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