I had hoped that I would have been able to find an apartment by then, or by the end of last week, but to no avail.
Not for lack of trying, mind. I have seen one or two places, and made many unanswered enquiries. In this predicament I have found myself back in a familiar comfort zone; it almost feels like the weeks leading up to my trip to Europe.
There is a feeling of anxiety about leaving what is essentially a new home. Looking for a place in the city opens me up to all kinds of uncertainty, and possibly risk. Not least due to the fact that I most likely only have until the beginning of January until I fly to California, and I still haven't been to visit my grandmother in Louisiana.
But these are all things within my control. I still have time to address all these concerns, and I think I'm going to have to. So with that in mind, I approached a couple of agencies who promised (one even guaranteed) that I would find a place that I was happy with. For a nominal fee.
One such company wanted to charge me $150 (non-refundable) for a retainer to help me find a place. They would make appointments for me to look at, and if I found a place I would then need to pay them the equivalent of one month's rent as a commission. Now since I'm really only looking for a place for the next six weeks, that would have effectively doubled my rent for the entire stay. It took me a while to figure that out, and was hidden quite well in the fine print. Thankfully not well enough.
Finding the agency on craigslist should have been my first clue. Having their agency hidden on the fourth story of a derelict building in mid-town Manhattan (sharing a building with a 'discount' travel agency - yes the quote marks were included on the sign, and a $5 psychic) was the second.
Fortunately I noticed what I was in for before committing myself to anything, and was able to leave having only spend a little time (and no money).
The second agency, also from craigslist, appeared better. Or at least more realistic. They guaranteed that I would find somewhere I liked, or I would not have to pay anything. Well, I would get a refund. So I ponied (yes it's a word, ask The Queen) up with the $100 fee and headed off to my first appointment. Washington Heights (also known as Spanish Harlem).
Washington Heights seemed like it could have been anything; walking out of that subway stop made me feel like I had taken the slow boat to Puerto Rico. Nothing bad, but the whole community was vastly different to anything I had seen so far: storefronts and businesses written mainly in spanish (or very poor english), with all variety of latin music playing, from rap to the Gypsy Kings.
It only took me 20 minutes or so to find the place, which turned out to be yet another rental agency. Kind of. To get there I had to enter a salon full of Latin ladies with giant hair and massive fingernails, and 'ask for Sonia'. I was sent upstairs to a joint florist/makeshift rental agency. I described what I was looking for. Something:
•access to kitchen etc.
I was told (in very broken english) that she had the perfect place for me, and that after I saw this place that I "wouldn't look at any others". Excited at the possibility, I took the address, and found it just around the corner. It was an apartment building that could have been taken straight from Skid Row. But books having covers and all that, I rang the buzzer.
I rang again, and noticed that the self locking door was being held open by a juice box. One that had been there a while. So I opened the door and was warmly greeted by the smell of stale urine. Still determined not to be judgemental, I climbed the six flights of steps to the apartment (as the elevator was broken, and possibly also the source of the smell) and knocked.
Eventually the door was opened by a kindly old spanish lady, with only a little english. Fortunately I had only a little spanish, so we got along just fine. Until I saw the room.
It had a bed, and a wardrobe. The light didn't work, and the windows didn't open.
"No you don't want to do that, not safe!"
It seems that almost nothing on my list had been met, save for being somewhat furnished with a bed, a tv complete with "some cable. Not the good cable, but some cable". I thanked the lady, who appeared to be encouraged by my ability to climb the stairs, and advised her that I had other places to see that day, and thanked her for her time.
Sonia was right. I didn't want to look at any others.
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