On a recent trip to New York, I decided to take pictures of my former apartments there. It’s been a decade since I lived in Manhattan, but I’m still sentimental about all the old addresses. Pictured here is the first apartment I rented as a post-college grownup, on E. 89th St., the Upper East Side. I shared the one-bedroom place with a childhood friend — she had the futon on the living room, I had a tiny back bedroom. Our kitchen was smaller than your average linen closet, but she nonetheless produced some sumptuous-smelling Greek soups and I whipped together the occasional pasta. Our rent was just over $800, split two ways. These days, the place would fetch over $2,000. And that’s with no elevator, no doorman, no parking, no storage, no roof access, and not much more than those four rooms — hers, mine, the kitchenette, a bathroom. And a frantic neighbor named Alice who’d emerge screaming in the hallway upon sighting a mouse.
We could walk everywhere — to diners, museums, the boardwalk that started near Gracie Mansion and ran south along the East River. The space was so small it required little upkeep: I had time to read novels, type up stories, sleep. My wallet got lifted right out front one night: I was walking home with a slice in one hand and my keys in the other, my wallet foolishly wedged into my armpit like a baguette. Once I realized it was gone, I ran down the block screaming obscenities at the sprinting guys who took it, what with its $20 in cash and maxed-out credit cards. The mugging — and subsequent ride to the police station for a crime statement — didn’t deter me from my neighborhood. Perversely, it made me feel alive. It reminded me that however little I felt I had, I was privileged enough to live in a place people envied. And that after this place, there’d be another, and another, perhaps with improvements.
I went on to live all around, spreading my real estate seed with varying leases and, eventually, mortgages: The New York suburbs, two apartments on the Upper West Side, an apartment in Harlem, to a summer share in the Catskills, and then I moved across the country to Seattle, where I had four rentals and a house-sit before buying one home, then another. Most people move an average of 12 times in a lifetime, according to US Census data tossed around by moving companies. I’m up to 11! But leased or owned, you never forget your first place.