When I was 16, I was an exchange student to Japan. There were a lot of incredible things that transpired on that trip, such as – I lived with a Buddhist Priest and his family in a house attached to the temple, got to attend a Japanese high school and, since my small fishing town did not get a lot of visitors, people took my picture everywhere I went, chanted my name when I entered a room and strangers gave me presents. It was like I was Britney Spears.
But one of the other great things about this experience was that I befriended a lot of the other American kids in the program traveling over to Japan. We were boisterous and young and all so thrilled to be there. One of them, Mia, I’d kept in contact with on and off over the years. She lived in NYC and when John and I moved there, I would meet her for coffee or walks in Central Park or dinners at her beautiful two bedroom apartment, which was coincidentally, only a few blocks from where we lived.
When it was decided I’d go back to New York, it was pretty much a one-shot deal when I’d called Mia to see if I could stay with her. She was the only person I knew there. Besides John. Who’d told me that if he ever found out I’d moved back to New York he would “ruin me.” This makes me laugh now. There’s not much more that can be “ruined” when you have no money, no job and no place to live. Mia said yes, I could sleep on an air mattress in her spare room which she used as an office. For three weeks. I had three weeks to find a job and an apartment. In New York City.
My parents, who by this time, were acutely worried about my overall state of mind, what with all this cross-country back and forth, loaned me money to fly back to New York and enough extra to last me about five weeks. After that, I had nothing. And nowhere to go.
I was very, very focused at this time. I didn’t drink. I barely ate and I rarely slept, as my anxiousness kept me up most nights. I didn’t have a laptop in 2005 so I’d get up early and make my way to Kinko’s or the library to look through job postings and send out the pathetic resume I’d cobbled together. Other than acting and the occasional waitressing job, all I had to show for myself was a brief stint in 1992 after I’d graduated U.C.L.A., as a temp working as a receptionist at Guns & Ammo magazine. And at that job, I’d spent most of my time typing up letters to my friends on the company stationary and putting people on indefinite hold when they would call to ask my opinion about the latest Beretta.
When I wasn’t looking for a job, I was looking for an apartment – which is almost more competitive and daunting than looking for a job in NYC. I looked at every apartment on Craigslist that seemed safe and in my price range. Which since I didn’t know what my income would be, I shot very low. I learned a lot about the subway during this time. I went to Alphabet City where my “room” would be a pullout couch in the living-room. I went to Chelsea where my room was an actual room of sorts but it also was the main walkway where the other occupants had to go through to get to the bathroom. And they kept the catbox in there. I went to Murray Hill where I was instructed that if I took the room, I would have a 9pm curfew every night and would not be allowed to have guests. Ever. I went to Queens and met with two super-fun guys who I liked very much but the apartment was a really far and dark walk from the subway and also, their kitchen was piled high with rotting take-out boxes and tequila bottles. They literally spoke of the cockroaches that scuttled across the counter as their ‘posse.’ Don’t get me wrong though, I applied to all of these, despite their shortcomings. But no one would take me because I didn’t have a job.
As I hit the two-week mark, my anxiety reached a fever pitch. Mia had been incredibly generous in taking in this heartbroken mess and I knew I was driving her mad with my nightly sobbing over John and my apprehension about the future, so I didn’t feel comfortable asking her for an extension. Many nights I sat and stared at my phone with Nicole’s number pulled up, ready to dial, wondering if I could deal with the shame of asking her to take me back in. And deal with the shame of telling my parents I’d wasted their money. “You are not going to be able to pull this off,” I’d think to myself.
So it was with a great sense of fear and shaking desperation that I walked into that Open House on East 92nd Street. What I first noticed was that it was a beautiful place. It was a real three bedroom apartment with exposed brick in each room and a real bathroom and real kitchen. It was clean. It was in a safe neighborhood. It was super cheap. The current roommates were Greg, a jovial and successful Finance guy who’d been there for two years, saving up money to buy a place for him and his long-distance fiancee, and Gabi, an adorable, tiny thing with tons of energy. I liked them both right away. There were about twenty people milling about and the atmosphere reminded me of my Sorority Rush days. Everyone there fiercely wanted that room and they were all trying to impress Greg and Gabi, being witty and charming and laughing too loud.
The deal was that the third roommate had already moved out so the room was available immediately. The lease was only for two more months and then Greg and Gabi would be moving out too. Whoever got the room could take over the apartment, find new roommates and then sign a new lease. This meant I only had to prove I could pay for 2 months. Which, thanks to my parents, I could.
A crowd had gathered around Gabi, asking her questions about the apartment and complimenting her on her decorating skills. I forced my way through.
“Why are you leaving this great place?” I breathed. “It’s amazing.”
“It’s fantastic!” a girl cried, as she elbowed her way in next to me. “I love the paint job you did in the bathroom. You’re obviously really creative.” She offered a big smile. I wanted to punch her in that smile.
“Thank you,” Gabi said. “I really love it here.”
“So why are you leaving?” asked a sweet-looking guy next to me, who I’m sure under normal circumstances I totally would have wanted to hang out with. Instead, at this moment, I wanted to body check him.
“Oh, I’m actually moving out to Los Angeles,” Gabi replied. “I’m going to try to be an actress.”
“Is that so?” I said quietly. My heart began to race.
She leaned into us conspiratorially. “I’m actually pretty nervous. New York and L.A. acting industries are very different. I don’t even know where to start!”
I almost started weeping with relief. I knew I had won.
“Now that,” I said and leaned into her as well. I could feel the angry glares from the other applicants trying to knife me in the back of my head. “THAT, I can help you with.”
I got the apartment.