Tuesday, March 30, 2010
When we met six years ago, Anne and I lived in a dormitory of the New School, the unhappy institution we both have the good pleasure of attending for our lofty educations... (which still, for some reason, doesn't prevent me from making speling mistakes...) The rationale behind moving into the dorm, which I assume is the reason any graduate student would choose to live in a dorm, is that moving to New York from say, Ohio (Yes, I know I'm from Pennsylvania. Another time perhaps...) or Canada, it seems easier (and cheaper you would think [you would be wrong]) to take advantage of the student housing. There is, like in all myths, some truth in this rationale, since, as anyone who has ever tried (as well as anyone who has read the Divine Comedy) knows, finding an apartment in New York is one of Dante's circles of hell (the seventh, I believe... I think he places blasphemers there...) This dormitory, as it turned out, was extraordinarily overpriced--all in all, we were paying about $2500 per month EACH to SHARE A ROOM in a four person suite--(two people per room + two rooms = four people). You can get this apartment in NY for the same price:
Ahem. So, as you can guess, we decided not to stay there any longer than necessary. Near the end of the semester, around Thanksgiving I think, our friend Keren asked Anne if she wanted to share an apartment. Anne told me and I responded by persuading her to move in with me instead. I succeeded. So we started looking for a place. We decided we would require a roommate for this adventure, so we enlisted our friend Steve, my roommate in the dorm, to follow us in our quest. We managed to find a place on 108th St. and Central Park West, with the help of Mark the Broker (See "A Tale of Two Brokers"). It was a nice place, but we only stayed there a few months because, uh, well, something really bad happened. (I'm not going to tell you what, but it's probably worse than whatever you're thinking...unless you know, in which case, nevermind).
Wanting to get out (and far away from) that place of the Unspeakable Event, we moved to beautiful Park Slope Brooklyn. Park Slope is one of the nicest neighborhoods in Brooklyn and one of the most expensive, but after what we had been through, we decided that it was worth the price and, taking Steve with us, we found a place that we could manage to afford. I'm gong to call this place "Gloria's Apartment," since our landlady, the owner of the building, was one Gloria Trembicky. Here's a video clip from Fox5 about Gloria. (Yes, that's her. Yes, we lived there. Yes, everything they say is true).
Steve went to bed with a glass of water next to his bed one night. It was frozen when he woke up in the morning.
In spite of all this, for some reason that remains totally incomprehensible, Anne and I lived there for, count them, not one, not two but THREE years. (The heat did get sort of better after a while. We never could use our toaster and microwave at the same time, though). After a year or so, Steve moved in with his wife whom he had finally fallen in love with after being married for five or six months. (Another day, another blog...). Steve left, our friend Norah moved in. Good times to be had by all, at least when the weather was nice. After our lease expired, we decided to spend the summer in Canada to save some monies.
Moving back to New York in August, however, proved to be another challenge. The only thing more difficult than finding an apartment in New York, it turns out, is finding an apartment in New York when you're NOT IN NEW YORK. There are basically two things you need to be able to do to find a decent apartment and one of them is the ability to look at the neighborhood and the apartment in person and this, it seems, is extremely difficult to do from A DIFFERENT COUNTRY. (Yes, this might be surprising to some readers, but, in spite of the overwhelming evidence to the contrary, Canada, in fact, is a different country. See War of 1812). Unbeknownst to her, we found our next place thanks to the unlikely intervention of the French philosopher, Luce Irigaray. (Irigaray has never been to New York because she refuses to fly). Anne, through her connections in Irigaray scholarship, knew somebody who knew somebody who had a room for rent in the Greater New York Center Metroplex for the hallowed Affordable Price. Failing other options, this seemed to be a good bet, so we packed our bags and moved to fabulous and sunny Jersey City.
I'll call this apartment "Macarena's Apartment," since the person who was known by the person Anne knew, i.e., the person who lived in said apartment, was named Macarena (yes, that's right, like the dance. Everybody sing along and dance). You remember:
Macarena was also a graduate student and the apartment was DIRT CHEAP. I think we paid $400 a month for two rooms of a HUGE three bedroom flat. Really the only problem with Jersey City (besides being in New Jersey) is that it's on the other side of the Hudson Tribal Eschuary and you have to take the PATH train to get to New York. Thus, one ends up with an infinite regress of modes of public transportation, which, as Ockham's Razor clearly dictates, is to be avoided at all costs. Also, the neighborhood was very residential, and while probably not THAT dangerous, was very very quiet and that, my friends, makes one uneasy, especially those who have undergone the Unspeakable Events that I refuse to discuss. And it just TOOK SO LONG to get anywhere (most people in JC have a car, or at least they did in that neighborhood). So we stayed there for about a month, I guess, and then moved back to Brooklyn, back to sunny and pricey Park Slope, where we longed to be.
Our next apartment, "Sophie's Apartment," named because we sublet the place from someone named Sophie, was easily the nicest place we ever lived in New York. Fully functional heat and hot water, electricity, not to mention a DISH WASHER (the shibboleth of Western Civilization) and A ROOF DECK, this TWO BEDROOM place was beautiful. We made an eight month agreement with our patron and in the mean time, were able to actually have people come visit us and STAY. Anyway, it was awesome, but our eight months were up and we had to move on.
We managed to find a nice, relatively affordable studio in Park Slope, aka "The Studio." This time the place was owned and managed by a real estate company, which, contrary to past experiences, turned out to be 1. free, which is to say they didn't charge us a brokerage fee; 2. awesome because they were not only professional and upfront about everything, they also 3. had their act together. The place was kinda small, but in good shape. We signed a two year lease, hoping for the best (i.e., that Anne would get the research fellowship that brought us to the Netherlands) and planning for the worst (making sure we had a place to live in NY if things went pear-shaped). One of the best things about this place is that was right down the block from John Turturro, aka "the Jesus":
Yeah, that guy. He said hi to me once, but he seemed to spend most of his time talking to his agent, watching baseball or spending time with is kids (his one son was Young Richie Tenenbaum, from the movie The Royal Tenenbaums):
The tennis one.
But alas, our budding "friendship" with John never came to fruition, for, as you might know since you're reading a blog about our adventures in the Netherlands (and not New York. Surprising, isn't it?), we had to cut our lease short and head over the sea... We found someone to take over our lease, a nice Canadian boy named Sager, and moved away...
Thursday, March 25, 2010
For this installment, Keith and I thought it might be fun to mix things up a bit and each offer our own separate reflections on the events of the past three weeks. The following is my version. Keep in mind Keith’s previous oompa loompa entry, however, when choosing which version to believe. I’m not saying that his account is untrue, I’m just saying.
On March 3rd, we moved into our new apartment. Those of you (Mom) who have been following this blog closely will remember that we were living in a temporary our apartment in the city center of Maastricht. You will also remember that earlier in January we went to look at apartment outside of the city center. It was complete pigsty and during our visit we encountered our first naked Dutch guy. Naturally, we took the place and moved in at the beginning of this month. In our new place, we no longer have to climb treacherous ladder to get into bed and the rent is dirt-cheap. Unfortunately, this was virtually all that the apartment had to recommend itself.
Now, some of you will know that Keith and I have lived in some pretty shitty apartments. There was the dorm, where collectively we paid almost twenty-five hundred dollars a month to sleep in bunk beds. Then there was the apartment on the upper west side. Enough said. And then there was Gloria’s apartment in Park Slope where we got royally Trembekeyed. Despite the radical infrequency of the heat, hot water and electricity, we stayed in that apartment longer than in any other, just over three years. Yes, we once spent eight glorious months in palace on 6th ave. in Brooklyn and another eight exalted months in an entirely presentable closet with a dishwasher next door to John Turturro. But generally, it has been nothing but squalor. It is not without a proper respect for precedence, then, when I suggest that in Maastricht we set the bar at an entirely new low.
The apartment didn’t obviously pose a threat to our physical safety and the utilities were all in proper working order. So far so good. While it is very small, not only it is set up in such a way that it is possible to cordon-off the sleeping quarters from the living space, it also has a private outdoor space. One might almost go so far as to call it a garden. Sounds like a veritable palace, our own private Shangri-La. What is the catch, then, you ask? Why all this for such a bargain-basement price? It turns out that in the Nederlands it is not uncommon to rent an apartment without a floor, appliances or light fixtures. What the hell, we thought. We spend a hundred euro-bucks at IKEA, a day’s worth of work and we’ll put down a laminate floor. We’ll buy a couple of light fixtures and hob (or what y’all would call a ‘hot-plate’). After a quick trip to Mattie’s Kringloopwinkel, we’ll have a relatively nice place, at a great price, with a patio.
I must interject two brief digressions at this point, however, before I proceed any further. First, some of you may not know that before embarking on my current foray into academia, I began a promising career in manual labor. As a nineteen year old, I thought that try my hand at house painting. My plan was to make a little bit of money and to spend my summer outdoors. What could be better or so I thought. It turns out, however, that I don’t really like being outside all that much and that manual labor is not my forte. I was fired on the fourth day for incompetence, which was fortunate since I wouldn’t have lasted more than a week by my own volition. I spent the rest of that summer working at Taco Bell, where I realized that the most I could handle in that department is squeezing sour cream onto a Taco with looked like a caulking gun.
Second, while in living our previous digs, Keith and I were fortunate enough to have T.V. and cable, a rarity for us. As luck would have it, one evening we happened across a classic Hollywood film from the eighties, The Money Pit. You know, the one with Tom Hanks and what’s her name from Cheers. No doubt you’ll all remember the plot, so I won’t bother to rehash the story line. Suffice it to say, it’s a charming tale of two New Yorkers who move to the sticks and who are foolish enough to embark the project of home-improvement. Needless to say, given my previous experience I should have seen this as omen. Of course, the saying goes, hindsight is 20/20. (Insert ominous musical foreshadowing here).
While we were intellectually prepared to move into an apartment with no appliances and no floor, the reality of it was still a little shocking. Basically, our first week was like living in a garage with a toilet: bare concrete floors and no amenities. No appliances means not even a refrigerator! We created a one by hanging a plastic bag from the outside of our back door, the one opening onto the “patio.” Meanwhile the “patio,” which was the deal clincher for the apartment, had been transformed into a huge pile of sand. It looked like someone had come by with a bulldozer, intending to make the world’s largest sandcastle but had lost interest after gathering the requisite amount of sand and depositing it outside of our back door. We lived in this glorified garage with a view for about a week before we had time to begin renovations. During that time, our diet consisted of instant oatmeal (breakfast), baguette sandwiches (lunch) and ramen (dinner).
Now, for the sake of brevity, I won’t try to provide a detailed account of the events that followed. Instead, I have attempted to distill a few gems of practical wisdom from the past two weeks.
1. Despite the interlocking system, laying laminate flooring isn’t like building with LEGO. It is less fun. And if someone tells you that you can cut the boards by scoring each side with a utility knife and then snapping them with your bare hands, that person is either a ninja or is playing you for a sucker. Regardless, it is best not to attempt the scoring method with the board resting on your lap.
2. When a small, unassuming handsaw calls itself the laminator, it’s not just bravado. It is in fact worth its weight in gold.
3. When installing a shower curtain rod by drilling into tile, “the higher the better” is not necessarily the best rule of thumb.
4. Sometimes, like in the case of electrical work, even the steepest of learning curves is not sufficient to prevent electrocution.
5. Mattie of Mattie’s kringloopwinkel will allow you to return merchandise for store credit, in case you don’t happen to measure first.
Thursday, February 18, 2010
The first is a scene from Bela Tarr's masterpiece, the Werckmeister Harmonies:
Second, a vibrant yet solitary crimson feather, lying abandoned and forgotten on the floor of a men's room, not far from the urinal, soaking in the slightly sour odor of stale cabbage and water.
A Strawberry Man, walking down the sidewalk, puffing his cigar...
A young man standing in the street, alone, sobbing, wearing a sodden and dirty bunny costume. Pink.
A darkened alley:
Woman 1: "Gro@#$@!@#%aast je smaakdraggen!@#$#@!"
Woman 2: (sobbing)
Woman 1: (louder) "Je Groote!@#$$#@@%#$^. Blaagahastagaten snellmostrategen!!!!! Bitch!"
Woman 2: (sobbing, louder)
Woman 1: (more violently) "De Maan sslechtokoffenhater !@#@!"
Woman 2: (sobbing, now uncontrollably)
Yes folks, a good time to be had by all.
So, with the beginning of Carnival, this is basically what happens.
So we've spent the whole day and night drinking, dancing to our awesome dance mix that we probably made ourselves. We've probably gotten into a few scuffles with the Emperor Penguins next door or the people dressed up in their living room curtains. We've certainly smashed our fair share of beer glasses, beer glasses we purchased from one of the innumerable Whale Truck stands that have cropped up everywhere. We enjoyed it, too, smashing those beer glasses, so we smashed some more. We've also heckled a group of young men dressed as the zoo (yeah, those guys) and tried, through our exuberance and friendliness, to bring those two people dressed in regular clothes (probably the only two people), scowling, giving us weird looks, into the fold, but alas, without success. We're tired. The kids have either fallen asleep or passed out (they started drinking too at some point). It's 4:00 a.m. Time to go home. So we take our cart, blasting our loompa tunes, and head through the streets where some people are probably trying to sleep (but we don't care; we LOVE our oompa loompa music and everyone else will too, God verdomme) back to the Chocolate Factory.
By Tuesday, you would think that maybe the fun would be wearing off. After all, we've more or less been drinking non-stop since Saturday. We're all starting to get a little dizzy, a little sick to our stomachs because, well, we got the lead-based orange body paint. You would think that by now we just wouldn't care. Well, we do care, sort of. We grab our instruments and head off to drink. We drink and march and play and dance, etc. and, by 4:00 a.m., we're tired and our marching and playing has become, well, half-assed. We start up a tune, get about a block, decide that it's too much effort and stop. Eventually, as we march, everything decays into a drunk, bawling, orange-body paint smeared, smelly, vomiting mess. (Yeah, and who saw that coming?) Drunk and crying, now hating each other, we crawl home, alone, in the cold, stopping to urinate and sleep in the gutter.
The next day, Wednesday, Ash Wednesday to be precise, we get up. Hung over. Headache. Sick. Smelly. Disgusted with ourselves and ashamed of what we've done. But it's OK.
Sunday, February 7, 2010
Saturday, January 23, 2010
We have also been ingratiating ourselves with the Dutch people. Today we did our regular Saturday marketing at our favorite grocery store: JUMBO. This time we entered the store through the entrance rather than the exit as we have each previous time, so already the learning curve is impressive. For the past two weeks we've been eating only frozen vegetables due to our rather limited cooking apparatuses. I couldn't take it any longer, so today I filled up the basket with some fresh vegetables and fruit, along with other food that we chose based on the pictures on the box. The store was packed, it was almost like being back at the Food Coop, but for a moment there was a break in the line at the checkout. We were able to walk right up to a cashier without waiting. Almost immediately, however, a line formed behind me. We unloaded our groceries on the belt and the cashier began to scan our items through. When she got to the fresh vegetables she stopped, saying something in Dutch that we couldn't understand. It turns out that you have to weigh all the produce and print out stickers with the price per kilogram before getting in line. By now there were about five people behind us in line. So I stood there sheepishly as the checkout line came to a screeching halt, while Keith took our produce back to weigh it. What is remarkable is that during the wait, not even a single customer so much as gave me an exasperated look. At the Food Coop there would have been bloodshed. After a few minutes, Keith returned with the produce properly stickered and we packed up our stuff and left. As we were leaving the store we had to work our way through a crowd. Keith, of course, elbowed his way through, like he does. Out of our way! We're walking here! Oh kind and patient Dutch people, we have so much to teach you.
Tuesday, January 19, 2010
I want to begin by talking about the Muncy carnival. Muncy, in case you don't know, is my home town in Pennsylvania. The Muncy Carnival, proudly brought to you by the Muncy Township Volunteer Fire Department, takes place in the parking lot of a now-defunct gas station. If memory serves, which it usually doesn't, (Muncyians, if you're reading this, please feel free to corroborate or discorrorborate my story here) the Muncy Carnival had one ride, which I recall resembling the kind of cherry-picker used by the electric and gas companies, but, of course, rustier, partly broken down, like all of the Carnival Rides we all remember. That being said, I think that the Muncy Carnival is mostly about food: Italian Sausage, French Fries, Funnel Cakes, Meatball Sandwiches, etc. There may also be a few games and the occasional live country music band, perhaps a watered-down version of the first pop-country that comes to mind. Muncy, mind you, is a predominantly Protestant community.
Now let me tell you about what happened to us on Sunday, January 17.
I was awakened by the sound of a passing marching band near by. In a state of half-sleep, unsure whether I was awake or dreaming, I listened. The band began with a rousing March, which, however, about three-quarters of the way through, gradually dissipated as the members, apparently, lost their enthusiasm and gusto. It was as if, part way through their song they had decided that whatever reasons they had for marching and playing were not sufficient and that they should, well, just go home. Perhaps it was just a dream.
So, Muncy, I say to you, where's your game, huh? Where are your ludicrous costumes and impromptu marching bands? Where are your feather boas, cross-dressing and flamboyancy? Where are your old men, spontaneously breaking out into song and dance? Perhaps the Muncy Township Volunteer Fire Department should take their cue from these people for next year and really get decked out. Take down your Cherry-Picker, close the shoot-the-water-gun-to-race-horses-game. Why, maybe even try a little mayonnaise on your fries... even if it does taste like a deviled egg.