The Behemoth That Is Brooklyn: Finding My First Apartment in New York


We should've been suspicious when we saw the price. A two-bedroom apartment on Kosciuszko Street in Brooklyn was renting for less than $800 a month. Even for some of the worst sections of the borough, that's really cheap. My roommate Brian and I, having flown in from Pittsburgh earlier that morning, salivated at the idea of paying Midwestern rent so close to Manhattan.

This was apartment number six that day, and we hadn't exactly planned our hunt well -- not realizing how large Brooklyn is when we made the appointments through Craigslist -- and we were exhausted from traversing the borough all day. Before heading to Kosciuszko Street, we'd looked at an apartment on the third floor of a townhouse on Flatbush Avenue. Mrs. Garcia, the woman renting the house, led us into the kitchen, where she explained in broken English that this was where we'd eat our meals. By "we" she meant me, her, Brian, her husband, and their four kids. We would share a bathroom, kitchen and living area with a family of six. As 23-year-olds, we thought being adopted by the Garcias might put a slight cramp in our social lives, so we politely declined and got the hell out of there.

From the outside, the beige building on Kosciuszko Street was unassuming. Once inside, however, had we closed our eyes, we might have thought we'd entered the cavernous ass of a dead, rotting giant. Asking as few questions as possible in order to avoid breathing, we followed the landlord through the winding, narrow halls, passing seemingly empty apartments. Stains covered the maroon carpets and the walls appeared as if they'd been continually peed on for the last two decades.

To this day, neither Brian nor I can accurately tell you what that sixth apartment looks like. "Been meaning to move some things out," explained the polite hoarder who lived there. Packed from floor-to-ceiling were broken high chairs, stacks of old magazines, multiple non-working microwaves, plates of unfinished, molding food, and piles and piles and piles of clothes. It looked as if he'd been "meaning to move some things" since 1996 and it was 2011.

We made small talk, discreetly covering our noses and mouths with our hands to survive the stench. "We'll let you know," we told the landlord, making a swift exit. At this point, we were so tired of running around the behemoth that is Brooklyn -- only to be disappointed, creeped out, or have our senses assaulted -- that a tiny part of us briefly considered our potential life on Kosciuszko Street. "It would be quiet," I offered, as only a handful of people could be seen or heard for miles. "We'd never run out of musty National Geographics."

Just then, sirens began to blare as three SWAT vehicles pulled up to the apartment building we'd just left. Several men in riot gear rushed inside, semi-automatics in hand. "That's it," Brian said, letting his hands fall to his sides as we began to walk faster to the subway. "Maybe we weren't meant to move to New York." We'd both been thinking it, but it was the first time one of us said anything aloud. Smarter people would have said something back when Mrs. Garcia asked us how we liked our eggs.

That's when we got a call from a realtor interested in showing us a place in "Prospect Heights" (realtor-talk for the shabbier "Crown Heights"). To our amazement, the area was much nicer than the others we'd schlepped through, and the apartment was just the right size for a New York two-bedroom (a living room slightly larger than a thimble; bedrooms as big as handicapped bathroom stalls). Best of all, it was affordable enough, so that after paying rent we could still manage the finer things in life, like toothpaste and cereal. Suppressing the urge to fall to our knees, weeping like we were on an episode of Extreme Home Makeover, we calmly asked Becky if we could sign the papers.

While at first New York was not what I expected, I have surprised myself. Once severely directionally disabled, I now understand the New York subway system. Once woefully unemployed, I now have a full-time job that allows me to write while traveling the world. Despite those first 48 hours being nothing short of terrifying -- and while I can still barely afford soup because of how much I pay in rent -- I don't see myself leaving this city any time soon.