I longed to trade my two hour commute for a fifteen minute bike ride. I imagined the adobe cabin we could live in, surrounded by desert emptiness.
Having lived in New York City for nearly a decade (in six separate residences), I’m convinced that the only variety of New York apartment hunt is the soul-crushingly terrible one.
In Montreal, many apartments are floors of a former single-family home, and have stairs on the outside as a result. Our landlord liked to perch on this staircase, literally right outside of my window, and argue with various contractors.
I have only lived alone once, and it was not by choice. When I was a senior in college, my boyfriend broke up with me over the phone from San Diego, saddling me with a lovely studio apartment with an eat-in kitchen, lots of sun, and a rent payment that I couldn’t really afford. I paid my rent using a loan that I am still most likely paying off, and spent a lot of that long winter marooned on my bed eating frozen grapes and watching the Food Network, since I refused to cancel the expensive cable. I lived there for the whole year, alone, but was too sulky to appreciate what I had.
In Dar es Salaam, Tanzania’s largest city and de facto capital, $500 a month will get you a little room in a tin-roofed outbuilding. You’ll get above-average electricity, too. “Above average,” because you can expect frequent blackouts in Dar—that’s why most expats and well-off Tanzanians have standby generators. My studio doesn’t have a standby generator, but it is hooked into the electrical system of nearby Muhimbilli National Hospital. I don’t know how or why we get to siphon off their power, but the government does a pretty good job pumping watts into Muhimbilli. Even now, as the long dry season transitions into the short rains, and there’s no water in the hydroelectric dams.
Madison won’t tell you how many hundreds of people touched my hair in the twenty-three years I lived there without asking first and called it “neat.”
Living in Hartford, I still see art and music, and I get to live in a city, and my rent is about one third of what I would pay for an equivalent apartment in Brooklyn.
In mid-October I packed up my entire adult life and shlepped it south on I-95. This is what that cost me.
I moved into my first apartment, one block off campus, the summer after my sophomore year in college. The unit was on the upper-floor of a craftsman-style duplex, with two real bedrooms and three pseudo-bedrooms that were actually converted sun porches, which were lovely and light-filled in the summer, but terrifyingly cold during the winter.
We lived in a brownstone off of Eight Mile in a decidedly not dangerous and predominantly gay area. To the west of us, houses began to fall in on themselves and the night became progressively darker. The streetlights were out.
Fantasies and gratitude for reality aren’t mutually exclusive! Or maybe fantasies distract from gratitude. I don’t know! It’s not greedy! Or is it?
While I was gone, I met a lot of people who live in cities and countries all over the world: Brisbane, Malaysia, Edinburgh, Montreal, Uruguay, Austin, “somewhere in Michigan you’ve never heard of, I bet.” I also met a few nomads—both singles and people with spouses and children who have given up permanent addresses to travel the world and stay in places for just months at a time.
“Why?” is the most obvious question.
+ Portable charger to keep my phone alive during viewings, $35.
+ Bottles of water grabbed between viewings, $3.
+ Emergency granola bar to keep from fainting one day in the August heat, $1.50.
Besides me, David Sedaris is the only American I know of who spent a big part of his early 20s rooming with an elderly stranger. He describes this time, during which he took up residence in a Chapel Hill boarding house out of some vague, misplaced nostalgia for an erstwhile age, in his 2007 essay “This Old House.” But the four months I spent with C.C. were a little different.