My new base of operations.
ASTORIA, New York- Renting an apartment in New York City is a rite of passage. It’s something that sucks for everyone — the rich, the poor, and the in-between. This is a city that’s a central axis of the world, the kind of place that people churn in and out 0f continuously. A place where a new arrival looking to drop a sack full of cash on an apartment needs to stand in line. It’s a seller’s market, an ecosystem where landlords and brokers can pit prospective renters against each other to push prices higher and higher.
You claw your way up the side of the barrel here for the privilege of paying someone an inflated amount of money the right to say that you live in New York City, and all the privileges and clout that comes from this. But something doesn’t seem right about this and you know it … but you keep moving forward because the spoils to be won are real: this place is is still, without a doubt, the cultural hub of planet earth.
Our travails while searching for an apartment in New York City actually were not as bad as many others. A 50-something-year-old photographer who spent his life in New York City told me about how he broke down crying twice during his latest three-month-long apartment hunt. I’ve written about our woes searching for an apartment — poor, poor us, choosing to live in one of the most expensive cities on earth and then complaining about how we can’t afford it — but we actually got off easy. The reason for this was simple: a guy named Caesar.
At some point in our search my wife turned to me and said, “We’re going to need to have a landlord meet us and like us if we’re going to have any chance of renting here.” It seemed like a crap shot at best — all of the brokers that we came upon up to that point could be summed up with a single syllable: dick.
We decided to move our search from Brooklyn to Queens. It made more sense strategically — it’s almost a straight shot across the river to the Upper East Side where my wife works — and, virtually through neglect, Queens has become the cultural heart of New York City. Queens: the people’s borough, an area full of working class people from everywhere — precisely the stuff that the New York story is made of.
So my wife began making trips up to Queens from where we were staying in a rapidly gentrifying part of Brooklyn, and on one of these ventures she met a real estate broker named Ceasar.
Ceasar, who is actually an adult — as opposed to the 20-somethings who dominate this profession in Brooklyn, showed her fifth-floor walk up apartment with giant windows facing east, west, and south that let in torrents of daylight in a beautiful century-old building run by a Greek lady with a passion for photography (a point that I will circle back to later). The building is located in a freshly hip part of Astoria that’s lined with boutiques, local bars, cafes, diners, and multi-national restaurants. The streets are full of people walking, talking who actually live here. There is no reason for tourists to venture over here; there are no hotels or hostels or tour crap. The place is real … and ideal.
It seemed as if my wife rolled a 4-5-6 and came up with a broker who liked us. Ceasar also wasn’t nonplussed by our backstory: decades of traveling and living abroad, wife just starting a new job, husband with no credit who writes and shoots video for a living and can only document his earnings with Paypal screenshots, kids, very little financial history in the USA, no solid assets. But this all didn’t seem to matter to this guy, who basically makes the decision as to who lives in the building. He was looking for something else.
My wife’s foot had spoken. We were going to apply for the Astoria apartment with the big windows. I hadn’t seen the place but this mattered little to her. She was done looking for a place to live. My wife’s feet rarely speak. I usually make all of the big decisions almost unilaterally. But this time I shut up. Okay, let’s do it — let’s sign a lease for an apartment that I hadn’t been to that’s in an area that I’ve never visited.
As the weeks went by as we suited up a bare empty apartment — another story that I may not bother to tell — we began becoming aware of certain patterns in the demographic makeup of our neighbors. They were all kind of like us: roughly the same age, white collar working class, with many having an odd thing for cameras. It seemed as if Ceasar found a profile that worked and rolled with it, cultivating a culture rather than just stuffing a building with rent payers.
I’m sitting here at my new workstation looking out a big window to my left at rooftops stretching out towards the sea. What can you really say when life is good?
I have a new base of operations.
Last night I was walking downstairs in my apartment building as a new guy who just moved in one floor down from me was walking up. He stared at the GH5 hanging from my neck for a moment, looked up and said, “Nice camera.” Dude knew what it was. Definitely a video shooter.