In the 1970s, after becoming single again, I soon realized I had to move into NYC as the suburbs were not for me.
I looked at several apartments—some with bathtubs in the kitchen, one with a shower in the middle of a kitchen, one claiming to be a one bedroom (but I estimated you could only fit a twin bed wall to wall), sublets, on and on.
A friend recommended I talk to a superintendent in a great neighborhood on the Upper East Side. The building was on 70th Street between Second Avenue and Third Avenue. I went there and was directed to take the elevator DOWN.
I met the super, an elderly lady who lived in an apartment at the other end of the basement. The basement also contained a washer and dryer—the laundry room for the entire building. I was then shown the tiny apartment right next to the laundry room. Technically it was not below ground; the basement of this building was level with a courtyard behind it and my apartment had one window in it. It also had pipes on the ceiling going cross ways every which way. The bathroom included a shower, sink, and toilet, while the kitchen consisted of a half refrigerator with a hot plate. I’m guessing the apartment was like 20 by 10 feet. When I opened the convertible sofa the bed touched the other wall. No closet.
In its favor, it was really cheap—about $164. I was then interviewed by the owners of the building and given a one- or two-year lease… I grabbed it. And hoped the pipes would not leak. (They did not.)
I had a closet container made and somehow it fit in the elevator and into the apartment in one piece. I don’t think I even had a table and chairs. As I mentioned, I did have a convertible sofa.
When I moved in, my sister, brother-in-law and their children came to help me move and see the apartment. My nephew was only two at the time and all he did was look up at those pipes on the ceiling and stare and point.
One day near Christmas I was sitting in the apartment and heard the clinking of glasses and lots of movement above me. Later I heard a crash outside the courtyard. The next day I ran into my super, and she informed me that there had been a fire in the apartment above me. The fire department had had to break down the door. It was an electrical fire caused apparently by a toaster or toaster oven.
My super told me that she found what remained of the electric oven/toaster in the courtyard but the tenant refused to admit he had thrown it out the window. If you don’t know, electrical fires are the worst, and the apartment was a mess with all the windows broken, and the tenant was liable for the door, since he was supposed to leave a key with the super.
I stayed in that apartment two years. During that time I had the opportunity to see L-shaped studio apartments and suddenly my basement apartment was not enough.
So I started a search for a larger apartment. One real estate agent told me to go back to Queens when I gave him my budget. Somehow I did find an agent that sent me to a great elevator building on 38th Street between Second Avenue and First Avenue. The apartment, called a 2-and-a-half-room, was located on the third floor. It had a closet when you walked in, a living room with window, and a California kitchen. For those of you unfamiliar with this—I now had a stove, sink and half refrigerator in an alcove right in the living room. Then there was another closet, a huge bathroom with tub and shower, and a bedroom with a window. A little more than I wanted to pay—but it was so bright with sunshine I grabbed it. (Unfortunately two years later, a builder put up a small needle building which cut off my sunlight.)
“Who is it?” You don’t want to know
Again, soon after I moved in, my sister’s family came to see the apartment. Their son was now 4 and I was curious to see if he would remember my old basement apartment since he was only there once. Sure enough, he walked in and didn’t say anything but he immediately looked up at the ceiling to check it out. So that 4-year-old mind retained those ceiling pipes he’d seen at 2 years old!!
While living there for more than 13 years, one incident stands out. I used to occasionally take the elevator up my 3 flights, and as I would round the corner to put the key in my lock, the tenant in an apartment catty-corner to mine would yell out several times, “Who is it? Who is it”?
How odd, I thought. This went on for a while and I figured out that the closing of the elevator door must have sounded like a knocking on his door.
Then one night I was watching TV in my apartment and I heard what sounded like a woman’s scream and then footsteps running down the stairs right outside my door.
Next I heard a cop’s walkie-talkie—a couple of them. I opened the door and, yes, there were two cops standing there, so I stepped back, but not before I saw two other cops escort a woman down the stairs from the catty-corner apartment. As soon as the dust settled, I went to my doorman to get the scoop. The man who lived there had been with his girlfriend. A visitor came and shot him. (Thus her scream and running downstairs.) But, my doorman reassured me, it was a small gun and only a small hole in the guy’s arm!
That tenant never came back. And life went on as normal until the building decided to renovate. The building tore up the lobby floor without notice to the apartment dwellers and we came home to chopped-up marble and two very shaky boarded paths to the elevator and the stairs. One night, as the renovation progressed, I came home and was warned by my neighbor upstairs that I would be able to see into my next-door neighbor’s apartment from my bathroom medicine cabinet. Not a new feature I was looking for!
Shortly after that, I moved to 21st Street and Third Avenue to a real L-shaped studio and I stayed there for 19 years until I relocated to a place with warm sunshine and no snow. Living in the city was fun, though. Things happened, some very funny, some strange, and also there were several celebrity sightings or encounters, subway stories, etc.
But, as they say, that’s another story.
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