Last month we moved apartments. We lived in our old apartment, our first-ever New York apartment, for two years. And while we didn’t hate it, we didn’t love it. We made the choice to move because of a feeling. That was kind of scary and also an incredible privilege we were able to act on. We were not moving out of survival, or necessity (there were no bugs or mice involved), but for a more vague idea that we wanted to improve the quality of our life. And already it has.
Our old apartment building was brand new, built on the grounds of a demolished brownstone in Bed-Stuy. It was 5 floors tall and we lived on the 2nd floor. We didn’t know our neighbors. The general vibe of the building was that no one wanted to put down roots, it was just a stopover until the semester was finished or the contract work ended. Instead, identities were based on mail and the occasional glimpses you caught of each other as you were passing in the halls. And it was from this that we assigned our neighbor’s nicknames. You’ve done this before, haven’t you?
The dog couple lived below us and every time the front door opened, their two little ratty dogs would bark. Sometimes I heard barking when there was none. Perhaps I was experiencing a Sam Berkowitz psychosis and the move really was out of necessity.
On the floor above us lived a man known as “Goth Johnny Depp” or simply “Johnny Depp.” He had longish silver hair, silver jewelry, and always wore a black trench coat. Once I saw him on the street in the sunlight, carrying a bag of groceries with some kind of greens sticking out of the top. It feels good knowing goths grocery shop too. He was smiling.
Call me a grump but my major complaint was that no one in our building picked up their mail. This to me, because I am a grump, speaks volumes. And because our landlord or the post office, never correctly assembled the mailboxes, piles of mail would build up on the floor. I’m a BIG mail-head and I love receiving mail, so every day I would sort through the pile in search of anything with my name on it. In my search, inevitably, I’d find a handwritten letter addressed to one of my neighbors.
Sometimes I could tell it was a wedding invitation or some other letter of formality. But it didn’t matter, it would remain in that pile for weeks. Someone’s time-consuming, hard work, thoughtful words or declarations of love, languishing in a pit in our entryway. One time we found a HelloFresh Box at the basement stairs and it sat there, unclaimed for over a week until the ice melted and food rotted and someone finally threw it out. But I’m not still mad about it.
To be fair, the apartment itself was just fine. We did what we could to make it our own and by the end of the two years, it felt lived in. We had big street-facing windows that Reggie would look out of and she’d lay in the slivers of sun that cut through the curtains. We were the first people to live in the building so we never had to worry about the ghosts of former tenants (future tenants will of course forever be haunted by me and the massive holes we put in the walls). IT HAD IN-BUILDING LAUNDRY. This is rare in New York, and although the two machines began to break down in the last months of our lease, they were still there as an option.
What were we looking for in a new apartment? A lot of people assumed space, and that’s a natural assumption. But this is New York and no one really has space. Yes, we wanted neighbors who responded to wedding invitations, and ones who walked their dogs, but we were also in search of something less tangible. We wanted to actually know our neighbors and we wanted to…be friends? There is a theme on this blog 🙂
There is no way to know if someone is going to be your friend, and if you’ll get invited to the neighborhood block party, just based on a single tour of the place. But we figured we’d have a better shot if we only looked at small homes with limited tenants. So after looking at 5-6 rentals across a cluster of overlapping neighborhoods in Brooklyn, we went to an open house at our current place.
Our first impression was that aesthetically it was perfect for us. It’s in an old Brownstone, built at the turn of the century, but the apartment has been tastefully renovated. It feels old where it needs to (re: original marble fireplace!) but the kitchen and bathroom are updated (re: not gross as hell!). Aside from that, and maybe more importantly, the home is owned by a very friendly and kind family.
Just as we were looking for a place that felt like home, they were looking for tenants that felt like an extension of their family. The vetting process was intense, though typical for New York rentals. We were strangers and as such needed to prove ourselves financially and personally. In the end, we made it through, allegedly beating out another couple just as the shot clock ran out (but this is not a competition and I am not a sports person). It was an enormous relief to see our decision pay off. After we signed the lease, the family had has us over for a crawfish dinner.
I know everyone has a different idea of home. As I talked through our experience with people, I enjoyed hearing what they look for when choosing a place to live. Some people wanted just that, a place to put their head. And they liked the anonymity their building and this city grants you. Others wanted a community. The great part of this city is that you can find both. And though I am prone to practicality, l am very happy that we decided to move, based on a feeling and a sense that there was something better out there.