Before we could move to New York, we needed a place to move to. Luckily, Don knew an old queen with an apartment in Spanish Harlem where we could crash for a week while we looked for a place. Don’s straight, but he was a musical theater major who worked out all the time, so old queens fell all over themselves to give him the keys to their apartments.
The day we left, Don informed me that we had to stop and pick up his friend Jill on the way. I had no idea anyone was going with us, but Don was the master of the ol’ switcheroo. And more often than not, the switcheroo was directly connected to the possibility of Don getting laid.
Jill was okay, but I didn’t really get much of a chance to connect with her. That is to say, I thought she was just okay at the time … over time we became really close. But that’s a story for another time. On the apartment-hunting trip, at least, we didn’t become best friends. Part of the problem was that she and Don were both musical theater people, and they forced me to listen to the Rent soundtrack all the way to New York and back while they harmonized along in musical theatery vibratos. That was most of the problem actually. The other part of the problem was that she and Don seemed to have a thing for each other and I was the giggling jackass who had invited myself along to their party. But if this was what it took to get me out of my pathetic post-collegiate haze, then I was prepared to suffer.
My roommate Jesse in Ann Arbor was from New York, so before we left, I asked him how to find an apartment once we got there. He told me to check the back of The Village Voice. So as soon as we got to New York, I stopped into the nearest convenience store … which I soon learned was called a “bodega” in New York … and bought a copy of the Voice. New Yorkers will immediately recognize the rookie mistake in that statement – the Voice is free. The guy at the bodega wasn’t even sure how much to charge. He was polite enough to take my money when I offered it, though.
The Voice turned out to be useless. Unless you woke up at 5 AM on Wednesday, the day it came out, there was no chance of you getting a no-fee apartment. We had to go the other route, which was to hire a broker. I’m not sure if it still works this way, but back then, apartment brokers in New York took it from both ends. The landlord would pay them to find a renter, and the renter would pay them to find an apartment. It was not cheap, either; one and ½ month’s rent was typical. My second apartment was right above the realty office. I paid the broker something like $1500 to unlock the upstairs’ door.
After a few days of hunting, we found a place in Astoria, Queens, right off the Ditmars stop on the N/R line. It was small, but good enough for two people. Good enough for two people. Not quite so good for three. But Jill couldn’t find a place, so three it became, with the agreement that Jill would move out after we had settled and gotten our bearings. I was somewhat annoyed with this arrangement, having little interest in becoming a third wheel in my own apartment.
I soon learned that three wheels weren’t nearly enough. We needed four wheels, five wheels. We need an army. It was the only way we were going to survive living upstairs from Scary Gary.