Tuesday, April 21, 2009

Trip Home

I should clarify the title. It wasn't a trip home for me but for Alex. His family had not seen Adelle since she was born. We were long due for a visit.

Packing was a nightmare. Adelle's belongings take up most of one suitcase. We have to squeeze the rest of our shit into a tiny carry-on. Alex packed everything with apocalyptic efficiency; I was afraid to rearrange anything for fear that the bag would explode. I was useless that morning since I spent most of my time on the phone, trying to talk to our cracked-out broker about the Upper West Side apartment we were bidding on. Our broker is one aggressive chick. As Kathy Griffin says, "She'll cut a bitch!"

Getting to the airport wasn't a problem. It's always the ordeal at the airport that makes my head feels like its splitting. I've blogged about it before and it's always the very last thing on earth I'd rather be doing, even over changing ten poopie diapers in a row.

Going through security with a baby is a premier juggling act. Someone should include this event in the Olympics. Holding onto a baby while taking off your shoes requires major balancing skills. Emptying pockets, putting everything into plastic bags and arranging all your belongings into plastic bins while other people are hurrying you along, is a skill set that a modern mommy must master.

Flying there is a breeze. She's in a good mood. Morning person, like myself, she occupies herself with our trinkets and her toys before dozing off to sleep.

Driving from the airport to Alex's rinky dink hometown is a two hour drive and, by far, the most stressful part of our trip. Adelle likes the car for the first hour but HATES the second. We stopped a total of six times, each time, my mother-in-law telling me to nurse her when, in fact, it was just pissing her off. Imagine someone trying to shove a nipple into your mouth every time you complain.

Okay, so we finally arrive at his house that looks like a mansion on a hill. His parents own ten acres which his mother still gripes is not enough land. Given that we just purchased a 700 sq ft apartment for the same amount of money, we're a bit jaded with real estate prices.

The whole week flew by; relatives left and right, babies galore, and scrumptious dinners were rampant during the trip. However, there are a few things that stood out to me.

Adelle went into people shock. Formerly accustomed to living in a tiny apt with her parents and only seeing strangers in limited quantities of time, she officially freaked out when she met the clan of relatives. Number thirteen in a line of copious grandchildren, she hardly knew what to do with her half asian self.

Leo, my favorite nephew of the trip, charmed me with his big eyes, crazy facial gestures, and surprising affection for Adelle. He is also quite an entrepreneur.

After his cousin's birthday party, we were left with a tray of uneaten peanut-butter-and-jelly sandwiches. Hating to see the food go to waste, I dared Leo to an eating challenge.

"If you eat half that tray, I'll give you ten bucks."
"What bout ten (mini) sandwiches?" Like the maverick that he is, he bargains.
"Ok, if you eat ten, you get the money. Pace yourself."

He sits down and starts chomping away. Five minutes later, he catches my eye as he holds up his fourth sandwich.

"Jo, this is four."
"Okay," I reply, confirming that I saw his evidence.

The next day, he sits down and finishes his last sandwich. He doesn't know that I would've given him the money even if he didn't accomplish his task, but he proudly waves his hands and signals that the challenge is done, finito, finit.

I pay him the ten dollars and his eyes gleam with curiosity and pride. He is really a cute kid.

He tells me that he's going to save the five dollar bill for something special. I want to eat this kid up.

The next day, we go to the local park. There are kids in every crevice and nook of this playground. Leo is playing happily with his cousins until the ice cream truck comes along. The 'Pop Goes the Weasel' anthem blares across the field and kids come running. I spot Leo among them.

Later, his mom tells me that he almost splurged on the ice cream temptation, but decided against it. Wise choice, young Jedi.

While I was nursing Adelle in the car, I also had my first 'red neck' experience. I find that term a bit degrading, but how else would I describe the following experience? With my boob halfway out of my shirt, I hear a rough Southern accent. "Boy, you git on back here and hep your mama wid da bags." As the little boy ran back to the car, his papa slaps him on the behind. I turn and look towards a man who has a hat tilted askew with his hand down the front of his jean shorts. Without warning, he changes out of his shorts and into a pair of low slung jeans. Last I checked, the space between two cars did not qualify as a changing room. I try not to look at his pale behind, but its moon shaped image is reflected on the car window to my right. I almost gag.
I involuntarily jerk from the shock and Adelle unlatches to belt out in enormous hungry/cranky/tired protest.

To my horror, the guy hears the commotion and walks to the front of the car. "Whas dat hollerin bout?" he says as he peers inside. At first, I try to be as still as possible. (For some reason, my mind rationalizes that if he can't hear me, he can't see me). Meanwhile, milk is shooting out of breast, Adelle's face is getting hosed with milk and the guy is still staring. What the fuck? This guy is either a pervert or completely stupid, probably both.

I look at him with total annoyance and he finally gets the hint. He does a fake limp walk back to his picnic bench. Why do men do this? How is imitating semi-paralysis supposed to be attractive?

With less noise, I attempt to nurse her again, but she is pissed off. Adelle is the most finnicky eater out there. Ever a gourmand, she must have the perfect temperature, mood, position, and amount of hunger in order to nurse. Yes, I am partially to blame. I think she gets her pickiness from me.

The rest of the trip goes well until the trip back to the airport, but that deserves another entry.

Tuesday, April 7, 2009

Apartment Shopping

There are few things more stressful than moving. Death and divorce are the only two things that rank higher than relocation, according to a national poll about stress. I believe it, considering I moved at the height of my pregnancy from an Upper West Side apartment where I was subletting from an extremely cheap, grouchy, old man who decided (suddenly) that he would extort me for all I am worth (not much). 'Uh yeah, I think I'm gonna double your rent next month.' The asshole was paying a couple hundred dollars in a rent-controlled apartment and illegally subletting it to me for twelve hundred. Do the math. The guy wasn't starving as he enjoyed his home in Massachusetts and carried on this subletting scheme for years. Not to mention the incredible stipulations:
1. Every month, he could come and use the apartment whenever he wanted. I would have to stay with a friend or rent a hotel.
2. His decor was absolutely barf-worthy and I think I upchucked a couple times during my first trimester. Case and point: The man had wooden cat dolls dangling from the shelves and floral print EVERYTHING.
3. His parents lived with me via urns in the bedroom. Alex discovered this one day when asking me about the two big pots in the corner. 'Oh, those are Jack's parents,' I say without flinching. Damn, I had grown used to his freeze dried parents' presence in my bedroom. Gross.
4. He left all his shit in the apartment, old records, books, clothes, and oh, lube. It looked like it should preserved in the Museum of Ancient Sex. The worst part is that it looked like it was half empty. I think I just puked in my mouth.

There are countless other quirky things that made this exchange quite disturbing but still amusing. I'll probably write about them all one day, but for now....Six months pregnant, we decided it was time to leave.

We moved to Woodside, Queens. It was closer to my work and also much cheaper than anything we could afford in Manhattan. This is where I got in touch with my Korean side, or more actually, I was slapped with it in the face every time I walked out the door. There are Korean churches, stores, cafes, and people walking down every street in this neighborhood. I love that I hear Irish and Korean accents just about everywhere I go. The mormons in this neighborhood kill me. I see them targeting apartment buildings with their pamphlets in hand...they need to get the point, Koreans are staunchly Protestant, Irish are usually Catholic. The only people who are going to take their damn pamphlets are the kids who are stupid enough to answer the door.

While being here has been great for the birth and post partum, we are itching to move into a place of our own. At first, we looked at Jackson Heights, a historic neighborhood that features a multiethnic demographic that make politically correct PBS specials look WASP-y, beautiful prewar buildings, and a growing YUPPIE populace. However, we are rethinking this move after running into an asshole named Michael Fucking Lavagne.

There is one brokerage with a ton of listings in JH. The agent I spoke to on the phone was a pleasant, jovial (and if you met him, you would agree that 'jovial' is the perfect word to describe him) man who appeared trustworthy (the more I am learning about the real estate business, the more I am convinced that it is a SLEAZY business). When we showed up to view the first apartment, his boss was there to supervise the meeting.

Just to paint a picture; This guy was dressed in a dark green wool coat, silk scarf, top hat and cane. He looked like he should be showing apartments to people in the 1950s. Today's brokers usually wear casual slacks or even jeans. This guy had pretentious written all over his heavily tanned face.

'Hi, I'm Michael.'
He almost crushed my hand during the handshake.
'Take a look around.'
He then precedes to engage in a phone conference with another client.
After looking around the apartment, trying to imagine ourselves in someone else's home, he interrupts our conversation and says,
'Look, I'm not gonna beat around the bush. You might think that we're hurting, but we're not. We have more listings than all the other brokers put together. So...we're not gonna sell you this apartment if we think you won't pass the board.'
I guess he cut to the chase.
After finding out our credit scores and income, he says, 'Yeah, I don't know if this apartment is the right fit for you.'
Later, I find out that we can afford something much nicer than the piece of shit he showed us, but at the time, he came across as bullying and plain rude. I wanted to take that cane and shove it down his tweed pants.

Since then, we've come across many brokers who are characters from a twisted real estate storybook. Joan, or Joanie as her friends (all of Jackson Heights) call her, is Alex's new girlfriend. Quite fetching at 85, she hauls her butt all over the city, taking this bus or that, and trying to make a deal when she should really be taking it easy in her Florida timeshare like every other retired person in the city. When she shows us apartments, she never remembers where she put her keys, usually can't see the keyhole so Alex has to help her, and is out-of-breath when we reach the top of any walk-up. Despite of all this, we love her. She has been the most helpful, colorful person we have met in this dry, scummy business. She loves Alex, loves his southern charm and his soft mannerisms and that is why she is his new girlfriend.

Our newest encounter with brokers is a man that has spent WAY too much time in the tanning bed. He looks like should be advertisement on late night television for a product that saves overtanned skin. 'Only 9.95 plus shipping and handling. One smooth application and your bad tan comes right off! Call now and save.'

His name is Bob and defines douchebag. A smile permanently plastered on his face, his whitened teeth glow and sharply contrast with his fake-and-bake tan, and he oozes fakeness from his ironed shirt sleeves and pleated pants. He always lights up the dark apartments with every light in the apartment, trying to disguise the fact that the place is a dungeon, and makes crazy statements that try to pressure us into buying. He talks about his kids as pawns in a game to make us trust him. The sad thing is that he probably succeeds at winning people over, but Alex and I can see through his douchebaggery clear across the artificially lit room.

Apartment shopping in New York is much more than simply finding a place to call home. It requires an extra skill set, one that hones you into the lies and truths of each broker's spiel and deal. More than anything else I've found, I have discovered that every apartment has a story and you'll be lucky to find a broker who allows you to find that on your own, without the distraction of fake tans and bully tactics. There are few out there, but every once in awhile, you find a Joanie in a sea of tweed.