Outside the Box

Commentary: In Exile

by Will Doig
Published on October 7, 2004, 12:00am | Comments

Last night I got dumped by my loft. My one, true loft. The loft of my life.

I was in Massachusetts for the weekend, inhaling the foliage, exfoliating New York's patented nasty right off of my brain with hemp soap and stream water when my roommate called.

"We need to talk," she said gravely.

As soon as she said that, I knew I'd been dumped. Six months into the bliss-slathered tryst with my Greek god of a loft -- hard brick body, blond wood, great in the bedroom -- the honeymoon was over. And I had just bought a chair.

The chair was second-hand, fifty clams, nothing fancy. I'd bought it at the Salvation Army. It has brown corduroy stripes and big, torso-hugging arms. It's the kind of chair you could fall asleep in while reading a magazine.

As someone who's changed apartments seven times in as many years, the chair signified my commitment to this loft and my vision of our mutual future. It was the first real piece of furniture I had ever bought. I'd wheeled it home a week ago on lopsided castors, thirteen blocks through the streets of Brooklyn.

I may as well have bought the loft a diamond ring. That was the level of commitment that I was prepared for. I was trying to build a nest.

But then, last night, everything changed. The loft was cold and distant, preoccupied, detached.

"Is everything okay?" I sheepishly asked my roommate-slash-lease-holder as I walked in the door after five hours on the Chinatown bus next to a woman with a cell phone addiction. My roommate explained to me that the lease was up at the end of the month -- 27 days -- and that she wasn't going to renew. And I couldn't take it over. The rent would be doubling.

Living in a New York City apartment that's under someone else's lease is like living atop a dormant volcano that could erupt at any moment with very little warning. Finding a new place to live in one month is theoretical physics. On paper, it's possible. In real life, you may as well grab a bottle and hunker down for a drink with severe self-delusion.

Once you've done that, start scanning the obits for deaths in one-bedrooms close to shopping and transit. It's amazing how similar searching the classifieds for an apartment is to scanning the personals. The stink of desperation is as pungent. The inadequacies of each living situation are similarly hidden behind cryptic abbreviations: GWM w/ 1BR, HWFs, FP, W/D. No drugs. No pets. No fats or fems.

Being tossed out of your home with no warning is something that we renters live with everyday. It's a sensation that those who've never rented in the city most likely find terrifying, but we grow strangely numb. I'm upset that my loft is leaving me. I don't want to meet the new occupants, who I know will be flashy and good-looking. Richer than me. Car owners. They'll romance my loft with expensive Italian couture.

But I'm not panicked. I know that I'll find a new apartment. I've always been good at eking out -- or lucking into -- a good living situation in a pinch. Until then, I'll put my corduroy chair in storage and move in with my boyfriend, my other significant other. This will be a temporary arrangement, we've both agreed, yet I can't help but feel guiltily excited.

I'm beginning to develop the ability to absorb crises without behaving like decapitated poultry. The trade-off, of course, is a liberally applied, chronic state of low-grade paranoia. I've fielded more personal crises here in New York than I've had to since, what, high school? The trick is to evenly distribute your anxiety throughout the entire twenty-four hour period of each day.

If you can pull that off, then spontaneous homelessness doesn't feel much more panic-inducing than running out of chips before you run out of salsa. Both episodes now totally freak you out equally. You've become a neurotic. In this way, you sacrifice generalized sanity for the sake of staying sane in high-pressure scenarios. In New York, home of high-pressure scenarios, this strategy comes highly recommended.

The hardest part about losing your apartment is moving day itself. Moving day is the Sisyphean hard-labor punishment God makes us pay for having cushy white-collar jobs the rest of the time. Architects snicker quietly, hunched over blueprints late at night, designing stairwells just barely too narrow to allow a queen-sized boxspring past their corners. Love seats sized to industry-standard fit through doorjambs only at angles that must be computed in advance on Texas Instruments calculators. Light bulbs are shaken to death like babies.

And chairs, just recently bought, are donated back to the Salvation Army. I've never had a storage unit, and the very thought of one, of stowing my possessions in a satellite location where they'll wait not only in temporal limbo but also in limbo with my life, makes me feel ungrounded. I feel like I'm stowing my stability as well, to be retrieved at a later date.

This weekend will be spent looking at new places. I checked on Craigslist to get an idea of the current going rates, and to see what's available. But, like any recent dumpee scanning the personals, it's half-hearted. I'm not interested in a rebound. I want something that measures up to the beauty and compatibility of my one, true loft, or, barring that, at least a place where I can get my name printed somewhere on the lease.

Will Doig writes biweekly from exile in New York. He can be reached at wdoig@metroweekly.com.


Call 202-638-6830 to advertise here in Marketplace