house with second family, complete with domestic dinners and squabbles, until Landlord A decided to sell. Moved in with J2 and S2 and her dog in Not As Nice House, which brought me into a new social circle for the one short year we spent together before Landlord B, who we always suspected was a member of the CIA because he could never explain exactly what he did and would disappear for long periods on "international business," sold the building. Moved into Fabulous Duplex with K2, the single most social person I have ever known, ushering in an era that included summering in the Hamptons, a ski house in Utah and parties in the garden that my friends still talk about to this day. Sadly, this era also only lasted one year, until K2 moved to California, taking my reputation as party girl with her. Her successors, A and J3, were excellent roommates and wonderful people, but life in that house was never the same -- and then Landlord C sold the place. Finally got the chance to live alone for the first time in my life, finding, through a friend of a friend, a layout of five tiny rooms, which I could afford to have all to myself. At least for a whole four months until I met and started dating H, who promptly moved in with me. Tiny Five Room Apartment was not big enough for two of us and all of his clutter, so we moved, after the second year, exactly one block to a the much larger Gorgeous Wreck of an Apartment, which began to deteriorate before our eyes from nearly the moment we got there -- broken tiles and floorboards, rain in the dining room, a flood in the kitchen, followed by the appearance on the walls of something that I'm pretty sure was mold. Still, we probably would have stayed there if we hadn't broken up. Which leads me to where I was up until July 1,
searching for a new home while working the spare room circuit.

Couch surfing is sort of like changing apartments, only instead of a year or more in each place, try a few days here and there.
It's also life-swapping, only in super-digital fast forward, like Tivo. In the space of a week, I'd go from daughter to sister/Aunt to honorary Auntie of, at various times, 4 children, 7 cats, and two turtles (none of my friends here have dogs. I'm not sure what that says about us). In each case, I'd have maybe enough time to help unload the dishwasher, figure out how to get around by public transportation and where to get Thai food, and somehow manage to spread my shit out all over my little corner of the floor. Then I'd start to imagine what it would be like for me to live in that home all the time. There were the little questions: Would I really want to move back to Manhattan? How many flights of walk-up could my knees tolerate? I'd been thinking of getting a cat, but was I prepared to cope with the litter-box? And there were larger questions: Could I tolerate suburbia again if my quality of life depended on it? If there was no way in hell I could muster the energy to be Fun Auntie every day, could I ever be a mother? And then, after taking the time to settle in and speculate about these issues, I'd have to move on and start all over again.

And before that, there was traveling, which, as I've said in an earlier blog, is literally the fastest way to change your scenery. Would I stay another night in the mangrove swamp or move on to the ruins of ancient civilization? It all depended on what bus I got on that day, or didn't. And every change provided a new identity check. How different did I feel from my New York self when speaking another language, or swimming in a lake by moonlight, or jumping off a cliff? What was I like in the eyes of the new people I met? What would it be like to live and do relief work here, or maybe just bartend and travel the world until I felt like going home, which might be never?

Self-reinvention. Every pretty young Miss Dogpatch who ever made her way to Hollywood saw the value of dropping herself down in a new place and being reborn. Don't we all want to have that second act that takes us from washed-up has-been to comeback kid, from going nowhere to overnight success, from sound grunt to writer-director? A new venue unshackles you from your past, or at least drags you out of your rut and shakes you around a little. But you have to be careful not to be so focused on the second act that you forget about the first one, and then all of a sudden you don't know your lines, or who the hell you're supposed to be playing, and if there was a dance number.

Saturday I finally moved into my new apartment. The irony is, it's four blocks from the one I moved out of. It's just as close to my old gym and where I bought my groceries and all the same restaurants deliver here. But I don't think I'll just step back into my same old existence, considering I have a new roommate who isn't a guy with commitment issues. Once I found her I finally stopped looking at the ads and reading the e-mails from potential roommates (oh, now some of these were really scary: "I know you're looking for someone in their 30s, but even though I'm 22, I'm really like a 40-year-old since I've been working as a corporate whore for three years, and I just LURVE your neighborhood!!! :)"). It was hard to give up Craig's List. I'm sure there's still a lot of good stuff out there, probably better than the two-bedroom I found, where I've now discovered that the shower head is duct-taped to the curtain rod and the kitchen window has to be propped open so it doesn't slam down and take out a finger and there seems to be a little waterfall in the refrigerator when it's not turned up to 9, at which point the milk freezes. But, like with any new situation or relationship, you've got to start seeing the warts sometime, maybe better sooner than later. And I figured it was time to stop window-shopping for my next life and get on with living it.

Besides, there's always the "Furniture for Sale" section…


Blogger Da Nator said...

Hee hee hee! Great piece, Snag - one of your best yet in terms of going from funny to deep and back again.

Congrats again! Can't wait to see it. And hey, at least the fridge will keep any frozen drinks cold. ;o)

P.S.: I assume you decided you're not ready for dealing with your own 120 gallons worth of turtles?

10:18 PM

Anonymous Anonymous said...

What a fun blog! I remember an 8x6 apartment I once had near Bellevue Hospital, with all the apartment add-ons you'd expect (loud neighbors, mice and cockroaches). I liked the location cus I figured, if anything ahappened to me - the Plague, etc - I could get to the hospital pronto. :)
Jen M

4:57 PM

Blogger Casey said...

It's the same everywhere! Case in point: http://caseyinmudville.blogspot.com/2005/04/rainbow-connection.html

12:29 PM


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