He didn’t have a single friend in this entire city. Not one person to offer him a little advice, make a phone call to, or get a favor from. There was no old roommate or college buddy to shack up with, and no couch to crash on while he got settled. He didn’t have a job, future work, or any interviews lined up. His mother would never qualify as a guarantor even if we were able to include her boyfriend’s income, which wasn’t likely. This skinny 20-year-old kid knew absolutely dick about living in a big city. What he did know about New York, he’d seen in movies or read somewhere in a book.
But the books and movies he’d studied were old. And his Lou Reed/Andy Warhol vision of New York had died a long time ago. I hated to be the one to break it to him, but more than a few things had changed since The Velvet Underground sprang “Heroin” at the Factory. Bankers, finance freaks and rich kids were the hip new set in New York, and let’s face it, that’s not exactly classic book material, so how the hell would he know?
Accepted at an art school without dorms, he was ready to drop his life’s savings on his first apartment. I was expected to locate it for him, but he’d have an easier time mounting a show in Soho than finding a landlord willing to take him. Nonetheless, he, his mother and his mother’s boyfriend were getting ready to drive from North Carolina to New York for the weekend. I had completely forgotten about the appointment, as I’m not prone to pay much attention after “studio,” “$1000” and “next month” are used in the same sentence.
With a ten-hour drive ahead of them, and a booked hotel room, I couldn’t exactly blow them off. I’d show them two or three places, but only to ease my conscious. My guess was he wasn’t going to garner a lot of respect from the real estate community. At most, it would cost me a few hours.
They pulled up in a maroon Ford Taurus. I reluctantly got in, thinking cab or subway was the better way to go, and we headed to one of the ugliest apartments I had ever seen. Polite introductions were passed as they stared intently at the passing street scenes and skyscrapers. They were in awe of New York City, and I liked them immediately.
If ever there was someone who needed a good rental agent, this was the kid, and this is where I got into trouble. Not a one of them had any idea of what to expect, or what they were really looking for, or how the process worked, or how badly they could get screwed. But regardless of your reasons or intentions, the one rule not to be violated in this business is: Never want the deal more than they do. I’m not sure I did, but I was certainly pulling for these guys. Their enthusiasm was contagious, and their simple search for any landlord willing to take them was humbling.
The young artist fell in love with the first apartment I showed him. Small and pretty beat up; it was exactly what he had imagined a New York apartment should look like. But what did he know? He’d never been here before. I called the management company and waded delicately into the conversation. As I suspected, there was no way around the employment letter without a stronger guarantor.
We saw a few more places, but everywhere we went we ran into the same problem. It was late Friday night, and we had gone as far as we could. They headed to McDonalds or someplace for dinner and I went back to the office. I tried calling everyone I knew in the restaurant business to see if I could set him up with a job or at the very least an employment letter. But no one seemed to need an inexperienced waiter, nor was anyone willing to write the stupid employment letter.
I think somewhere in the back of mind I refused to believe that in a city this large and supposedly diverse, there wasn’t a place for this kid. It was time to pull my resources together and to summon all of my real estate power and knowledge. This amounted to going through every landlord I could think of and finally searching Craigslist for no-fee places in Queens. Nothing came up. Even if I had better contacts in the outer boroughs, they weren’t about to consider Brooklyn yet. Never the super agent, I had screwed this one up good.
On Sunday afternoon, they settled in for the long drive back to North Carolina without having found a space. My entire weekend of work went with them, and I was honestly happy to see them go. Two weeks later they sent me a thank you card and a 100 bucks for my effort. They were going to give it some time and try again soon. I’m hoping it works out for him. This city could use a kid like that.