Thursday, February 4, 2010

My New York Experience - No Sex in The City

I arrived in Manhattan in December of 2002, after having left my reporting job in Lafayette, LA. My sister had just moved to Manhattan that fall, after living in Los Angeles for several years. She invited me up for vacation knowing I wanted to leave Lafayette to advance my writing career. I fell in love with the energy and all the city had to offer. Upon moving there I realized that you had to be a millionaire to enjoy it all and most writers didn't make enough to live there.

Like Carrie Bradshaw I was a professional journalist. But unlike Carrie, I didn't write about love and relationships. I ended up being a real estate journalist writing about the commercial brokerage side of the business. I covered multi-billion dollar deals and multi-million dollar brokers. I once heard one say "If you've learned how to feign sincerity in this business, you've got it made." And I found that statement to be the pulse on the real estate industry in Manhattan.

Unlike Carrie, I never made enough money to live in my own apartment in Manhattan. I took the first writing job I could, because I got tired of sleeping on my sister's sofa in her small one bedroom apartment on the UWS. That was my only experience I had living in a brownstone.

Three craigslist ads that I ran across trying to find an apartment really represents what it's like. A college student was renting out his backyard for the summer for $100 a month, which included use of the bathroom and kitchen. I read on that three people took him up on it, pitched pup tents and slept in his backyard. Another person was renting out their tree house for $500 a month. I have no idea if he got any takers. Another post described a room for rent, but you had to live with the blood spatters on the walls and floors until the police finished it's investigation. I don't remember how much that was.

I finally ended up in Jersey City, after my search of three months turned up bubkis in Brooklyn and Queens. It was a four-story walk up in the Journal Square area. It wasn't ideally located in the best part of the city, but it was right by the Path Train Station in Journal Square for an easy commute into Manhattan. You were more likely to see call girls walking down the street in cheap rayon outfits and Payless shoes than anyone wearing Prada or Manolo Blanik.

The super of the building, who was harder to find than an affordable apartment when things went wrong, was dealing cocaine and had frequent visits from those ladies of the night. Most of my neighbors were college age students that blasted their music at all hours of the night. Then there was Rose and James, my downstairs neighbors. Rose was a recovering heroin addict, who had supported her habit by selling her body on the streets too. She met James, also a recovering drug addict, in rehab. He had cleaned up his act and was a counselor at the rehab center.

Rose was a nice enough person, but she was a drama queen. Some crisis or another was a constant in her life. We became friends of sorts. But I finally forbade her to come up to my apartment in the morning before my commute, because she disturbed my peace. And I began to limit my time with her. I finally posted a do not disturb sign on my door, but she rarely got the hint.

One New Year's Eve when I had dinner plans in the city with a girlfriend and she asked me to watch her daughter Angelica, 12, and her daughter's friend, 10. Both were dropped at my door without shoes on. She said she had to run to the store and would be right back. Well, Rose ended up getting drunk and had a seizure on the street. When she called me she was in the hospital wanting to be discharged and asked me to come get her. I didn't have a car and had two kids. But Rose didn't care she wanted me to throw the children without shoes and coats in the middle of winter in the back of cab. She didn't want James to find out.

"No, I am not going to enable you anymore," I told her. "You wanted me to watch these children and I am responsible for them. I am calling James." I couldn't get a hold of James, but I did get in touch with Rose's eldest daughter, who was in her early 20s. I told her what happened and she rushed over. I left for my evening knowing I had to find another apartment preferably in the city.

The apartment proved how separated I was from the people I was writing about. The night before I was to arrive at Trump Towers to interview Donald Trump Jr. for his first interview with the press, the ice on the roof began to melt. In the middle of the night, I heard dripping. I thought the faucet had been left on. Nope, more dripping. Soon I had six pans trying to catch the water that was coming from the flat roof into my apartment. The super wouldn't answer his phone or his door. Great, no sleep. I was living with drug addicts and oh boy I got to interview someone whose walk in closet was probably bigger than my apartment. And so it went...I got up, interviewed him and later his father. The story ran on the front page. And I was never so depressed.

In order to interview the rich and famous in Manhattan you had to somewhat dress the part. The Sex in the City women seemed to have an unlimited budget for clothing, but I wasn't able to afford designer dresses or have a collection of Italian shoes. I did what I could with my JCPenney card and the occasional outfit from The Loft. My sister also lent me some party dresses on occasion, as I had to attend several gala events. Still I was going into debt buying clothes. One year I asked the publisher for a clothing allowance and got $300. That wouldn't have bought Carrie a pair of shoes, but I got three complete outfits at Filene's Basement and I wore them until they got thread barren.

Still I was living in what New Yorkers call an "up and coming" area, so I restricted my time with Rose and at the apartment and decided it was time to leave. After my lease expired, I moved to a boarding house in the city. It's all I could afford on my meager salary. It included two meals a day, a room, communal bathroom and weekly maid service for $1,000 a week. I still didn't have that idyllic brownstone studio in Manhattan.

I later found out that James had returned to his old ways and was shooting heroin again and was wanted on two counts of murder. His family claimed someone had stole his wallet and was impersonating him. I will never know. All I know is I used to have them over for dinner, not knowing what all was going on. I don't think the Sex in The City gals ever entertained wanted criminals in their apartments. I guess that would have cramped their style a bit.

I moved out of the boarding house after I got a career break. I was now a magazine editor. So as luck would have it, I found an illegal sublet through a friend in the ever popular Stuyvesant Town, the last bastion of middle-income housing left in Manhattan. I sublet a two-bedroom for the the same price as the boarding house, $1,000. The apartment was fully furnished except for my bedroom, which I furnished with what I had storage in Jersey City. The woman I leased from came and went when she wanted. Most of the time she was at her boyfriend's home. It wasn't a true sublet, but it was better than the boarding house.

I lived there for a year, until the woman I was subletting from tried to raise the rent $300 a month. She also wanted me to pay $1,000 for an air conditioner and the installation. Once you moved into an apartment, the rentee could pretty much extort money from you, because they knew how hard it was to find another apartment.

After weeks of arguments and not wanting to be among the thousands looking for that one deal of the century, I talked my roommate out of me paying for the air conditioner, saying it was her apartment and I wasn't going to take the unit upon move out. I also talked her down to $1,200 and later that year I moved in with my on and off again boyfriend (Mr. Big) in Clifton, NJ. I was done with the city by that time and decided I needed to look at options of getting out of the Northeast all together.

However, I had made a name for myself as a well-respected journalist in Manhattan during my first five years there. I finally got my biggest break when a brokerage firm recruited me, after they were impressed with the story I wrote and coordinated on their firm. But then things in my personal life took a dive. My Mr. Big worked as a stage hand at the Metropolitan Opera and he was threatened by my big salary. So not unlike Mr. Big on the television show, while I was working in Manhattan, he was shagging his old high school sweetheart, probably the neighbor woman, the manager at Costco and God only knows who else. It was a big blow because he had told his friends that he was going to ask me to marry him, but at least it never got that far. Still it hurt. I can tell you my journal entries weren't filled with wonderings about how I was to find love in the city that never sleeps. I had had enough.

So I worked for the brokerage house until the economy went belly up, which took the thunder out of the commercial and residential real estate industry in Manhattan. I found being at the top and making six figures was a very lonely place to be. The only men who seemed to want to date me where married men or much too old or much too young. I was working with and for sharks, because you have to be aggressive and willing to do what it takes to close a deal. You can't have a conscience. I do. I don't know how many times people told me I didn't belong there. I just didn't fit in.

Furthermore, I didn't get the sweet, kind hearted personal assistant that Carrie had in the movie. Awe shucks. My assistant at the brokerage firm told me "You are too sensitive for New York" when I asked her to change her tone with me and stop saying the "f" word every other sentence. She added "I'd better get used to it, because that's how business is done around here."

I didn't witness or experience the wonderfully romantic city that the ladies in Sex in the City did. It certainly wasn't Carrie Bradshaw's make believe world of finding love in the Big Apple unless it was love for the almighty dollar. But I learned a lot about myself and who I was and who I didn't want to be. I sure would have liked to have lived in that brownstone Bradshaw had in the show though. I think it would be about $3,000 a month and even making six figures that would have been out of my price range.

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