When I first saw apartment 1R it was midway in a birthing process called “reconstruction.” A friend lived on the third floor, and informed me it would be coming to market.
I had scouted dozens of apartments: This kitchen too grimy, that street too creepy, a few taken while I was on the train to see them—all part of the laborious lotto called renting in New York City.
I had lived in some 12 apartments in the past five years. I had weathered bed bugs, mice, burglary, boiling heat, no heat, slumlords, dysfunctional appliances, and hostile housemates. In one brief but not unpleasant stretch, I lived in the basement bedroom of a row house while seven men occupied the top two floors.
My bones were aching for a home in a primal way I could not quite articulate. Moving was starting to feel like a seasonal migration, and I a species insufficiently evolved for the trek.
My friend’s apartment seemed well maintained, with tall ceilings and lovely crown molding. She gave me the number of her landlord; I was surprised he answered on the second ring. Yes, the apartment was being renovated, but it was far from finished. He was there now, but doubted I’d want to see it in its current state.
“I’m on my way,” I said.
I lived a few blocks away, in a midfloor apartment with bedrooms on either end and everything else squished in the middle. The heat had been cutting out all winter. When I called the landlord to complain, he shouted at me and then stopped taking my calls.
I arrived outside apartment 1R on a cloudy afternoon in late August. The landlord, Victor, was working inside with a jackhammer. He came to the door with a thin layer of dust on his arms. He had a shock of white hair and the proper Brooklyn accent that is surprisingly difficult to find.
The apartment had exposed brick walls and arching ceilings, with an overgrown yard and new white fence. But the interior was only exposed brick and potential. No appliances, no doors, no cupboards, no bathtubs, no light fixtures, and—in some places—no floorboards.
“I’m going to make it look real nice,” Victor said. He looked me in the eye as he spoke. His eyes were blue and creased at the edges. The estimated completion date was two weeks after my current lease ended, suggesting a logistical nightmare of storage and friends’ couches. I would need to find a housemate for the second bedroom, a chancier lotto.
“I’ll take it,” I said.