Living with Strangers: Crown Heights Revisited, Part II

The musicians steadfastly ignored our presence as we tarried in the yard listening to them play. After a while Vikki suggested we go to the first floor.

“Wait ‘til you see it. It’s where the common space is.”

I followed her to the first floor. I had been waiting to figure out how they managed to fit two floors into one apartment—especially in a first floor apartment. It turned out the first floor was actually in the basement of the building. The landlord had cut a hole in the hardwood floor in the hallway and installed a spiral staircase, thus accomplishing the total destruction of the apartment’s original layout.

When I first came across the apartment on Craigslist, and after having my interest piqued by the two-floor concept in a regular tenement building, I decided to do some investigating. I went to the Department of Buildings website and plugged in the address. I found that in 2010 there were 37 complaints and seven violations—most revolved around unauthorized construction. Clearly the buildings’ other tenants didn’t appreciate being cut off from the basement or the back patio.

I came prepared to encounter structural novelties. I suspected that Vikki’s apartment, with its pioneering two-floor set up, was the root of the complaints, and my suspicions were confirmed when Vikki told me that the apartment had been redone in the past few years.

The spiral staircase creaked as we went down. Vikki enthusiastically led me to the common space, which was actually a glorified hallway with no windows. She told me she would buy all the furniture for the common space, but everyone could use it, emphasizing that she believed in shared space, but it seemed there was hardly any space to share.

let’s go to the first floor                                                                                                              (pic from

Adjacent to the common space were two dark and unappealing bedrooms that the Turkish brothers would occupy. The floors were tile and each room had a window approximately the size of a heating vent. While not appealing to me, I guess the dark rooms would suffice for dark-minded cartoonists.

The only decent sized space was the kitchen back on the first-floor-turned-second-floor. There were supposed to be two matching light fixtures, but one was missing. The previous tenants, in an act of desperation or creativity, replaced it with a miniature chandelier which hanged incongruously next to its square counterpart. Part of the Formica countertop was loose. I fidgeted with it and unexpectedly pulled up almost two square feet. Vikki looked anxiously at the situation.

“Yeah, the previous tenants did a number to this place.”

“I guess they had a lot of fun.”

I looked down and saw paint splatters dappling the entire floor of the kitchen.

“They must have painted recently.”


Vikki looked down at the splatters as if she were seeing them for the first time. “I’m going to get them to clean that up too before we move in.”

“Hopefully they’ll get to it.” I was being optimistic for her sake, because I wasn’t interested in living there—not for $900 a month.

“Oh, they will. I’ve already talked to them about it. And I’ll tell them about the counter. And the light.”

I felt bad for her. Finding decent tenants is hard enough in New York City. It’s even harder when your new apartment is in shambles before you’ve even lived in it.

Luckily, I didn’t have to tell Vikki I didn’t want the room. She did not work in retail, which made it easier for her to abandon a lost cause. She knew I wasn’t buying it and the resignation seemed to relax her. Her hands weren’t shaking anymore and she decided to be frank with me.

“Okay, so what do you really think of the room and the apartment?”

I told her the kitchen space was great, but I would want a bigger room for $900.

“Also I like more natural light.”

“A lot of people are saying that.”

I wanted Vikki to keep keep talking, since there wasn’t another nice thing I could say about the place without lying.

“It’s just that the whole place is so big and the space is great, that’s why I priced it a $900.”

I wished she could have seen my apartment in Washington Heights, when it was still good. For me, it was the archetype of greatness.

“I get it.”

“I’m glad you came though. I’ve had a lot of people cancel at the last minute, or promise they’ll come and never stop by. This was before I even had the keys. I had to ask the broker to come here, too.”

I was relieved that Vikki wasn’t talking to me like a prospective tenant anymore. I felt bad that she had lived in a worse situation than this, and that she considered this a step up.

I don’t know what we said to each other in departing, but I think we at least wished each other good luck.


1 Comment

Filed under personal essay

One response to “Living with Strangers: Crown Heights Revisited, Part II

  1. The relationship between you and VIKKI is spot on. That keen bit of sensitivity you demonstrate about her lack of ‘retail’ finesse can’t be ignored. We have all been here but only you made it graphic… Good on ya mate.
    This is such a human experience… Inspecting, negotiating, polite rejection, and the cautious use of voice tone; not too eager nor too desperate.
    We seem to step out of yourself with you as you do that fly-on-the-wall thing good writers accomplish with seeming ease.

    Consider deleting “steadfastly” and “play” … Slows the flow and gives too much info we don’t need. We’ve all mostly been ignored by Musicians. It’s more fun to plug your own reaction about them….. “Steadfastly” kinda corners the market for emotional options. Dad
    Ps I have a photo show in September of 2016 here in sacto.

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