No Room to Let (Dowager Chic)

2002 me

This is a blunt story–which of mine are not?– and it probably deserves to live somewhere besides a blog post. But as is so often the case, I will begin writing it to the audience that exists in my head when I write here–namely, sensitive, smart, and roughly my generation, at least psychospiritually.

Four years ago I began a battle to establish my apartment’s rent stabilization. I’d moved into the building in 2002, a few months after September 11 had dashed my dreams of being a wife and a mother (a separate post; a separate book, really). There was a markedly different group of tenants  because back then third stop on the L Train did not mean hipster. It meant working-class families of mostly Italian, Dominican, and Puerto Rican descent. I was the only woman on the block living alone–definitely the only blond wannabe writer from Boston. Mostly I got along with everyone–oh, there was the time I got in a fight with a mafia princess over a parking space and her father came after me with a baseball bat screaming YOU FKING WHORE-but having grown up in Newton’s The Lake I knew how to hold my ground. Sort of.

Because quickly the building owner–young, nervous–sold my building as there was, no joke, a crack brothel on the second floor and it was proving surprisingly difficult to evict them. Well, the new owner was, shall we say, tougher, and together he and I got them out after one of the woman held me at knifepoint when I asked her to keep it down while she was blowing a guy in the hallway at 3am. (You know how I love my sleep.) After that my LL and I were pals–for 10 years, anyway. And then the neighborhood changed and he began to resent how much more money he could make from my flat if I moved on. And so he decided my rent stabilization was uh done and since I’d always been incredibly deferential with this guy–hulking, handsome, charming, bullying–it never occurred to him that I’d do anything but roll over and pony up the extra cash.

2019 me

But instead I made like D’angelo in Season 1 of The Wire–you know, LAWYER MOTHERFKER, LAWYER. Because it wasn’t just about my housing stability, it was about all these NYC building owners sacrificing the landscape and culture of our city at the altar of their greed. And after two years of crying privately and acting tough publicly–I worried terribly that the legal fees were going to bankrupt me, that I was going to lose my home and have to give up on NYC–I won my case and not only secured my rent stabilization but also won back my legal fees and enough money to begin my book.

And ever since said LL has been fking with me and I’ve been holding my ground because hello I love my apartment neighborhood city. Today we had a big fight about heat–namely, I ain’t getting any–and as he yelled and fumed and wagged his big finger in my face I just kept breathing and counting backwards in my head. Not crying, not arguing, certainly not backing down. When I was younger I’d flirt, cajole, bat my lashes, talk in a fricking uptick, and, if all failed, hide my head in the sand or weep prettily. Now I just waited him out. When he finally wore himself down, I said in my best “these aren’t the droids you’re looking for” voice: “Nothing you’re saying is logical. Legally my apartment should be at least 68 degrees. It is 55. You fix this or I bring in the city and my lawyer and you incur fines far worse than the heating bills.” I came home today to a well-heated apartment.

Back in the day I was afraid I’d get kicked out of love, life, work if I abandoned my pretty-girl wiles. Now I see all I’ve ever needed to do is hold my space. If what I want still doesn’t come to fruition, well, honey, it simply wasn’t meant to be.

"All, everything I understand, I understand only because I love."
― Leo Tolstoy