by SARAH AMANDOLARE
Some say Goldilocks Syndrome is what got me here, to a tiny village in North Bohemia in the Czech Republic. But even if that three-timing porridge hog explains why I move a lot, she can’t tell me why moving in New York feels like getting pushed from behind and falling face-first into the mud on the side of a three-lane highway. The sense of urgency that accompanies finding or leaving a decent New York apartment goes something like this: get up out of that mud puddle and sprint, or you’ll either be run over or stuck whimpering, forever clutching the guardrail. Not that I’ve been there, but I can imagine.
Two years ago I moved to Greenpoint, a largely Polish and increasingly gentrified part of Brooklyn. My memories are vague – nervously eating bad Thai food while waiting to meet my future roommate – and vivid – the fucked-if-I-know feeling of paying an $800 security deposit for a windowless room in the middle of a railroad apartment. I took the place even though, in addition to the lack of light, the room had no closet. I said yes, in fact, mostly because the girl shared my name and hung her paintings of birds on the walls.
That we’d gotten to the bird paintings was something of a miracle. The last room I’d looked at had been a cluttered little hole, the Brooklyn equivalent of my grandmother’s attic, somewhere near rumbling subway tracks. I remember that something in the kitchen was yellow, and there was a typewriter sitting on a tray table, and that I could not stop complimenting both things. My nerves and the creeping mud and three-lane highway had turned me into a Stepford Wife with a stutter. “I love your kitchen!” I said over and over again to the potential roommate. She was nodding, confused and likely terrified, and I imagine she felt the creep of the highway as well. It had been one of those awful Craigslist open houses where numerous potential roommates converge to display their awesomeness. Other choices were swirling around her, and she seemed to clench tightly around the very next girl she turned to speak to after I’d finally stopped complimenting her kitchen.
Eventually, the Greenpoint girl with bird paintings became my friend. But three months after I’d moved in, she decided to move back to Seattle, and we spent a rabid weekend packing up, scrubbing floors like our lives depended on it, and car-servicing my few belongings to my new place. I’d said yes to living with two North Carolina actresses even though the window in my room had a view of siding. I said yes even though there was a cement plant across the street. I’m fairly certain they said yes to me because we met on March 29 and they needed a roommate for April 1. Meanwhile my Seattle-bound friend was still clutching the guardrail, and when we took a final goodbye walk around the neighborhood, she said things like “someday” and gazed up at bright new lofts on Franklin Street.
Six months later, hunting for a place to share with my boyfriend, I rode my bike in the dark to meet my first New York real estate agent. He seemed like a nice enough man, a Hasidic Jew with horrible breath and an old Toyota. He led me down three dank steps into a filthy basement apartment with incredibly sloped floors. I said yes quickly, mostly because it had a backyard but partly because it was an apartment and I smelled the mud and heard the three lanes of traffic. I told him I’d be right back and ran, like a woman possessed, to the nearest bodega to withdraw my deposit right then and there. I would not lose this apartment even though it smelled like stray cat.
When I got back, a blonde girl with an Australian accent was conversing with the agent. She gave me a passing glance and then turned back to him and gushed about wanting “an outdoor space.” I couldn’t see where this was going yet but her clothes were nicer than mine and sometimes that really does mean something to some people.
“She says she makes $100,000 a year,” the agent said, looking sheepishly in my direction while the girl fiddled with her Blackberry.
I smelled mud again, or maybe I actually had fallen in the mud on my sprint back from the bodega. Either way I was winded, but I was not too exhausted to fight for my piece of shit apartment.
“What does her money have to do with anything?” I demanded. I told him how responsible I was and how my income had nothing to do with my character. It was the first time I’d ever used the word “income” in conversation. It might have been the first time I’d defended my character to a stranger. Mid-rant the agent cut me off and began apologizing profusely. Something I’d said had struck a chord. Or was he actually frightened of me? Both possibilities made me exceedingly proud of myself. The Australian girl turned to leave.
“Call me,” she said to the agent. “I’ll pay $200 above the asking rent.” Yes, she truly said this, because that’s how insane the fear of the mud and the three-lane highway is. You can make one hundred grand a year and still feel the urgency. You can feel it even when you’re looking at a dirty apartment in North Brooklyn, mere blocks from the stinking East River.
You may be wondering why I chose the apartment-with-boyfriend by myself. I said yes to living with a professional cook, that’s why. Even though his schedule allowed no time for apartment hunting, and even though he got home late at night while I was sleeping and collapsed into bed reeking of seafood. I kept saying yes even though we sometimes went two weeks without being able to eat dinner together.
Was it fear of facing the mud and three-lane highways again or just love that kept me in our apartment for a year and four months? Was it love or his desire to leave The Stephanie, a depressing Brooklyn apartment building where he’d lived on a couch and swatted roaches off his arms at night, that had made him say yes to living with me? I suppose I’m in the Czech Republic figuring that out.
I orchestrated my latest relocation during stolen moments over the past three weeks, in between painful breakup talks and packing up and moving out of our Brooklyn apartment. We did it fast and threw out too much stuff, leaving it on the curb in sad, sagging piles, knowing if we slowed down, we’d be tempted to clutch the guardrail.
"I'm Going to Make It Better" - She & Him (mp3)
"Sing" - She & Him (mp3)
"Home" - She & Him (mp3)