Transplant

by

10/01/2006

33rd St. & Park Ave., NY, NY 10016

Neighborhood: Midtown

Rada told me to be at the broker’s office at 10:00 a.m. on Saturday. I showed up eating the last of my sublet’s granola bars. Abandoned desks sat side by side without cubicle separators; it was like the newsroom of the Daily Planet. The receptionist seated me, then quickly disappeared into the bathroom. She did not return.

Rada materialized at 10:20 with a throng of other employees and shook my hand while glaring into her cell phone. She wore a short black dress and heels, sunglasses pushed back onto her head. She looked Russian in that same fashion that Oksana Baiul does, which is to say, attractive in a Bond-villainess sort of way, with skinny legs and wide, angry nostrils.

“I sit you with Bob,” she said, ‘Bob’ closer to ‘Bobe.’ “He is one of our senior brokers.”

Bob was at least 15 years older than anyone else there. He looked like a constipated Jesse Ventura, shaved-headed and bug-eyed. Apartment brokering appeared to be a profession for the young, and I wondered whether Bob’s age denoted a superior ability to find apartments for people, or simply a failure to find a better vocation for himself.

“Bob will find you great place to live,” Rada said.

If she wasn’t the one finding me a home, I wondered what, exactly, Rada’s job was. Bob quickly answered this.

“I’m going to send you out to look at these places with my assistant. Don’t ask her any questions because she doesn’t know anything. She’s just nice to look at.” This last thing he said without either irony or a good-ole-boy wink: it was, as far as Bob was concerned, just another fact of the city rental market.

Bob mashed the computer keyboard and then ran his middle finger down the monochrome screen, reminding me as he did so that my proposed budget wasn’t going to find me anything very appealing. He scribbled a half dozen listings onto a worksheet while warning me about trying to cut a deal directly with any of the landlords. Then he summoned Rada back with two fingers and sent us on our way.

Rada was somehow able to set a brisk pace clacking along the sidewalk in her heals. It was August and therefore blazing hot, but I was the only one sweating. She asked me what I did for a living. I told her.

“You will be rich!” Rada declared. “I work in L.A. before this. Lawyer there take me around to homes in Mercedes. SLK. Very nice.”

We stopped at a crosswalk on Park Avenue and I wondered if I should make clear that I did not have a Mercedes and was not forcing her walk across the city in heals just to save on gas. I started to explain that not all lawyers were wealthy, that I hadn’t started working as one yet, but she dismissed all this as self-deprecation.

She couldn’t gain entry to the first two apartments on Bob’s list. Next was a three-story brownstone near Second Avenue. This too seemed like a dead end. Rada sensed my increasing dejection, which was good. I was trying to make it obvious.

She called Bob. I heard him barking orders, but after some more of Rada’s heavily-accented stammering, he apparently called the tenant.

We were buzzed into the building. A hungover woman stood bleary-eyed in the hall, and we shuffled past into her home.

A crudely constructed loft held the bed over grease covered, charred kitchen appliances.

“You sleep over your stove?” I asked.

“Huh?”

“Nothing.”

The rest of the apartment was marked by garbage in various places that were not, in any traditional sense, garbage receptacles.

“I have,” I said, “seen enough.”

Before continuing down the sidewalk Rada turned back toward the building and rested both her hands on her hips.

“Imagine without trash,” Rada said. “Is perfect for you.”

***

When I’d first returned to the city I stayed on a friend’s couch. I’d expected to have a new lease before either of us grew too claustrophobic. After a week he ceded his studio to me and went to stay with his girlfriend. The Times put out its second article since my return chronicling the hopelessness of the entry-level rental market, and I admitted defeat, subletting an apartment for two weeks, paying with $400 and my services as a dog-walker.

I’d never had a dog in the city before and now I had two of them, neither of which was suitably sized for the studio we were living in.

My new landlord was a young woman with an enthralling African accent who was departing for a vacation on the West Coast. I had to move quickly to keep up with her and the two dogs tugging her along Riverside Park.

“What kind of dogs are these?” I asked.

“They are mixed.”

“That one looks like a pit bull,” I said.

“Badi?”

“Body?”

“Baadi.”

“Yes, Body. A pit bull.”

“She is a mix.”

“And the other one?”

“Bebe.”

“Is Bebe a German Shephard?”

“Yes.”

“And Badi is a pit bull.”

“She is very good with people.”

The pit bull lunged rabidly at a beagle walking in the opposite direction.

“She doesn’t get along with strange dogs,” my landlord said. There was an easy solution to this that worked at least half the time, she insisted, which involved stopping the pit bull, forcing her to look into your eyes, and begging her not to fight.

“But she’s good with people,” I said.

“Yes, she is fine with people.”

I might not have noticed the pit bull’s hunger strike if I wasn’t in charge of picking up her feces, of which there was very little, especially compared to her German Shepard sister, who confidently laid down piles the size of mole hills two or three times a day.

The first two mornings I was woken by 6:00 by the clacking of dog toe nails on the studio’s hardwood floors. On the third, the starving pit bull changed tactics and licked my forehead.

I was in the throes of studying for exams and reviewing for the bar when doctors completed the world’s first face transplant, so I paid it only passing attention. At the time I was less interested in the success of the surgery than the circumstances surrounding the removal of the woman’s original face, which, as it turned out, involved the consumption thereof by a pet dog during a nap. I supposed the availability of face transplants could do for gruesome dog maulings what the smallpox vaccine did for smallpox. It did not look nearly as cheap, however, and for the first time in my life I was uninsured.

Having had my face sized up for breakfast by a dog named Body lead me first to try locking the dog in the bathroom at bedtime. The dog did not take kindly to this tactic, however, and I was forced to loose her lest the neighbors think I was doing unnatural things to the animals in my charge. This having failed, I decided to rename the dogs.

The German Shepherd, who meant me no harm and did none other than the occasional accidental tail whip to the head, I named Hambone, because it was the kind of name I wanted passersby on the dog walking trail to believe I could unironically give another living thing. The pit bull, who sulked beside her full food bowl glaring at me hungrily I donned Flippy, because I did not believe a dog with such a name could unironically eat a man’s face: newspapers could not devise an appropriately somber headline to describe it.

“Flippy, Fine With People, Eats One.”

Freshly named, Flippy broke her hunger strike, dining on several tufts of grass in the park alongside the Hudson River. She promptly vomited a green mess I found difficult to corral into the doggy bags with which I was equipped. I emailed her owner, who replied that she suspected this would happen, whatever this was.

I ordered a pizza and was able to induce Flippy to swallow half of it. This put a stop to her grass-eating but left me with several fantastically nasty mole-hills on our next outing. I was convinced this would earn me a littering ticket.

***

I decided that the only difference between me and the homeless man in the Starbucks begging to use the bathroom was my credit card. Starbucks was a refuge for people who didn’t want to be home, just like doorways and alleys were for people who couldn’t be home and couldn’t afford a slice of lemon bread.

I wondered what stopped the homeless guy from simply walking straight into the bathroom and using it. Asking first was courting rejection. But he’d walked directly to the cashier, squatted in a full-bladder pose, and began to beg to use the toilet. When she denied his request, he returned to the end of the line and waited to ask again. On his third time through the cue he slammed a fist full of coins onto the counter.

This might have worked had he actually tried to order something with his money to become a paying customer, but instead he pushed it directly toward the cashier as a bribe.

“I’ll pay you,” he said.

Like a seasoned bureaucrat, she denied his request again. The homeless man burst into crackling moans, what sounded like birthing cries. He doubled over and then backed toward my table. He squatted behind the chair across from me. The frequency and pitch of his moans increased. I packed my laptop.

I called a number on Craigslist and met the broker a half hour later in front of the advertised building. He couldn’t get us in for a viewing, he said, but he had other, more expensive places to show me. I knew this was a scam, but he was sweating more than I was, rubbing it out of his eyes, and appeared more in need of a good night’s sleep than I was. This was a good sign: he hated this and would want to finish as soon as possible.

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