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Oh My Goth
Reflections on First Moving to New York

Cheap shot of the month

Next week is my eighth anniversary as a New Yorker. To mark the occasion, I thought it would be interesting to reflect on how I felt when I first moved here, from laid-back, lethargic New Orleans, the prototypical fish out of water. Upon arriving in the city, I had no idea how hard it was to live here. Everything was difficult: trying to get anywhere on time, having to fight one's way down the crowded streets or onto overflowing subways; obtaining any sense of personal space or even identity, as one was never alone at any given time for more than a few seconds; even doing something as simple as going to a movie was nearly impossible, as everything was sold out all the time, and one had to get to the theater long in advance to secure a ticket, not to mention a decent seat.

But by far the hardest part of New York was finding a place to live. At the time I was staying with a friend from college, both of us over six-feet tall and crammed into his tiny East Village studio, and he made it clear that this would be the most temporary of arrangements. I had to find another place immediately, but this was not as simple as I would have liked. Because of the insane rents, I couldn't afford my own apartment, and had to look for a share. I spent weeks searching, sampling all sorts of places, none that proved even remotely habitable.

One of the first I looked at, described in the ad as "shared space," was nothing more than two men in a studio, the only dividers between their living areas being stacks of their possessions. And if this setup wasn't intimate enough, they wanted a third person to share the apartment.

"Now this over here would be your area," Chris, my host told me, leading me to a corner of the studio. "As you can see, it is clearly separated from Darren's space by his pile of books on one side, and his plants on the other."

Meanwhile, Darren sat on the floor, staring at me lecherously and sucking his teeth.

"Now, I don't know your work schedule," continued Chris, smoothing out his T-shirt that hung so far down over his shorts he looked like he was naked underneath, "but Darren enjoys watching television, usually late into the night. He's willing to turn the volume down to accommodate you, but I thought this was something you should probably know."

"Uh, thanks for letting me know that. I'll keep that in mind when I'm making my decision," I said, quickly walking to the door.

Another memorable encounter came a week later, when I was looking at a room in the east twenties. The woman who greeted me looked to be in her mid-forties, and was dressed in a long, purple dress, her neck draped in silver and turquoise necklaces, her wrists covered in thick bracelets, fingers lined with rings. She had the appearance of a gypsy or fortune teller, and perfectly matched the unusual aesthetic of the apartment. The rooms were each painted a different color (kitchen: blood red, hallway: deep purple, bathroom: navy blue), and the main room was a goldish-yellow that was distinguished by its collection of antique, campy furniture. A zebra-skin couch sat next to a blue velvet chair with long white tassels hanging off the sides. Ornate tapestries and paintings adorned the walls, and thick, colorful rugs the floors. Chandeliers hung in every room. The available bedroom, painted a dark green, was the smallest of the lot, but by no means unlivable; it was about the size of my friend's studio.

The most impressive (if that's the correct word) room in the apartment was her own, which she showed me as soon as she got a chance. It was obscenely large, and was painted a glaring hot pink. Her bed, which looked to be even bigger than a king, sat dead center, and had carried the pink theme onto its coverings. At least thirty stuffed animals sat on top of it, and there were many more on the several dressers and armoires lining the walls. These were also framed pictures everywhere - of dogs.

"My babies!" she cried, realizing I had noticed them. "This one here is Frank. He never photographed terribly well, but you get the idea. Over here is Gerome. And this one, this one here, is Leonard, my favorite. I just adore Leonard. Isn't he beautiful?"

"Yes, he certainly is," I said, examining the picture. I wondered how she could tell them apart as they all looked exactly the same - small, hairy and brown, like overgrown rats.

"He's dead now, of course. Poor thing. They all are, unfortunately. But I still have them here," she said, clutching her chest. "They'll always be with me. Sometimes I even feel them, their presence, here in this very room."

I didn't know how to respond so I just nodded my head, as if what she had just said what the most normal thing in the world. All I knew was that I was extremely creeped-out, and didn't want to stay there one second longer.

"Well, thanks for letting me see the place," I said, leaving her bedroom and approaching the front door. "It's really quite...remarkable."

"Thank you!" she cried, following close behind. "So tell me, are you interested in the room?"

"I think so," I said. I'm looking at a bunch more places though. I'll have to get back to you."

"It's going fast you know."

"I'm sure it is. I'll call you as soon as I make my decision."

"No, you won't," she said, suddenly angry. "I can tell."

And with that she lightly pushed me out of the apartment and slammed the door in my face. And there it was in front of me - I couldn't believe I hadn't noticed it before - a large, brass doorknocker, in the form of a monstrous, beady-eyed dog.

I was beginning to lose hope. My friend, who wasn't acting like much of one anymore, was ready to throw me out. The next day I picked up a copy of the Village Voice, where I spotted the following ad:

1 room available in cozy 2-bedroom in W. Village/Soho.
Must be quiet and courteous. No yuppie scum.

I wasn't a yuppie, and certainly not yuppie scum, so I called the number. The woman who answered sounded nice enough, so a few days later I went to her open house. When I entered the apartment and saw her, I suddenly missed the dog-loving freak. Standing there was a girl about my age, wearing a long, lacy, flowing black dress, with black stockings underneath. Her hair was dyed a bright, translucent red and her lips painted a deep, dark purple, which contrasted greatly with the ghostly white of her face. Her eyebrows were nonexistent, and instead she had painted them in, creating these thin, curving lines that looked like frowns. Her fingernails were also black, and her shoes were something out of a Hans Christian Anderson villain's closet. She looked like a cross between Stevie Nicks and the Grim Reaper; a goth extraordinaire; an even uglier Marilyn Manson, if such a thing were possible.

When I first saw her I gasped, but, realizing that this was perhaps my last hope, I quickly recovered. I chatted with her as if she were a normal, decent-looking person, and not some horrid creature one wakes up from in a sweaty dream. Despite the fact that all of my instincts were urging me to run as fast and as far away as possible, I remained, long after the other prospective tenants had left. I even flirted with her, smiling and looking long into her eyes, longer than, I imagined, anyone else before had dared.

The available room was quite large, with white walls and wood floors, and the rest of the apartment, though mercilessly small (the bathroom was so tiny I had to rest my arms on the sink when taking a dump), was clean and stylish. So when she called the next day and offered it to me, I gladly accepted. My new life, that with a troll, was about to begin.

At first, everything was fine. I spent my days looking for a job, and my nights with my new roommate Olga in the tiny living room. And these interactions were surprisingly enjoyable, as she was not unintelligent, and had strong views on everything under the sun. Some of these views, particularly in regards to fashion, were much more extreme than mine; but all the same, we spent many long hours engaged in discussion, bonding over our mutual disdain for big business, the class system and the religious right.

I slowly got used to her appearance, and after time became almost desensitized to it. But then, one day, when I spotted her wearing these little black shorts that showed off her hairy legs, my repulsion returned. She hadn't shaved in months, years possibly, and they looked like something out of Planet of the Apes. Here was a girl who had completely removed her eyebrows, yet stubbornly refused to touch her legs ("Why should I give in to a patriarchal society?" was her excuse). I caught her once lounging around in her underwear before she had drawn in her eyebrows, waving around those sasquatch legs, and a more horrible site I have never seen since.

I was also growing tired of our talks. The nightly dissections of society's ills, the enormous hopelessness of it all, was starting to bring me down. It wouldn't have been so bad, had she any other friends to spend time with, and I could get a break now and then. But she didn't, except for a strange, impish boy who came over sometimes late at night. I was never sure if they were an actual couple, although they would disappear into her room for hours, and I could hear them in there, cackling and plotting God knows what.

I began spending more and more time outside of the apartment, and Olga was none too pleased. Suddenly I was no longer allowed to use her pots for cooking. No longer could I be a few days late with the rent. No more was I able to slip on my assigned list of chores. And this last one, the chore list, became my downfall.

Every week, without fail, Olga would write down our various chores, which she posted on the refrigerator as if it were a sacred scroll. Everything that had to be done was displayed in dazzling color and perfect calligraphic lettering. Now, all we would do was simply switch turns, you know, Russ cleans the floors this week, Olga the next. Very simple. But this was a girl who had nothing to do. She didn't work (I don't know who would have hired her anyway, as she made not the slightest attempt to appear remotely presentable), and her life was the apartment. Thus, she took great care in creating The List, and made sure everything was carried out exactly as it should be. On one too many occasions I either forgot or blatantly disregarded my duties, and one night it all came to a head.

It was Halloween, and I was shocked to notice that Olga was dressed, for the first time, in an outfit that wasn't all black. Instead, she was covered head-to-toe in white, in a wedding dress no less. But she was not meant to be a normal, living, breathing bride. Instead, she was a dead bride, or rather an undead one, complete with blackened eyes, fake blood dripping out of her mouth, and even blood on her dress. She looked like Carrie if she had gone directly from her prom to her wedding, and had somehow died and come back to life along the way.

When I saw her I literally shrieked and barricaded myself in my room. Our relationship had come to such a pass that we hardly talked anymore, and instead communicated by writing each other notes. At that moment one came sliding under my door. This is what it said:


I noticed that once again you've failed to purchase toilet paper. Maybe this isn't such a big deal for you, being a man, but I would assume, seeing how you're supposed to be this writer and all, that you would be sensitive enough to know that as a woman I cannot exist for long without it. If this was the first time I would have ignored it, but this is not the first time. Or even the second. You have failed to buy toilet paper now a total of THREE TIMES. You have also failed to take out the garbage several times, missing the pickup, which meant bags of garbage lying around and stinking up the apartment. You have also inadequately cleaned the bathroom and the kitchen several times. While you insisted that you had, I found very little difference between the way they looked before you claimed to have cleaned them and afterward. I'm giving you one last chance to get your act together, or else I'm going to have to ask you to leave. Do we understand each other? For your sake, I hope so.


I laughed out loud as I read this, and immediately wrote her a reply. In it I addressed her as Neurotica, one of my nicknames for her (the others were Jezebel, Harpy, Morticia and Elvira), and told her that yes, as a "sensitive writer-type" I was certainly familiar with a woman's need to have toilet paper around at all times. I added that I was never fully convinced that she was a woman, however, having never completely made her case, and so never took the chore seriously. I also promised that I would never again pretend to have cleaned something when I obviously hadn't. From that moment on, I wrote, I would clean nothing at all.

The next day she slipped me a note that said I had until the end of the month to get out. Back to square one, I began anew my quest for an apartment.

--Russ Josephs

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Free Williamsburg© | 311 Graham Avenue | Brooklyn, NY 11211
[email protected] | April 2004 | Issue 49
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