Can I even rent an apartment here?
BROOKLYN, New York- I didn’t realize how far gone I am from the real world until I tried to rent an apartment in New York City. Suddenly, all kinds of things that everybody else worries about but which never had anything to do with me — credit score, pay stubs, W2s, tax forms, bank statements — all of a sudden became very important.
I was sitting in a rental office today after finding an suitable apartment, looking at what I needed to apply and being like, “Dude, I don’t have any of this.” My financial record keeping ends at crossing someone’s name off a list as soon as they pay. While I write for major media sources I’m technically categorized as a contractor. I just travel, write, and shoot video. I don’t care about anything beyond this …
But I am trying to enter another world here in New York — a world that I rejected coming out of high school. I don’t have a cubicle ditcher story. I’ve never even had a real job if you don’t count the couple of months that I worked at Blimpie Subs in New Britain, Connecticut in the spring of the year 2000. I turned 18 and I left this world behind. The next 20 years I spent bouncing between 90 countries around the world with little other ambition but to do whatever I wanted, wherever I wanted, wherever I wanted. I was immature but reveled in it … and I have to admit that I still do.
But we’re in NYC now and have to play by their rules. That world that I’ve been peering curiously in at for the past 20 years is one that I’m participating in now. Sometimes I would get an apartment in countries like China, but this never consisted of anything more than pushing a stack of cash across a table. In NYC, I could
easily end up having to rent a camper van for a while, kind of like we did when we traveled across New Zealand a couple of years ago.
Here’s the paradox:
Between my wife and I we make more than enough cash — over the 40x monthly rent that NYC landlords generally require. My wife also has savings in an amount that would be enough to cover multiple YEARS of rent. Liquid cash is no issue here, the problem is that I don’t have any credit.
In the USA, credit score is more than just an indication of how well you manage your finances. As put by a Budget Car Rental clerk when I asked him why he had to do a credit check on me when I was paying the full price for the rental in advance:
“We do this to find out what kind of person you are.”
Criminal record and credit score are starting to serve the same function: to separate out the good, the bad, and the ugly, creating a new Gattaca-like underclass of people who are no longer permitted to function in mainstream society. We cry foul on China’s social credit system, but what we are doing here is shockingly similar.
I do well as a writer. However, I chose to life a life where I can go wherever I want to go and cover the stories that I want to cover rather than working a staff position with a single publication — where I would more than likely spend my days packed inside of a particle board enclosure. But I don’t have any credit.
There are consequences to any lifestyle choice. If I walked the path of the hipsters out-competing me for apartments in Brooklyn I may be able to boast a trendy address but I wouldn’t be able to travel as I please. If I travel as I please, I may find myself living in a camper van parked on the side of the road. I knew what the consequences could be and I accepted them. I still do. While I would like to set up a base of operations in Brooklyn I know that it may not be possible. I’m not giving up the lifestyle that I cultivated to hang with rich hipsters.
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