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New York City Apartment Hell Pt. 4

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(Wherein we are basically extorted by our broker and revisit, once again, a place we didn't even like that much the first time. For Pt. 3 click here.)

That night we waited in our apartment for Lauren to drop by and pick up the deposit. "I'm going to be in the neighborhood anyway," she said, "I'm visiting friends in the Village."

She came by at 8:00 p.m. and we buzzed her up. It was altogether way more intimate than the usual interactions with brokers. I mean they usually show you a place to live, rarely do they see the place where you live.

After the usual positive comments about how she loves our cats -- seriously, almost every woman who visits us has to say this, it's like a commandment -- we got down to business. Sure, $1300 seemed like lot to write off for her broker's fee, but it was worth it. We hadn't found any place as nice on our own, and now we'd have at least one item on our never-ending list of pre-baby things to do taken care of. I wrote up a check and handed it to her.

"Oh, yeah, I don't take checks," she said. "Cash only."

Cash only? I'm sorry, is this a drug deal? I'd never heard of a broker who only took cash. We sure didn't have $1300 in greenbacks in our apartment. And if we ran to the ATM it would take us like six separate transactions to get out that amount. (Think of the fees!) Plus, weren't we presumably going to pay the rent with checks? If so why wouldn't our check be good enough for her broker's fee?

"Really?" I asked. "That's kind of odd. Why don't you take checks?"

"That's just not how we do it," Lauren answered, clearly growing impatient to go out and get her drink on. "I can give you my broker's number, and you can check that. Trust me we do this all the time."

The broker's number was another concept I hadn't heard of. Apparently it was some kind of licensing deal where if she runs off with the money we have some kind of proof that she is a broker and did something we didn't like. I didn't know whom we would call if that happened, or what they could do, but some reassurance, I supposed, is better than none. Also, we had the name of her brokerage firm, too, since she'd given us a business card. Although every time I called the office they just told me to call her at home anyway. Where I would get voicemail: "Hi, this is Lauren, thanks for calling!"

We couldn't do the deal that night, which made our hearts sink. New York apartments pretty much vaporize if they're out on the market for a hot minute, so we had to get the cash to her within a day or so if we wanted to have any kind of shot. But this all seemed kind of weird to us.

Once Lauren left to go party downtown we looked up everything we could find online about either her, or her brokerage company. A few meager hits came up, telling us almost nothing. The brokerage company itself also yielded maybe two to three hits, and, again, told us nothing.

The next day we visited a friend of mine that lived in Edgewater, N.J., named Craig. He and his wife were scheduled to leave for a long trip in a few weeks, as he had gotten a job overseas. They had a nice-sized two-bedroom apartment, and also, it turned out, might need someone to occupy it for the duration of their time away, which would be at least a year, but more likely two. If another family member didn't need it the apartment would be available. That was all we needed to hear. Sold! Or, I guess, rented!

So now we had still didn't have a place to live, yet, but two promising ventures. Especially because with the Edgewater place we'd be about 15 minutes away from my Mom, who could help in the baby-sitting and grand-mothering departments.

So now with two hot leads on our hands, we weren't quite sure what to do. If Craig's place came through, and we gave Lauren $1300 cash we were screwed. But if we gave her the money and somehow neither place came through, how easy would it be to get back our cash? She could've blown it on scrunchies and bubblegum by then. We tried to buy a few days' time with Lauren. The Edgewater place looked like a 50-50 proposition, but we were willing to gamble, because the payoff was so strong. Amazingly, though, Lauren's apartment was still on the market by the end of Sunday, and even through that Tuesday.

What happened next is probably pretty predictable. Craig's aunt and uncle realized that it made sense for them to have a place available for their occasional visits to New York. He tried his hardest to convince them, but they couldn't be swayed. So, game over. Next we called Lauren back. Now it was Thursday. And by now the apartment had been rented. We were back to square one.

We consoled one another that it was truly strange to expect potential renters to hand over $1300 in cash to an amateurish broker of not much repute, aligned with some little-known real estate firm. I mean, really, should we hand the cash over in a brown paper bag just to complete the desired organized crime effect? But there was no getting around it: we were bummed.

Following this debacle we decided to redouble our efforts to find a place, with or without a broker. But my wife was starting to get frustrated.

"The thing is I don't want to have to look for a place when I'm nine months pregnant, I just want to have a place set up, and ready for the baby," she said.

I tried to put on the face of an eternal optimist, parroting the upbeat Norman Vincent Peale-speak you might find in a Guideposts magazine.

"Just remember, babe, every single place we see but don't take just means we're one step closer to finding the place we do want!"

Of course this logic didn't necessarily hold up when examined closely, but it was my mantra, and, unlike Jeff Goldblum in Annie Hall, I hadn't lost mine yet.

Randi started to burrow in the classifieds like a mole, looking at them early and late to see what was available. Every other day or so she'd have a fresh stack of listings, some of which she'd hand to me, and some of which she'd take herself. She's a bit more organized than me, which is good, because in her day job she has to attend to a room of screaming fourth graders, and I, as an editor, merely have to oversee a smaller room of disgruntled journalists. One good thing about the journalists: I never had to deal with their parents.

She found one listing that seemed to have promise. Sure, it was a one bedroom, but at $1150 a month we'd be making a substantial savings on our current place. I'd done some math and realized that after the cost of moving, paying for electricity (which we don't have to pay for in our current place) and a broker's fee we'd have to find a place that was at least $1350 a month, or less, to make it worthwhile. This only raised another question in my mind: why hadn't I done this math before?

We got back in the subway in early March for what felt like our 80th trip to Bay Ridge. We liked the neighborhood, it's true, but not enough to spend every spare day of our lives there, and it was already getting tedious. The subway took us far into the neighborhood, all the way to 94th Street. When we got out I looked at the area. It seemed familiar. We were very close to the bridge, there was a Key Foods I'd seen before, and there was a little diner/newsstand. And, as if guided by memory, I made a left turn onto a road I'd certainly been down before.

Of course: Tuxedo Towers.

It wasn't so much that the Towers were more rundown than many other apartments that we saw. It was that, at least to us, they seemed to have a slight air of danger about them, and not the good danger -- spies, microfilm -- but rather the garden variety, drug-related kind.

Perhaps we had no proof to back up this feeling, but the Towers themselves kind of encouraged this view. In fact the tone was set by the messily hand-written sign taped to the window of the front door:

"Do NOT leave the front door open when you leave! And if you see strange activity in the lobby call the police."

Also Randi raised a good point as we entered the lobby, for the third time. "Why are so many people always leaving this place?"

Of course I had no answer. The good news upon re-entering the building was that in our absence someone had repainted the Day-Glo lobby white. Usually I mourn the loss of something eccentric and pointless, but in this one, unique case, I thought it was worthy of applause.

Still, the white paint did little to relieve the penitentiary-esque feel of the building, but at least someone, somewhere was getting hip. It was either that, or they got laughed out of the local Home Depot when they requested thirty gallons of aquamarine paint.

We took the creaky, undersized elevator up to the tenth floor, and got out. The door to the apartment was closed -- often they're open when an apartment is being shown -- so we knocked.

"Hello, hello," said the youngish man who answered, also named David. And so it began again, the oddly intimate, and awkward, practice of trying to evaluate an apartment, and not the person whose life has taken place in the apartment. It's like trying to look at someone to see their bones through their skin.

But I couldn't help it. The apartment was a small one bedroom, and not that interesting. More interesting was David's decorations. A Jew, he had mezuzahs in every door frame. Would these come with the apartment? And there were various pictures of his wedding day to a young woman, several of them. Way more of them, in fact, than we have of our wedding day in our apartment. But I saw no sign of her.

"So, tired of Brooklyn?" I asked.

"Yeah, going to move into Manhattan," he said. "It'll make it easier for me to go out, and meet up with my friends."

"Moving into a bigger place in the city?"

"Nah, about the same size, but it's more conveniently located, for when I go out."

Okay, weird. I already knew this place was too small for us, but why would a married man, and a seemingly religious one at that, move not to a bigger place, but one the same size, just so he could hang out with his buds? And after getting married don't most people move away from Manhattan to places like Bay Ridge? Most do.

I interrupted my prying to continue the empty exercise of looking through his closets and walking through his kitchen, strolling it like the runway at an awards ceremony, to "get the feeling" of the place. And the feeling was: I don't think so. It wasn't such a bad place, but it was much less spacious than even the one bedroom we already had. I had to face facts: we wanted to save money, but neither of us wanted to move down in lifestyle. We were willing to move further away from our social circle, our jobs, and our families, but we weren't willing to move into a place that would be even more cramped in order to do it.

In what had become an unconscious ritual I made a point of taking a leak in David's sports memorabilia clogged bathroom, where the door barely shut, because it came so close to the edge of the toilet. Yeah, this place had bachelor pad written all over it. But what happened to his wife? I didn't ask.

We thanked him and left, as another youngish couple, kind of like us, took our place in his life, at least for the next 10 to 15 minutes.

Next stop: more brokers!

(More to Come...)

For more Dave writing read his blog Brooklyn Baby Daddy.