If you’ve ever lived in New York City, you know that, for people living there, “real estate” forms an even larger part of your brain activity than “sex.” Every month, you write your landlord a surreally large check, all for the privilege of living in a space your friends back home would refer to as “a walk-in closet.”
It’s no wonder you get a bit obsessed. Is there a better deal out there? Could you buy the apartment next door, and actually have a bedroom? People go to outrageous lengths to get and keep apartments that would baffle any outsiders. Case in point, a story I like to call,
The House on Poo Corner
In 2003, my friend Darryl Purpose was performing in an artist’s live/work space in Greenpoint, Queens.
The building was in a gritty, industrial neighborhood, and the apartment itself was enormous. Room after room, with high ceilings, and lots of light. Along with the nickel tour, I got the usual story from the apartment’s tenant, “Oh yeah, when we moved here, the place was a mess…but now the neighborhood’s gotten a lot more established…our landlord’s trying to jack up the rent big-time, but we’re taking him to landlord-tenant court…it’s just too good a deal…we’re definitely going to fight, I think we’re going to win…”
I listened with one ear, and certainly envied the large, airy space. But there was one thing that kept distracting me.
Yes, wherever I went in the house, it smelled like poo. It was pretty strong. Maybe the toilet had overflowed a couple of days before, and the smell hadn’t dissipated yet. Whatever it was, I was too discreet to mention it, as I assumed the tenant was aware of the problem. I didn’t want to embarrass him.
As day turned into evening, I noticed what looked like a huge flame out the window, against the night sky.
“Oh yeah,” said the tenant. “That’s the methane burnoff from the sewage treatment plant half a block away.”
I suddenly realized that the awful smell was not temporary. It was permanent. Every day, and every night, 365 days a year, it smelled like that.
That night I thought, I can’t do it anymore. I can’t live in the kind of city where people fight tooth and nail for the privilege of living in an apartment that smells like raw sewage.
I moved six months later.