All posts in: Manhattan Apartment

On Moving, Part 2

On the last day of my lease, I walked into my apartment to paint a final coat of white on the bathroom walls, the last task I’d left unfinished when I departed at about 2:30 the night before. I thought I’d have the final hours of legal occupancy to myself—I’d paint, I’d clean, I’d organize the remaining items in my cabinets into a couple tote bags, I’d hide the secret note I wrote to the new tenants somewhere in the apartment. Depending on my mood, I might even treat myself to a dramatic moment by the door upon my final exit, pausing for a second, my finger quivering on the light switch as I privately let a wave of sentimentality overtake me. It’s the sort of dramatics I reserve only for the moments when I’m alone.

When I walked through the door, however, I was greeted not with the alleged quiet, haunting beauty of an empty apartment, but instead with the smell of fresh paint, drop cloths in both bedrooms and the living room, and a small, ancient Italian man hard at work.

13 continuous months of dwelling, and this was the moment I finally met my landlord, Vincenzo. Standing in front of me was the person to whom I’d been writing my rent checks all these months, in all his tiny, angry, wrinkly, hard-of-hearing glory.

“You painted the cabinet,” he said. No good morning. No introduction. Just rage.

He lead me not to the bathroom vanity to which I feared he was referring, but instead to the bedroom, where he pointed to the IKEA Pax Wardrobe, which came with the apartment and I did, indeed, paint.

“Yes, I painted it to match the walls,” I explained, “so it blends in?”
“Ach,” he replied. He seemed unimpressed.
“I also added all these nice drawers,” I pushed, throwing open the doors to display the new additions I thought I’d been generous in leaving behind, sprinkling in some Vanna White physicality to up the classiness. “Now it can hold more, it’s more functional. See, before it only had that rod and those two shelves.”
“That’s the color it used to be,” he said, motioning towards the original dark brown shelves I hadn’t cared to paint. “And you painted it.”

I opted to change the subject, since this conversation clearly wasn’t going anywhere.

“I didn’t realize you were going to repaint the walls,” I said, looking around at the mockery he’d made of my bedroom. Gone was Benjamin Moore’s Moonlight White in matte finish, covered ever-so-sloppily with Amsterdam Color Work’s “Off-White,” which would have been called “Nicotine” if Amsterdam Color Works employed more creative color-namers.

“Yes, the paint you used, it’s not good. It gets dirty. You have something on your hand, you touch the wall, it leaves a mark.”
“Oh, you can wash it. I used good paint, I’ve lived with it for a year and it’s fine.”
“No. Semi-gloss paint. It’s better. The color’s better. You like it?”

I have this problem. I’m too honest to really compromise for the sake of basic decency, and I’m a horrible liar unless the stakes are high enough for me to be a good one. But it stands to reason that if I liked that color, I probably would have used it in the first place rather than having spent days covering up an older, dirtier version of it. So he really shouldn’t have asked.

“It’s fine,” I said.
“What?”
“It’s… well, it’s not my apartment anymore.”

I sulked my way to the kitchen and went about clearing out the few odds and ends that remained—a cutting board, some cleaning products, a bottle of olive oil. I wiped down the countertops a final time and cleaned that hideous floor again, for good measure. I scrubbed the toilet bowl and the tub and wiped down the sink and vanity.

My headphones had been temporarily misplaced in the move, so Vincenzo and I worked in crushing silence, each of us having confined ourselves to separate corners of the apartment. He painted and painted, the spongey surface of the roller making that familiar, repetitive sound as it concealed the last vestiges of my hard work. Vincenzo had unplugged the A/C unit, presumably to save money, so while the apartment felt like a sauna, the bathroom had been transformed into something closer to that broiler drawer in the bottom of your oven you’ve never used. Still, I reached for the paintbrush and started in on the corners.

Blame it on the inevitable delirium brought on by extreme temperatures, but while steeping in the heat of that tiny bathroom, there was a moment in which I began to feel a certain level of comradery with Vincenzo. Here we were, toiling away in the heat together, separated only by two rooms and about 60 years of life. Despite our many differences, our common ground lay within the sturdy walls of apartment #19 and our shared interest in its proper maintenance. It didn’t matter, then, that I’d stayed up until all hours carefully patching and repainting every hole I’d made in the walls, only to have him cover up my handiwork with his questionable paint choices and more questionable painting abilities. His heart was in the same place mine was, each of us caring about these five small rooms in our own special ways. It was beautiful, really, like a fable or a Hallmark card.

He called me out of the bathroom to show me something, which ended up being a closet door in the second bedroom with a tiny, four inch crack near the bottom. These hideous, warped, hollow-core doors, that slid reluctantly down their tracks, composed of nothing but two thin sheets of luan and cardboard. If they weren’t the last bit of ugly I hadn’t squeezed out of the apartment, then at least they were at the top of the list. And he stood there, pointing angrily and accusing me of breaking it.

I insisted I hadn’t. He insisted I had. We went back and forth for a while before I just gave up.

This was the moment that all my faint notions of comradery melted away. He was finished with me and turned his back to continue his massacre of my paint job. “Me,” being the little shit who had the audacity not to compliment his paint choices when prompted. The brat who had the fussy idea of painting the trim a different color than the walls. The one who restored the hardware on his doors, who patched every hole the walls had to offer, who tore out decades-worth of excess wiring, who replaced two broken doorknobs and scraped paint from the bathroom wall tiles and re-caulked the kitchen and re-stained the threshold and braved the neglected space behind the radiators armed with only rubber gloves and a vacuum tube. The one who put enough lipstick on this pig of a fourth floor walk-up on 1st Avenue that it was rented out within 36 hours of hitting the market, with the rent raised $250 above what I’d been paying.

Me. I’m the asshole.

The painting only took a few more minutes, after which I gathered my things and headed towards the door, stopping in the threshold between the living room and kitchen to bid my farewell. Vincenzo was standing on the ladder, grimacing at the wall, and didn’t turn around when I told him I was leaving or thanked him for my time there—either out of anger or deafness, it’s hard to say.

Turning in my keys downstairs and heading back to the 5 train to make my way back to my new home, it only seemed right that it should have ended this way. I guess I had the full Manhattan experience, after all. I moved into an awkward apartment uptown because of the rent. I did my darndest to turn it into something. I called it home, until I didn’t. Eventually I made the inevitable leap out of borough, and I got screwed by my landlord.

And there I was. A tiny Jew, huffing my way to the subway, fuming about a fight I just had with an 85 year old stranger. While I still don’t have the audacity to call myself a New Yorker, I think this might be as close as I’ve come to qualifying.

On Moving, Part 1

Much like a gypsy, I decided to pick up and move in a hurry. I had some overlap between the end of my lease on the old apartment and the beginning of my lease on the new one, so instead of taking advantage of this time—using it to pack, undo my carefully wrought alterations, have myself a few good cries—I called some movers and asked if they could come the next day.

Unlike a gypsy, I have a lot of stuff that I’m no good at parting with. Too much stuff. Well, too much stuff to essentially disassemble and pack everything in the space of about 36 hours. Yes, I do need all those books. Yes, I do need all those sweaters. Yes, I do need both full sets of my cheap, thrift store vintage dishes, thank you very much. Hold on, I have to go get more boxes from the liquor store.

I haven’t the foggiest idea what the fuck I was thinking.

It took me forever to move. My master plan of just getting it the hell over with by having movers take care of the thing in one fell swoop while I sat back and sipped mimosas backfired horribly, ultimately extending the process into a several-day, absurdly poorly planned event. All this packing and disassembling and undoing and moving was, of course, happening with a trip to Vegas and another trip to Chicago thrown into the mix, for good measure. This made for some pretty fun days that turned into some truly exciting nights.

I really didn’t take many pictures during this period. Partially, it was inconvenient and I forgot, but mostly I just didn’t want to. At the risk of sounding every bit as dramatic as I truly am, that’s really not how I want to remember my apartment, all torn apart and ugly and sad. I don’t need pictures of my things in complete disarray, my bathroom walls repainted stark white or the creepy security gate reunited with the window I had removed it from. I don’t need to revisit the anxiety of anything breaking through photographic record. Instead, I took a few little Instagrams, and I’m more than okay with that being all the evidence I have of this time.

It was on the first of two Zipcar trips from the Upper East Side to Boerum Hill to remove my remaining things that I ran into my former neighbor in the hallway, an elderly gentleman who I’d often seen in passing, usually as he slowly made his way up to the fourth floor we shared. He seemed friendly enough but hardly prone to such things as hospitality or conversation. This was the sort of neighbor who smiled politely at me when I moved in last May, but didn’t make the extra effort of introducing himself or offering the hypothetical future emergency cup of sugar. Here I was, this young 20 year old student, bounding up the stairs in stupid ignorance. Maybe if I stayed five years, or ten, one of us would have eventually broken the ice, but as far as he was concerned I was really just passing through until I proved otherwise. What’s the point?, he probably thought. He’ll be gone in a year anyway.

I once saw inside this man’s apartment when he propped the door open with a trashcan to let the heat escape from his kitchen while cooking. What lay behind his door was something like a trip back in time, the ghost of my own apartment’s past reflected in his mirror-image floor plan. My huge 90s laminate cabinets were supplanted with charming wood shelves supporting a collection of small boxes and bottles, mounted above a substantial, elegant 1940s stove. The floor was paved in small terra-cotta colored tiles and the walls slightly discolored from what I imagine to be roughly 50 years of grease. As he stood there, clad only in boxer shorts and tube socks, tending a smoking frying pan on the stovetop, I wondered what kept him there. Didn’t he get tired, as I had, of living in the same place after a while? Why not move, I wondered, to a place with newer, easier to operate fixtures? Or, at least, somewhere closer to the ground? Throw in a range hood and he might really have a shot at true happiness.

He was walking out his door last week as I manhandled two end tables through my own and into the hallway, one of many trips up and down the four flights and out onto the street to load up a rented minivan to its full capacity.

“Still moving?” he asked with a knowing chuckle.
“Still moving,” I confirmed wearily, mustering an exhausted smile in a last-ditch effort to keep up our normal rapport. Or, well, lack thereof.
“It’s a bitch, ain’t it?” he said, grabbing the smaller of the two end tables from my arm and descending the stairs out to the car with me.

Suddenly, it all came together. This is why, I thought, as a bead of salty forehead sweat dripped into my eye. This is why you fucking stay. This is why you climb four flights of stairs everyday until you croak. This is why you cook in a kitchen that belongs in a museum, throwing your door open to dispel the smoke and heat, exposing your sagging naked flesh to the public space of the hallway. This is why you don’t worry about knowing your transient neighbors. Because moving is a bitch. A raging one.

Undoing the Nest

One of the things I preferred not to think about over the course of the 13-months I lived in my apartment was the process of undoing the work I did. I knew all along, of course, that I’d eventually have to return the apartment to something resembling its original condition for my security deposit’s sake, yet still I went about things like I owned the damn place. I’ll cross that bridge when I get to it, I decided early on, and forged ahead with doing basically whatever the hell I wanted in the meantime. So, in spite of rational logic and often my better judgment, I painted and nailed holes in walls and changed light fixtures, among many other offenses. I had a running mental list entitled “THINGS TO DO WHEN I MOVE OUT” filed somewhere in a back corner of my brain, because I’m responsible like that.

Finally, I sat down and committed said list to paper while I was in Las Vegas, freaked out a little, and went about performing each task. This, while also cleaning, packing, and purging all my shit and disassembling most of my furniture, of course. I’ll admit there was a moment of brief paralysis and a short temper tantrum was had over making my apartment all ugly again, but as soon as I got going it’s actually been kind of fun in its own sickening little way. Some of the things below I’ve done already and some are still left to do before I officially have to be out on Tuesday! Please, gentle stranger, give me strength:

BATHROOM:
-Remove hooks from door
-Rehang towel rod
-Remove roller blind
-Patch, sand, and paint holes in door
-Prime and paint walls white

KITCHEN:
-Remove spice racks, baking sheet holders, and shopping bag holder from inside of cabinets
-Remove Orange Glow light, rehang old light fixture
-Rehang old cabinet door hardware
-Remove curtain and curtain rod
-Patch, sand, and paint walls white

LIVING ROOM:
-Patch, sand, and touch-up paint on walls
-Remove roller blind from window
-Remove fabric from doors, clean glass (this was SUPER EASY, in case you were wondering. The fabric peeled right off and a little Windex got rid of any lingering cornstarch paste!)

BEDROOM:
-Take down roller blinds
-Rehang security gate on window leading to fire escape (Yes, I took it down. No, I never got robbed. Success!)
-Patch, sand, and touch-up paint on walls
-Remove Bubble Lamp
-Spray paint old light fixture gold and rehang

SECOND BEDROOM:
-Rehang closet doors
-Prime and paint interior of closet white

Phew. I think that basically covers it? Maybe I’ll get extra special lucky and discover that I actually created more work for myself that’s slipped my mind? Dare to dream.

Worth it, I still say.

Lather, Rinse, Repeat

Manhattanite (manˈhatnīt). n. an individual belonging to a nomadic tribe that inhabits the island of Manhattan, one of the five boroughs of New York City. Many such individuals ritualistically change dwellings annually, ordinarily as a result of exhausted resources, general angst, indecision, or chronic dissatisfaction  with a current location or comfort of their particular shelter. Typically highly psychologically unstable, anxious, and cynical, with a characteristic lack of sentimentality that borders on pathological, these individuals will seek out and select a new residence in a rushed or hurried manner, committing little critical thought to their decision both for fear of impending homelessness and paranoia resulting from competition—real or perceived—posed by other prospective tenants of their chosen dwelling. In many cases, finding other boroughs (see also: Brooklyn, Queens, Staten Island, or The Bronx) more habitable for their specific needs or desires, the Manhattanite will even routinely abandon the island and relocate elsewhere, despite that Manhattan remains the central site of either their educational, professional, or social environments. In the case of emigration, the Manhattanite will no longer qualify as such, must adopt the identity of their new locale, and will be shunned, often violently, by the remaining tribe members. The former Manhattanite will likely retaliate (see also: tribal warfare) by invoking subjects such as “affordability,” “square footage,” “proximity to the subway,” a “cuter hood,” or a “more chill” pervading public temperament.

Here’s the straight dope, folks: I’m moving. To Brooklyn! More specifically, to Boerum Hill, a charming and lovely neighborhood close to the subway and other charming and lovely neighborhoods. And I’m SO EXCITED.

A lot of thought went into this decision, and MANY, MANY apartments were viewed in both boroughs before I ultimately decided to make the leap. I do love my current apartment (mostly). And I do love Manhattan (mostly). But I live on the Upper East Side—which, if you don’t know New York, is relatively inexpensive but is also essentially the suburbs of NYC. It’s quiet and it’s safe and it’s clean. And it’s boring as hell. So, the choice was either a shoebox in any of the areas where I actually wanted to live in Manhattan, or something a little more roomy in an area I’d be equally happy in in Brooklyn. And when I saw the new place, well, it was a no-brainer. You’re going to love it. You know, once I get my grubby paws on it and start an extensive beautification process. This place needs some work.

Here, allow me to anticipate your questions/comments:

Q: “Daniel, you’re crazy! You put so much work into that place! What are you thinking leaving it already?”

A: Yeah, I know I’m fucking crazy. I know I did a lot of work, most of which can be brought with me. And if I can make this apartment at least semi-cute (I’d like to think cuter!), surely I can do it again somewhere else. I like a challenge, after all… and the new landlord is reimbursing me for paint. Yeeeehaw!

Q: “Daniel, you’re crazy! Your blog is called Manhattan Nest! MANHATTAN! Doesn’t that mean you’re, like, legally obligated to live in Manhattan?”

A: Yeah, I know the dumb name I picked for my blog whilst bored and alone and probably stoned one day in my freshman dorm. It wasn’t the best idea if I intended to blog in perpetuity, I get it.

Q: “Daniel, you’re crazy! Are you changing your blog name already? Do I have to do anything special to keep reading Manhattan Nest?”

A: For now at least, everything’s staying the same here. No new name. No new URL. No new RSS. No blog redesign. I’m tossing around ideas for small tweaks that can be made so things make a little more sense now that my Manhattan Nest is no longer in Manhattan. Any brilliant ideas for me? Don’t be shy, kiddo. I’m mostly clueless about most things.

Brooklyn. It’s happening. Soon and very soon. Get ready!

Tabletop Swap

I’d be willing to swear on your mother’s life that I’m at least passably sane and, in this moment, completely sober, but it seems a little impossible that it’s been TWO MONTHS since I posted about my dining table. Where did the time go? I’m blaming all the weird New York weather, which moved directly from winter into summer with nothing pleasant to speak of in the interim. We’ve been cheated.

To jog your memory, since you’re probably not as obsessed with me as I am, here’s what we were working with:

The demographic breakdown of my favorite local Upper East Side thrift store is as follows: 89% women, 97% of whom are over the age of 75. A staggering 100% of these lasses are Jewish. Naturally, it’s a crowd that I fit right into. My ladies and I can be found wandering around the store, evaluating the same pieces of furniture and bric-a-brac, glancing over at each other to knowingly shake our heads in disgust over the absurd prices. The allegiance between these broads and I has nothing to do with phony smiles or contrived pleasantries—it ain’t a country club, for Christ’s sake—but a presumed shared love of chopped liver and an unwavering commitment to the art of kvetching.

Shopping in these stores usually amounts to little more than a fool’s errand, so finally buying something becomes an event worth discussing while waiting in line. Because neither positivity nor gloating are valued in this subculture, I find it’s usually best to immediately diminish any impending purchase by bypassing the attractive aspects and really delving into what’s wrong with it. “Oh that’s a lovely piece of art,” Evelyn might tell you, with the full expectation that you’ll then discuss swapping out the damaged frame or changing the putrid color of the matte. Even her Pekingese sits in silent judgment. Of course, you oblige.

This is why I was thrown when one such thrifty lady—let’s call her Barbara, since, statistically, her name is probably Barbara—wouldn’t let me have my moment of shining negativity.

“What a nice table!” she exclaimed.
“Well, it will be after I clean up the filthy base, I think.”
“Oh please, the brass looks great—really, don’t worry about it. In such good shape”
“Yeah, I actually really love the base. I think I’ll change out the top though. It’s sort of a weird pairing.”
“Oh, I’d think twice about that,” Barbara warned. “They don’t make them like that anymore. With that…whatchamacallit edge. The kind that’s rounded.”
“Bullnose?”
“Something like that. Oh, is it ever a hip-saver. All these hard edges on stuff these days’ll really get you.”
“Well, maybe I’ll just refinish it then.”
“Oh, but the wood is so gorgeous! A solid wood tabletop like that is rare these days.”

I couldn’t win with this woman. Clearly, life hadn’t slapped her in the face with quite the same ferocity as it had her other elderly counterparts. Unfortunately, I wasn’t even just pandering to my audience that so reliably expected such critical commentary—I really did have my heart set on a nice round top for my shiny brassy tulip-y base. Marble, preferably.

I went to a marble shop. $300. Well, that’s not happening. I searched Craigslist for a few weeks for appropriately-sized and cheap marble slabs that could be relieved of their less-worthy existing bases. No luck. Windows upon windows of restaurant supply websites were opened on my computer screen, then closed. Finally I faced the music and my dreams of natural stone morphed into an ostensibly more attainable plastic laminate reality. If it could somehow resemble this, I’d be pleased:

George Nelson Pedestal Coffee Table. Ahhhhh

Only problem? My local custom cabinet store apparently couldn’t fabricate a simple table top. But they could recommend somebody who would! Had I heard of Gothic Cabinet Craft?

Now, if you live in New York and you’re anything like me, this store confuses the shit out of you. You don’t like their merchandise. You don’t understand how they’ve been able to stay in business, who is buying their wares, or how they’re also somehow able to open new fancy branches in the middle of a recession. Something smells fishy with this place, and I’m guessing it’s the stench of a city-wide chain of drug fronts or a heavy involvement in the sex-trade industry. Whatever it is, I’d like to get to the bottom of it.

Certainly, the tabletop pricing didn’t quell my suspicions about this joint. $250. For a 36″ round white p-lam tabletop. For fuck’s sake. This was harder than I realized it possibly could be.

After leaving Gothic Cocaine Craft, I was overtaken by an urge to maneuver my defeat into decisive, empowering action. Who needed fancy-cut marble or fancy-crafted laminate or Barbara’s stupid bullnose edging? Not me. Fuck the man! Know what I needed? A fucking jigsaw and a can of paint, that’s what. Straight to the hardware store I went, to rent and buy these things, respectively.

I looked up online how to cut a circle with a jigsaw, which involved drawing a circle (I’m not a meth addict, that part was just surprisingly difficult and I was in a hurry for no good reason unless you count impatience), then cutting a lot of straight lines at increasingly smaller angles. Something about jigsaws working better with straight lines than curves. This is not an approach I’d really recommend, since mine came out looking significantly less than stellar. So don’t ask me how to do this properly, I still don’t know.

And wouldn’t you know it. That tabletop was a particleboard piece of crap anyway. Up yours, Barbara.

I painted the newly round tabletop with some oil-based white paint, when added an iron-on melamine edging to really top off this DIY shitshow. The final results were less than spectacular. In fact, they were pretty damn janky. The tabletop was almost laughably tiny and the intended round shape was never fully realized by my idiotic cutting technique.  This, I decided, would be my stopgap measure until I came up with something better. I mean, at least it was white. And roundish. Better than vaguely wood-colored and vaguely rectangular, I still say.

Sometimes, I wonder if I’m actually the Make a Wish kid of scavenging, because no more than a week and a half later I was walking to the subway when I came upon a tabletop. It was white. It was round. It had a beveled edge. It was in the trash. I measured it with a dollar bill (fun fact! a dollar bill is exactly 6 inches long! put that in your pipe and smoke it.). It was the perfect size. I’m not a religious person, but it’s things like this that make me feel convinced of the existence of God. Or fairies. Maybe gnomes, but they seem slightly less plausible.

Here’s a crappy Instagram (see my feed here!) of it crammed into a cab because I was late and needed to hightail it home and then get right back to the subway. My life be busy, yo.

If you followed me on Twitter, you’d already be privy to exciting events like these.

Apparently it’s from CB2, and I’m guessing it came off of their Odyssey table. Fun facts!

Lil’ swaperoo:

And would ya look at that? Like it’s always been there. The finish is pretty scratched up and chipped along the edges and whatnot, but for free, I can handle that amount of “character.” I’ll probably end up repainting it at some point, but for now, I’m not going to jinx things with any more of my “handiwork” (see above).

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