New York City Apartment Hell Pt. 1

03/01/2011 05:21 pm ET | Updated May 25, 2011

(This is a multi-part story for those who can appreciate a good yarn about how impossible it can be to find a decent apartment in New York City. Some background: before my wife and I had our daughter, Stella, in April 2008, we decided to seek a place with more room than our one bedroom in Park Slope, Brooklyn could give. What followed can only be described as... Apartment Hell.)

The plan was to move out of our apartment several months before the new baby was born. The due date was April 1, so we started looking for our new home in December. The incentive was to save at least $400 or so a month in rent, and get more space than our smallish, pricey Park Slope, Brooklyn apartment could provide. That's right, we live in Park Slope.

Our rent is $1600 for a one-bedroom apartment. And it's not a particularly huge one bedroom, either. The bedroom, it's true, has a sort of extra nook. But our living room is about the size of a New Canaan walk-in closet, our kitchen has as much counter space as a space shuttle, and our bathroom can hold two, but really barely holds one, house cat.

Also, the apartment needed a few repairs. One window in the bedroom, no matter how we struggle, just won't stay up. Seriously, it's like a guillotine. The soap holder in the shower simply broke off one day about six months ago. To keep the wall from disintegrating from water damage we covered the gaping hole in the tile with plastic bags and then duct-taped over it. That's it. That's the repair. That's what's still in place, even now.

Plus, Park Slope was getting kind of, well, precious for us. Whether it was the tippling yuppies fighting for the right to bring their children into a bar, or the fools camped out at the Tea Lounge -- our local, perhaps ironically titled, coffee shop -- for hours on end, clinging to the shabby-chic secondhand sofas like mold, each one somehow with a new Apple laptop that costs more than my car. Or than my car would if it hadn't been given to me by my mom.

Worse yet, in Park Slope there's been an explosion of baby-centered consumption to match the adult-centered consumption that had so recently dominated the privileged lives of our neighbors. Strollers taking up shopping aisles, streets, sidewalks. Strollers costing... $800? Where does the money come from, I'd wonder. When I wasn't too busy wondering where my money just went.

Plus my wife, Randi, is a teacher in the local public school, P.S. 321, making her the equivalent, in terms of neighborhood fame, of, say, a local public access TV personality, or a really successful area eccentric. Everyone knows who she is. Kids stop her to say hello, which isn't really so bad. Parents of these kids, however, stop her routinely to harangue her about the kids, and why isn't Campbell/Jeremy/Elton/Taisha doing better/more popular/doing their homework/more happy? To which my wife can only say, I already explained it in my carefully presented report card/note to you/e-mail/conference that I had with you. That you attended. Last week.

So we were both ready for a change. Since we planned to try and get by for a full year with just my (inadequate) salary once the child was born, I was inspired to find a cheaper area. Someplace more like the "real Brooklyn" that I had heard about from someone, someplace that I can't remember. Where guys in Dodgers caps sip egg creams while playing with Spaldeens and shouting things in some sort of pigeon Yiddish-Italian. A place where grubby-faced multi-ethnic kids bustle about, and non-famous, but still unbelievably great, pizza is available on every corner. Near good schools, of course, we were adamant about that; that our kids would attend public schools. My wife out of principle, me because... did I mention that we're on one salary for a while? We are, and it's going to be kind of a stretch.

A place, as I've said, near good food, but not near excellent crime. A place with great public transportation, but somehow a bit away from "it all," with "it all" meaning, in this case, lots of people like us, who are sure to discover our hidden-gem-new-neighborhood about six months to a year after we do. People like us, that is, except richer, who will then subsidize our area with their fat wallets, while we lock in the cheap rent.

A place, it needs be said, that is safe, and where we will find, or at least have a chance of finding, "people like us," meaning, we don't want to live in an area where we will get hipster cred for running the gauntlet every time we go out for laundry.

And, oh yes, a place with laundry, and a dishwasher, but preferably without a broker's fee for our apartment.

We were soon to find out that wishes are like dreams. Umm, no, that's obvious. Let me put it this way, we were soon to find out apartments listed on that promise all these things often have a magic way of becoming kind of like dog-houses, except way, way more expensive. And way, way less cared for.

The real disappointment, though, was finding that the apartments the brokers listed were often just as terrible, only with more pressure to sign. Right now!