Saturday, January 10, 2009

Adventures in outer borough living.

As some of you who know me in "real life" may know, the apartment where I live is not exactly the be-all end-all of New York apartment dwelling. (I hesitate to call it "my" apartment, as I don't wish to be associated with it. You may consider me the Alan Smithee of tenants if that helps.)

I live in the upper part of a two-storey row house in the pit of outer borough suburbia called East Elmhurst, just off the final runway approach to La Guardia Airport. (Why, hello there, giant 767! Thanks for sharing the spectacular view of your landing gear deploying one hundred feet above my head!) A row house is a long, skinny dwelling that is designed to suck all available sunlight in through the front window and render it completely inert by the time it hits the middle of the living room. By the time you reach the back of the house, you are walking in a sea of blackness. But thank God for the paper-thin walls that let you hear every whispered conversation and drunken brawl of the neighbors on both your left and right; otherwise you might be led to believe that you were living inside a sensory deprivation chamber.

The front door is made of plywood panels and last saw a paint job sometime during the Eisenhower administration. The remaining paint hangs off in great sheets and pretty much every day ends up getting tracked into the house on the bottoms of shoes. The lock on the front door is tempermental, to say the least. It locks and unlocks whenever it has a mind to, whether or not a key is involved. The front concrete stairs that lead off the porch to the ground (ie, the only way out of the house) are literally crumbling to pieces. As in, when you step on them the wrong way, they crumble to dust under your feet. One step is about 40% gone, the one beneath is starting to go and three others have developed the same cracks. My housemate and I have made an art out of jumping over the broken steps without breaking any limbs.

And the bathroom is also an exercise in extreme sports. There's a broken skylight in the bathroom ceiling, ostensibly to let in fresh air and let out moisture, but it no longer opens and - instead - a sheet of metal-encased glass hangs precariously on two hinges from the ceiling over your head when you are sitting on the throne. While I've come to terms with the inevitability of my own death by decapitation while perched on the potty, I suspect that any houseguest who ventures into the bathroom may be far less zen about it.

And then there's the roof.

About a week before Christmas, I woke to discover that an entire seam in my ceiling had split open and it was - for all intents and purposes - raining in my bedroom. We're not talking a drip here and there. We're talking a ten-foot long Niagara Falls running down the middle of my bedroom. Directly over my bed. Where I was sleeping at the time. The cats were soaked, I was soaked and pretty much everything in my bedroom was soaked. And, for reasons I don't care to speculate on, a great deal of the water coming down was jet black and...chunky.

I called the landlord. And called the landlord. And called the landlord. And then went next door to the neighbor (who is the landlord's sister), home of Milo-the-Puggle-Who-Hates-Me, and asked the neighbor to keep calling the landlord for me while I tried to get some things out of the bedroom: paintings, shoes, books, clothes, etc. The bed was already ruined and much of my bedding was covered in the black water as well. And it was raining outside. A lot. So it continued to rain in my apartment. For three full days. And the water was running directly through the light fixture over my bed. On day two, the exterior wall also opened up, and water began running down the inside of the wall into my downstairs neighbor's apartment. The downstairs neighbor who was in Colombia at the time.

The landlord eventually called me back. Seven hours later. And then showed up the next day, wringing his hands about the cost of insurance and how much it costs to fix roofs. And then he looked at my wretched already-beginning-to mildew-mattress and said "Oh, you can dry that out! It'll be fine." Three days later, he finally got someone to climb up there and throw a tarp over the hole in the roof. And there it sits still, ladies and gentlemen, flapping in the breeze. On the still not-fixed roof.

Fast forward to last night:

I've been waiting for the mattress to dry out so that my housemate and I could actually get it out of the apartment. It's a futon mattress; futon mattresses aren't the most maneuverable things in the world when they're dry. When they're wet, they are unmoveable.

My housemate works in the entertainment business and thus gets home very late most nights.We frequently don't see each other for days because of her work schedule. So, in order to actually get the damned thing out of the house on Big Item Garbage Day (a party day in the outer boroughs, to be sure!), I'd asked her to wake me up when she got home so she could help me drag the mattress out to the curb. Thus we found ourselves at 2:00 AM wrestling a mildewed futon mattress out to the curb in 20 degree weather. By force of habit, my roommate pulled the door shut behind her to keep the cats from escaping. Neither of us relished chasing Stinkyboy all over the neighborhood in below-freezing weather.

Those of you who have been paying attention probably already know what happened next: Mattress disposed of, we headed back up to the porch where we discovered - to our complete horror - that the door had locked itself behind us. Neither of us had keys or a phone. More importantly, neither of us had a coat or gloves or a hat. (Truth in fact, I was actually wearing only a hoody, boots and a pair pajama bottoms so raggedy that one might be able to see portions of my posterior should one actually bother looking at my backside.)

My roommate tried to open the windows, but - being that we're both pretty security-conscious - they were latched down tight. Then we went to the neighbor's house, figuring that they might have keys and, at the very least, would let us use the phone. Thirty minutes of doorbell ringing and door pounding later, they still hadn't woken up. Another fifteen minutes of extreme door pounding and finally the door opened. Neighbor lady did not, in fact, have keys to her brother's house but she did call our landlord. Over and over and over again. No response. (Gee, what a surprise!) And then she shut the door in our faces. We headed to the pub around the corner, where Shane the Most Awesome Bartender in Queens, plied us with Jameson's whiskey, pretzels and bootleg Bruce Lee movies on his laptop. He also let us use the phone to call a locksmith.

Thirty minutes and nearly $300 later, we were back inside our apartment and a nice Israeli kid named Sol was handing us two shiny new keys to the place. Which I am going to go get duplicated this afternoon, so that I can leave a set with Shane the Most Awesome Bartender in Queens.

And yes, in case you were wondering? We're making the landlord pay for the mattress AND the locksmith.

Good times, kids! Good time!

26 comments:

Ugly Deaf Muslim Punk Gurl! said...

ohhh man. That's shitty you were locked out... but hey, now you got a funny story to tell all of us, and someday you can look back at it and... oh never mind.

you're funny. "the bathroom is like doing extreme sports..."

HAAAAAAAHAHAHAHAHA

LOL!!!!!

wheelmaker said...

ok, I'm going to stop complaining about roaches now. Well, probably not, but this does make me happy for my leak-free apartment.

Marsha said...

That's horrible! There's nothing worse than being at the mercy of a lax landlord. At least he's paying for the damage caused!

romany said...

agh! i can't wait to see it...
xx

Jinx said...

Oh wow, my stomach hurts now. That sounds like the many apartments I grew up in! I hate landlords, who have multiple similarities to the roaches. This is why I own my house.

Thanks for the distraction from my research. =) ROFLMFAO!

Hope it all gets fixed soon.

KD said...

That Niagara Falls gets around. It found my last house three times. When I finally escaped my lease, "landlord" was first on my list of necessities. My apartment is tiny and expensive, but my landlord is to die for.

I'm working on cloning him; I'll send you a copy when I do.

Laura Anne said...

oh my god. I have this urge to send my super Super over there. He would not only fix everything, tsking all the while, but would kick your landlord for you (and, quite possibly, tuck you under his arm and bring you back here We have a cute studio that's about to go on the market...)

Sharon Gerlach said...

Aaahhh...are you sure we aren't related? That much bad karma can't exist outside a family bloodline, can it??

All I can say is (as I wipe tears of laughter from my face) is at least you can have a sense of humor about it. Someone needs to thump your landlord to see if the loose connections in his brain (i.e. those connected to simply human concern and courtesy) might fuse long enough to take care of his doggone responsibilities.

My niece has a set of keys to our house, just in case. In the event we get lock ed out, we'll only have about a 12-18 hour wait because she's so darn hard to reach (perhaps she's related to your landlord...). Luckily there is a microbrewery within walking distance of our house. And a pizza place. And an all-night grocery. And a liquor store. What more could a girl ask for?

clindsay said...

Laura Anne -

I would gladly accept your super super Super!

I miss my old super and my old apartment in Astoria. The super there, Victor, was amazing. He was on top of things immediately all the time. Plus, ya know, ASTORIA!

I lost that apartment because after three years of being unemployed or under-employed, I just couldn't afford the rent anymore. (I was a victim of the very first Random House/Ballantine restructuring. Good times!)

I moved out here to Bumfuck just because it was the least expensive place I could find and woman who lived in the apartment said she'd allow me to bring my cats. I'd been looking for four months and was essentially homeless during that time. Not an experience I care to repeat, thanks! =)

I do like my housemate. But I confess that after living here for six months, I've come to hate this part of Queens with a passion heretofore reserved only for cockroaches and Jerry Falwell. I miss Astoria like crazy. And I miss being near a subway. And I miss being able to afford to live in New York. (This whole agents-not actually-getting-a-salary thing blows.)

Where do you live? And just how much is that studio, anyway? :-P

C-

Elissa M said...

And people wonder why they can't pay me to live in NYC. Hilarious story though. It's great you can laugh about it (after the fact).

Laura Anne said...

I'm in Riverdale (or, as Ellen Datlow called it, "northernmost northern Manhattan, although technically it's the Bronx). Fabulous neighborhood, still not too pricey for buying or renting...

slf said...

Holy crap. And in Seattle we all whined about getting trapped in the house (nice, warm house with intact roof) for a week by the snow.

Leatherdykeuk said...

Oh Gods!
You could write a boo... No, wait...

ChristaCarol said...

Eeep, sorry to hear about all the bad luck, but you tell it in such an entertaining way I can't help but laugh. Hope everything gets squared out and your landlord stops being such an ass.

michaeljasper said...

This whole post made my stomach hurt. And not in a good way.

Though I do enjoy the jets landing while we're on the phone...

Take care!

bryngreenwood said...

It's like what they say about marriage: don't pick your spouse, pick your in-laws. Don't pick the apartment, pick the landlord.

I feel like I should apologize for laughing so hard at your suffering, but...

Word verif: monionsu

Montana Barn Cat said...

Give up!

Kim Kasch said...

OMG: What a night! But my husband has you beat. He got locked outside with our 2 year old inside - all alone - on the first girls' weekend when I got away after having our son.

Would have killed him - if anything had happened to my babe - luckily family is still intact our son unlocked the door for daddy by crawling up on a highchair. :)

H. L. Dyer said...

Ugh! I shall redouble my leak-free apartment finding vibes in your general direction.

When the soft underbelly of a jet glides close and the pilot whips out the landing gear, it seems indecent somehow. Like a flasher, almost...

Joanna said...

Dude.

ellen-datlow said...

Oh my. I apologize but I DID laugh. But I also feel for you.
After ignoring the $300 + addition the landlord added to my rent statement monthly for about three years (after my toilet started spitting up water--or rather gushing at 3am on a Sunday morning at which I called the first plumber I could find in the phone book --because my super is --illegally--not on the premises or available 24/7)...they finally, a few months ago, removed the charge.

Lily Cate said...

Ah, the lockout.
I've done it from the car. I've done it from the apartment building lobby, the dorm room, the second story flat with the antique self-locking door while the one year old was inside eating lunch. Even the garage door with a code I couldn't remember if you beat me with a dead raccoon.

Yes. priceless.
I only got flooded, usually, when the Cubs games were on, and the guy upstairs would forget about the running sink while he watched an inning or two.

Assome.

ryan field said...

This landlord is one of those who give the rest of us bad names. I've had a few bad landlords like this, and vowed that when I became a landlord I wouldn't repeat their mistakes. My tenant recently called and said there was a leak; the roof guy was there in an hour putting up a tarp until he could really fix it. And this past weekend I was salting and sweeping ice and snow at six in the morning so my tenant could get in and out safely. I haven't raised her rent in five years; she's good, pays on time and I never have problems. But I really do care about the quality of her life, and I think that's because I had a few landlords who didn't give a damn about the quality of my life.

freddie said...

Oh, I'm so sorry. In college I have a "garden" apartment that flooded with sewage water twice. Landlord wasn't all that quick in responding, either. So I called him and told him I was going to a hotel until he fixed the problem and cleaned out all the sewage water, and he could either reimburse me or take the hotel bill off my rent. (He took the hotel bill off my rent). Luckily, nothing I owned was damaged.

I hope you find the apartment of your dreams soon. Or at least a nice apartment with caring neighbors.

ccallicotte said...

Oh, wow. So sorry to hear about your horrible landlord. But at least you're retaining a sense of humor about it! I had a landlord from hell at one point - we had black mold growing on all the walls, and I lost a mattress, several duffel bags, some clothes, and a some of my favorite shoes. Plus I was constantly congested whenever I was home. After several unreturned calls, the genius brought me a 1/2 empty (or was it 1/2 full?) bottle of Lysol and advised me to scrub the walls with a good sponge.

Georgiana said...

What a horrible experience. It reminds of me of Dark Water, a movie that scared the pants off of me. Hope everything is better now.