Whenever I get to forgetting that life actually is better than it used to be—or is easier in many ways, at least—I remind myself that we used to live in a studio apartment on the Upper East Side of Manhattan where the floors were so slanted, I once opened the broiler to check on some chicken, and it all slid out onto the floor, piece by piece. I had to keep my feet hooked under my desk or I’d roll away from it and into the foot of the bed, which was just a few inches behind me because the place was so tiny.
The fuse boxes in the basement hung from their own wires, and whenever I blew a fuse and had to change it, which happened way more than I would have preferred, I had to kick the basement door in because the super kept padlocking it. The final time I did that, the old man who lived at the top of the basement stairs opened his door to yell at me.
“What the hell are you doing?” he said.
“Kicking the door in.”
“Why the hell are you kicking the door in?”
“Because they keep locking it, and I keep blowing fuses.”
“Why didn’t you ask me for the key?”
“I didn’t know you had the key.”
“What’s your name?”
The old man thought about the situation for a moment. “You’re all right, Mike,” he said, and closed his door.
The only outlet in the kitchen was in the landlord halo overhead, so the ‘fridge ran off an extension cord hanging from the ceiling, next to a Punisher action figure that served as a chain pull for the light. And the water pressure was such that if two people in the building forgot to jiggle the handle and left their toilets running when they went to work, the water was dangerously hot and you couldn’t take a shower that day.
Neighbors would routinely put things down the toilet that clogged up the drain pipe leading out of the building—one time it was an undershirt—and the water would back up and take out the boiler, so we’d have no hot water or heat for a day or two and had to go a block away to the community-center gym to shower. Until the day a steam main blew in front of the gym, coating that entire block with asbestos. The gym closed for a week, and when the hot water went out, Renée and I found ourselves, buckets and towels in hand, walking up to the kind and generous Jennifer Gniady’s place to use her shower. (Thanks again, Jenn.)
Funny thing about New York. I never considered myself anything but incredibly lucky to have that apartment because it was cheap.
I’m luckier now.