Places I’ve Lived: A Move to New York and an Assortment of Roommates
by Jean Kim
Locust Street, Champaign, Ill., $700 (split two ways) — My senior year of college, I rented my first (and cheapest) apartment ever with an acquaintance. Aside from being far off campus, and having carpeted floors (of which I am not a fan), it was a copacetic, fully furnished two-bedroom. The laundry room was kitty corner to our unit, and we even had a balcony. Our landlord was a sweet 80-year-old man whose family helped him run his rental business. The only cons were the violent neighbors downstairs (I once had to call 911 to break up a domestic dispute which was so terrifying I turned all the lights off and laid on the ground while I waited for the police to show up), and being smack dab in the middle of many fraternities. I stayed here through the summer after I graduated until I moved to New York for a magazine internship. Little did I know this was the last time for quite awhile I’d experience such apartment bliss.
Somewhere off the DeKalb L stop, Bushwick, Brooklyn, N.Y., $500 (sublet) — My introduction to New York City was a month in a windowless room with an air mattress in a five-bedroom duplex with backyard access (read: summer barbecue parties!). Luckily, I was almost always at work as a (minimally paid) editorial intern. The apartment was newly gutted and renovated so everything felt new, even if the surrounding neighborhood clearly wasn’t. My roommates were friends of a friend from college. Three out of four of them were SoulCycle instructors, so even though I was only paid $12 an hour at my internship, I was able to take spin classes next to Chelsea Clinton and Kelly Ripa. Apparently, I missed the class the Olsens supposedly went to. Damn.
Dorchester Road, Ditmas Park, Brooklyn, N.Y. $700 (sublet including utilities) — Still working the previously mentioned paid internship, I hopped from Bushwick to Ditmas Park. For two months, I lived on the top floor of a house with an interior designer. We had our own entrance on the side of the house. This is definitely the most “put together” apartment I’ve lived in thus far, although my roommate’s color palette was too orange for my taste. Ditmas Park felt oddly suburban, but there were a good amount of restaurants, bars and cafes on Cortelyou Road. I wasn’t at home much at all thanks to no Wi-Fi or air conditioning (this was during the hottest two months of the summer). My roommate’s two cats always pooped in the shower too, so I was more than glad when my time here was up. After two months in such a suburban-like ‘hood (and three total in Brooklyn), I found myself wanting to live in Manhattan.
W 139th Street, Harlem/Morningside, N.Y. $700 (sublet including utilities) — I took over an actress’s room for four months while she was on tour. Being this far uptown wasn’t the same as living my downtown fantasy, but I still got my dose of that Manhattan energy I couldn’t get in Brooklyn (also, what’s up with everything closing so early in Brooklyn?). An elderly (and very vegan) Asian woman owned the five-bedroom apartment on the sixth floor of this building. She kept two conjoined rooms for herself, and rented out the three remaining rooms to “females only.”
There was no communal space in the apartment other than the bathroom and kitchen (the owner had her own private bathroom), so I often felt like I was in a boarding school/convent/orphanage. The other roommate was also an actress, and I never saw the third girl — not once in four months. One night, the actress was coming home and was mugged right in front of our apartment. Apparently a man posing as a resident of our building followed her into the elevator, and threatened her on the ride up. He held the door to our apartment open while she gave him all of her valuables. I woke up to the sound of police in our hallway. She promptly moved out the following weekend. I was spooked, but didn’t have the means to move out (I was still working for minimum wage), so I vowed to never take the elevator after that night. Six flights of stairs, twice a day.
Broadway, Harlem/Morningside, N.Y. $795 (sublet including utilities) — I stayed uptown because it was cheap, and because at this point, I still preferred Manhattan to Brooklyn. I lived with a couple for nearly a year on the sixth floor of this building. The guy was a musician, the girl was an art therapist, and they had a cat named Mango. This might have been the New York-iest apartment I ever lived in: The narrow hallway was strewn with her massive paintings, there was a piano in the guy’s “studio” aka the living room, and the kitchen was coffin-like yet stuffed to the gills with cooking equipment. I got really into cooking while I lived here because the couple let me use their full set of Le Creuset cookware and All Clad pans. Luckily, their bedroom and my bedroom were at opposite ends of the apartment. I encountered the first of many cockroaches here. I killed the first one while simultaneously bawling and laughing on the phone to my best friend about how disgusting it was (I do not handle insects well, much less insects as long as my fingers). One night, the guy tried to make a pass at me while his girlfriend was out. That incident, in addition to finally being sick of living so far uptown got me thinking about my next move. Thankfully, I’d been saving money from my first real/adult/salaried job, which I landed while living here. Within a month, I moved the hell out.
Park Slope, Brooklyn, N.Y. $1,218 (my share, about to go up) — I knew I wasn’t going to be able to afford to live in the areas of Manhattan that I actually wanted to live in any time soon, so I turned to Brooklyn once again. The Craigslist gods must have sensed just how long I’d been roughing it in New York and threw me a bone, or what others might call “The Holy Grail of New York Craigslist apartments”: a no-fee apartment that isn’t a roach motel/brothel/crack spot. I share this recently renovated two bedroom on the third floor of a walkup with a female roommate. My room is attached to a walk-in closet/office space, so really, I have 1.5 rooms. This probably won’t happen again for awhile. Thanks to three tall, south-facing windows, I get a generous amount of natural light, which ultimately gave me the courage to paint my bedroom walls a deep navy (so worth it). It’s quite the Brooklyn neighborhood: several small grocery stores, various cafés, wine shops, lots of restaurants, two avenues from Prospect Park, close to several trains. It’s definitely the nicest apartment and neighborhood I’ve lived in NYC thus far, and unlike the various sublets I’ve lived in before, I actually feel ok spending time here. I guess that’s because this apartment is the closest thing to home I’ve experienced since moving to New York.