Maybe we don't mention this enough, but we have a pied a terre in Town.
"That's fine," we hear you saying, "as long as it isn't contagious."
Reader, blame our late Dad. Big Ed collected affectations the way other men do golf clubs. He spoke like a British gentleman, except when he was speaking like a Parisian gentleman, except when he was speaking one of the few languages he actually knew, a very doggy version of Ukrainian Russian, in which every adjective has something to do with the other person's mother.
Dad it was who taught us to call New York City 'Town" (because, apparently, we actually lived in our fabulous country home in the midst of the Five Towns out on Long Island) and an apartment in New York City a Pied a Terre, or Foot on the Earth (although if NYC was Earth, it was hard to figure where Heaven might be).
Last June we acquired this apartment and promptly grew to hate it. The place boasts a wonderful location--in the very heart of Chelsea, surrounded by good food stores and restaurants, scenic walks in any direction, thriving clubs and venues from which one could walk home no matter how drunk. It is the home of every decorating source in Manhattan, from those deadpan showrooms which feature an open white space, a leather couch and a mink throw, to a Bed Bath and Beyond store which takes up roughly one entire city block, on two levels. The Union Square Greenmarket, a world famous coffee shop (Cafe Grumpy) and a restaurant run by a recent Next Iron Chef competitor are all within the surrounding three blocks. In fact, if you were drunk from that club last night, you could still find your way to the cafe.
The apartment itself is much better than most Manhattan studios, in that, while it is small, it is very nicely laid out; imagine a shoebox with a small ell at the front end, and you have the floor plan. One's bed fits into the ell, tall windows spill sunlight over most of the studio, the kitchen is an efficient triangular slice, paved with linoleum tile and containing a full-sized refrigerator and a small gas stove. The bathroom takes up the back of the box, and it is freshly painted and caulked, with a ceramic tile floor and a glass-doored shower/bath. Both bathroom and kitchen have their own good-sized windows on an air shaft, which provides fresh air and cross-ventilation. The rent is $1500 per month and, even in a recession, the apartment's good clean finishes and neat design make that price good deal below the usual.
And almost as soon as we had signed the lease, we ran from it as from the plague.
Part of the problem were the stairs. The apartment is on the third floor of an old tenement house, and one first climbs an eighteen-stair staircase to get to the second floor, and then a series of smaller flights to the third. We weighed 320 pounds when we moved in and never saw our front door except in the midst of a blood-red haze, accompanied by thudding in the ears and nausea.
The fact was, we had gotten the apartment for a much-younger version of ourself. When we were 23 we lived in a fourth-floor walk-up in Astoria, Queens, and this was way before there was anything attractive about that borough. Eight staircases, each the size of the largest in the Chelsea building, led from the front door to our apartment; If you came to our apartment, it meant you really liked us. We were not light but not obese when we lived there and our body, put through the paces of Eighties office-and-disco wear (not to mention no shoes lower than two-inch heels), dealt stoically with what it was given. We ate industrial-grade sushi when we had the money and canned soup when we did not and we washed down every meal with Coffee NoCal, and as long as the cockroaches stayed out of our bedroom we lived and let live. In that apartment we wrote two novels, entertained many lovers, had our heart soundly broken and were finally rescued by our eventual husband, whose company made us yearn for the cockroaches.
Twenty-five years later we saw the Chelsea place and reasoned that it was much nicer than Astoria had been, and we had been able to deal with Astoria, so this place must be right for us. We could barely stand to spend the night there.
It was at this point that we went to San Francisco and met Paul, and by the time we came home we were ready to look at Craig's List and find a very nice young woman who would swap apartments with us for one week every month. She agreed to paying us a nominal sum for every night she was in New York and we were not in San Francisco (because we could only travel every other month), and we set about getting the Chelsea apartment ready for her.
It was around this time that La Skolnique told us about AirBnB, which you can think of as Airbed and Breakfast if it makes more sense to you that way.
AirBnB has been called "the Ebay of space" but it's more like the Ebay of hospitality. If you have a place where another person could sleep overnight--anything from a futon in a living room in Williamsburg to a chateau in the Loire Valley--you can list it (for free) on the AirBnB site and name your price for a night's lodging. If you have priced it in accordance with the market (say, $35 for the Brooklyn futon, or $6000 for the chateau, which should at least be equipped with fresh sheets and toilet tissue), guests will get in touch with you and ask if you have availability for the times during which they will be traveling. If you do and if you like what the guests have to say about themselves, you offer them the nights at a certain rate, they click "book it", and AirBnB gets their money (credit, debit or PayPal), take a small percentage for the house, and passes on the rest to you in the form of PayPal, a check, or direct deposit.
Now you know that we are suffering from a lack of income at this moment, what with there being no paying social work jobs anywhere and not that many people even inclined to employ us for free. After a few days with AirBnB, we were booked solid from the middle of November until the beginning of March. We will not tell you how much dough we have raised because it is impolite to talk about money; also, for all we know, you are with the IRS.
It was impressive, anyway, and you can start calling us Mine Host any time you want to. We're going to write more about this experience soon, but maybe this is the point to guide you to our entry and show off our little jewel box on the Hudson.