After seeing so many places our present apartment was starting to look better and better. It was centrally located, meaning friendly faces could surround Randi after our child was born, and also so she could tutor -- a big help for our bottom line. Also, and this is huge, it had laundry in the building. Many of the places we'd seen simply did not.
In addition, our landlords were not psychopaths, always a danger in New York, and it was a light, airy place to live. I couldn't complain about the state of the elevator, because we didn't have one, and there was no lobby, so that wasn't a problem either. Maybe we could make this work, if we had to, but I wanted us to keep hunting for the brass ring. We live in New York; if it's anywhere, it's here. Which is how we came to find ourselves in our car yet again, looking out at yet another crumbling Brooklyn building. And by now, believe it, Randi was not in the mood to mince words.
"How much do you want to bet this place is going to suck shit?" she asked, and we both started to crack up laughing. I couldn't argue. After a while you develop a Spidey sense for these kinds of things. She had found this latest listing for a two bedroom apartment in Bay Ridge, and here we sat, on an unseasonably warm, early March night, in the Honda. The broker's name was Kamil, and although the temptation was to pronounce it Camel, he pronounced it Camile.
We were on Senator Street in Brooklyn, and one would have to be really, really charitable to call this Bay Ridge, despite what the listing said. We were about 10 blocks from what I even considered the edge of Bay Ridge. The street we were on didn't look dangerous, exactly, just sort of depressed and a little rundown. The kind of place where there were some nice homes, but the windows were covered with plywood. To complement the seediness even more we were supposed to meet Kamil not in front of the building itself, but at a street corner. Again, since when did seeing apartments and scoring drugs cross-over so much?
We walked to the nearest corner, and called Kamil on the cell phone. After a moment a youngish man that had been lolling around in front of the convenience store saw us and waved. He crossed the street, and we were now in the Kamil zone.
Kamil was probably in his 20s, and not dressed to impress. He had on a sweatshirt, jeans, some sneakers, and looked like he had just gotten off, well, a drug deal. Put it this way: I don't think he had gone through training at Re-Max. Facially he looked Mideastern, with a beard, and resembled the Sayid character from Lost. We shook hands, and the charade began.
Following Kamil's lead, we walked into the lobby of a gritty building located right in front of our parked car.
"The landlord, he should be here, I will find him," Kamil said. He disappeared up the stairs and we looked around. The lobby itself didn't look too terrible, although it certainly wasn't overly clean, or neat. For $1200, I thought wearily, this is about what you get.
After about five minutes a fat, white Eastern European man in a white wife-beater T-shirt rolled down the stairs. Through his thick accent I understood that his name was Josef, and he unlocked the door to the apartment. Way to impress, Joe.
Despite the promise of two bedrooms the place was tiny, and the cheap fluorescent lighting made everything look even worse. It wasn't well maintained, either. What can be said after a while? Small, run-down apartments in crappy buildings all start to bleed into one another after you've seen about thirty of them. (I will say this though: even terrible apartments look somehow worse under fluorescent light. It's okay for hallways, but always looks like total shit for interiors.)
Spending the absolute minimum amount of time necessary to see the place, we thanked Josef, and Kamil walked us out.
"So, you didn't like it?" he asked, genuinely curious.
"Nah, I just don't think it's a good fit for us," I said, being generous.
He put it out there that he also had some other places he could show us, in even less desirable neighborhoods -- although he didn't exactly phrase it that way -- and that we should give him a call. We said thanks, good night, and took off.
From there I made one last call, back to Avram at Hamotzi. I'd been in contact with him off and on during the whole process, hoping that he'd hook me up as a fellow Jew. It hadn't happened just yet, obviously.
Avram sounded a little tired of talking to me when I reached him on the phone.
"Yeah, come on down, I have some nice places for you in your price range," he said. So the following Sunday we drove back down to Bay Ridge -- not Saturday, of course, because they were closed -- and gave it one last shot. Randi and I agreed: this was it. If we couldn't find a place today, we quit, at least for now. The baby was getting closer, and we needed to stop seeking and finally settle in.
Avram's office was surprisingly empty for a weekend day, as it was usually abuzz with bearded brokers and their clients. He sat at a desk, and handed us several sets of keys.
"I don't have time to go with you today, but if you want you can check these out on your own," he said. He didn't look all that busy, truth be told, but we said fine. I had also grown tired of the broker dance, and if he wanted to stay seated that was okay with me. If we liked it we would let him know.
The first place was on Shore Road. It seemed like most of Avram's good rentals were located there, and he kept telling me about them, despite me telling him that Shore Road didn't really seem to work for us. But, anyway, it was the last day, it wouldn't hurt to check it out.
The actual building on Shore Road looked nice, with, again, great views. Unfortunately that's all I ever found out about it, because we never saw the actual apartment.
The problem was that our key wouldn't open the front door. As the cold wind blew at us from the Hudson we froze our asses off trying to simply get into the building. No one came down the steps either.
Not knowing what else to do we walked around to the other side of the building, and entered through the back and went to an open house for another apartment. We hoped it would be a one bedroom, but couldn't know.
Following the signs we walked into a living room, took a flier, and looked around. It looked nice, and was priced to move for $200,000. Then we walked into the kitchen, where an anxious middle-aged man, the broker, made us sign our names to a clipboard. Then we turned to see the other rooms and realized there weren't any. Yup, that was it. No thanks.
We said goodbye, and walked back to the car. Not five minutes later I got a call from a strange phone number. I checked my messages, and it was the broker showing the apartment we had just seen! Jesus!
Next we drove to an apartment that reeked of chemicals, and had a hideous kitchen/living room combination that looked absolutely miserable. I kept Randi in the hallway, so she and our child could escape as many noxious fumes as possible, and confirmed, on my own, that this place sucked ass.
"The last place," I said looking down at my notes, "is on 94th Street. We might as well check it out." Randi nodded. If this was it, if today was the last day, we should give it our all.
Driving down 94th Street, I kept my eagle eyes out for parking, always a problem in Bay Ridge. This concentration kept me distracted from the fact that all of a sudden this road looked all too familiar. No, it couldn't be. This had to be some kind of crazy cosmic joke. But, yes, it was.
"Are you fucking kidding me?!" I screamed as we approached it for the fourth time. We parked in front of the building and sat in the car.
"Also, why the hell are so many people always trying to leave this place?" Randi asked. "What's wrong with it? Is it filled with murders?"
At the same time we both started to question whether the universe wasn't trying, none-too-subtly, to tell us something: you need to live in Tuxedo Towers. After all, this was way out of the range of normal statistical probability. Coincidence, The Celestine Prophesy tells us, needs to be paid attention to. Maybe we were fighting our destiny, and the cosmos was punishing us for our arrogance. That's why it had been so hard to find a place.
"You know what? Fuck this place," I said. "Are you hungry? Because I could really use some lunch."
Randi, so very pregnant, nodded enthusiastically. "Do you even have to ask?"
(Thank you so much for reading this series! If you would like to read more of my work please check out my blog Brooklyn Baby Daddy.)