‘Midwestern Girls have all the luck’
When I arrived in New York, fresh from the Midwest and eager to conquer the world of advertising, I faced a most formidable challenge. No, it wasn’t rising to the high expectations of my new employers at Ogilvy & Mather Advertising. It was finding an apartment.
This was back about the time that the earth’s crust was cooling. But then, as now, finding an apartment that one could both abide and afford was a most daunting task.
I can’t remember the precise formula (remember, the earth had just cooled at this point), but it had something to do with rent being a certain percentage of your take-home pay. At any rate, this magic figure fixed firmly in my head, I combed the classifieds.
Most of the listings I could afford sounded dreary and dungeon-like. And those were the good ones. But there among the six-stewardesses-looking-for-a-roomie queries was a real gem: a 1200 sq. ft. floor-through in an Upper East Side brownstone. I dialed the number lickety-split, only to discover that, duh, sure, the place had just been rented.
Now here’s where being a Midwesterner has its advantages. I got to talking (try to stop me) to the man on the phone. He must have liked the sound of my voice because he and his wife (yup, I talked to her too) agreed to let me ‘look at the apartment anyway so I could get an idea of what I could expect to find in New York’.
I got myself up to the Upper East Side as fast as I could, where I met the man and his wife (both nice, both psychoanalysts). They owned the building and lived and worked on the first two floors. A couple of rent control tenants they couldn’t get rid of lived on the third floor, their son (they couldn’t get rid of him either) was on the fourth.
Whoever Lucky Just-Rented-It Person was, he/she was going to get the fifth floor. Yes, the whole damned floor: big living room, equally big bedroom, cute kitchen with those retro enamel appliances, roomy bathroom, plus floor-to-ceiling windows, fireplace (non-working, but still). Slaver, drool. This was total apartment-hunter porn.
Well, surprise surprise. I got the apartment. Turns out I reminded the psychoanalyst/landlord couple of their daughter (in a good way, I’m assuming). So they changed their minds and rented it to me instead of Newly-Unlucky Just-Rented-It Person.
So where does Vladimir Horowitz come in?
Turns out the apartment did have one ‘drawback’. Maestro Horowitz lived in the building behind mine. So my bedroom was just across from whatever room was on the back of his fifth floor. Maybe it was his bedroom too. Whatever, it had a piano in it for sure. Because almost every night he would be playing it. A lot. The same pieces, over and over again, on into the night.
It was amazing, of course. And a lot cheaper than Carnegie Hall. But a teensy part of me wanted to open my bedroom window and shout something like ‘Could you keep it down? Some people have to get up in the morning already!’ Maybe even throw a shoe.
What about you? Any apartment-hunt tales to share? Odd brushes with celebrity? They don’t have to involve pianos, or even bedrooms.
Amagansett, New York. August 2014