My Washington Square West Apartment for $900 a Month

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01/17/2014

Neighborhood: Featured, Greenwich Village

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L. Monroe
Looking to rent to current student.
900/month utilities included,
12 month lease, 1500 sq. ft.

The apartment is on Washington Square West, above John Sexton, sheltering Jude Law, haunted by the ghost of Eleanor Roosevelt. A piece of hair is glued by sweat down the side of my face, the end of the strand habituates itself onto my sticky lips. I pull my blouse away from my skin, which now radiates Tussy roll-on and failure, pertaining to my inability to use enough detergent. The Tussy is free (I use my roommate’s), but consequentially, I smell like a baby and/or a sadomasochist wishing to communally relive the 80s.

It is late May and I needed an apartment. L. Monroe, L. Monroe, onwards to L. Monroe. Who is this man?

900 a month? He is a rags to riches story now empathetic. He is having a midlife crisis, he will kill himself when he opens the door. He is not renting. He shows his apartment weekly? He is a fetishist. He is lonely. He is a pervert. He is an alien, the messiah, Oprah in disguise. We will see.

I believe I am potential tenant interview ideal. I had a red eye and a lunchtime Collins. These things help me be congenial. I wore my dark red lipstick, which I have learned helps men be congenial (except for my step-ex-grandpa who coined me “little lech”). Still, I was asked out in this lipstick while eating a collapsed taco. I have had this shade stolen twice out of my purse at social gatherings. And, Hamish Linklater--with a foxy, foxy, foxy, and inscrutable face, told me my lipstick was “very red.” He doesn’t mock. I’m certain. Hamish? Diabolical name? Conclusively. Lipstick forever.

I arrive at what appears to be the Tower of Terror (Beverly Hills in the oldest, creepiest, most delightful way). I realize I should have sampled a large amount of perfume at Armani upon arrival, in addition to buying a blazer with a receipt. The bellhop introduces himself in a friendly and almost sympathetic manner. Maybe this is because of my lipstick. Or, maybe because I look like I am twelve (I am 5’2 and under 100 pounds) and seem to be in search of my parents (my excited face). My tone of voice sounds apologetic when I ask where the elevators are—if that can indicate what sort of dream world I was dragging my blister-producing Canal Street sandals through. The elevators are down the shining and lavish hallway there. I arrive at 808b. Knock. My imagination tortures me within the four seconds of silence.

“Hello,” the chiming dove-like voice radiates from a 4’9, eighty-something -year-old woman. She has manicured silver hair and glasses that fall into an ambiguous category: decay or elegance. They are either a personal handicraft or Chanel from 1940. Classy, but hip? Williamsburg and the Upper West at battle. Her pants suit is well tailored and lavender; within it, her body still seems impossibly small. Her smile is gleaming, her blazer is vulnerably straight. I imagine the earthquake that might follow if a crease were formed. She welcomes me in.

I am in a giant antique shop furnished by God himself—two stained-glass floor lamps, limogene porcelain figurines, a clay water pitcher (Aztec?), marble chess set, a child sized samurai sword, a gilded record player, crystalline spoons (Eleanor hand-me-down?), Ming dynasty vases.Whittled: clocks, boats, trees, ducks, clogs, a metronome, a coo-coo clock, a marionette, a spinning wheel from B.C. And alas, a personal public library.

The ceilings are tall, the walls are warm, the Mac computer is very large. The copper, silver, rusted, and shiny pots and pans hang like ornaments from the kitchen ceiling. The oven is fantastically medieval. The living room’s two windows span an entire wall. The river-sized rug (MoMa?) dominates the room with its warm colored, labyrinth design. The coffee table glows with its multiple copies of Harper’s (indeed, a subscription). The bedroom has a canopy bed, it is delicate and frilled, antiquated like a bed and breakfast (but still blatantly furnished with Park Avenue nooks and Southern Italy crannies). We pass the second bedroom as she leads me to the sun-drenched reading room—films—records—a second personal public library. I realize that our tour is finished, so, I tell her with mature conviction (hiding my wild excitement) that this apartment seems right for me. I ask her about the second bedroom. She tells me she was not planning to sleep on the couch.

She tells me that it is her bedroom, unless I wanted to get bunk beds. She tells me that the past two months have been unbearably quiet since her husband’s death. She says that having a roommate will be a great joy. I nod, I keep nodding, I listen and pretend that I never would have been so stupid to believe I could live for $900 a month by myself on Washington Square West. I pretend that I do not feel immensely sad that she is alone after eight decades of companionship. I ask her questions about herself to avoid further considering how I feel about this.

I find out that L. Monroe is practically a celebrity. She once co-owned a literary agency, she was a professional modern dancer, and she had once owned her own antique shop. I realize I am in love and extremely intimidated.

But then the visions begin. I imagine Charles the butler preparing a surprise breakfast for us naked, assured that L. Monroe and I are sound asleep. I imagine practicing the scene I was last given in my acting class where I graphically reminisce on my last sexual encounter. I imagine her face when I reject her homemade tiramisu, her homemade bloomers, her homemade soap. I imagine asking to piss while she is in the shower (my bladder and exhibitionist ease had been undoubtedly scorned but permissible by previous roommates). I imagine her waking up to the smell of pizza at three a.m. after one of my one of my devil-possessed compulsions for carbohydrates. I imagine getting back from a run on the Hudson at midnight and receiving unbearable eyes of disappointment. I imagine the inevitable drunkenness, the strange confessions, the Instagram pictures I may try to take with her, the invitation to the bar I am heading to in order to get more drunk. I imagine the possible silence--my inability to play music, to make empty conversation, to be angry, overtly gleeful, to mourn what I did not have to mourn, to distract myself, to be unable to make everything feel right.»

My Washington Square West Apartment for $900 a Month
Photo by by David Paul Ohmer

Then, I imagine us reading side-by-side, clinking glasses of Prosecco, me quoting Miranda July, her quoting Virginia Woolf. I imagine cooking Italian Something as she tells me about the suitors of her youth. I imagine her telling me no, no, no as I over-season the linguini. I imagine her borrowing my red lipstick as I borrow her pearls, her taking me to the Cherry Lane Theater, me taking her to Caliente Cab for tacos and margaritas. I imagine us coming in with shopping bags from Saks Fifth, politely smiling with mischievous eyes because we shoplifted a single sock. I imagine her asking me riddles at dinnertime, us playing scrabble after dessert, her encouraging me to use the Italian words she had taught me. I imagine summoning Eleanor Roosevelt with a Ouija board, it working, us crying. I imagine buying her a thrift coat. I imagine her buying me camel’s hair. I imagine meeting her friends at a dinner party and smiling and nodding when they talk about subjects beyond my intelligence. I imagine making a date with that married man who gave me his business card at a college bar and having her take my place. I imagine being a part of her Christmas card.

I think of the rats I would otherwise cuddle with in my Lower East Side closet. I think of dollar menus. I think of bass music and the smell of marijuana. I think of unusable bathtubs. I think of how floor eight in any other apartment means 80 steps. I think of my great aunt’s offer to join her on Staten Island. I think of the friendly male characters with impressively large smiles and sweaty hands I have met on the Staten Island ferry that also have given me their business cards. I think of the mystery roommate I might have in student housing. Hanna had a roommate who screamed at her because she took the last banana. Frances’ roommate shampoos the carpet. I think of living in the school library.
I look at L. Monroe and I think of my two grandmothers who eloped, my grandmothers who married when they were still wearing braids, my grandmothers who wrote their husbands when they went to war. I think of what it would be like to be born in the Great Depression, to live my youth repenting at Saturday mass for watching Elvis’ hips on Friday, to live with cancer-less cigarettes, to spend two adults decades without a microwave, without birth control until twenty-five, to be introduced to nylon then polyester then paisley then neon then midriffs, to enter seniority as Madonna left the stage, to leave ink for pens for typewriters for personal computers, to leave pin curls for feathered bobs for grey hair. I try to imagine the change that I will go through. I could hear the stories. The first date with her husband. The first child. The first grandchild. I could live a lifetime at age nineteen through her dove-like voice. Unfortunately, I did not. I could not. I saw something in her eyes that I knew I was too childish to understand.

Sarah is a freelance reviewer for Publishers Weekly, an editorial intern at Time Out magazine, and an editor at the literary journals Phizzog and Brio. She is an acting major and creative writing minor at New York University.

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§ 5 Responses to “My Washington Square West Apartment for $900 a Month”

  • Dave Ohmer says:

    Glad you like the photo Sarah! Great story.

    Dave Ohmer

  • Susan Webb says:

    Fascinating short story, which elaborates on the challenge of young person in transition looking for an affordable place to rent & the interesting twist that follows when she comes face to face with a character that depicts they’re not only generations, but worlds apart.

    character tpe that

  • sal daquino says:

    Great job Sarah, so proud to be your step grandpa. I can’t believe you made me a part of your beautiful story. You have talent sweetheart, but I still think the lipstick is too much.
    Love you, and congrats again. We’ll have to celebrate when I come to NY.

  • Betty Dodt says:

    Sarah, I am so proud of you! You brought the apartment to life and made me want to live there. It reminded me of the lovely brownstone owned by my favorite college professor, Agnes Futterer, who had a bit of L. Monroe about her persona. She was my speech and drama teacher and had a great influence in my life. I still have the recording she made of “Lady Windemere’s Fan.”

  • Saul Schachter says:

    Terrific story, Sarah. Your stepgrandpa, Sal (whose children I taught in 7th grade) told me about it—and he was correct: You are an excellent writer! Good luck in all your future endeavors!

§ Leave a Reply

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