Friday, June 19, 2009

A Home for Alice

I'd forgotten how hard it is to rent an apartment in Manhattan. It's been almost a decade since I've had to. But recently, my friend Alice has been put in the position of having to find a place.

We've had several dinners together recently - half of them being to celebrate "Alice's new studio". A studio is Manhattan for "bed-sit" which is English for a room with sleeping and eating accommodation.

"Cheers," we'll say and clink glasses. "I'm so excited," says Alice. "I can hardly wait to have my own place". Up till now Alice has been sharing two-room apartments with transient Australians.

The next day she'll call me. The same story every time. "I didn't get it after all, woe is me what shall I do?" "But you said that the agent said it was yours, definitely", I'll comment. "But he now has someone else better", "It isn't really available yet after all", "Someone else was higher up on the list". Or all of the above.

She's bound to strike it lucky eventually. Her area of choice extends from 100th Street in the north east right down to lower Tribeca in the south west of the island. "Pick one area and concentrate on that," I'll advise her. "I am I am," she'll argue. And mention one of, "The East Village", "Chelsea","Gramercy Park", "Kips Bay", "Murray Hill", "SoHo", "NoHo", Yorkville, "Upper East Side", "West Village", "Clinton", "Midtown East", Midtown West". Or all of the above.

I like it best when she does not mention the Upper East Side. That is where I live. And it's not that I don't want her living close by, but because when the inevitable happens and she doesn't get her latest "find" she'll say, "I am SO glad I didn't get that place on the Upper East Side! The people there are so OLD. It is such a boring area. How could anyone live there?" At such times I am inclined to forget that I have a friend called Alice.

Last week when we were dining out but not celebrating, I glimpsed a sign on the apartment block opposite the restaurant. "Look, Alice, " I said, "there are studios for rent in the building opposite." "Great let's go there and ask!" she replied, grabbing at her hand-bag and ignoring my glass half-full of Malbec. I explained that at ten o'clock on a Saturday night it'd be extremely unlikely that there'd be anyone there to show us an apartment. Besides we'd had a few wines and were likely to bump into each other as we crossed the ostentatiously large foyer of Rupert Towers.

You see, I know the building as I pass it daily on my way to my bus stop. It is inhabited largely by elderly people who get around in wheelchairs or by pushing walkers. About once a week a coach bus come to take residents to bingo joints or perhaps to an art gallery with wheelchair access. And every morning there are Access-A-Ride mini buses waiting outside to take residents to their medical appointments. "HaHa. Up You Alice!" I was thinking. "I'll give you 'OLD'".

Needless to say I didn't tell Alice about the residents and went with her to ask about the accommodation. As we were crossing the lobby, we passed a large notice board crammed with posters with large type advertising excursions for seniors, wheelchair stores and the American equivalent of "Meals on Wheels". Alice didn't seem to notice and I hurried past. A bored concierge sitting behind a large curved desk pointed at the sign "Call 1800 999 XXX for all accommodation enquiries" when Alice asked about availability. I asked a few questions and he was slightly more forthcoming. This seemed to enrage Alice, and as we walked out she commented that he actually SPOKE to me but not to her. "Must be 'cos I'm Asian," she muttered. "Must because I'm old," I thought.

I've tried to give Alice some pointers for success in finding a place to rent. "Flirt," I told her when she popped in last weekend after being shown three windowless shoeboxes. "But then you'd need a man agent," she countered. No so I told her, don't you know about lesbians? She looked down her nose. Sometimes I suspect Alice is a bit of a prude. "But it's easier with men," I prattled on. "Smile a lot and look sexy. Say you'll celebrate over a bottle of wine when you move in. Then don't. That's what I did"

She looked aghast. Obviously she just couldn't believe I was ever young enough to get a man interested. Or sexy enough. Or brave enough to have such chutzpah. Or all of the above.

"Well you have to do something Alice; you need a place". She looked dubious.

I tried to cheer her up. "I once had a place on York Avenue." I describe a dingy studio I once rented, and how when the agent called to have the promised wine I'd just laughed and said ASIF. "I could never get a decent night's sleep there," I went on. "There was always someone making orgasm noises in the next room, every two hours or so. I noticed the tenants changed on almost a daily basis and later found out that it was in a red-light area." Alice just fiddled with crumbs on her plate and didn't answer. Unperturbed I continued, "So I'd make loud sex noises myself and that'd shut them up!" Still no response.

Oh well, I'm hardly Miss Sunshine myself. It's been raining everyday here in Manhattan for the last month, and weird things have been happening on the Upper East Side recently.

Rupert TowersFiremen Outside Rupert Towers 17th June
A few weeks ago there was an explosion outside a Starbucks a block away from our apartment. And a few day's later the nearby building developing a lean like the Tower of Pisa. But most apt was the curious incident of the fire engines in the night on Second Avenue and Ninety First. They woke everyone up. I phoned our doorman. What's with the fire engines I asked. "Oh there was a fire at Rupert Towers, " he told me.

"Really?" And yes, so there was. On my way to work I saw what must have been twenty fire engines and scores of New York's bravest hanging around outside the very building Alice and I had been inquiring about just three days ago.

Elderly ladies in wheelchairs and on walkers were everywhere. I even took a photo or two.

I can't WAIT to tell Alice!

No comments:

Post a Comment