Street Beast: The Real Estate Ninja



Neighborhood: Lower East Side

I’d already seen the apartment several times– once with Joey and the other time with the two Jeffrey’s. The two Jeffreys were thinking about moving out of their apartment in the East Village and wanted “something more fun and interesting,” which is another way of saying “we’re going to fuck your schedule in the ass for the next week, and then decide not to move,” which is exactly what they did.

Joey was different. I’d been chasing him since we met in front of the townhouse apartment from which he’d just been evicted. He and his girlfriend were using it as a live/work space but the landlord caught wind of the foot traffic. He broke their lease. Joey tried to convince the landlord to let them stay, but the landlord wouldn’t budge. Joey explained all this to me as he loaded boxes into the back of his brand new BMW SUV. From the real estate agent point of view, this translates as: no credit check necessary. Joey was the holy grail of every NYC real estate agent: a rich client with an urgent need to move. 

Several days later I met Joey while he was looking at a recently vacated apartment on Suffolk Street on the Lower East side. It was an off-market listing he’d beaten out of the bushes himself, but I was still curious to see what he’d found just in case he passed on it and I could reset my marks*. It’s dog eat dog out there in the real estate market of NYC and with very little housing stock and ample access to online resources, it’s extremely competitive. When it comes to the sophisticated New York City Real Estate transaction, no matter how you slice it, you’re invariably in the ring with your clients and you only eat what you kill.

I’d already sent Joey countless listings but it didn’t take long for me to realize he wasn’t your average rental client. Not even in the cutthroat New York market. Joey was a bona fide real estate ninja. He may not have had a real estate license, but he was as sophisticated and savvy about real estate as a seasoned broker. Still, for the right rental opportunity, he was willing to pay, but I’d have to earn every penny of the vig.

The apartment Joey found was in the very same neighborhood my grandmother grew up in almost a century ago, your typical crap ass tenement building with 20 apartments four to a floor fronted by steel roll down shades covering the windows of stores the landlord hadn’t bothered renting out. I felt an inherent sense of nostalgia the minute I laid eyes on the building and the scent of a real estate truffle was strong in my snout. Tragically, however, Joey’s snout was closer to the shroom. But this didn’t diminish my fungal curiosity. At a certain point, you realize real estate is a game, and the pain of losing is always mitigated by undeniable skills employed during a takedown.

Joey walked past the super and was the first up the steps. I took the opportunity to hang back and ask the super half-jokingly if the available apartment was rent stabilized.

“I don’t know.” He said. “I’ll have to check. It may actually be rent controlled.”

I was still in shock when I walked into the apartment behind Joey. The last thing you want is for the customer’s first impression of any apartment to be the back of someone’s head but there was nothing about the back of Joey’s head that undermined my instant affection for this apartment. 

It was big and light with large windows, dirty perhaps, but huge and overlooking the wide street. It reminded me of my apartment in Amsterdam, where I lived in my mid-20’s. The shower was in the middle of the kitchen where my grandmother’s entire family would have bathed in their bathtub. It was in obvious disrepair but in a good-bad sort of way, like a classic old car that hasn’t been restored yet but also hasn’t been ruined either by some shit-shop “improvement” or hack job. The floors were painted and the wood said 1917 under thick layers of brown paint. The walls said an old person used to live here, and the inoffensive smell of the place said thank god he didn’t die here.

But this was Joey’s trophy, not mine. And as sad as it made me, I had to give Joey his props. He beat me fair and square.

“Check you dudes later,” I said, making a hasty retreat and going home to cry myself to sleep.

Two days later, the phone rang. It was Joey.

“Why’d you stop sending me listings?”

“Why bother?”

“So you can earn your 3.5% vig.”

“5.5%. But you already found your apartment.”

“You mean that piece of shit on Suffolk Street? That just proves to me you don’t know what I’m looking for.”


“You don’t.”

“Fuck you I do too,” I said, recovering. “Cool your jets, cowboy. Relax. I just saw a place in Tribeca that’s a grand below market. Landlord is rich and out of town. It’s large and smart with southern light. It’s off-market. You’ll be the first to see it.”

“Really?” Joey asked skeptically.

“Yes,” I lied repulsively. “Meet me at Bubby’s at 3 pm tomorrow. Buy me lunch and you’ll get first dibs.”

“You better not be fucking with me,” Joey said hanging up.


“You’re gonna make it if you try-yi!” I screamed, throwing my porkpie into the air, then dashing down the steps of the subway and jumping on the F-train. As implausible as it seemed, I actually had a shot at nabbing an exclusive on a rent controlled apartment. Maybe not a great shot, but even a little bit of a shot is all it takes to keep desperation alive.

When I emerged from the Subway on Houston and 2nd I was hit with a blast of unseasonably warm mid-October air and it was just too fucking hot to be wearing a suit. Meantime, I had five more blocks to go and I was dying for a pee when I realized I was walking past Katz’s Deli, so I ducked in to use the head and ZAP! Pop! Kerplow! I’m transported back to 1949 and I’m standing in a vintage, authentically unpretentious New York deli from days gone by.

I’ve been in there countless times, always with friends from out of town, and each time I see Nathan Detroit dancing from table to table.

“If I only had a lousy little grand, I could be a millionaire!” I sing to myself as I walk to the back of the L shaped room, and enter the WC. Bam! Sock! Kablooey! The toilet is as unabashedly itself as my great aunt Bea’s thick tan stockings with its porcelain sinks, two thousand pound urinals, and dirty tiled floor. And get this: No Mirror.

When I was finished doing my business, I made my way back towards the front towards to exit and resume my real estate mission, when this gigantic, monolithic, thug deli bouncer steps in front of me and blocks my way.

“Where’s your ticket?” the dude demands.

I look around and notice another guy standing by a turnstile, holding a handful of tickets.

“What ticket?” I say to the guy who handed me the ticket when I walked in.

“The ticket I handed you when you came in!” the dude rejoins.

“I don’t know where the ticket is,” I say, in a moment of rare honesty. “I didn’t eat here. I just had to take a piss. As much as I love sodium infused beef products, I’m a vegan. I don’t eat this shit anymore. Now get the fuck out of my fucking way.”

“You ain’t getting out of here until you give us our ticket.” Another guy says standing behind me.

“You can’t be serious!?” I say, realizing they’re serious.

“We don’t know if we’ve been paid. That’s the logic,” the thoughtful thug standing behind me says. 

I’m now surrounded by five large menacing Katz Deli thugs. The Beef Police. My mind starts to reel with the Freudian implications of being locked in a jail in a room filled with Salamis. 

“You need the ticket so they can check to make sure you paid and blah blah blah…” the thoughtful thug continues saying.

“Motherfucker ain’t getting out of here without that ticket. Otherwise, motherfucker’s gonna have to pay.”

“I ain’t paying you jack shit! Touch me, motherfucker! I’ll own you!”

“Find the ticket or we won’t let you leave.” He pushes back.

“You want me to go back into the toilet and dig around in a goddamned trashcan for my number before you’ll let me out of here?!?”

“You gotta do what you gotta do.”

“I’m calling 911! That’s where this legal process is about to begin, bitches!”

I feel a wave of confusion ripple through the circle as the phone rings, but they’re all in and standing their ground. 

After many rings and an inaudible recording, the 911 operator finally answers. 


“I’m being held hostage at Katz’s deli!” I yell as a hush descended on the lunchtime crowd.  “The employees of this deli won’t let me leave unless I give them a ticket. I didn’t eat anything and I don’t have the number I took when I came in. And now they’re holding me hostage. I think my heart is starting to palpitate. You may need to call an ambulance.“

“Are they accosting you?” the operator asks.

“Not yet,” I say, swooning, “but let’s see what happens when I try to leave!” 

With this, I perk up and lunge toward the door, but the bouncer moves swiftly like a gigantic bull seal during mating season and blocks my exit. I lurch to the left, but again, the bull seal follows suit, mirroring my moves with his aggressively protruding belly.

The tension had reached a fever pitch. I’d forgotten about my retaliatory and potentially lucrative lawsuit and also that I was on the phone and being tape recorded. 

The room had morphed into a frozen tableau of wide eyes, kosher pickles halfway inserted into mouths, pastrami on rye gripped between greedy fingers, busboys with square buckets filled with dishes, waitresses mid gum chomp.

The beef police were frozen. They saw in my eyes a man so far gone, so far off the grid, so completely disconnected from the mothership, that they had to bow down.

“I got a black belt in crazy,” bitches.

“Let him go!” the thug behind me yelled, almost more as an epiphany than a yielding.

“The ticket ain’t worth this whack shit.”

The bull seal grunted, checked, and stood aside just enough for me to squeeze past him and out the door.

Once on the sidewalk, I broke into a run from Katz’s to Suffolk St. I turned off my phone and ZAP! POP! KERPLOW! It’s 1921 and the streets are bustling with horse-drawn carriages and burlap bags filled with your run of the mill whatchamacallits of the day. There isn’t a hipster poser for as far as the eye can see.

I run past my great grandfather Samuel, my middle namesake, walking down the street, pushing a wooden cart stacked with second-hand Shmatas for only a nickel. Bubby was right, we have the same nose and hands.

When I got to the building, I learned I’d just missed the super and wound up waiting on the stoop for over an hour. When the super finally came home I stood up to greet him and smiled my smarmiest smile.

“I used to live in Amsterdam, see…”

“…it’s already rented,” the super said and disappeared into the building. 


*This was submitted by the author, a long time contributor to the site, in October 2013. It was published five years later. We asked for a re-write in 2013, just a few light edits, but events intervened and they were never done by the author. Then he got cancer. He died in 2016. This is the original piece, give or take a few light edits. One of the sticking points back then was ‘reset my marks.’ What does it mean?

It’s both obvious what it means and it doesn’t matter. The ambiguity will now be part of the song.

Josh Gilbert chats with two Bellers, facetime Screenshot, 2012

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§ One Response to “Street Beast: The Real Estate Ninja”

  • Thomas Beller says:

    This is so f-ing good. So much velocity. And when it hits warp speed at the end and he time travels, it’s so real. So earned, so real. “Bubby was right, we have the same nose and hands.” So real.

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