November 3, 2012 § 2 Comments
Damn, you knew you should’ve taken a shower this afternoon before the power went out. You were too busy reading hurricane updates to actually prepare for the hurricane. Before going to bed (much earlier today than usual), you wash your feet by flashlight because you still have some dignity. Being in the bathroom in the dark is scary. Bloody Mary bloody Mary…
You don’t bother to apply makeup because you know for sure you’re not going outside today. Also, hair is up in a bun because you were supposed to wash it yesterday and now it’s been three days and it’s getting kind of icky. If you’re lucky enough to still have running water, you can at leaset wash your hands and face. Otherwise, there’s always hand sanitizer! There’s no point in washing any other part of your body because you’ve been completely sedentary the whole day.
What? That’s not dandruff…it’s…kindling…for the fire you’re building in the middle of the living room to keep warm! Rub some coconut oil on your head; it’ll help.
Today you put on some makeup because you’re heading to a friend’s place uptown. If you’re one of those people who won’t go out in public without a little eyeliner or mascara, you’d better hope you’re applying something semi-permanent because you, in your rushed naiveté, assume that you’ll be back home by nightfall and thus neglect to pack anything. Even a toothbrush.
Now would be a really nice time to own some comfy sweatpants, but you only have jeans because this is New York, where your closet (if you have one) doesn’t have enough room to store extraneous clothing items. Sigh.
After hiking five miles to your friend’s apartment (still faster than a bus!) without breaking a sweat (because it’s cold outside), you are rewarded with a shower. Now you really wish you had brought a change of clothes or toiletries, but you bum a toothbrush, towel and some gym shorts off your friend. You don’t bother washing your hair (still wound tightly in a bun) because it’s long and plentiful and you’re just too tired to deal with it. Without your Clarisonic brush and the daily 5-product regimen you use on your face, your skin also gets dryyy. But considering how oily your face usually is, perhaps it’s an improvement.
You sleep in the shirt you’ve been wearing all day. Don’t worry; it’s okay to do that if you didn’t sweat. No shame.
Your friend kindly lends you a shirt, and you don your pants, socks and hoodie from yesterday and journey to another friend’s casa. By now, your hair (still in a bun) is a certified mess. When hair is in need of washing, some people’s scalps are oily enough to start a grease fire, while others’ are dry enough to start a forest fire. You finally let down your hair and give it a thorough washing. How did people deal before showers were invented?
None of your friends had floss. Who needs floss anyway? You’ve never heard of anyone actually getting gingivitis. You use your old t-shirt to wrap your wet hair and wear your friend’s shirt, the one you’ve been wearing all day, to sleep. You realize that you haven’t shaved your legs in two weeks (it is fall, after all) and hope the extra fuzz will keep your legs warmer. In any case, it’s November now, so you have a valid excuse not to shave all month.
You don’t bother changing after waking up — your friend’s clothes are actually pretty comfortable, and besides, you’re just spending the day bumming around her apartment while she’s at work. Amazingly, your eye makeup has managed to stay on, which means you haven’t rubbed your eyes for 60 hours. What self-control!
After hearing that electricity is back in your apartment, you gleefully return home to find your kitchen only faintly smelling of the rotting garbage and perishable food you left behind. Forget taking a shower; the water is still blisteringly cold. The thing you’re most excited about doing? Changing out of the underwear you’ve been wearing for the past three days.
November 1, 2012 § 3 Comments
I started hearing about the impending hurricane on Friday afternoon, when my editor warned that we might not be able to come into work the next week. I was intrigued, but not worried. On the map, my apartment was located in Zone C, making it unlikely that we would be forced to evacuate.
On Sunday, my roommate Catherine went out to stock up on food in preparation for the Frankenstorm. It took her two hours because the checkout lines extended from the front of the store all the way to the back. When I went out later, I saw that Trader Joe’s had a line to go inside the store, like it was Black Friday. Crazy. I stopped by the nearby Asian grocery store instead to buy some vegetables and cookies. The wind was already whipping down the street as runners squeezed in one last jog.
We spent Monday relaxing at home; I had some articles to work on but applied to jobs instead, which I suppose is better(?). I quickly ran out of cookies. Hurricane Sandy had landed, and I got tired of reading about it after the first three hours. Around 8PM, our lights started flickering. Then they went out. I was somewhat worried, but my laptop and phone were at full power, and I didn’t expect the blackout to last for more than a day or so. What I didn’t know at the time was that we lost electricity not due to a controlled outage, but to a massive explosion at Con Ed that would take way longer than a day to fix.
That night, I went to bed early and watched What To Expect When You’re Expecting (surprisingly funny, but I watched it solely for Chace Crawford, whose storyline was excruciatingly unrealistic and unentertaining) and Disney’s African Cats (cheesy narration/music but incredible footage), figuring that using up my laptop’s battery was fine since I couldn’t do anything else in the dark anyway.
The next morning, I woke up to the sounds of Catherine rushing around the living room while talking on the phone, and I learned that they now expected the power outage to last a week(!!!), and she was planning to head uptown to stay with a friend. I started getting alarmed and texted a few friends who live in New York to see how they were doing. I also called my aunt with hopes of staying with them for a while, but I couldn’t get through and concluded that they must’ve lost power in New Jersey as well.
Catherine cleared out with her daughter early Tuesday afternoon, kindly leaving me with some flashlights and a box of tea lights. All afternoon, I saw people walking around outside, and wondered what they were doing and where they were going. I, on the other hand, spent the whole day eating, reading and sleeping. Seriously, I took two naps and ate three meals in the span of nine hours. It was partly due to the fact that it was really cold in my apartment, and the only warm places were in my bed or by the stove. Fortunately, we still had running (cold) water and gas, so I could try to use up the perishables languishing in the dark fridge. I was incredibly bored and wished I had my GameBoy (an attempted solo game of Scrabble did not pan out as well as expected).
When the sunlight started fading, I lit 11 candles in my room (more matches than I’ve ever used in my entire life) and started reading some of Catherine’s daughter’s picture books because I had finished October’s Vanity Fair. One of the picture books, about a cat living a fabulous New York life, had the word “sexy” in it, as in her neighbor’s male cat had a “sexy smile.” I was really disturbed by the use of that word in a children’s book — I don’t think any child could or should understand the meaning of that word until they learn what sex actually is!
I was trying to conserve my phone’s power, but I briefly called B to have him check my school email for me and found out that class was canceled for the rest of the week. Things were getting serious, and I decided to relocate the next day. I had tired of reading my journalism books, so I picked out a book of short stories from Catherine’s extensive collection to read in bed: Zhang Jie‘s Love Must Not Be Forgotten (1979). The two stories I read were about lost love and kind of depressed me, so I went to sleep a little past midnight.
Despite having slept early and extra amounts the previous day, I woke up at noon on Wednesday. My cell phone signal had been iffy but viable for the past few days, but it was totally gone by the time I got out of bed. I planned to hang out at Esther’s for the day to recharge (and maybe shower…), so after eating a big lunch, I packed up my laptop and charger and headed out. It was 1:30PM.
Five hours later, I finally arrived at Esther’s apartment on 145th Street. Did it really take me that long to travel uptown from East Village to Harlem, a distance of merely 9 miles? (I could’ve driven from Chicago to Des Moines in that time!!) Yes. Yes, it did.
October 18, 2012 § 2 Comments
One recurring theme since coming to New York is the unprecedented amount of attention I’ve gotten from strange men, mostly on the streets, mostly (probably) crazy bums. The only time I’ve experienced anything like this was two years ago in Hong Kong, when I was 10 pounds heavier — and thus had bigger breasts — and wore low-cut tops, causing certain people (mostly creepy old men) in HK to behave like they had never seen cleavage before.
On Tuesday afternoon after dropping B off at Newark Airport, I sat on the train on my way back into Manhattan. The inside of the train looked like this, with cushioned benches; the seats on the right can fit three people comfortably while the seats on the left can fit two, if they sit pretty close together. It wasn’t very crowded, and I picked an empty seat on the left, prepared to stare out the window for half an hour (or sleep) while listening to my iPod and wishing my boyfriend wasn’t flying 1,108 miles away from me.
In my peripheral vision, I saw a tall person dressed in black stop next to my seat and hoist his bag onto the shelf above my head. The seats around me were empty. He sat down next to me, and I moved closer to the window, annoyed that of ALL the seats available nearby, he chose mine. Whatever.
The train started moving, and I was gazing out the window, lost in thought, when I felt my neighbor say something to me. I pulled out one earphone and turned my head. He was a thin man, probably in his early to mid-30s, had a receding hairline of wavy black hair, and was somewhat formally dressed in black layers. He asked me if I knew how long it would take for the train to reach Manhattan. “Um, about 30 minutes?” I responded, and that gave him the chance he was so obviously looking for to continue talking to me.
He asked me where I was from. What I did. Where I lived. Out of politeness, I tersely answered his questions and asked him about himself. He was French (he had an accent) and worked as a private chef. He might’ve been handsome if I were old(er) and desperate, who knows. Mr. French Chef gave his game away when I asked if he was visiting New York (he had a suitcase), and he said that he had lived there for three years. WTF! As if he didn’t know how long the train would take!! I scoffed (internally), incredulous, and put my earphone back in once the brief conversation stopped, but he kept trying to talk to me. CAN I PLEASE JUST THINK ABOUT MY BOYFRIEND IN PEACE, I thought.
But no. He clearly had an agenda — he walked in from the back of the car, which meant he probably followed me onto the train, and deliberately chose to sit next to me so he could chat me up for half an hour. So he wasn’t going to take a hint.
He was telling me about how his friends open art galleries often in the NYU area, and how he likes to attend those events, and did I like to drink wine? Ugh. Then, as the train was nearing New York Penn Station, he gave me his business card and asked for my name and number, which I actually gave him because I guess I’m a crazy person. (Actually it’s because I’m bad at saying no and/or improvising my way out of unwanted situations.) Then I speed-walked off the train and out of the station because I was kind of freaked out.
As I scuttled toward the Herald Square subway station, I felt a wave of self-loathing. I hated myself for being too polite, for not having the courage to say “Please leave me alone,” for actually giving some weirdo my phone number. And maybe he’s actually a really cool dude and an amazing chef (or “l’Architecte du Gout©,” as it says on his business card). As a journalist, I thought, hey, maybe this guy has an interesting story that I could listen to over some wine, but that doesn’t matter. What matters is the guilt I felt for not being able to stand up for myself and knowing that if I related this experience to anybody else, they would probably respond “Well, you should’ve just ignored him.”
Why? What is wrong with me? And is it even right to believe that there’s something wrong with me at all? Is it irresponsible to blame “society” for raising me to be nice to people who creep me out?
He texted me before I reached my apartment.
Was a pleasure to meet !
I will give you a ring sometime this week!!
Have a nice day !!!
I didn’t respond this time.
September 20, 2012 § 8 Comments
It’s been almost three weeks since I moved to New York City. (If you feel like I’ve been here forever, it’s because I was squatting at my aunt’s house in NJ for all of August.) I’ve already experienced so much, so I do believe it’s time for an update!
The evening of Labor Day, my father and I drove from NJ to Manhattan and hauled all my belongings up four flights of narrow stairs. We also brought an old twin-sized bed that had been languishing in the cobweb-ridden guest room of my aunt’s house. My furniture situation is a bit unique because at the moment, I’m using the bed, shelves, nightstand and window curtains of the previous tenant. She doesn’t need her things until mid-October, and I figured I’d save her the trouble of having to shove them all into storage. Eventually, I’ll have to reconstruct my bed frame and acquire my own table and shelves. Hopefully by then I’ll have befriended some strong people to help me bring furniture back to my place.
August 8, 2012 § 3 Comments
During the whole process of looking for an apartment, I felt incredibly single-minded. I didn’t have the time or patience to make small talk over IM with any friends who were curious about my move (sorry guys!) because I was too busy scouring New York Craigslist for listings within my price range and geographical location. I had a Google doc set up where I summarized all the ads I applied to, linked to them for reference, and wrote a personal introductory spiel that I copy/pasted into all my emails. The process became almost muscle memory, and I fired off as many emails as I could each day. If only I could apply that kind of focus to every other part of my life…
On Monday, father had to go to work, so he dropped mother and me off at the Newark Path station bright and early, where we rode the train for over an hour to get into Manhattan. I brought my laptop with me so I could do some extra Craigslisting throughout the day, and though it only weighs about five pounds, my laptop bag (including camera, notebook and other things) felt like it weighed about 30 pounds by the end of the day.
I didn’t have any appointments until the afternoon, so mother and I had quite a few hours to kill. We walked north to Times Square and took some pictures before stopping in a McDonald’s for some free Wifi. All of the Starbucks and Wifi in NYC have free Wifi! That was a really great discovery. We only ended up seeing two apartments that day, one that was a cute place that cost $1300 plus utilities, and another that cost $1000 plus utilities. Neither was very close to campus, and the second one was unfurnished, so we weren’t too keen on either one.
August 6, 2012 § 5 Comments
One of the most stressful things about going to school at NYU was not knowing where I was going to live. Because I was spending the summer at home in Naperville, there was no way for me to tie down a residence without physically being on the East Coast. I was looking for a room to sublease or share that cost a maximum of $1300/month per person. It was difficult for me to wrap my head around the fact that I might have to pay three times as much as any apartment I had ever lived in, but I soon learned that’s a pretty normal budget for Manhattan. Good grief.
The other infuriating thing I learned about NYC apartment-searching is that nobody plans ahead by more than maybe a week, or a month at most. If someone has an opening in their apartment, they want you to come by tomorrow to see it and sign the lease the day after that if not that very afternoon. So for all of June and July when my parents kept asking if I had found a place to live yet, I had nothing to say. Therefore, they decided to ship me out a month before school started so we could get a head start on the process.
We rented a small SUV, stuffed it with my belongings — trying to figure out which part of my massive collection of clothing to bring was a huge burden in itself — and drove out on Saturday morning, leaving my brother to fend for himself at home (he didn’t want to come, and there wasn’t any room in the car for him anyway LOL). The 800-mile journey took us about 13 hours, of which my father drove the whole time, claiming he wasn’t tired.
The next day, we drove from our hotel in Newark to Manhattan, which was a pretty costly 10-mile journey. Crossing a bridge in New Jersey was $2.45, and the Holland Tunnel into NYC was a hefty $12. I mean, I understand that maintaining extensive roadwork requires a lot of money, but $12 for such a narrow and unimpressive passage seemed exorbitant.
Most of Sunday was spent in Chinatown, where, for some inexplicable reason, my father was determined to have me live. We literally walked around collecting phone numbers off street light poles poles and went back to the car to start cold-calling like some kind of rock-bottom telemarketing agency. “It’s better to pick up phone numbers in Chinatown,” my father reasoned, “because there will be less competition. The only people who would be able to find these places are people who can speak Chinese.” And it was true: The great majority of the people we met were from Fujian and barely spoke either English or Mandarin. Even if their apartments weren’t disgusting, I wasn’t keen on living with some random old person with whom I could barely communicate.
I actually had a Craigslist appointment set up in Chinatown at noon, but the rent was excessive ($1275 plus $200 in utilities, a price I was unwilling to burden my parents with) and the apartment seemed a bit too nice, so I canceled it because I probably would’ve been depressed if I saw an amazing place first.
Instead, we visited the first stranger who picked up the phone, and all I can say is that his apartment was genuinely frightening. It was a three-bedroom apartment squeezed into less than 500 sq. ft., with no living room (and barely a kitchen), a tiny, questionably…stained…bathroom and a cramped, gloomy bedroom. It definitely set the standard nice and low for the rest of the day.
My father didn’t come up to see the first few apartments with us (he was usually outside making sure nobody towed our illegally parked car), so he didn’t experience the full magnitude of Chinatown’s nightmarish living situations. Of course, he and mother lived in the ghetto of Chicago’s Chinatown for a few years when they first immigrated, so it’s not like he was unfamiliar with the situation. I think he was so resolute about me living there because he preferred the cheap rent and easy access to food (or he just wanted me to gain character through suffering), but you truly get what you pay for in Chinatown. After seeing a couple of places, it was pretty clear to me that my mother and I had both decided against renting anywhere in the area. We basically kept up the charade of interest just to entertain my poor father, who was working so hard to find me a decent place. It was an impossible task.
Mother was mostly concerned with safety and proximity to NYU, two things we weren’t too sure Chinatown offered. My priorities were to have a clean room and bathroom where I wouldn’t be afraid to touch the walls or floor. The condition of all but two of the apartments we saw were simply unlivable for me. There are people who consider their house a long-term home and make the effort to contain it, and then there are the people who strew things everywhere and let the dirt become permanent. I think the biggest problem was that the buildings were just too old and had housed too many people who simply didn’t care.
In the middle of the afternoon, mother and I swung by my first Craigslist appointment at a “luxury” building right in the heart of the NYU campus. The building was indeed impressive: a sweeping lobby with a doorman and concierge greeted us as we entered, but the upstairs looked rather worn. The man we met was named Maurice — yes, I did consider living with a man if perhaps he seemed innocuous enough. Maurice’s apartment was actually a converted one-bedroom, meaning that he had installed sliding doors to separate the huge living room where he slept.
Mother really liked his place despite the steep price ($1200 plus $200 in utilities; seriously HOW does cable cost SO much?!!?), but there was something off about Maurice himself. He was an old man with a long white ponytail and a European (Russian?) accent, though when mother asked where he was from, he was very evasive and even answered “outer space” before saying “Brooklyn.” He was a bit creepy and condescending toward my poor mother, and she didn’t like that he asked to be paid in cash ($1400 in cash are you kidding me) and worked from home doing some vague business with “artificial intelligence.”
By the time evening (and a typical East Coast storm) arrived, we were all exhausted. I felt the day had been very unsuccessful and even a waste of time if you don’t count how much of an ~educational experience it was to see how some people are forced (or willing?) to live. Father kept earnestly asking me which apartment I would take if I had to choose between the day’s viewings, and I really just didn’t want to answer.