Where have you lived, Andrew Moseman?
12th St, Lincoln, Neb., June 2004 to May 2005, $300/mo.
The studio was on the fourth floor of the Spaghetti Works building just off the University of Nebraska campus. It was the first real place I rented after the dorms. To New Yorkers for whom renting above a restaurant is as remarkable as mice and a hit-or-miss drain, it’s nearly impossible to convey the dust cloud of novelty kicked up by telling someone in Lincoln, Nebraska that this is your living situation.
We’re not talking about some three-story on Smith Street here, with a couple of Tetris assemblage apartments stacked on top of a boutique that hocks Mighty Wallets and water bottles with screenprinted squirrels on them. The second, third, and fourth floors of the Spag Works building were painted in stark white just old enough to look faded. Each story consisted of one hall with identical doors on each side leading to identical tiny boxes. Think moldy penitentiary, but with the faint odor of marinara. And all this rested on top of the kind of restaurant that makes you understand how a plurality of Americans could come to see the Olive Garden as “upmarket.” I’d gone there on dorms socials. The buffet was well-maintained.
Oh, and: It had a Murphy bed. I’m serious.
During the honeymoon week after you move into an apartment with a Murphy bed, it’s your little life Easter egg. After that it’s just a disgusting, squishy rectangular prison to be hidden away in its cupboard. The mattress never comes streaked with the faded red you imagine, proof that it’s a murder mattress someone cleaned halfheartedly before just Febreezing the thing and calling it good. In reality it’s usually impressed with a faded brown, shame strata left behind by long-forgotten romps that you don’t want to think about, either.
Eventually, I gave up on the fold-down futon and slept on the Murphy. It was damn comfortable, actually.
At the end of the hall you could exit to the fire escape without setting off the alarm; on numerous occasions it saved a minute or two off trips to the east side of campus. Years later, I heard that it had collapsed.
Northeast Community College, Norfolk, Neb., May to August 2005, $350/mo.
Way in the back corner of the campus sat two identical “apartment-style” dorms built for whoever would be damn fool enough to go to community college and live on-campus. They sat empty all summer, so someone who knew someone talked the college housing authority into renting one to me while I interned at the local newspaper.
Northeast Community College is a dry campus. But I turned 21 a month prior to moving, and I was mostly alone in this tacky excuse for communal living space. So, bottles. Everywhere.
Toward the end of summer the maintenance man came to replace my air conditioner’s filter. Fine, I said to him as I pulled off in my Ford Escort and puttered to work. He reported me to the academic authorities. They threatened a small fine, but the angular blond woman who ran this sterile motel settled for a sanctimonious speech about being a guest and breaking their trust. You know—this is your punishment, that you disappointed us. For the final month of summer I brought all my booze into the apartment tucked inside an opaque backpack, and disposed of all the empty bottles in a strip of trees behind the building that marked the boundary between college and cornfield.
Hotellet, Sodertorns Hogskola, Flemingsberg, Sweden, August to December 2005, incl. in rent
You know those pre-packaged Price-Is-Right showrooms you’ve eyed longingly on Saturday trips to the Ikea store? Well, lose the warmth of the carefree pillowcases and imagine only the monochromatic mod life essentials that you would select to stock every identical dorm room, if you were an austere Nordic administrator.
Nothing takes the edge off having ample free time and insufficient funding in a cold, unaffordable foreign country like living in a gunmetal box with nothing but Ikea paraphernalia. Another bad decision by the university’s supplier: Using those Ikea slats (at the cheapest trim level) in the place of box springs on beds that exchange students will use. Slats come undone rather easily, if you shake them.
11th St, Lincoln, Neb., January 2006 to May 2006, $249/mo.
Hardwood floor. Two bedrooms. Glass doorknobs. Nice kitchen. Front balcony. Sprawling L-shaped living area with charming built-in old wood storage. I tell you this only to drive home how much space you could afford if only, dear friend, you would consent to live in one of the charming small cities of our nation’s heartland. That said, my roommate and I had just spent all our pennies to study abroad. So we turned on the dirt-cheap heat only when we had girls over.
W. Wilson St, Madison, Wis., August 2006 to August 2007, $330/mo.
During a what-the-hell-now year in Americorps, I rented a room, one of five individually rented rooms on the first floor of gigantic college flop house between the train tracks on the bike path.
I’d never really seen a pure “wow” feature. But the West Wilson house had a “wow” feature, and I’m not talking about a veranda or the crude pot leaf graffiti on the basement walls. This place had a second bathroom with a wood-paneled walls and a freaking Jacuzzi shoved into a nook.
A freaking Jacuzzi is the perfect irrational detail to make an aimless 22-year-old say, definitely, I’ll sign the lease on this 6 x 9 bedroom with no clue who’ll fill the other rooms (champions, btw). But what realtors don’t tell you when they show you the “wow” hot tub is that just having a hot tub is not enough. Our tub pulled from a water heater that could generate only enough hot water fill a third of the bowl before the flow turned Titanic passenger-killing cold. Discovering this situation was like a punch to the kidneys—a punch to the kidneys that continues to ache for days afterward because you can’t get enough hot water in the Jacuzzi to soothe your kidney bruises. No number of stainless steel pot-fulls of water, brought to boil on the stove and poured into the spa, will do the job.
I made it half-work one time, the night after taking the GRE. It was half-full, and lukewarm. I had wine, which helped.
14th St, Gowanus, Brooklyn, N.Y., May to October 2008, $675/mo.
Having lived in these bottom dollar Midwestern flats, I was utterly unprepared for what it would take for someone of essentially no other means to take a $1000/month summer internship and live off that, plus whatever was left over from a small Sallie Mae student loan. Fortunately an old friend from Nebraska set me up with a sublet deep in Gowanus, in one of the last residences before you reach the construction wholesalers who inhabit the blight under the BQE. I rode the $15 Fung Wah bus from MIT to inspect the place in early summer. My gawking and poking and careful consideration were merely for show. With weeks to go, I would have taken anyone who would have taken me.
The place had a garden-level entrance, and so water leaked under the front door and into this submerged square with a drain that you’d have to lunge over into the living room. I had a high time of it living here, burning through the Sallie Mae money on good beer and bad tacos. Later in the summer the money ran out and the gentleman who was renting out the room took the bed. I lived out the weeks sleeping on a mattress obtained through questionable circumstances and no frame, erecting a gradually larger pyramid of 24 oz. Coors original cans that could be had at a nearby bodega for a buck apiece.
Rogers Ave, Crown Heights, Brooklyn, N.Y., October to December 2008, $750/mo.
You could tell this apartment was the bleeding edge of Prospect/Crown Heights gentrification in 2008 because none of the other apartments in the building were done. The unknowable Hasidic landlord chose to fix up the building’s six residences one at time, so a person walked through the building’s front door that had no real lock (more on this later) and up the sawdust-covered stairs that belonged in a shot-out ghost mansion to the top. There, behind a grey metal door imported from an airline hangar, stood our beautiful hardwood floored, brick-exposed, three-bedroom apartment.
While construction continued, one of the workers served as impromptu doorman and gatekeeper, removing the 2 x 4 that barred the door to allow your coming and going, provided you could wake him up. Perhaps not surprisingly, our apartment was burgled and my Macbook disappeared—this after I was mugged coming home from watching Obama’s election at a bar. Look, I can take a hint.
Smith St, Gowanus/Carroll Gardens, Brooklyn, N.Y., January to December 2009, $840/mo.
Now freelancing full-time out of inertia rather than ambition, I should not have spent this much on rent, despite the fact that it’s a pittance by New York City standards. I did anyway. I moved in with a friend and his later-wife. It worked.
Smith apartment was a shiny new building plunked in an oddly shaped spot at Smith & 9th, in the shadow of that subway station and its bird’s nest of steel, within nose-shot of the Gowanus Canal. You can see the Statue of Liberty from the rooftop, which we weren’t supposed to have access to.
We were our apartment’s first tenants, which knocked something off the rent because of the owner’s need to fill it, but brought its own issues. For example, we moved in at the start of January, but couldn’t secure a Verizon hookup to the building until mid-February, leaving me to work through someone’s unsecured Netgear router and dart down Court or Smith St to file stories from coffee shops when my anonymous Wi-Fi patron let me down. We scratched up the new floor a little, but never received a dime of deposit back from the landlord, who was one of those landlords who got by with the life skills of a credit card junkie—specifically, the ability to vanish from the grid the moment someone is about to ask you for money.
Maspeth Ave, Williamsburg, Brooklyn, N.Y., January 2010 to May 2011, $850/mo.
“It’d be fun to live in Williamsburg,” I thought. I don’t live there anymore.
Lefferts Ave, Prospect Lefferts Garden, Brooklyn, N.Y., $925/mo.
For years now Lefferts has been That Neighborhood About to Get Money. Just this February The Secret got out. In my year and a half here, however, we’re down two cute bakeries, so don’t believe the hype. Nevertheless, the other day I had to scurry away from some manner of local reporter-type who stopped me on my way back from the wine shop to see if I’d like to talk to him about changes in the neighborhood. I would not like to do that.
Andrew Moseman is the online editor of Popular Mechanics.