It had been a rough, lonely summer. And by August, I was in a love/hate relationship with my 650 square feet of grimy floors and crumbling walls on East 52nd Street. I loved the New York City address. As it was my home office as well, I hated that I was spending too many afternoons watching Judge Judy.
I had a Paris respite scheduled for early September. Although I was happy to be getting away for a while, it was to be with my mother—not some amazing lover I’d imagined traveling to the City of Lights with. I was just hoping this trip would inspire me to get back out in my own city—and maybe stir up some local romance—when I returned. I had no idea other sparks would fly first.
Mid-month, I received news via a brief, nasty form letter from my new landlord, who had just purchased the building, and was apparently looking to cash in on the recent Midtown East renaissance that could be seen in the demolition of lovely but decrepit pre-war buildings and the construction of new austere ones. He was raising my affordable $1,900 rent to $2,500, offering 15 days to sign this lease or get out.
Languid days of television and vacation packing became a week of panic and emergency house packing. I called lawyers, commiserated with neighbors, scoured Craigslist, visited shady realtors and forty depressing domiciles. With only one week left before I would have to give in to this rent-rape from a megalomaniac real estate buffoon or find myself homeless, on a friend’s suggestion, I took a trip to the last stop in Manhattan.
The A train crept to a halt at 207th Street in Inwood. At the top of the subway steps I miserably found myself standing on upper Broadway, at a downtrodden corner filled with 99-cent stores, a C-Town and raucous Reggaeton. I put on my sunglasses, straightened my stance, and began my ascent up Isham Avenue toward the Hudson River. At the top, the unexpected lush green forest of Inwood Hill Park in front of me and an unfettered clear cerulean sky overhead made my situation feel slightly less bleak. I grimaced with the realization that I was literally between a rock (Shorakkopoch Rock at 218th Street and Indian Hill Road) and a hard place (east of Broadway’s seamy streets lined with auto body shops and bodegas).
At the north end of Seaman Avenue, I reached my destination. I searched for some strength and rang the buzzer, chanting this spell in my head: “It’s still 212…It’s still 212.”
Eggie, the building’s superintendent, greeted my wan expression with a broad smile and a warm welcome. He unlocked the door to the available apartment, and I walked into an almost exact replica of my Midtown manor, but this place had recently refinished floors, new appliances, a tiled kitchen and the most amazing, rent-stabilized $1,325 price. My announcement, “I’ll take it,” echoed through the empty living room. By September, my new residence was still half in boxes and I was wired and tired.
Sitting on an airplane about to take off to more unfamiliar territory, I lamented that the hectic move rendered this trip to Paris an ill-timed excursion. I hadn’t yet walked into the park or the local pub, which boasted with neighborhood pride: “The Best Burger in Town.” Although irate from being ripped from the cosmopolitan city center, I was determined to become enamored with my Uptown bargain digs.
At that moment my thoughts were interrupted by a stranger, who climbed over my mother and me and collapsed in the window seat beneath the weight of his overstuffed knapsack.
He looked as exhausted as I felt. I clandestinely examined his wrinkled cargo shorts, long lashes and the outline of a fresh tattoo like raised navy stitches swirling up and down his left arm. I felt inexplicably drawn to him. Like my mysterious new environs, he was both potentially beautiful and unnerving.
In little more than an hour, we were flirting under a shabby airline-issued blanket. I learned he lived in Greenpoint and was therefore a kindred spirit in urban frontier living. He reached over and tousled my hair while my mother was oblivious beneath a pink satin sleep mask. I smiled shyly and he grinned resolutely back. I felt inclined to rest my head on his shoulder, proclaim it mine. My forehead grazed the rough stubble of his cheek. Thousands of miles in the air, I mentally mapped the long subway commute between us. Then I asked him if, when we returned to New York, he’d take me on my first date in my new neighborhood. A month later, we sat side by side again, this time on stools at the bar of The Piper’s Kilt, enjoying the best burger in town. I never felt more at home.
Deborah Friedland is a strategic marketing consultant and writer living at the tip of Manhattan.