In 1992, I was living in a 720 square foot apartment in a prime neighborhood, paying $400 a month in rent, all utilities included. Well, not electric, which I found out the hard way, but everything else was paid. My experience in apartment hunting consisted of visiting several complexes with my mother, hoping on the back of a golf cart, and being squired around fabulously furnished apartments by overly tanned, too-thin women in coral colored lipstick, with huge, honking fake nails done in French manicures, and long, over-sprayed hair, wearing miniskirts and scuffed pumps. Obviously, I was paying as much attention to the salesgirls as the apartments.
At the one complex I really loved, the deal breaker was when the elderly wisp of a sales woman (the only sales staff I had seen over the age of 23), was telling us about how secure the complex and apartments were. To demonstrate, she shouldered the door. The frame cracked and splintered, and before I could say another word my mother had said, “No thank you,” had me by the arm and was walking me away.
Ultimately, I found my ceiling to floor mirrored 1/1/wwd unit, signed the papers and started moving in the next morning. No fuss. So imagine my surprise at, first of all, the size and state of New York City real estate, and then the costs related to renting, and the trauma that can be apartment hunting in that city.
Not all of my visit with Isabella was eventful. I did spend a lot of time napping, or painting my nails and toenails Revlon’s Raven Red, listening to music, and trying out new-to-me restaurants, but the apartment hunt was an adventure. Using my hotel room at the Paramount as a home base (and happily sharing the cost of staying there because the girl was no mooch) Isabella and I embarked on a quest.
I learned about doorman apartments, walk-ups, cold water flats, basement rooms, and went into neighborhoods that make perfect backdrops for current day nightmares. I came out of the shower one day–the shower! How have I forgotten to tell you about the bathwater?
Detour from the apartment.
My first night in the Paramount, Isabella had left me alone. I was gross and sweaty from the day’s adventure, so I started running a bath, happily expecting to soak away my grime in some sweet smelling somethingorother. I brushed my teeth at the modern, artistically lit sink, feeling a wash of calm.
I decided I had overreacted about Isabella’s self-description. I made all kinds of fond excuses for her. Since retrieving my luggage, we had eaten dinner at the hotel and she had gone (presumably to wherever she had been staying prior to my arrival), leaving me to adjust to the time zone and freshen up. I was happy with where I had landed, and my vacation was looking up.
I glanced over at the tub and did a double take. Horror! The tub wasn’t clean!
I shut off the water quickly, and fished out the plug to let the tub drain, then washed my hands up to my elbow. I mean that bathwater was brown. It looked like a creek water, if you’ve ever gotten a container full of that for your tadpoles. Who knew what had been in that tub.
When it was empty, I took a towel to wipe it down. The towel came back clean. I was perplexed. Maybe the rinse had been all it needed? Shrugging, I started to fill the tub again. I walked into the bedroom and watched a little tv, then went back into the bathroom. Horror! The tub was dirty!
I did this three times before it occurred to me that there might be a bigger problem. I filled the sink. Same thing. Brown water. The pipes were dirty!
I called the front desk and explained my situation as sweetly as I could. After all, it was a nice hotel and I didn’t want to embarrass them about the issue. I just wanted them to move me into a room with clean pipes.
There was giggling. I was confused. I was also a little narrow. It was important for me to have a bath, I didn’t understand why it was funny.
“I’m so sorry,” the girl stifled her laughter. “This must be your first visit to The City. It isn’t the pipes. It is the water.”
I brayed like Kenneth Parcell having a donkey fit. “The water?! The water is brown?”
I’m sure what she heard was, “Heehaw! Tha waawtah? Tha waawtah is broawn?! Heehaw!”
“Yes. I can assure you that the pipes are clean, the tub is clean, and that the water is supposed to be that color.”
“But waawtah isunht broawn?”
“In New York it is.”
I was dismayed. She assured me that I could still get clean in dirty water. I have no idea what that poor girl thought of the moron on the phone with her, but I’m sure she added it to a long list of ridiculous hotel conversations she’d had. Unhappy, but fairly certain this was going nowhere, I thanked her for her trouble and hung up.
I drew a fourth bath and stood frowning at the tub as the water filled it. I did take a glass and fill it from the tap and shook my head. Brown. Maybe that’s why New Yorkers were such angry people? They had to drink brown water.
I finally decided that the water couldn’t be any dirtier than I was, and I got into it. Later, when I crawled into bed, I fully expected to find Lane-sized stains on the sheets the next day. I didn’t. I also didn’t take another bath and opted for showers instead. If I couldn’t see the water concentrated in one place, I could pretend it wasn’t like bathing in the Chatahoochie River.
Isabella got a good laugh out of that. She also got a laugh out of my amazement that some of the bathrooms in the apartments she was viewing were basically closets with a toilet and a shower head, and a drain in the middle of the floor. Not like a shower off to the side, either. The shower head would be facing the toilet an arms-length away on the opposite wall, with a drain in the floor between the two. I was beginning to appreciate Texas. We might have talked funny and not been very glamorous, but we had different spaces for showering and peeing, and our water ran clear.
But I was saying that I came out of the shower one day and Isabella said, “I’ve found it! I found what I want. Let’s go see it.”
“It” was really gorgeous by any standard. It was tiny, just 400 square feet, and it was located above the Pink Pussycat, a porno boutique, but it had nearly floor to ceiling windows overlooking the street, and beautiful french doors separating the hardwood living room from the wee bedroom. The height of the ceilings made the space seem cavernous, and the gaping maw of a fireplace that took up most of the living room wall added to the illusion. The bathroom was as small as the head in a cruiseship cabin, and the kitchen was only about two feet bigger, but the location was fantastic (down the block from the Record Runner and across from a great Greek restaurant), and the price was right. Only $1000 a month!
I’m pretty sure Isabella got tired of my Jessica Simpson styled, “Oh mah gaaaaawd!” gaping at the difference in size and price of our domiciles. I’m still laughing about it, twenty years later. In fact, twenty years later, with Amy living in Manhattan, I still shake my head at the differences.
Apartment found, now it was time for her to spring the next surprise. “Okay, so now I’ve got to go get my roommate.”
“I need to go home and get my roommate. You’ll love her. Her name’s [we’ll call her Jo] and she works for [record store]. She can get you all the free records you want.”
“Where is she?” I wondered. How far were we going?
“She’s in D.C.”
“Yeah, we’ll take the train down and stay with my parents, then we’ll drive back up with Jo. Unless you want to stay here alone?”
My money was being eaten away by the longer than expected hotel stay, but I couldn’t fathom spending a night in the new apartment alone. There was a homeless guy who lived on the grate in front of it. He kind of scared me. And also, the door had thirty locks on it. That had to mean something bad.
I agreed to take the train down to D.C., beginning what would be a surreal 48 hours that included drugs (mine were all over the counter), driving, New Jersey, the Limelight, an attempted mugging, and so much Shakespeare’s Sister that I would have punched someone in the mouth for suggesting that we ever listen to them.