Tuesday, May 29, 2012

Into the Wild of Roommate-dom

Story from the front. An anthropological treatise.

When one journeys into the hazardous land of Craigslist to obtain new habitation, one cannot expect the highest quality of living situations.  Indeed, within this urban jungle, this forest of concrete, brick, and brownstone, lie untold variations of human.

Some varieties of the roommate species portray one personality, then reveal their true qualities after a short time, adopting an affect scientifically known as “fake nice.” Characteristics attributed to this breed include the insincere laugh (which, in practice, is more of a “titter” or polite “heh heh” than a genuine “chuckle” or even “guffaw”), the adopted tone used in speaking to the roommate (usually higher in pitch), and the patronizing language (“Oh, wow.  You went to the gym?  Good for you!”)  Examples of this human breed include KSwiss, aka New York Roommate/Case Study #1. Additional practices include hoarding the remainder of roommates' security deposits.

Another peculiar type of roommate is the brilliantly colored, “no holds barred” variety.   This breed exhibits no apparent malice nor any intent to disrupt the harmonious living of the apartment.  Though this means that she is generally unwilling to actively contribute to the household by performing communal functions such as washing the accumulated dishes or cleansing the floor surfaces, such behavior renders her remarkably open to other personalities in the community and to their habits.  This type of roommate will make such comments as the following: “I’m totally laid-back, too.  I mean, you can bring six guys into the living room and I can walk in to find them in their underwear smoking pot, for all I care. In fact, bring it on; it’s been kind of a dry spell.”  The primary weakness of New York Roommate/Case Study #2 may, in fact, be that she is too accepting and willing.

A final variety of roommate researched in this study belongs to the subset “artist” and the more specific genus “anal artist.”  Unlike the whimsical “free spirit” association of many creative types, this type of artist is welcoming yet surprisingly territorial, kindly yet firmly demanding space and quiet in which to work, prohibiting shoes to be worn in the apartment as they “track the city in.”  As the lease-holder, she retains power over the hive, decorating the communal space with “a friend’s painting-slash-sculpture” that this anthropologist deems atrocious.  Though this roommate variety exhibits a meticulously managed creativity, New York Roommate/Case Study #3 is not without anomaly.

I present a case study.  Wednesday morning, approximately 7:15 am, this anthropologist had returned from the gymnasium where she had physically exerted herself to the point of attaining a distinctly reddish-purple hue, which was accented by the profusion of perspiration coating her hair and clothing.  Thus, she prepared to partake in the daily cleansing ritual – the shower – but only after re-hydrating by feverishly gulping fresh water.  The water receptacle – the second – was not fully emptied as this anthropologist entered the bathroom to perform the shower ritual.  In the moment between setting the glass on the counter and turning to lock the door, Case Study #3 entered the room.

Thus, this anthropologist was presented with the anal-artsy roommate in her natural state.

Surprised, Case Study #3 rushed back to her personal space and refused to answer the anthropologist’s inquiries into whether she required use of the facilities before the performance of the shower ritual.

After reviewing the Dictionary of Anthropological Terms to accurately yet concisely describe the curious incident, I have selected the following designation: Awkward.

(In an entirely unrelated incident, I present another variant of public "awkwardness" or, perhaps, acute "embarrassment." However, upon further thought, one theme of this particular embarrassment may coincide with the previously mentioned incident...)

Monday, May 28, 2012

Memorial Day 2012

Memorial Day is a day in which we honor the past, those who have fought for us, and paid days off of work(!).  Although last week I prepared by writing a truly thrilling recipe post for Memorial Day grilling on my work's blog (despite the fact that I had neither a grill nor an invitation to a barbecue), I am spending the afternoon in a coffee shop, catching up on some much-needed writing and other tasks.  Thus, I am memorializing days gone by of coffee shop grading days and pre-job coffee shop writing, job applying, and general dallying days.

The Stable House

 A recently opened coffee shop without too much traffic on the holiday, I am a fan of the Stable House so far because it is spacious, has a variety of seating with some available outlets, features a courteous and intriguing staff (thus far), has air conditioning, and miraculously stays open late during the week.


Free burger!

Thursday, May 24, 2012

New York Babel, or the Multi-Lingual Hazards of Getting Coffee

You Know You're In New York When...
Getting coffee makes you seem like an insensitive ass.

I took a different subway route to work today just because I had a coffee craving.  I’m no coffee connoisseur, nor am I a coffee addict or even a regular coffee drinker.  BUT, on those early mornings when it was exceptionally difficult to make my way to Lenoir City to teach students who didn’t really want to discuss sentence structure, thesis statements, or William Faulkner, I would stop by the grand, classy establishment of Dunkin’ Donuts for some empowerment, courtesy of french vanilla coffee. 

On a drizzly New York morning, the fourth in a row of humid, depressing city mornings, I   wanted some warmth from nostalgia and coffee love. I rode the A all the way to the  Times Square stop, emerged in front of the New York Times building (for a moment, yes, pretending that I was important enough to enter and/or work there), then entered the combined Dunkin Donuts/Baskin Robbins franchise on 40th.  Surprisingly, no line.

I walked up to the register and ordered my small coffee.

“Would you something something something something?” said the woman behind the register.

“Pardon me?”

The cashier looked at me reproachfully. “Words I don’t understand and many of them — many of them — all ending in a rise in pitch QUESTION?”

See, the cashier was a cute yet unhappy (unimaginable, right?  Seeing as how she worked at Dunkin’ Donuts during the morning rush hour...) Indian girl with an incredibly thick accent.  On top of that, however, she had a lisp.

With the proper amount of kindness, asking someone to repeat themselves once because they have a heavy accent is understandable and even, perhaps, considerate.  Asking more than once just makes you seem like an uneducated, isolated, “Amurica”-lovin’ fool.

So I decided to pretend I understood. “Yeah.”

She looked at me disgustedly.  Clearly answering in the affirmative was not an answer option. So she repeated herself again, very slowly, as if talking to the elderly or the mentally handicapped.  Or both.

I still didn’t get it.

Somehow, I managed to get my coffee (half-filled), feeling like a jerk while simultaneously being convicted that I need to travel more. While one of my absolute favorite aspects of New York City is the incredible diversity, its fascinating mix of people, culture, and language that somehow work together...it is also sometimes a hazard.

Of course, if I’m experiencing guilt over being an insensitive ass, then it probably reveals that I am not yet a New Yorker.

Monday, May 14, 2012

New Pad

Unless you have a massive salary, trust fund, or inheritance (and there are plenty of people in this city that do), New York makes it nearly impossible to have a comfortable living situation.  If you want space, a little privacy, and affordable, you’re forced to live in a relatively unsafe neighborhood or far from basic life supports like the train, restaurants, bodegas, etc.  If you want location, be prepared to pay and to learn how to maximize every square inch of space (lofts are not only for dorm rooms, people). 

Let us not forget about roommates.  New York is one of the few places where it is socially acceptable to have roommates over the age of 30.  In fact, since the single life is so encouraged at least until your 30s, roommates are likewise encouraged.  How else will you be able to afford the tiny futon that barely fits into your “living room”?

My first room in New York was a sublet in an adorable, historic brownstone on a fairly quiet, tree-lined street.  Although the room was not exactly my favorite color scheme (Victoria Secret pink stripes), it had two good-sized closets.  I’m going to guess that it was roughly 10’ x 6’.  My bed was a queen-size mattress on the floor.  When I convinced myself to change the sheets, I had to wrestle the mattress out from the wall, pull the fitted sheet over, then literally stand on the edges and hop up and down to wedge the mattress ends back against the wall.  When I had two visitors one week, we slept on the mattress sideways, our three pairs of legs comically hanging off the end.

The main reasons I moved into that apartment were A) it was somewhat affordable, B) the tenant agreed to let me move in after only a Skype conversation from Mississippi and my friend’s stopping by to vouch for my character, and C) it was only a 3-month sublease, which gave me time to get to New York, find a job, and figure out what I needed to do to live. Thus, the roommate, whom we have (un)affectionately dubbed “KSwiss,” was kind and trusting enough to let me move in, and it wasn’t an awful situation.

But it could have been better.  After four months of passive aggressive notes and texts from inside the apartment, hypocritically leaving a sink-full of dirty dishes every morning under the “Kitchen Rules” chart that listed “wash dishes after use” as #1, screaming matches with her (basically) live-in boyfriend (often in the presence of his 4-year-old daughter), and a general feeling of being uncomfortable in my “home,” I was somewhat glad when a series of quick events led me to move out and relocate two blocks away. (On a side note, after multiple texts, a surprise stop-by, and being stood up at a scheduled meeting time, KSwiss has yet to fully return my deposit and some highly prized kitchenware that I forgot – the finger-loop vegetable peeler?  Come on.  Necessary.)

I’m in a worse location now, unfortunately.  I’m on a busy, ugly street that has forced me to wear earplugs to bed for the first time in my life.  Along with the street sweepers, the sirens, and the horns, there is an astonishing amount of shouting, angry people on the street in the wee hours of the morning, when the streetlights make my room perpetually light. I also now live directly above a 24-hour halal buffet, which means that my room periodically smells like garlic, onion, and unidentifiable spice. BUT the trade-off is that for only a few bucks more than what I was paying, I get the biggest room I’ve EVER had – in New York or elsewhere, accompanied by an EXTRA room that is pretty darn close to the bedroom I was living in at KSwiss’s place.   

For a few weeks, I was granted the privilege of living with fantastic furniture from the girl from whom I’m subletting; girl’s got taste.  Originally, I was to use the furniture through May.  Then May 15.  Then May 12 at 11am.  Then May 12 at 10am.  Then the movers showed up at 9:30am.  Sigh.  Now the space in the room seems superfluous and indulgent.  However, after a trip to IKEA (I know, I know, but I’m on a serious budget, people) and a little time, I will have it decorated.  As a nester, I’m immensely excited about this possibility, about making it home.

(Oh, and so far the roommates – two of them – are so much more chill and comfortable.  YAY.)

View into side room

Side room

Yes, that's Barbra.  Don't judge.

The sad AFTER

Friday, May 11, 2012

You Know You're in New York When...

The subway steps lead you out to your stop, to a radical culture clash.

The scene: Bed-Stuy, Brooklyn.  Wednesday 9:15pm.

The top of the stairs leading to the Queens-bound A train have a curious scent, a mixture of car exhaust, underground dankness (which I’m sure will only improve as summer temperatures rise), and cheap tomato sauce and rubber cheese from the $1 pizza place on the corner.  A young girl, about 4 years old with braids and plastic barrettes, climbed the stairs wearily and slowly in a way that suggested a child’s dramatically imagined exhaustion, her mother calling from the top of the stairs with exasperation: “Hurry up!”  Three old men in  various stages of anachronistic winter apparel argued loudly at the top of the stairs.  Cars honked, loud shrieking laughter carried down the street, and irritated commuters huffed as they poured out of the subway, just wanting to get home.

The corner was a tide pool of a harried city community, a small pocket of Bed-Stuy that people moved through hurriedly and brusquely.  Yet despite trying to stay caught in the flow of the everyday, earbuds in place and book in hand, two young Orthodox Jews approached me - black dress and hat, twisted payot and all. “Pardon me, but do you happen to be Jewish?”

Indeed, I do not.  But I do happen to enjoy Brooklyn.