Tuesday, January 04, 2005

That damn desk

The area of town I'm living in is sometimes referred to as the Upper East Side, but if you want to get specific, it's actually Yorkville. I'm living about a block and a half from the apartment I first lived in when I moved here from Arizona. When I came to the city and went looking for an apartment, the broker took one look at me and pulled the oldest trick in the book: he first showed me what was essentially a room full of garbage ("You can have this for only $600 a month!") knowing that I would take whatever he showed me next. The apartment seemed fine at the time, but in retrospect, it was the kind of crappy apartment that brokers foist off on people who just fell off the turnip truck and don't know any better.

My roommate J. and I turned the living room into a dorm-type sleeping area, with her bed and my futon separated by industrial metal shelves. The bedroom became the living room. (The bathroom and kitchen thankfully did not switch roles.) We had an enormous pseudo-Arts & Crafts style desk/table, acquired from the girls moving in below us who found it residing in their apartment and were happy to give it to anyone who could figure out how to get it the hell out of their place. (They had never thought that the legs might be removable ... which they were ... so it was ours!) All the rest of our furniture was literally acquired off the street.

For those of you thinking, "Oh, gross," I can tell you haven't lived in New York. As I mentioned in the previous post, things come and go off the street very quickly. You obviously have to be more careful with anything that has upholstery (you see people sniffing couch cushions to detect cat pee) but shelves, chairs, rugs - you can find it all. Yorkville was a treasure trove on trash day - much more so than the Upper West Side ever was when I moved over there. Yorkville is a neighborhood known for high turnover - full of people fresh out of college, double- and triple-bunking in their first apartments before they can afford to live somewhere decent. (This also means that the area bars are packed full on the weekends and you can always find frat boys and sorority girls vomiting onto Second Avenue ... but I digress.)

One day, on our way home from our sad little temp jobs, J. and I spotted a couch. It was a small 2-piece sectional, no less, which we could easily hoist up the stairs to our walkup. A woman with a Germanic accent of some kind helpfully volunteered, "They just put it out. I know them, Very CLEAN people." I have a very weak sense of smell, so I was no judge. J.'s sensitive proboscis detected nothing too untoward, so the couch came home with us (where, of course, we scrubbed it with all sorts of improvised upholstery cleaner.)

A few days later, on the same block we saw someone perusing a rug that had been left out. He clearly was waffling about whether or not he wanted it.

"Don't look too interested!" I hissed to J. as we walked by. If we appeared curious about the rug, no doubt he would decide that he wanted it after all and make off with it. After we passed him, he gave up and left the rug there. Immediately, we dashed back, unrolled it to check for anything that might be lurking in the rolled-up rug, and gleefully hauled it back to our tiny apartment.

It was years before I ever actually bought a piece of furniture. I still have the giant desk-table (which held my very first New York Thanksgiving dinner: a roasted turkey breast and five pounds of mashed potatoes.) It is of such large proportions that it's difficult to find a room to put it in. Now in Baltimore, it overwhelmed the room I'm using as an office, and was banished to the lower level, just outside the utility room.

Sometimes I wonder where it came from, and who originally left it in that Yorkville apartment below mine. It's come a long way; we both have. I have often been on the verge of getting rid of it, but somehow I can't. It was the first thing I was ever given in New York. I think we're in this for the long haul.


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