8 Million Stories: The Great Haul

Written by Hope Ewin on . Posted in 8 Million Stories, Posts.

By the time I was 29, my scramble for affordable housing had turned into a nomadic cycle. I’d annually trade apartments, moving seven times in eight years. I worked in non-profits, and like many renters in low-earning fields, my ambition was not making millions of dollars, but finding a livable, convenient, under-market home. In the market chaos of the past decade, every housing crash stank of opportunity for a better lease.

A middle child from a half-Catholic household in Buffalo who was as bad at listening to advice as I was at making decisions, I had no intention of returning to my parents’ house after college. I had an English degree and wanted to live in New York and contribute. I found fundraising work through a federal program that paid "volunteers" $200 per week. The unofficial slogan was "Fight poverty by living in poverty." With this in my 21-yearold mind, I unpacked a carload of books at my first New York City apartment—a three-bedroom in Astoria, shared with a forty-something landscaper and a 22-yearold animator. My room with enough space for a futon and 10,000 roaches was a steal at $500 a month.

It was not meant to last. Deep down I’d expected to hate my job—almost every adult I knew did. But if I was going to be this bored, I needed beer money. I thought of moving back to Buffalo, but none of my old friends lived there anymore. That May, my new boyfriend and I moved 10 blocks west into a closet-free one-bedroom above a Halal grocery. Rent was the same but the bills would be cut in half; Jay was a Local One stagehand and could chip in. It made so much financial sense that we ignored what a horrendous idea it was to move in together after two months of dating.

A few months later we moved again, this time with a 9-year-old Chihuahua we’d adopted named Mr. Miyagi. The new place was pre-war, dog-friendly and had space for a living room set, not to mention ample closets. I got an admin job at a dance company making twice my previous wages. Jay, however, had a history of drug addiction and soon started using again. By the time the lease was up, he was off to rehab, having cleaned out my bank account buying prescriptions. I found a stack of eviction notices in his desk. Luckily, the lease was in Jay’s name and I got to keep Miyagi.

We relocated to Washington Heights, sharing a brownstone with an actor and two social workers in the unicorn of low-end rentals—four bedrooms, three bathrooms, a cavernous kitchen, gutrenovated with new fixtures. But I was lonely uptown and when, at the year’s end, a friend returned from London, I moved in with her—in Astoria.

Our new apartment was directly above a Greek landlady who knew exactly how many showers we took and referred to Robin and me only as "You" and "The Other Girl." Soon we all moved into a rent-stabilized place with so little heat that even Miyagi had to wear a sweater inside. These were the best years of my adult life.

Robin and I shared our food and decompressed together daily, a platonic intimacy that was new to me. I was done with my quarter-life crisis, making decent money at a Madison Avenue drama school. Then Robin fell for a man from another borough and, as another winter loomed, we moved to Greenpoint. She eventually moved in with him and I landed a nice $800 share with a writer, a scientist and enough heat that I could sleep without mittens.

I discovered quickly why everyone in Greenpoint seemed to be a freelancer. Accustomed to a 30-minute N-train ride from Astoria, I balked at the time it now took to get to class at the New School or my boyfriend’s in the East Village. Getting home after 10 p.m. meant either waiting forever for trains or a $25 cab ride. It was starting to look like another temporary fix.

Between daily 20-minute hikes to the L train, though, I made friends, exchanged keys and met Robin for coffee. Something unprecedented was happening: I was settling. I’d thought having lived in three boroughs—and slept in all five—earned me some kind of urbanite merit badge. But my new neighbors had roots, furniture and lasting relationships with non-canines. And they wanted me to join them. Being broke was less awful with close friends in walking distance. After years of trading up, this snobbish, insular little nook at the top of Brooklyn began to feel like home. The pup and I were here to stay.