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.

Tuesday, March 22, 2011

Taking the Plunge

Lately I've been downright neglectful of my little blog.  I don't really know what it is.  Maybe it's just the time of year.  I didn't post much last year around this time.  Maybe it's the weather, or the upcoming high stakes tests that sucking up so much of my energy.  Maybe it's the fact that, even though I love the little apartment I live in now, it's in a constant state of disorder.  Maybe it's the broken pipe in my kitchen that consumed my Sunday afternoon.  Maybe it's doing laundry at the laundromat that has kept me away from typing.  Maybe it's more.  Maybe it's more closely related to the fact that I've run into Kerri at the gym twice lately and haven't known what to say to her about what happened after . . . wondering if she's avoiding me for the same reasons, or if in the haze of sweat and treadmills she just hasn't noticed me.  Maybe it's that the next story marks the beginning of the big story, the reason this blog exists at all.  Maybe it's that the next story is the catalyst for everything that happened over the next four months.  Maybe it's just that, by not progressing past that spring and the time of the studly firemen, I can stay in a time before things started getting serious -- when Bahrry and Dan and Dirty Artie were funny characters in the revolving housing issues that surrounded my life.  When the whole idea of random roommates seemed more like a game of Russian Roulette than the reality of it all -- by moving in with craislisters, you're entrusting your possessions, your credit, and your well-being to a total stranger you just "had a good feeling about," or shared your philosophy on dishwashing.  Maybe by just staying in those first few months of my twenty-ninth year, I won't need to really think about all those things that happened later.  The ones that make me reconsider my little plan to start counting backward with my upcoming birthday -- to turn twenty-nine again instead of thirty-one.  Twenty-nine wasn't exactly a year worthy of revisiting for me.

I'm probably being a little melodramatic.  Most people get along with their random roommates well enough.  Some people even become friends with them.  Many people leave with stories of hoarder roommates, or crazy people who talk to their cats, or exhibitionists.  I had plenty of good times at twenty-nine.  Maybe I should just tell the stories you've all been waiting for, consider it all character building, and turn thirty-one with pride.  Maybe one of the reasons I haven't been writing lately is because I've been wasting time having an existential crisis not about the futility of life but of . . . blogging.  Which is ridiculous.  Maybe I should remember that I still have some pretty funny stories to tell too -- like some of the things Racist Reggie the landlord said, or the middle of the night bathroom leak that led to another too-short-clothing-and-strangers-in-my-house problem.  Or maybe the fact that I was bound and determined to set up my current apartment myself, without any help, despite knowing that I'm the least handy person alive, thus leading to a nearly severed toe during some bathroom demo (do not wear flip-flops while wielding a hammer at ceramic tiles), and a coat rack that I've given up on after it fell down twice.  Now I just pile my coats on top of it next to the front door.

I think I promised you a story somewhere up there.  Better get to it despite the fact that it's not funny.  If you're in the mood to laugh, might I suggest:  Bathing in the Lap of Luxury, The Stomper, Towels, or the Time I was Kind of an Asshole, or perhaps a good dose of Bahrry in Bahrry the Bizarre.  So anyway, back to Kerri, Elvis the dog, and our lovely little place with the big windows and the washer-dryer.  The spring of 2009 was chugging along pretty well.  Even though  I'd initially only planned on subletting, Kerri had broken up with the boyfriend who was supposed to move in, and my future roommate's job start-date got pushed back by a year, so Kerri and I decided to stay living together.  We were both happily busy with our lives, content in the apartment, and didn't want to mess with a good thing.  We were barely around at the same time, and when we were we'd watch movies, or eat dinner together, or retreat to our rooms for some solitude.  By the time we decided to continue to live together, we were both dating people and in and out of the apartment for days at a time, with or without the boys, to the point where we weren't really sure who to yell at for forgetting to put the toilet seat down.  It was an amicable, comfortable, nice place to live and neither one of us was itching to move.

Without any warning, one day in June, our lives got turned upside down.  Well, more precisely, Kerri's did.  Mine was just collateral damage.  Kerri had moved to NYC five years before and spent the intervening time successfully building up her own business.  She'd suffered a bit during the financial crisis, but managed to hold on thanks to some loyal clients.  Unfortunately, on June 1st, the day our rent was due, that luck ran out.  Right around the same time I was running around with studly firemen in a teeny-tiny bathrobe, Kerri got a phone call while on vacation with the new boy.  Her biggest client, the one who owed her the check that would cover her rent, called to say that they couldn't use her services anymore.  They were going under.  Not only that, but they couldn't pay her what they owed her.  They would try to get it to her eventually, but she certainly wasn't going to have it by the due date.  Kerri collapsed in the airport.  She was basically told that her business had failed.  She still had a few small clients, but not enough to sustain a living, particularly in such a high-cost place like NYC.

So Kerri spent the rest of her vacation trying to figure out the rest of her life.  Instead of reading trashy magazines on the beach, she had to figure out whether to cut her loses and close her business, her dream.  She had to figure out how to pay the rent in a year that already had been pretty tough financially.  She had to figure out if she could even stay in NYC.  Far, far down on the list, I'm sure, was what to do about this roommate back in Brooklyn who was enjoying being roommate-free for the week but kind of liked having her roommate and the dog around from time to time.  The roommate whose rent-check, courtesy of a worry-free City Employee payroll system, was waiting on the kitchen table for its mate so they could be sent together.

When Kerri got home the next weekend, she told me everything.  She had figured out that that only way to save her business was to move back home with her parents in Massachusetts, keep the clients she had and work remotely to try to build up a larger client base with the hope to eventually come back.  The issue of the rent was still up in the air, but she had a friend who was willing to help her out.  This friend, Yvette, had always loved the apartment and had a little savings.  She wanted to lend the June rent to Kerri, provided she could move into her room in July.  I could stay, of course, it just hinged on me being OK with Yvette as a roommate, and with sharing the cost of the utilities (which Kerri had covered in full because of the dog).  I agreed.  It's not like I could advertise on craigslist for a roommate who would have to pay all of the coned bill, or that I even had the time to look for a roommate before heading to Costa Rica to volunteer for six weeks for summer vacation.  I'd only met Yvette once, but she seemed nice enough, and really, who could be worse than Bahrry?  Famous last words . . .