New York City Apartment Hell Pt. 7

04/08/2011 06:04 pm ET | Updated Jun 08, 2011

(Wherein we seem to have not one, not two, but three great choices. For Part Six of this story please click here. For Part One, so you can get all caught up and stuff, click here!)

After seeing this Jetsons-esque high-rise we all piled into my car, after a perfunctory debate about whether I or Karen should drive. Karen got into the back, and guided us about ten blocks north, more into the heart of Bay Ridge. There was no legal parking to be found, so we parked in front of a hydrant, as I had seen Avram from Hamotzi Realty do several weeks before. If we're only in an apartment for 15-20 minutes -- which is how long these things seem to take -- then the odds of a cop coming by, at night, are pretty slim.

The next place Karen showed us wowed us in a different way than the place with the sauna. She called the super, Emilio, and a pleasant, southern European man in his mid-40s opened the front door for us. Whereas the last place had the high-tech sheen of the 1980s this place was a bit more old school, but every bit as nice. It had a more classic Brooklyn look. The lobby floor was made of polished black and white marble squares and filled with well-kept old furniture. It had the grand effect of a sumptuous, old hotel lobby. The door to the elevator was rich, brown wood. Yes, I thought, now we're talking. Even though the holidays were receding into memory there were still Christmas decorations ringing the lobby, both store-bought and from children that lived in the building. This is the Brooklyn I want to live in, I thought. (We would see about getting some Chanukah decorations in there once we moved in.)

Emilio, for some reason, was apologetic about the rundown state of the place, although to me it looked as clean as a hound's tooth. Neurotic supers are a good thing, I thought. The whole effect was comfortable but classy. It felt, already, a little bit like home.

Then we saw the apartment.

It wasn't a high-tech marvel like the prior one, but it felt more like where Randi and I would like to actually live. For starters it was much larger. The other place was about the same size as our present apartment, if not slightly smaller. This place was considerably bigger. The living room just kind of kept going. It was like a real living room that real people live in America, not the Barbie Dream-House for adults that I'd grown used to. Also, although it was a one bedroom the actual bedroom itself was large. The bathroom was spacious, with a nice, deep tub -- which my wife would love, because that's kind of her thing. It too had an entryway like the accursed Ditmas Park apartment, and the hallway leading up to the apartment was in tip-top shape. It had an archway that separated the bedroom from entryway, and, to me at least, it seemed comfortable, clean and elegant. It was also $1400. I liked it, a lot.

Plus, it seemed more like us, somehow. We're not really a deck-hanging, sauna-going couple. We like a slightly cozier atmosphere; the prior place kind of reminded me of the Tokyo hotel that so upset Scarlett Johansson in Lost In Translation. This place seemed like where a couple could raise a child.

We thanked Emilio and walked out to our next appointment that night. Smiles all around, things definitely looked up.

From there we went even further into the heart of Bay Ridge. Karen knew of an older couple that was renting the top floor of their brownstone. Again I parked in front of a fire hydrant, and followed the broker upstairs.

The owners ended up being in their mid-70s. Right away I felt that they already looked like grandparents. It was hard to not feel kindly toward them. Again, the rent was $1400. Which might've had something to do with the fact that I told Karen on the phone that our limit was $1400 a month.

The older man, Frank, volunteered to go watch over my car and move it in case the law came around. Which was nice.

Once upstairs, we saw the apartment, and it was the largest of them all. True, it had a kind of nasty beige carpet, and there was no laundry in the building, but it was extremely spacious. The fixtures weren't exactly new, but they were certainly in good working condition. What would be the master bedroom was also extremely, extremely large, with gable-style windows.

After checking it out for a few minutes we walked downstairs and joked around with the older woman, Helen, about having kids and cats, two of our big obsessions, it seems. The couple had lived there for decades, raised a family there, in fact. They just seemed so sweet, but even so I wasn't sure if we wanted to live in a place without laundry, and with a couple that would always be watching our coming and going, even though they seemed nice. Although I can't imagine that with a kid we'd have goings-on that are all that crazy. Maybe, you know, a play-date might run a little long. It ain't exactly Plato's Retreat.

I got the keys back from Frank, and drove back to the first building to drop off Karen. We'd seen three apartments, and three solid choices. One was a futuristic marvel, one was kind of posh and one was homey. It would be hard to determine which one we liked, but I was leaning towards the second one. Randi agreed, and we told Karen that we would like to follow up with that place first.

"Okay, I'll call the owner," Karen said. "He's been out of town, but he said he'd like to rent the place right away." This sounded good to us. The second place on our list was with the older couple, and the third, depending on the price we could get would be the high-tech place. But it was nice to have a selection, for a change.

So that settled that, or so we thought. Over the next two days I talked to Karen about three or four times. First she asked me if we wanted to live in the brownstone with the older folks. Since we were concentrating on the second place I said no thanks. And then, poof, the brownstone was rented.

But there was a problem, you see, in that Karen couldn't reach the landlord for the second place. "He must be away someplace without access to a phone," she said. "This is really unusual."

The first place remained available, and Karen was able to get the father and son team to agree to $1450 a month, but, perhaps out of stubbornness, perhaps because we really liked the other place more, we kept on passing on it.

"They really liked you guys," Karen pleaded over the phone, "and Richard said that at $1450 they're already giving you guys an unbelievable bargain. Won't you even consider it?"

I guess we were being ornery because, despite its many good features, we just didn't want to live there. And it wasn't only because the talking elevators might remind me of The Shining, except happier. One reason we wanted pass on it, and a major reason at that, was because it was really far from everything and everyone we knew. Even though Bay Ridge itself is far from everything anyway, this was the farthest region of Bay Ridge. And we were beginning to see this distance as more of a disadvantage than we first imagined. Because we weren't just moving to save money; we were moving because we were trying to make a better quality of life for our child to come.

If we moved into the "modern marvel," we realized, we'd be incredibly far from my family, who mostly lived in New Jersey, and also all our friends, who mostly lived in Park Slope. Randi also has a network of teachers and friends -- seriously, she knew like 12 -- who all got knocked up this year, as well. Now she would be inconveniently far from them. This would make her plans for baby-sitting groups all but impossible.

In addition, we were still dead set on having the baby in Park Slope, because Randi had grown close with her midwives, and the only place they'd deliver is in the Methodist hospital in that neighborhood. The further we moved from the hospital, the more likely the chances that the kid would have the middle name of Honda Accord, because that's where he/she might get born.

Basically, if we moved so far away our entire support group would be gone, except for the occasional visitors. We'd have a nice apartment, and a sauna, but we'd give up many of the day-to-day relationships that made our lives in Brooklyn something we enjoyed. Perhaps we should have realized this earlier, but sometimes it's hard to think of every angle, until you're confronted with your next move.

The only problem was that it was starting to look like the place we really wanted was probably going to fall through. Karen sounded absolutely befuddled when we'd speak on the phone, nothing like this had ever happened to her before. Landlords don't simply tell brokers to rent places, and then vanish. But this seemed to be exactly what happened.

"I'm calling, and I'm calling," she told me one day, "and leaving voice messages, but he's never calling back."

It's possible that this mystery landlord realized that maybe he could get more rent for the same place. It's possible that maybe he was just kind of crazy, or maybe even dead. Who knows? All I knew was that our best prospect in weeks was pretty much going up in smoke, and there was nothing we could do about it. We'd had three good-looking apartments in our grasp just a few days ago, but now, quite suddenly, we had none. It was now early March, and this wasn't the news we wanted to hear.

"I am getting sick and tired of this," Randi said. "Why can't people just do what they say they're going to do?" She's from Kentucky and has a belief that people should keep to their word. Crazy, right?

Because of this belief New York, especially the New York real estate market, frustrates her to no end.

Plus she was starting to get overwhelmed by the fear that we won't have a place set up and ready for the baby by the time it's ready to emerge. The nesting urge was already manifest within her, and she had nowhere to vent it, which also frustrated her greatly. She had visions of what she wanted, of places to put changing tables, and how to re-arrange furniture. Or get rid of furniture in our case. (Our bedroom set came from my room from when I was a teenager, and had a slightly boyish, nautical theme. She hated it.)

"I just want to have a place, and know that it's ours," she said, sensibly. "And I can't do this anymore, this looking around at night. I'm pregnant, and other pregnant women at least know where they are going to live. We don't."

I really couldn't argue with that, nor did I want to. Since Karen's places all seemed to go wrong, and it was getting later, we made a deal: if we don't find a place that we love, not just like, in the next two weeks, we'll make it work in our present apartment.

(More to come ... )