Wednesday, June 20, 2012

It Could Be Worse

I'm in the midst of moving out of the apartment I've lived in the longest in NYC and I think, because it's been two years, and because my last move was relatively simple, that I'd completely forgotten what a hassle the whole moving process in the City is.  From brokers' fees to rental applications, cashiers' checks to the Bed Bug Rider, selling stuff on Craigslist to contemplating a midnight move (apparently some people actually do that in order to move out on the last day of the month and then in on the first) everything surrounding this move has been such a pain.  Why this has come as such a shock to someone who has lived in NYC for seven years and moved six times, I'm not sure.  I just have to keep reminding myself that it could be worse.  It could be worse because two and a half years ago my roommate hit me on a Thursday night and I moved out over the weekend.  It could be worse because two and a half years ago I had to break my lease to get away from that lunatic.  It could be worse because two and a half years ago I risked being sued by my landlord.  Today my biggest worry is whether I'll be able to pilfer the Fresh Direct boxes from the recycling before my neighbors.  Today I do not need friends to help me move because I'm afraid of being alone with my crazy roommate.  Today I am mostly wishing my air-conditioner were more powerful, because really, it's 97 degrees outside.

So, back to two and a half years ago when Annoying Yvette became Crazy Yvette.  Way back when we finally signed the lease, after all of her shenanigans, Yvette had mentioned wanting a dog.  She had also said she was planning on getting one for Christmas.  While I occasionally missed Kerri's dog Elton, I hadn't really given this conversation much thought.  For the first six weeks or so we'd lived together I mostly attributed her weirdness to the normal growing pains any roommates go through as they get used to each other.  Given that I was planning on moving in December, I wasn't really entirely invested in the roommate relationship.  I wanted to have a pleasant place to live where I was comfortable, but as far as a new best friend -- that wasn't my modus operandi.  Also, I'd been really busy.  September is a pretty crazy time for a teacher.  I really was just trying to make it through each day in tact.

Imagine my surprise when, one Saturday evening I missed a call from Yvette and got the following message:  "Hi Margaret.  It's Yvette.  I'm just calling to let you know that I just adopted a dog.  I'll be bringing him home tonight.  He's a cutie."  Um, OK.  I was sort of stunned.  I mean, I liked living with a dog, and I love dogs but coming out of left field like this, four months after a theoretical conversation about it was just . . .  off-putting.  She did a lot of things like that that weren't exactly wrong . . . but not exactly right either.

I felt a little stuck.  If she'd asked me in the morning, or called and said she was calling to ask me about getting the dog, I would have said yes.  This whole being treated like an afterthought just made me feel uneasy.  She wasn't the most responsible roommate anyway, and I would have definitely brought up the clear delineation of doggie-duties (ie -- not my dog, not my responsibility) had she bothered to ask.  So I was kind of pissed, but the outcome wouldn't have been any different -- she still would have gotten a dog and I still would be moving in a few months -- so I decided not to say anything.  And plus, the dog was pretty damn cute.  She named him Lucky, which is among the stupidest dog names I've ever heard, and didn't turn out to be very lucky for either one of us.

Monday, January 9, 2012


Two years ago, when I first started writing this blog, I really just needed to get it all out -- all the ridiculous, shitty, and funny-only-after-the-fact things that have happened to me while on the quest to find a perfect apartment.  I really wanted to tell the story of what had just happened and needed to find a forum more appropriate than, um, whining on Facebook.  But I decided to start from the beginning.  I mean, I had been involved in other insane housing situations (see moonshine in my kitchen) that I felt might amuse people.  I didn't have a silly gimmick to hawk to the world, like a different apartment to sleep in every night of the week, nor was I trying to emulate some famous peripatetic traveler (Margaret and . . . Marco Polo?).  I just thought if I could make some of my friends laugh, it might make all the stress worth it.

Also, in waiting until I worked my way through the Peace Corps years, early NYC (featuring the Stomper and Dirty Artie) and later Bahrry and his never ending baths, I knew I could create a little distance between me and crazy Yvette.  I figured that someday I would probably laugh about some of her idiosyncrasies, but it was hard to wrap my head around when I was preoccupied with thoughts of housing court and filing assault charges.

Once I started writing and people seemed interested, I never thought I'd stop.  For the most part managed to crank out a post a week for the first year of my blogging.  Then it just . . . petered off.  I'm not really sure what happened, but I think I stopped really needing to write about my housing struggles because I wasn't really having any.  I realized this weekend, during a massive closet cleaning project (which has rendered my apartment a perfect model for "Hoarders -- The Studio Edition," so no drop-by visits, K?), that the reason why I need to clean out my closet is that I haven't moved in nearly nineteen months.  I've been in this apartment for almost as long as I'd lived in my last three apartments combined.  No wonder my closet needs to be reorganized.

Which brings me to my resolutions, both New Years and otherwise.  In addition to organizing my closet, I've resolved to finish out my story of how I got to my current apartment, and then put this blog to bed.  Maybe I'll start another one.  Maybe not.  Maybe you'll have to wait until something else fires me up this much and I start a new one.  Maybe something else crazy will happen to my living space and I'll continue writing Living Lavishly.  I mean, I wouldn't rule it out given my luck.  In the meantime, enjoy the final ride -- the ride to the resolution.  I promise it's worth the bumps in the road, and will be delivered on a more regular schedule. 

Wednesday, October 5, 2011

Penultimate Post

Hello again.  Just dusting off the old blog.  Thought I might try, I don't know, being funny about my crazy roommates again.  It's only been four months.  Apparently some people update these things every day.  Who knew?  As the two year anniversary of the event that started it all looms, I thought it might be nice if I actually managed to share with you what the event actually was.  The big day was October 8th, 2009, so my goal is to have that post up on Saturday.  We'll see if I can do it.  I also will probably be drinking.  Not in sorrow, but in celebration of my freedom from roommates.  Come one, come all.

 But first, I have a story to tell.  When we last spoke, I'd just gotten back from a disappointing summer volunteering and cleaning in Costa Rica.  Yvette and my subletter Miranda had spent a rather uneventful six weeks living together.  I learned the words for chlorine (cloro) and disentangle (desenrollarse) in Spanish.  Miranda saved Yvette from the terrors of mice and met our man-sandal wearing landlord.  It was mid-August by the time Yvette and I started our (brief) tenure as roommates.

Now, up until the week of the fateful event, Yvette really only did some things that were weird or questionable.  To any roommate, in any situation, they would be oddities or irritants.  Given that I was planning on leaving when the lease was up in December, I tried not to let them get to me.  They also prove to be clues to what was to come.

The night I arrived back from Costa Rica was a great night.  I was so excited about my bed and waking up late and drinking coffee in my pajamas that really nothing could harsh my mellow.  I'd talked to Miranda about the timing, but somehow missed telling Yvette.  Ooops!  My bad!  Anyway, when I got back she didn't seem to mind not knowing but said, "Oh!  I wish I had known because I was planning on cleaning the bathroom for you!"  Now, anyone who has actually been in my bathroom knows that that particular household chore is not high on my list.  I assured her it was not a problem.

So Yvette is wandering around the apartment, doing her thing, while Miranda and I catch up on own summers.  At some point Yvette goes into the bathroom.  I can hear the water running and the curtain moving, so I assume she's taking a shower and don't think much of it.  I go back to chatting with Miranda (a native Spanish speaker), attempting to impress her with my new skills.  When Yvette comes out of the bathroom she's still fully dressed, clearly not showered, and carrying the shower curtain, the wastebasket, and the bathmat in her arms.  "Oh," she says, "These weren't yours, were they?  I decided to redo the bathroom."

Um, well, no.  That bathmat wasn't mine.  It was there when I moved in.  But what if it was?  Maybe, just maybe, I liked the bathroom like it was.  Maybe I'm partial to people including me in decisions about our joint space.  Maybe I don't like when people throw away stuff that's not theirs.  Maybe I think that putting down a white bathmat is the stupidest idea ever because it will get so dirty, so quickly that, even though we try to wash it once a week and own a washer-dryer it will never be brighter or less grimy than a wall in a subway station.

Beyond wishing she could have changed the bathroom before I got home, her schedule made no sense.  She worked for the city (something in the payroll department) and had normal city-worker hours, yet for days each week in August she would just appear from her room in her pajamas at 1:00 PM.  I wasn't back to work yet, so I'd had all these plans to get my apartment and life together that I kind of wanted to do uninterrupted.  There's something weird about having roommates and how it makes you (or at least me) act.  There are things that I do now that I live by myself that I wouldn't do with roommates.  Some of it is consideration of shared space (like the pile of mail next to my couch right now -- any time it would like to get up and sort itself would be great), but some of it is social pressure.  I might not spend an entire day watching a Law and Order marathon if I thought someone might be judging me for it, because really, I'm judging myself a little bit for my supreme laziness.  Now, though, with the shades drawn and the closest person a couple of locked doors away, I can feel free to be perfectly ridiculous and say, sing along to Glee (which I may or may not have done tonight because I may or may not have been in "West Side Story" in High School).  Anyway, getting back to the point, when you have roommates, you like them best when they're not around -- whether you just want to relax in peace or give yourself a pedicure in the living room.  So not only was I confused by this bizarre-o schedule of hers, I was annoyed that I didn't get my counted on alone time.

When Yvette was back on her "normal" schedule of getting up between 9:00 and 10:00 to go to work, we sometimes ran into each other on the way to the bathroom.  I was on summer vacation, but the time that I generally started my day of leisurely coffee drinking was around the time she started getting ready for work.  One morning she headed to the bathroom as I came out.  When my back was to her she said good morning.  Being a confused sleepy-head who can barely string two words together when I first get up, I sort of muttered good morning back as I continued my slog to the kitchen.  Suddenly she said in a sing-song-y voice, "What?  I don't get a good morning?"  I turned slowly, resisting the urge to shove her  "Good Morning" down her throat, and simply said, "I'm sorry.  I really not a morning person."  Then I went and made coffee so I could turn into a presentable human being.

The final sort of odd thing about Yvette was her passive aggressiveness.  Now, I'm not claiming not to be a bit pas-agg myself -- in fact, it's kind of how I work best.  I hate confrontation and love dealing in shades of subtlety with gentle nudging.  Yvette took it to a whole new level.  One of the days when Yvette was inexplicably home all day long, she decided it might be time to talk about bills.  Even though we'd been home together all day, she chose not to talk to me about it, but instead to leave a note when I ran out to run an errand.  Fine.  I get it.  Money is a touchy subject, but if you're going to avoid talking to me face to face, let me give you some pointers from a pro:  First, use e-mail.  This is the 21st century.  A piece of paper on my desk is kind of lame.  Second, ensure that the recipient will not receive the note in your presence.  Don't leave the note on your roommate's desk when you're planning on staying in the apartment for another few hours and she might come back and have no idea what to do with your little note.  Third, make sure the issue is note-worthy, makes sense, and includes all the necessary documentation.  When a subletter has been living in the apartment for six weeks and the more permanent roommate for just a few days, said subletter might be who you're looking for to pay bills (sidenote -- Miranda ultimately paid them).  When asking for money for utilities, you might want to actually include the bills.  Most people will not write personal checks for $250 to relative strangers on blind faith.  And finally, bills and distribution of responsibilities are a touchy, but necessary issue for roommates to discus and you should probably expect some kind of negotiations to occur.  Beyond just splitting the cable bill, questions come up like should we have a cleaning lady?  How should we distribute cleaning responsibilities?  Who wants to be in charge of buying toilet paper?

I subscribe to the philosophy of meeting fire with fire . . . or passive-aggressiveness with passive-aggressiveness, as the case may be.  So I waited until she was finally gone and wrote my own note.  I explained that I would talk to Miranda about paying since I didn't live there when the charges were incurred, but that I would like to see the actual bills in the future being paying for anything.  I also explained that I couldn't afford a cleaning lady, but gave an alternative solution that I thought would make us both happy.  This was written on a giant blue post-it in purple ink and stuck to her door.  I'm sure I included a smiley face.  Pas-agg city.

Sunday, May 22, 2011

The Subletting Era, On the Flip Side

When I moved back into my apartment, after nearly seven weeks away, I was very, very ready to be in my own space.  The fact that my roommate had changed since I'd left wasn't really foremost in my mind.  Mostly, I was thinking about sleeping in my bed, in my apartment, without having to wake up to an alarm clock, do breakfast duty, and clean before even heading out the door.  When I left for Costa Rica for the summer, I had expected an adventure not without hardships, but I had no idea what I was getting myself into.

I spent my first two weeks in Costa Rica taking Spanish classes and living with host families.  This was fine, fun even.  I took classes in the morning and explored the cities I was in in the afternoon.  In Monteverde I went ziplining and hiked through the cloud forest.  At Playa Flamingo my afternoons were spent on the beach perfecting my tan.  One weekend we went to Volcan Arenal, went hiking and spent hours in the hot springs.  Not a bad way to spend a few weeks.


Sunset at the Playa

 At the hot springs

This lovely tourist's existence of lazing about and experiencing the natural wonders that Costa Rica is known for sadly didn't last.  You see, the real reason why I went to Costa Rica was to volunteer teach for the summer with a non-profit.  I knew that the accommodations weren't going to be up to US standards, but I've lived in a lot of places, and wasn't really worried about it.  In fact, the physical amenities weren't that bad.  I actually took a video of the University dorms that we stayed in:

No, the problems really all rested with the organization I worked with.  While I agree, in theory, with their mission to promote social justice through education, I didn't realize until I got there that the organization was more interested in imposing rules on its volunteers than ensuring the promotion of its principles.  There are serious flaws in the idea that we were doing great and indispensable good by teaching kids art appreciation and team-building activities for one hour-long period and then waltzing away to another school to do the same.  The thing that bothered me more was that there was this pompous sense of almost divine purpose in what we were doing -- that the image and reputation of the organization had to be protected at all costs.  And that's where the rules came in:

Las Reglas
  1. Everyone must be up at the same time in the morning and ready for breakfast.
  2. Everyone must do their chores.
  3. Any outing must be done "en grupo," so no one gets left out . . . even if they'd rather not go.
  4. We must have meetings four times a day to ensure unity of the group.
  5. Roommates are to be one local and one estadounisense.
  6. No alcohol.
  7. No relations with people of the opposite sex.
  8. No buying food that isn't part of the group purchase.
  9. You must be back and on time for dinner.
  10. No talking after lights out.
  11. No sitting on the second floor and playing cards, because what if someone thought you weren't playing cards?  What if someone thought you were drinking?  Even though you aren't, you can't socialize in a place where you might be thought to be something as untoward as drinking a beer.
  12. No skirts above the knee.
  13. No tanktops that expose your shoulders.
  14. No shirts that might show your cleavage if you lean over.  Not sure if you're appropriate?  Don't worry, there will be spot checks in the morning before leaving for school.
  15. No shorts when you're picking up trash with the kids on a Saturday.  What if a parent saw that you have legs? 

Cleaning the baƱos with cloro.

 Teaching (or saving the lives of) three students through a 45 minute discussion of Van Gogh's Starry Night" or "Noche estrallada," as we like to call it.  Not sure how that shirt made the cut.  Looks pretty inappropriate to me.

Needless to say, I came back to the US (via my brother's college graduation in Alabama) wanting nothing more than to be left alone.  It was hard enough to live through that, knowing that I was wasting my summer with an organization that was doing very little good, but I also harbored a great deal of guilt for asking my friends and family to sponsor my trip through donations.  Where was their money really going?  The organization certainly wasn't doing any harm, but the good it was doing was negligible.  I'd left my home and my friends right after the last day of school thinking I would come back with stories of great adventure, but instead I came back conflicted, confused, and sad.  It was with this attitude that I moved back into my apartment and started my tenure with Yvette.   


Sunday, May 15, 2011

Subletting Shenanigans

Before we get on to the wonderful and fascinating story of when Yvette and I lived together, we must first take a trip into someone else's story -- that of my lovely subletter, Miranda (who, for the record, took no part in any shenanigans).  

I spent six weeks that summer in Costa Rica, taking Spanish classes and volunteer teaching, and during that time both Miranda and Yvette moved into my apartment.  In anticipation of their brief tenure together, I "introduced" them via e-mail.  I thought it would be nice for them to be able to communicate directly with each other about their upcoming moves without going through me.  

Yvette, however, managed to change her move-in date three different times without telling either one of us until we inquired.  First she had to stay in her old place through the end of July.  Then, when I asked about mailing in the August rent, she said she'd decided to move mid-July, just to get things started.  Finally, when Miranda mentioned her move-in date, Yvette said she was moving in the same day.  All of this would have been helpful to know when she decided it so we could all plan, not when it just happened to come up in conversation.

Miranda and Yvette were now both supposed to be moving in 4th of July weekend, and Miranda's long-distance boyfriend was coming in to help.  Miranda, being considerate (and far nicer than necessary) offered to have her boyfriend stay somewhere else if Yvette wasn't comfortable with a stranger invading her space the first weekend in a new apartment.  I thought that this was a really generous offer, considering that Yvette is the one who changed her move-in date to the same day as Miranda's.  Had I been in the same situation, I wouldn't have taken Miranda up on the offer.  Just knowing that she would offer shows how accommodating she is and how little imposition her boyfriend's presence would be.  Yvette, however, said yes.  Please do have your out of town boyfriend stay elsewhere.  Moving is stressful to me.

And moving did turn out to be stressful for her.  Hey, it's stressful for all of us (even people like me who do it all the time), but eventually we get over it.  I did my best to help facilitate the transition.  The night before I left for Costa Rica, which was the day after the last day of school, I ran around my apartment trying to get it ready for its new occupants.  Kerri had left in the afternoon the day before, and taken much of the furniture with her.  The apartment was pretty bare.  I had already started clearing out enough of my own stuff that I ate ice cream for dinner.  Then I started remembering when I moved in and all the quirky little things about the apartment that I never would have figured out if Kerri hadn't been there to guide me through it all.  

I decided to leave Miranda and Yvette a note with pertinent information . . . but one little note didn't seem to cut it.  I then ran around the empty apartment in pajamas at 1:00 AM (when I should have been sleeping given that my flight was pretty early the next morning), putting post-its with little notes and reminders on everything I could think of.  Notes in the kitchen as to where each person's food went.  Notes on the trash can and recycling about the days to take them out.  A note on the toilet reminding them to hold the flusher down for at least ten seconds.  Notes on internet router and cable box about the password and what to do when the cable goes out.  Notes on the ancient washer-dryer as to how to keep them functioning at their maximum capacity.  You name it, I put a note on it.  I really wish I had taken a picture of it all, because it looked a little ridiculous.

And then I left a mere four hours later.  I overslept, naturally, because I'd been up too late the night before plastering my apartment "A Beautiful Mind" style with post-its (in different colors, shapes, and sizes -- I am an elementary school teacher, after all).  I woke up five minutes before my car service was scheduled to come pick me up, stepped on a giant roach in the shower (the only one I ever saw in that apartment, perhaps he came out to look at the post-its?), shoved the last of my stuff into my walk-in closet, and left.  I stumbled out of my building carrying two backpacks (one full of donated school supplies) and a cup of coffee to find my driver asleep and completely useless.  I had to rap on the window with my coffee mug to get him to wake up and open the trunk.  And then we were off.  And Miranda and Yvette were left to their own devices.

Miranda kept me updated and she and Yvette seemed to be getting along just fine, but Yvette seemed to be having some trouble adapting to the apartment.  She couldn't figure out how to work the washer-dryer and Miranda had to help her (um, didn't you get the post-it?).  Then the toilet clogged one morning and she couldn't figure out what to do about it.  Then she saw a mouse and totally freaked out,  although I can't really blame her.  Mice are gross and I tend to get a little screechy when I see them too.  But the second time she saw one she called Miranda, on her cell phone, in the middle of the night, while she was asleep, to come rescue her from it . . . because apparently Miranda is better equipped at rodent dispossal than Yvette?  I don't know.  Miranda did in fact do a good job of getting rid of the mouse and saving Yvette, and neither were worse for the wear.  It just made me think, what kind of person calls a roommate they barely know in the middle of the night to do something gross and yucky just because you don't want to?  And although I once had a male roommate check our kitchen for mice before I would go inside (I had just seen one in my tortilla chip bag!), I'm inclined to think that proper protocol leaves late night phone calls for actual emergencies -- like being locked out, fires, and people trying to break into the apartment.  

Are these little isolated events really ominous signs of evil to come?  No, not really.  Just perhaps a hint at how Yvette struggles to problem solve in a rational manner.  Or maybe, just because I don't like her, I'm projecting negative vibes onto actions that I might just find quirky or funny had she not become, in all honesty, the worst roommate I ever had.

Tuesday, April 19, 2011

Negotiations Part II, or When I Definitely Should Have Cut and Run

After the drama of the Meeting with Yvette, Kerri and I struck an awkward peace.  It was born out of necessity.  We were really both too busy trying to wrap up our lives before the end of June (her move-out date was June 26th, I left for Costa Rica on June 28th) to waste too much time and energy on being mad at eachother.  I believe too that Kerri is a person who finds value in relationships with other people, however fleeting they may be.  She might not see me again after she moved out, but it was important to her to make things right nonetheless.  I honestly strive to be that kind of person, maybe not the person she was as things disintegrated, but the person she was as she tried to rectify the problem.  Left to my own devices I might have just tried to avoid her for the last two weeks.  Not sure how I would have accomplished that, but I would have tried my damnedest.  Funny how avoidance was the mature thing with Bahrry and Dan, but not with Kerri -- probably has something to do with her not being the most insufferable person alive (attn:  Bahrry).

Anyway, after the rent got ironed out, I promptly tried to focus on the things that I needed to do before leaving for a summer of volunteering in Costa Rica, namely, buying things like a mosquito net, collecting donations (both monetary and physical), learning Spanish, and preparing my space for my subletter.  Sadly, this focus on actual important things wasn't meant to be.  Yvette was determined to create more drama.  I'm still not sure exactly what her angle was -- driving me so crazy that I voluntarily left the apartment, allowing her to move in at her leisure (and price point)?  getting her own way for the sake of getting her way?  making her friend hate her as a result of an act that should have indebted Kerri to her for life?  Any one of these scenarios is possible.  I'll let you decide.  In fact, I'm soliciting opinions -- the idea that gets the most votes wins!  In order for you to make an informed decision, I should probably continue telling you the story.

As you all know, Yvette offered to lend Kerri money to pay her portion of the June rent in exchange for moving in in July.  Another reason Kerri had wanted a friend to move in was that the lease was solely in her name at this point, and Kerri didn't want to trust just anyone to her credit.  The fact that she seemingly didn't trust me to do this after nearly six months of responsible roommatedom stung more than just a little.  I chose to ignore it in favor of just moving forward.  One Saturday morning after my disastrous meeting with Yvette, Kerri was discussing the arrangements with our landlord, Reggie.  It turns out that Reggie had actually forgotten to redraw the lease in December when the last lease was up, so instead of Kerri being the sole signer on the lease, there actually wasn't one.  I had about 6 seconds to ruminate on the fact that I hadn't needed to go through anything with Yvette before Kerri piped up, "Reggie wants to know if you want him to draw up a new lease with both of your names on it."  Of course, I agreed.

I wasn't exactly enamored by Yvette, but I know I can sometimes come off as harsh, and I was trying not to let my first impression of her color all of my future dealings (In hindsight I should have followed my intuition . . . but that's a story for another day)  I wanted to be a good roommate.  I had also just felt firsthand the effects of not being on a lease, and this seemed like the perfect solution.  Sign a lease for a year, and then, by June of 2010 I might be ready to live on my own.  I went off on my mosquito-net buying mission buoyed by the idea of legal protection of my housing rights.

Coming in the door leaden with bags from Paragon and Target a few hours later, I was greeted by an unfamiliar noise -- screaming.  It was Kerri.  She wasn't shrieking in pain, but more yelling into the phone.  I tried to make myself scarce to give her some privacy, but she got off of the phone pretty quickly and sought me out.  She had been on the phone with Yvette.  Yvette was being ridiculous.  Kerri was pretty sure that a three-year friendship had just ended.  She just couldn't f*@&ing believe Yvette.

Now, this is how Yvette made me feel when she came over that night to "discuss" our situation.  Except that I'm more of a crier than Kerri.  Kerri is apparently a yeller.  Basically what happened is this:  Kerri called Yvette to say "Good news!  Reggie can put both you and Margaret on the lease."  Yvette did not think this was good news.  In fact, Yvette replied with something like, "Bullshit I'm going to be on the lease with Margaret.  You have to tell her she can't be on the lease."  Kerri, in a redeeming role, did not take Yvette's nonsense lying down.  She said, "You can't do that.  It's not fair to Margaret.  She's been here almost six months.  You don't really have the right to dictate the terms."  I walked in as the conversation escalated into something really productive like, "Fine!  Be that way!"  "Goodbye!"  And then tears.

Kerri got off of the phone and gave me the run-down.  She was pissed.  Not at me, but at Yvette, who was suddenly deciding to have a psychotic moment in the middle of Kerri's crisis.  I, as usual, was the innocent bystander.  Kerri said we could just find a craigslist roommate who would sign the lease with me.  I was a little relieved.  Now I could start with someone I hadn't yet cried in front of.  Reggie the landlord was supposed to come over the next day so Yvette and I could sign the lease, and now Kerri was calling him back to let him know that he'd have to wait a few more days because we were back to square one on the roommate front.  

While Kerri was on the phone with Reggie, my phone rang.  It was Yvette.  "Hi Margaret.  How are you?  It's Yvette."  She's sickly sweet and calm.  Nothing like I was imagining her end of the screaming match with Kerri that ended, oh, two minutes ago.  

"I'm fine," I replied.  "Kerri just told me that you don't want to sign a lease, so she's talking to Reggie right now about how we're going to find another roommate."  

"Oh no, that's not what I meant!" cooed Yvette.  "I'm just really worried about the money and I didn't think I could handle paying $1200 for an entire year."  Ahh.  So what you really meant when you agreed to divvying up the rent $1200 for you, $1050 for me was that you would do it until you were the only one on the lease and then you could change things at your leisure.  Lovely.  FYI, what I really meant by being OK with that rent breakdown was that I was going to stay until I found something better.  Not being protected by the lease also means I don't have to be bound by it either, bitch.

Of course, I didn't actually say that.  Instead I mouthed "It's Yvette!" to Kerri, who was still on the phone with Reggie and then mouthed to me, "He says if she doesn't get her act together he doesn't want her living here anyway."  Yvette, meanwhile was prattling on.  I was saying a lot of "Uhuh"s, tired of hearing her repeated self-congratulations for her selflessness in saving Kerri from financial ruin.  That is, until she had an actual solution to offer.  She wanted a six-month lease.  She thought she could pay $1200 until December.  I said if we signed a six month lease, I would move in December.  Yvette said fine.  I relayed the message to Kerri who passed it on to Reggie in some kind of demented, high-stakes, adult game of telephone.

I thought we were finally done.  I went to sign the lease at Reggie's office with Yvette a few days later.  It was a slightly strained meeting, given what had led up to it, but we were both trying.  She asked me how I felt about dogs.  I professed my love for Elvis, Kerri's dog.  She said one of the reasons why she wanted our apartment was because she wanted a dog.  She was planning on giving herself one as a Christmas present.  As I signed the lease ending December 31st, 2009, I thought to myself, "At least if she gets a dog and is as ridiculous about it as she has been about this lease-signing process, I'll only be living there with them for one more week."

And that is when, in hindsight, I definitely should have cut and run. 

Thursday, March 31, 2011

Negotiations, or When I Probably Should Have Known to Cut and Run

The month of June 2009 was a tough time for our little household of three.  Kerri was trying her best to figure out what to do with her life -- how to deal with the collapse of her business both emotionally and practically.  We weren't super close, but she had been a good roommate and I was trying to be as supportive as possible while dealing with my own crazy life.  I was trying to wrap up the school year and trying to organize my life before leaving for six weeks in Costa Rica volunteer teaching . . . which I was leaving for just two days after the last day of school.  Not to mention my social life and trying to spend time with friends and do all the fun summer things I love before leaving the country for the bulk of my vacation.  

Anyway, back to the apartment.  Kerri had been doing a bit of e-mailing about furniture and other apartment related things with Yvette and me.  Mostly it was thrilling things like, "Who would like the green chairs?" and "I'm not sure if I'm going to take the kitchen table."  Then one day I got an e-mail with some surprises in it:

Hi Ladies,

So I wanted to email you both so you could have each others info.  And I believe that Yvette is coming over tonight around 7 or after to meet you Margaret.
. . . .
Ok, bills:

So rent overall is $2250, and currently I pay $1250 and Margaret pays $1000.   In the past, the person with the bigger room ( me) paid more more but because i really needed someone to move in in December I lowered it. I also didn't have Margaret pay any of the utilities, so I assume that would have to change. What are your thoughts on this, Margaret do you feel comfortable moving up to $1100 and Yvette at $1150?
. . . 
I hope this all sounds OK and I am not putting you out, trying to just get organized and smart about it all. Sound good? please don't hate me!

So, this was all quite perplexing because Kerri never mentioned a change in the rent if her friend moved in.  She only talked to me about the utilities.  I'm a little bit shocked that she handled it this way, without talking to us separately about it first.  Also, I didn't think I could afford to pay any more, and $100/month is quite a bit more to be thrown at a person.  Furthermore (and I wish I'd taken pictures of the other bedroom to help prove my point), the bigger bedroom is much bigger and doesn't have the annoyance of someone walking through some of the space to deal with.  Also, it has three real windows, as opposed to my one real one in the den and one shaft window to the bathroom in the bedroom.  The size difference and the convenience different are worth more than just a $50 differential.  Have I fully supported my argument yet?  Have I met the burden of proof?  Because this all is getting a little ridiculous.  Anyway, I knew I had to be honest, so I sent the following e-mail in return:


I have no strong feelings about the furniture.  I kind of want to get a full sized couch, but I wouldn't be able to do anything about that until late August, so I'm flexible. 

I am happy to split utilities and other apartment expenses (and would love to keep the DVR in the living room), but I absolutely can't go above $1000 for the rent.  Sorry.  Paying the utilities will already raise my monthly expenses by about $70 and that's the limit of what I can afford.  I'm willing to renegotiate in December when the lease is up, but at this point I just can't.  I know you're dealing with a lot right now Kerri, but I just can't adjust my monthly budget immediately with no warning because of someone else's circumstances.  I hope this doesn't change your feelings about moving in, Yvette, but if it does I totally understand.  Let me know and I'll start looking for someone who can pay the $1250 on craigslist today.

I look forward to talking more tonight.

Kerri was actually quite gracious over e-mail about my response.  She said not to worry, if Yvette couldn't swing it, she would look for another tenant for her room, and it wasn't my responsibility.  I thought that the matter was settled -- Yvette pays what Kerri paid until the lease was up in December, or we find someone else to live in Kerri's room.  Yvette had other ideas:

Margaret – I’m not sure if you’re aware, but stepping in at this last minute also means that I’m paying rent for 2 places (yours and mine) for the month of June.  Realistically, you wouldn’t find anyone who would do that on craigslist.  

Also, because I need to give a month’s notice at my place, I’ll have to pay my current roommate rent for the month of July. Averaged out over the course of the 6 months, plus utilities, I’d be paying well over $1700/mth.  I’m currently paying $900 (which includes utilities). That is a considerable stretch. 

Of course, I sympathized.  Yvette was trying to help her friend, but at the same time she didn't have to.  I know that Kerri didn't ask, much less demand, that Yvette take over her lease.  Yvette offered because she loved the apartment.  $1250, which is what Kerri was paying for the bigger room, was too much for me to afford and the reason why I didn't want to move into the nicer room.  I'm not unreasonable, but I couldn't agree to a $100 increase in rent because Kerri's business failed and her friend realized that she couldn't be as helpful as she thought.  I told them as much, and I tried to be gracious and understanding about it:

I'm really sorry about all of the things that are happening right now with you Kerri.  You've been a great roommate and I'm really sorry to see you go.  Yvette, you're being a great friend offering to step up and take over this responsibility.  I absolutely understand if you can't pay $1250.  It's just not within my budget right now to take on further financial responsibilities.  If this doesn't work out, I'm happy to help Kerri search for another solution that works for both of us.

That was the last I heard from them.  There had been some mention of Yvette coming over around 7:00 to meet me.  I went to pilates to take deep breathes and remember to stay calm.  I also needed to remember that I couldn't agree to something I wasn't comfortable with just because I felt bad for Kerri and everything she was going through.

Almost immediately after I got home from pilates, I got a phone call from Yvette:  "I'm downstairs!" she said.  I replied that Kerri wasn't home yet, but I'd come down and meet her.  I soon found out that Kerri wasn't planning on being there for the meeting.  She'd gone off to have dinner with a friend and left us to hash it out.  I was a bit put out that she'd run when the going got tough.  Even before this, Yvette wouldn't have been my first choice for a roommate -- she and Kerri knew eachother from AA and since I drink, it would have been nice to have a roommate who wanted to share some wine once in a while.  I also knew nothing about her as far as the things I think are important in a roommate, like habits, schedules, etc.

Back to the moment at hand.  Yvette has just entered the apartment and I've just found out that Kerri isn't coming to negotiate this with us.  I'm tense because I basically want to tell Yvette that she needs to step up or step out.  She's moving into my apartment with me, so I'm not going to pay more money.  We start to have a conversation and I basically tell her as much, but more civilly.  We go back and forth for a while until she finally says, "Well, what Kerri didn't tell you is that if you don't agree to this than you have to move out."  I was floored.  Kerri was so nice!  She said she would figure out something if I wasn't comfortable!  What happened to make her so inconsiderate and unreasonable?

Um, well, probably losing her business and dream did that.  I had a really hard time not crying at that moment.  I went into the meeting wondering what would happen if Yvette couldn't pay and I had to go the craigslist route -- especially when Kerri's move out date coincided with my subletting date.  Did I really want to trust two randoms to my apartment and my stuff?  All those questions were wiped from my mind when Yvette said, "If you don't agree to this than you have to move out."  I'm not even sure what I did next.  Everything is a blur.  I think I sat and stared.  At some point I might have said something like, "This is a lot to take right now."  All I remember is awkwardly sitting on the couch in the living room and looking at Yvette in disbelief.  

Somehow, eventually, Yvette asked if I could go up $50/month to $1050 until December.  She thought she could cover $1200 until then.  I agreed.  $300 over the course of six months was worth not having to move last minute. 

Adding to the tension was the fact that Yvette wasn't leaving.  She was waiting for her boyfriend to come look at the place.  I apologize if you are one of those girls who needs her boyfriend's approval for everything she does, but I just don't get it.  It's really only important to get his opinion if you're moving in together.  I understand wanting to show off a new place, or wanting moral support when you're looking, but having the conversation Yvette just had with me, why would she have chosen this moment to ask the boyfriend to come look at the place?  Also, he was late.  So after the tension filled negotiations, as I tried not to cry, Yvette tried to make small talk.  I tried to will her to leave with my mind.

Eventually, this mind control seemed to work.  Yvette couldn't get in touch with the boyfriend and seemed sufficiently uncomfortable to suggest that she leave and meet up with him later.  I was relieved.  As soon as she left I burst into tears.  I wasn't just crying because Yvette was a little aggressive, or because I had to pay more money, or because I didn't win, but because I felt really betrayed by Kerri.  Like I said, we weren't close, but I did consider her a friend and an excellent roommate.  I guess I expected more from her and wondered how little she thought of me that she thought I could be brushed away so easily.  Were we not amicable, happy roommates for more than five months?  Did she not think I at least deserved the decency of being told in person rather than ambushed by her friend?

As I cried in my living room and looked for some solace, the phone rang.  It was Yvette again.  She was downstairs.  The boyfriend had a appeared.  Could they come up?  For God Fucking Sake.  Seriously?  What is the point of having the talent to keep from crying in front of someone if they just come back five minutes later?  Because I couldn't think of any other response, I said yes.  I answered the door with a red and splotchy face, still in my pilates clothes.  They looked around for ten minutes.  She was simpering.  He was doofy.  He crawled on my bed to look through the shaft window, which I thought was rude.  Finally they left me alone.

Later, while I was sobbing my story into the phone, Kerri texted.  She had spoken with Yvette.  She wanted to talk.  I did not.  She came home in the middle of my conversation about her and how bad she made me feel.  I'm sure she heard some of it -- our walls weren't so thick -- but I honestly didn't care.  I texted her back and said that I needed some space to process it all.  We were probably ten feet away from each other at this point.  I felt like I was in middle school.  I told her that.  I just couldn't face her at that moment.  I told her that too.

The next day I arrived at work red-eyed and puffy.  I just have one of those faces that shows my emotions completely transparently.  Also, I get blotchy when I cry.  I wish I didn't but in nearly 31 years I haven't figured out how to fix it.  I was a mess.  I tried to tell the story to a coworker and broke down again.  Things were looking bleak.

Around 1:00, though, everything started to come together.  I got an e-mail from a friend who suddenly needed a sublet for exactly the time I would be in Costa Rica!  She was fine with the rent, liked the layout, loves Brooklyn, and is totally trustworthy.  Yay for saving my rent money!  Then I got an e-mail from Kerri that made me feel much better:

hey there,
I am sorry we didn't  get to talk last night, and when I sent that email yesterday i didn't anticipate what it sparked, and thought it would be fine for Yvette to come over so you guys could chat. But it took a turn and unfortunately i wasn't able to be there and should have said lets just wait. Nonetheless, I am sorry for all of this.  I know its stressful.

Yvette said that you guys came to an agreement and she really likes you a lot, and she felt bad if there was/ is tension. So, I will find a way to pay June so she is not paying and then she can move in in July. Unless you are uncomfortable with the end decision. Please let me know, because I know this is where you live and you don't want to feel stressed. Yvette is awesome- i have traveled and roomed with her a lot and she is fantastic. But let me know your thoughts and we can go from there.
Hope you are having a good day. BTW started Twilight... cant put it down.

I was starting to feel calmer.  I was no longer crying randomly.  I could cover the rent increase much better with my summer rent covered.  Maybe Yvette was actually very nice, but had just been trying to stick up for her friend.  Kerri and I even had a little reconciliation moment when I got home. Things started looking up, but unfortunately the negotiations had only just begun.