When Rent Control Is Controlling You

Nora was so ecstatic when she got the apartment on Spring Street that she was in tears when she got the news.  It was December of 1967, and she just broke up with her fiance Rod.  She was going to have dinner with her girlfriend last week, but Dottie cancelled, so she decided to surprise Rod by stopping by his place to grab some pizza at their favorite joint down the street.  She never imagined that she’d  find him splayed out with Gwen, the downstairs neighbor, in his bedroom.

“Oh, and just before the holidays, too!” was all she could muster up to say before she ran out of Rod’s apartment and his life forever.

She couldn’t afford to stay at her current place on the Upper West Side, even though she had put some money set aside for her wedding dress.  She picked up the classifieds and landed a place Downtown.  The landlord was only asking for $49.16 a month.  The one bedroom was dingy and smelled of cigar smoke, but Nora felt that it just needed some new curtains and a fresh coat of paint to make it habitable.  Soon, however, the white lace curtains she picked up from Gimbels browned from the smokers that hung out on the stoop right below her kitchen window.  The garbage trucks and police sirens that passed by her building at all hours of the night never let her get a good night’s sleep.  She could hear the super while he was hacking up the morning of phlegm with his breakfast of unfiltered Camels as she headed off to work.

Her new living arrangements made it even harder to get over Rod, but she was never able to trust any one after that.  She went on dates and to cocktail parties here and there, but there was no one that measured up to her Roddie.  She let the rest of her twenties go by without being attached, and she then grew to like her rent-controlled apartment.  She caulked up her windows to block out the smoke and the noise, and always had fresh flowers on her nightstand to brighten herself up first thing in the morning.  Then, it happened.

His name was Bob, and he was charming and would take Nora out to dinner and to the theater.  He was eight years her senior and had flecks of gray in his distinguished sideburns that reminded Nora of Peter Lawford, her favorite actor.  He worked for an accounting firm on Madison Avenue and lived on the Upper East Side.  He was recently divorced and had three kids in boarding school.  Bob would take Nora up to his cottage in Maine for entire weekends together.  Nora was in love, deeply in love.

When Bob proposed, it came as a complete shock, even to Nora, when she turned him down.  She just couldn’t give up her apartment.  Her rent had stayed the same while everyone else’s had tripled.  How can she ever give up such a fantastic setup?  She was offered a promotion to head the Chicago office, but it still wasn’t enough to make her leave her treasured home.

After breaking up with Bob, she avoided relationships altogether- of any kind. She didn’t want to risk getting her heart broken again, and she got rid of all her friends after they grew envious of how cheap her rent had become. She was content to be a mid-level editor at the publishing company she worked, and to deal with the increasing crime in her neighborhood, she got an extra deadbolt for her door and never went out after dark. Nora wanted to get new appliances for her kitchen, but that would have meant a rent increase, so she told her landlord that she would live with just the one functioning burner on her stovetop.

New construction began on her street, and Nora became nervous.  Word spread that her new landlord was trying to kick out all the rent-controlled tenants.  Nora never answered her door or left her apartment for too long since she was afraid that someone would come and change the locks on her.  She became a recluse and a hoarder, but nothing meant more to Nora than to keep her dwelling for $49.16 a month.

Dogs And The City

I love animals, I really do, so that’s why I feel so badly for these poor creatures who are forced to live in such tiny cramped boxes, also known as New York City apartments.  I wouldn’t call myself a card-carrying member of PETA or anything, but it seems inhumane to have them live in a place that goes against their natural instincts.

Dogs should always be jumping around and running free, rolling around in the grass with their tails wagging and their tongues hanging out.  Dogs in New York, however, waddle along obediently on a leash and only have sidewalks and trash bags to sniff on.  Their tails limp, their fur matted, their eyes clouded and crusty, they always look like they’re about to keel over.

It seems that dog owners get more out of the relationship than their pets do.  In fact, according to a recently published article in the New York Times titled “New York Burial Plots Will Now Allow Four-Legged Companions,” domesticated animals are now allowed to be buried with their owners. They can now be united and decompose together forever in a cemetery plot.  I’m sure that’s what the dog wanted all along.

I was sitting on a crowded subway the other night, when I noticed that the tan canvas tote bag that was right in front of my face had a furry nose sticking out of it.  It belonged to a lady that had it slung over her shoulder, as if it were an ordinary purse.  The nose belonged to a dachshund, and it was sitting in the bag very still, with its nose pulsating as if desperately trying to breathe.  The owner may be considered an animal lover to some, but I felt so badly for this poor dog who was forced to sit in this lady’s bag, suspended in mid-air, constrained to be perfectly still on a crowded subway car.  It was like a type of urban animal torture.  I imagined slashing the straps of the tote bag to release it from its misery and screaming “You’re free, doggie!  You’re free!”

Recently, my church held a service called “The Blessing of the Animals” as part of the celebration of the Feast of St. Francis.  It was where everybody could bring their pets in to church to have them blessed by the rector.  On a typical Sunday, it’s quiet and barely half full.  On this particular Sunday, the service was completely packed.  It was standing room only, and I had to stand at the back by the entrance next to a lady and her rabbit.  I’ve never even seen these people before.  It’s as if they sprouted out of nowhere.  They were more concerned about the salvation of their pets than they were of themselves.  Or maybe they were just taking advantage of the fact that they were allowed to bring their fury critters inside a building without being scolded for it.

You think New Yorkers are tough?  Just observe them with their pooches, and their tough New York exterior just melts away.  I’ve never seen so much PDA in church before- the hugging, the kissing, the abundant ardent phrases they whispered into their receivers’ floppy ears.  They slung their poodles over their shoulders and patted their backs soothingly like a baby.  They dressed up their terriers in pink satin with matching booties and pearls.  They snapped selfies with their pets to post on Instagram.  They could go deep into conversation with their pets than they can to another human being.

I wonder if these dogs ever have a chance to realize how different their lives would be if they had a different owner.  How their fates were determined by whether a guy from Scranton picked them up from the litter box instead of the lady from the Upper West Side. Scranton:  Spacious backyard with trees and your own little door to go in and out of the house as you please.  Upper West Side:  Where you have to hold it until your owner comes back to let you out, or if you’re really lucky, the dog walker to come pick you up, so you can go pee on a slab of concrete.

I’ve noticed that the dogs in New York always perk up their ears and wiggle their tail whenever a stranger passes them by on the street.  It makes them look so optimistic and hopeful for something.  They’re probably wishing that the stranger is from Scranton and will take them away from this godforsaken place.

Abby and Manny

Abby wasn’t really attracted to Manny, but she always somehow convinced herself to fall in love with just about anyone who came along.  She realized that it was from the need to be loved, and she figured that if she put out love, she would receive love back.  This hasn’t quite worked out yet.

She met him on Craigslist.  She put out an ad for a tennis partner, because, she was in earnest, looking to get better at her tennis.  Manny replied very politely and pleaded with her that if she gave him a chance, he would work really hard at being the best tennis partner possible.  She replied back in an instant.

But it soon became clear at their first meeting that he was really low energy, a depressive.  Playing with Manny was bringing Abby down, and it was affecting her tennis.  It was obvious that he was going through something in his life, and there was nothing attractive about his personality.  Despite all of this, she found a way to be attracted to him.  They continued to play with each other throughout the summer.

Summer came to an end and with that, so did tennis season.  Manny wanted to start playing again the following summer, but Abby waved him off.

Three years went by, and she got an email from him during the first of the year when all those match.com and eHarmony commercials come on TV.  He asked her if he wanted to go to dinner with him some time.  Abby’s fleeting attraction to him wore off a long time ago, but she didn’t see the harm in it.  They went to a Spanish tapas place a few blocks up from Abby’s apartment.  Abby didn’t even bother to put her contacts on and wore a T-shirt and jeans.  It was obvious that she wasn’t taking this date seriously.  They had a nice conversation, but Manny was his usual self to Abby; not expressive, not inspiring, just mellow and quiet.  What she did notice during the date was Manny looking around at other girls in the restaurant.  Abby sighed to herself, “He’s just like the rest of them.  Always looking for something better to come along.”

She returned home alone.  Manny reminded Abby of a gopher:  Someone that spends his time buried in the ground, but as soon as he pokes his head out and sees her looking at him he buries his head into the ground again.  So she refrained from showing any sort of interest in him because at least from where things stood, he was still poking his head up from the ground.

As soon as Abby typed out the forbidden word “friends” in their last email exchange she didn’t hear from him again.  It reminded Abby how touchy this town can be.  We never say so-and-so is our friend.  It’s always, “We know each other through tennis, or yoga, or from a wine-tasting class, or from a poetry reading at Strand’s.”  It seems that we are all walking around this city as magnets with the same charge, repelling each other from getting too close.

You And I

You and I were never friends
We just shared the same friends
But we weren’t the same
In fact, we were complete opposites
And we offended each other to the core
You would say ignorant and offensive things
Regurgitations from your mother
I would say enlightened things that threatened your whole world view
I left
Knowing that it was better to let our whole network of friendships go up in flames
Than to constantly get burned by a cinder

Oysters Rockefeller

Whenever my parents come to visit, all they want to do is eat sushi.  It’s not that I hate sushi, but by the third day of eating sushi, it gets a little tiresome.  I ask them if they want to try any other cuisines, like Russian, or Spanish tapas, or Turkish.  Nope, they always stick with sushi, except maybe for lunch they will go to a non-trendy ramen shop in Midtown.  I’m not talking about those hip new ramen joints where foodies stand in line for an hour- I would never stand in line for an hour for ramen, by the way, heck, I wouldn’t even stand in line for any amount of time for ramen.  It’s just ramen, for Pete’s sake.  But I digress.

There is one non-sushi place they will try, however, and that’s The Oyster Bar in Grand Central.  Do not ask me why.  It’s still seafood, but this restaurant has seen better days.  It’s a remnant of Old New York, but my parents aren’t very nostalgic for Old New York, at least, not that I know of.  In fact, the Oyster Bar has a lot of Japanese tourists, for some reason.  Thank God for the Japanese tourists, right?  How can Americana survive without them, I mean, Elvis would definitely be dead without their fascination of him.  So, yes, I grew up here in America, in Buffalo, where you can’t get more Americana than that. It might seem weird now looking back on my childhood as an Asian girl wanting to be Olivia Newton-John and Judy Garland, but that’s a different story to tell for another time.  I grew up watching old black and white movies, and I remember seeing one from the 1930’s where a sophisticated debutante orders oysters Rockefeller.  I recently went back to the Oyster Bar, late one night coming back from work, and saw that it was on the menu. I quickly ordered it, having no idea what it is- do you know what it is? Well, first, it’s broiled, then second, it’s served on a half shell that’s stuffed with this creamy sauce and spinach, and somewhere within that goop, there’s supposed to be an oyster. I knew there was an oyster in the morsel that I put in my mouth because I could feel the grittiness of the sand between my teeth. I was picturing myself when ordering this dish of turning cosmopolitan, but if this is how the sophisticated and the wealthy ate back then, then- blech!

And yes, this is the same Oyster Bar that was featured in the TV show Mad Men, but that’s not how the Oyster Bar looks like now. It’s dingy and dimly lit, but clean. It looks like it hasn’t seen a remodel in decades, but some see the charm in that. Its vaulted tiled ceilings provide for loud echoes that amplify the noise to make it sound busier than it is. The torn vinyl seats at the counter make me feel like Walter Matthau will come up out of nowhere and sit right next to me. Most of the restaurant is not filled with Roger Sterlings in three-piece suits, but it’s rather a mix of domestic and foreign tourists in their fanny packs, and some commuters. There are still the Connecticut blue bloods that are grabbing a drink and a couple of oysters before they catch their train back home to Greenwich or wherever, and catching up with their second cousin once removed or their sister-in-law’s Godfather before they leave for Europe for the summer.

But thank God for the Oyster Bar, because it is still a nostalgic place which allows me to go back in time to visit the Old New York, but it also means that I don’t have to eat sushi for six days straight when my parents are in town.

Their Precious

What does it say about a person who doesn’t believe when someone is telling the truth but will believe anything that a pathological liar would say? It certainly isn’t the reflection of the honest one, but more of a reflection of the one who would want to believe the liar. I will fight it and I will always fight it every time and every instance whenever and wherever this happens because if there’s one thing I have it’s the truth.  And I know now what disgusting characters people are and what they choose to believe.  I do not believe I am in the same class, intellect, emotional, nor spiritual disposition than any of them.  They, the hungry, the classless, the lifeless, godless, depraved creatures, are so desperate to find someone more classless, lifeless, depraved than they. They look at me and find none of these things. They cannot comprehend my truth, sense of justice, sense of fairness and decency. They are so desperate they will grab and slather their sins on whatever victim that is willing to take them or tolerate them. Truth is truth and light is light and these disgusting creatures cower from light. They would rather hide in darkness. They do not have the moral decency or the spiritual fortitude to look at and accept truth.

They are like a horde of Gollums as they walk down the hall, take the elevator, check their mailboxes, looking for their “precious”