The Double Message

After a year on Tinder, I realized I might use my time more effectively if I knew more about my date than what could be conveyed in a string of 10 emojis. So I joined OkCupid, and answered questions about my preferred cuddle position, political leanings, tolerance for spicy food, and desire to reproduce.

Unlike on Tinder where I rarely got any messages more elaborate than “hi,” ambitious daters, clearly having read my profile, looked for clever ways to start a conversation.  Jennifer’s first message demonstrated that kind of raw ambition, citing to a mishap I referenced under the category: “The Most Embarrassing Thing I’m Willing to Admit.” My disclosed mishap involved urinating all over myself using the “She-Wee”–a device used to pee standing up. Apparently Jennifer had a similar story of woe to share.

A 35-year-old doctor from the east coast, Jennifer looked familiar in that very generic sense. For some reason, I felt underwhelmed by her very well put-together profile. Her photos followed the proscribed formula: hiking, dog shot, obligatory body shot, another dog shot, and a picture of her in doctor scrubs looking happy with her co-workers.

Jennifer’s message certainly represented the most clever to date, but even though it caught my attention, I didn’t respond. I had already booked a few dates that week, and didn’t feel like trying to coordinate schedules with a doctor. A day or two passed and Jennifer did the un-thinkable: She “Double Messaged” me.

Jennifer’s Second Message: “I never second-message anyone, but you said [in your profile] ‘life is too short for secrets, hiding the ball, and swallowing emotion’ and I interpreted that as that I should try again and see if I can convince you to have a drink with me. I think we could potentially have some really good and interesting conversations.”

I’ve long debated whether, in the formation of a romantic relationship, it ever makes sense to suffer the indignity of Double Messaging. For those not familiar with the intricacies of modern dating, Double Messaging usually takes place over text or a dating application’s message platform. If you were the last to send a message, the best practice is to wait until the other person picks up the conversation thread again. But in the fast-paced New York City dating scene, that might mean you’ll never hear from your person-of-interest again (until you awkwardly run into them on the train and pretend you didn’t see them). The boldest among us might endeavor to send a second message on the off chance of inviting the person back into your orbit.

Jennifer’s choice to quote back the first line of my profile (about being open and taking emotional risks) stoked my ego in just the right way. Sure, I didn’t interpret my statement to mean I should go out with every person who asks twice, but then, again,  I wanted to reward that kind of dedication to the cause of getting my attention.  I responded.

My first message to Jennifer: “Hi  Jennifer, Whoa. A double message. I’m flattered. And your first message was one of the best (or the best) I’ve ever received on here (I’m new(ish) to this website). I should have rewarded that effort by dignifying your message with a response. And I did really appreciate your first message. . .  Since you did just quote me back about ‘hiding the ball,’ I didn’t write back just because my ‘dance card’ got a little full… So if you can be patient with my scheduling, I’d love to meet up. . .Thanks again for writing twice!”

I figured coordinating the schedules of a doctor and a lawyer might take a month, and I decided I could spare an hour for a woman who had just swallowed her pride for her first Double Message ever. Surprisingly though, Jennifer offered a wide array of time slots and I squeezed her in early the next week.

In terms of logistics, I had told Jennifer that I didn’t want to drink on a weeknight and suggested a walk. Jennifer countered that we could, at least, meet at a bar. She picked a convenient location close to my last meeting of the day.

When I got to the bar, Jennifer had already finished some oysters and half a beer. Although I knew the area, I told her I hadn’t ever noticed this bar before, and apologized that it took me a few minutes to find it. Jennifer responded only: “This is the bar where my parents met for the first time.”  Intense. I also guessed we were not going on a walk, at least for a while. I ordered a glass of wine.

Despite the intense opening, Jennifer had the first date down to a science, inserting cute but impressive stories about her work as a doctor, and also taking the time to ask me personal yet appropriate questions. I found her uncanny ability to quote to my profile and remember fun facts about my life slightly jarring, but, I figured, at least she had done her homework (I really had not).

Given my busy month, I had not focused on the date until the walk over. But, trying to review Jennifer’s profile while searching for the bar had annoyed every other New Yorker on the sidewalk, and had contributed to my slightly tardy arrival. I gave up after making it through the second photo of her posing with her dog.

Next, Jennifer and I exchanged the details of our respective “She-Wee” disasters, each telling the story of that unfortunate time we had managed to spray urine all over ourselves. Her story involved a hike and a wet pair of pants.

My story took place at a Long Island Beer Fest. Even though the event had just started, the bouncer informed me that I could not re-enter if I left to go to the parking lot. Confessing that I had urinated all over myself in a Port A Potty,  I managed to negotiate 10 minutes to regroup.

I then painted the colorful and humiliating picture of me sitting in my friend’s parked car with no clothes on below my waist in a very full parking lot. I had attempted to wash and dry my clothes with a bottle of hand sanitizer and a few wet naps—the only tools I found on the floor of her car. Having placed my underwear and pants on the AC vents, the car started to smell of urine and alcohol. Kind of hospital-esque, actually.

The story culminated in an even more graphic depiction of me sobbing in the car as passersby observed the spectacle in the vast Long Island parking lot. Running out of time, I called my best friend Cynthia for advice. Having purchased the She-Wee as a gift for me years earlier, Cynthia seemed like the right person to call. Cynthia had advised me to squeeze back into my soggy under garments, leave the event (thus exceeding the bouncer-imposed time limit), and find myself a mall to replace my sullied outfit. Cynthia even helped me negotiate re-entry with the bouncer 40 minutes later.

She-Wee

The cause of my urination humiliation.

As a conscious dating strategy, I almost always bring up the fact that Cynthia is my best friend, platonic soulmate, and the first woman I ever dated. Cynthia lives across the country but my last serious girlfriend cringed at the mere mention of her name. So, in the interest of never “hiding the ball,” I don’t omit Cynthia from stories in which she appears, and let her come up early in any dating situation, even if not by name. Luckily, Jennifer reacted well to my friendship with my first girlfriend, and asked some curious but, again, appropriate questions.

I began to feel a little restless talking about Cynthia (I try not to go too far into my dating past on a first date), and attempted to pivot the conversation. But before I could, Jennifer turned to me and said: “That first girlfriend of yours: what if I told you I know her.  And what if I told you I’ve seen photos of you on social media with her over the last 10 years?

I froze.

“Ok, don’t run away.

As I’ve lamented in past posts, the lesbian world is tiny, even between the east and west coast. But Cynthia had done very little dating since our relationship, had visited the east coast one time, and had no friends that met Jennifer’s description. So how?

“Don’t run away,” Jennifer repeated, as she prepared to explain.

Jennifer told me that she had roomed with Cynthia’s childhood best friend, Laura, in college. Incidentally,  Laura had introduced me to Cynthia a decade ago. I searched the recesses of my brain and scrutinized Jennifer’s now increasingly familiar face.

“Wait,” I said.  “Stop.”

My mind began to race and suddenly, I felt like the dumbest person alive.

“You don’t just know my first girlfriend—you had sex with her. You were her first. You’re THAT Jennifer.”

Jennifer nodded, “yes, I’m THAT Jennifer.”

I had been Cynthia’s second lady encounter, and here I was sipping drinks with Cynthia’s first.

The details of this very significant sexual moment in Cynthia’s sexual biography started pouring into my mind, and soon, I realized I knew too much.

Jennifer confessed that she had followed my relationship with Cynthia (through Laura’s and Cynthia’s social media), had thought I seemed “cool” and wanted to meet me. That charming Double Message strategy about not “hiding the ball” now struck me as highly manipulative.

But Jennifer saw it otherwise: my popping up on OkCupid seemed to hold some kind of cosmic significance for her. Jennifer told me she was tired of dating: “I want to meet my person already.” As she saw it, only a single Double Message stood between her and a lifetime with her “person.” What Jennifer hadn’t stopped to consider was that I was not looking for my “person.”

“Don’t run,” Jennifer repeated a third time.

Double Messaging with Cynthia
Note the 15-hour time lapse between my first two messages to Cynthia. Four hours after I shamefully Double Message, Cynthia responds. After my failure to immediately respond to Cynthia’s first message, Cynthia freaks out and Double Messages me. A Double Double Message

At the end of the date, when Jennifer asked me to go on a second date, I declined politely.  I had stayed put long enough, and now, I did want to run.

But, my refusal prompted Jennifer to make three clearly-prepared counter-arguments:

  • 1) Assuming that my feelings might have been influenced by her disclosure strategy, she protested that her encounter with Cynthia had occurred 15 years ago—a romantic lifetime ago.
  • 2) Further, Jennifer insisted, she deserved credit for telling me about our shared connection up front—”within an hour of meeting” and “not hiding the ball.” She had apparently debated long and hard how to disclose this connection with her friends. Said debate apparently led her to the conclusion that a true upfront disclosure risked my refusing to go out with her at all.
  • 3) Finally, Jennifer argued that we were “on paper” a great match—namely, age appropriate New York professionals with a shared elite educational background. This description of our supposed compatibility proved the biggest turn off of all.

Jennifer had conjured an imagine of me as a person—and even us as a couple—purely through demographic information she had collected on the Internet. OKCupid prompts you to answer questions about nearly every aspect of life, from sexual kinks to overly specific idiosyncratic dating behaviors:

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A sample random question I have yet to answer.

After you answer a few dozen of these questions, OKCupid offers you a “match percentage” with every other potential date on the Internet. So long as both you and your potential match answer the same question, you can compare and contrast answers. By analyzing these hundreds of questions, you could conceivably collect more raw data about a person before ever meeting than you might learn organically in a lifetime.

Exacerbating the situation, Jennifer possessed additional information gleaned through mutual friends on social media over the course of a decade. Evidentially, Jennifer had created an version of me that exists only in the ether.

I’ve come to learn that Internet dating poses a serious risk of investing in the idea of someone without any sense of real life chemistry. To avoid a colossal disappointment on the first date, I try never to indulge in more Internet stalking than is necessary to reassure myself that my date isn’t psycho killer. I definitely do not stalk people’s questions, and try to just trust in the OKCupid algorithm–better to not see how the sausage is made.

But, embarrassingly, during the same week that I met Jennifer, I fell victim to my own little Internet let down. Even if Jennifer’s instinct towards “fate,” supremely turned me off, I came to understand its origins.

Just as Jennifer was busy deceptively Double Messaging me, my very secret college appeared on OkCupid as one of my highest matches in New York City. I say “very secret” because, at the time of this crush, I wasn’t even out of to myself. I never interacted with my crush one-on-one. I pretty much just admired her from afar, and thought, perhaps I respected her as a role model (which I’m sure I did).

After contacting her and confessing my college feelings, we actually planned a time to hang out. Because I had been the one to prompt the meet up with my overly bold disclosure, I let College Crush take the lead in terms of where the date might go and how it might end. She walked me towards home (but not all the way…), gave me a warm hug, and said she definitely wanted to see me again.

After she told what she thought I wanted to hear—that we should hang out again—I felt that rush of adrenaline so rarely experienced in the sterility of online matchmaking. And even though I’d like to think I would never have included having a shared “professional background” on my list of compatibilities, like Jennifer, I put College Crush on a present-day pedestal based on nothing more than a high match percentage and a 15-year-old crushette from college.

When I followed up to make a second date, College Crush responded intermittently with tepid enthusiasm (this is called “Frosting”), and then simply stopped responding (this is called “Ghosting”).

My last text put the ball in her court, asking her to let me know when she might be free to hang out again. That was more than two weeks ago. But, at least I know better than to  Double Message her.

 

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WHOA IS AC

When I was 22, my friend Larry helped me move out of my apartment on the east coast so I could spend my summer working in the midwest. As Larry lifted the heavy boxes still filled with college text books, and loaded the family car at record speed, my father fell deeply and madly in love.

The love affair became obvious to me when the two started swapping man-related data during the box-loading process. My father questioned Larry about the origin of his box-lifting skills, and Larry proudly shared the details of his upper body gym routine. When asked about his cardio workouts, Larry told my dad that he ran on the treadmill. “What’s your mile time?” my father asked. “About 6 minutes,” Larry said casually.

On the car ride home, with everything all packed away, and my east coast life falling away into a bittersweet new chapter, my dad broke the somber silence:

“Is Larry gay?”

“Not that I know of, dad. You interested?”

“It’s just that I think he really likes you and he seems perfect. I wanted to make sure he wasn’t gay before suggesting it.”

“Sorry dad, that’s never happening,” was all I could muster in response.

The next day, Larry and I talked on the phone (this was before texting was really a thing) and he told me that he had something to confess: He had lied to my father about his mile time. He’d never really clocked a 6-minute mile—close but not quite.

But, Larry assured, there was good news and bad news. The good news was that he decided he had to make his white lie true. He went to the gym the next morning and forced his first 6-minute mile, thus rendering his exaggeration a non-contemporaneous truth. The bad news: He had pulled a few muscles but did hope to make a swift recovery.

For the next few months, while Larry and I lived 800 miles apart, my father would check in about the progress of our relationship. I’d report the same each time: Just friends.

One morning, at 6:30 AM, I called my dad to report I had a flat tire on the bike I used to commute to work, “any advice for a quick patch?”  My dad condescendingly delivered advice but he also reminded me that if Larry were my boyfriend, he’d be able to help me with these kinds of “repair” tasks. Larry probably didn’t even own a tool box, I grumbled under my breath.

Growing up, my dad taught me to drive stick, throw a ball, and play sports but his attempts to teach me to use tools had failed woefully. Unlike throwing a ball and driving a car—two tasks he couldn’t do for me—he could always swoop in and repair a broken toilet or change a hard-to-reach light bulb. Patience has never been my dad’s strongpoint;  he never wanted to wait for his daughter to learn how to hold the power drill when he could accomplish the task-at-hand in a fraction of the time.

But no matter, my dad had a backup plan to fill in the gaps in my life skills. He would ensure I found a man-fixture to perform all household and car repairs (of course, in my dad’s version of my life, I would own at least two cars). I’m sure he expected I’d handle the cooking and cleaning, dividing the chores just as he and my mother had.

Coming out to my dad two years after his love affair with Larry involved delivering a lot of disappointing news. First, I had to destroy the dream my father had conjured for my future life, but, more importantly, I validated his fears that I would have to continue to rely on him for the “manly” tasks around the house.

For the last decade, I’ve desperately wanted to prove my dad wrong by showing him just how little I relied on others, especially men. And, over these years, my dad has changed in so many ways. His once epic disappointment about my sexual orientation and choice to work in public interest law have transformed into acceptance (gay stuff) and even pride (work stuff).

But, tools and repairs remain a third rail issue.

Two years ago, when I moved in with my girlfriend in what I thought would be a serious long-term relationship, I had a momentary sense that my dad and I had overcome this tool-related war. Although I hadn’t found a man to handle the tools, at least I’d found someone to help me call the repairperson or hold the latter if, heaven forbid, I tried to change my own lightbulb.

My ex, complaining that the piecemeal used furniture that populated my tiny studio looked like it came from a college dorm, decided we should start new—a new spacious apartment filled with brand new furniture. After discovering that real couches and dining sets fell way out of our price range, we took a trip to Ikea. The dreaded assembly party awaited.

That week, my mom and dad came over and the four of us started to assemble the furniture against my better judgment. My dad couldn’t tend to all the simultaneous  projects and watched as these three women in his life worked more quickly than he did on a number of assemblies.  Sure, dad would sometimes pull one of us women away from any task that seemed too “physical” or comment on how we NEVER could have gotten this all done without him. But, at the end of the four hour session, we all broke bread together and no one cried. A success.

When my ex decided to move out eight months later and it came time to disassemble our life, my father was conspicuously absent. I didn’t know how to ask for anyone for help in breaking down the life we had just built. I feared, without a partner—even a female one—our old issues would return.

I struggled alone. I pulled muscles. I lost money on furniture I couldn’t sell. I got screamed at by neighbors for leaving virtually new furniture on the fancy sidewalk in the over-priced Brooklyn neighborhood that I could no longer afford.  By the end of the move, I had sloppily broken down the couch that my parents had so carefully assembled, dropped it on my foot, and ripped the fake leather on an errant nail while awkwardly trying to get it through the door frame. Physically, I was no match for that giant shitty Ikea couch.

On move-out day, several friends offered their assistance, knowing that I probably wasn’t in a great mental space to ask for help.  I felt surrounded by chosen family, and more grateful than they could ever know. Even though it was Yom Kippor and my father  observes, he showed up too. The landlord, despite having no incoming tenants, refused to let me move out the next day. When my mom told me that dad didn’t fast for the first time in his adult life,  my heart filled with love and gratitude. But my enchantment waned by the end of the move as my dad stormed around the empty apartment, finally asking in utter frustration with me, “didn’t we just set this place up?” That’s when I thought I might lose it but I mostly held it together as I left the keys on the counter for the landlord to collect.

When I made it to my much smaller new apartment after an exhausting 16-hour day, the only thing I wanted was to assemble my shitty Ikea bed frame and sleep on a proper bed. We only had 30 minutes of sun left and the bed area didn’t have an overhead light or lamp yet. So, with my dad looking impatient, I tried to get the Ikea frame back together (for the 7th time since I moved to New York–shouldn’t I remember by now?). Every word out of my dad’s mouth seemed like a criticism of not just my lack of carpentry skill but my failure to find a protector to save me from myself. We snapped at each other viciously. He called me irrational and inept. I called him sexist.

My parents, unwilling to witness a full on meltdown, left to get dinner. When they came back 30 minutes later, they found me in far more dire state. Moments before their return, having almost finished the frame, I discovered that I had installed a vital piece of wood backwards (this is a mistake I’ve committed many times). I had just finished disassembling 30 minutes of work.

My parents took in the scene: a dozen wooden slats strewn about a tiny space, an Allen wrench flung halfway across the room, and a 33-year-old woman on the floor weeping in the near pitch black.  That’s when they literally took off running. “Time to go, sleep on the floor tonight,” they advised as they swiftly closed the door behind them. I could not have felt more alone.

Once they left, I pulled myself together. I finished the bed, installed the curtains, and slept. When I woke up with the worst emotional hangover I can remember, I knew I could never ask my dad for help again.

And then, eight months after moving into my new apartment came summer. It was 97 degrees in late June and air conditioning no longer felt optional. The only window in my apartment potentially capable of accommodating an AC unit faces the street, approximately two stories above my landlord’s front door.

And despite my mixed feelings about my landlady, I would go to considerable lengths to preserve her life. Aside from the moral obligation not to put even my worst enemy in harm’s way, her untimely demise would also spell my untimely eviction from my non-regulated apartment.

IMG_2951

Unfortunately, the window at issue, designed in the late 1800s, needed some major alterations in order to  safely accommodate an AC unit. My landlord had proved no help when I asked her about a contractor who might assist me. Although she gladly sent someone to my male neighbor’s apartment for his AC installation, all she sent me were nasty text messages warning me that the AC “better be” legally installed. Great.

Asking her for help meant that if she saw the AC in the window in the morning, she’d know I had it jerry-rigged with duct tape. So every morning at 6:30AM, I lifted the 65-pound-monster from its precarious perch while it leaked water all over the floor. Hardly a sustainable solution.

My dad’s warning about the situation, “you could kill someone!” kept me up at night listening for the sound of a stiff breeze that could disrupt my duct tape installation strategy.

\

AC
It’s 6:30AM, time to remove the AC from the window so it doesn’t kill the landlord when she goes out to get her newspaper.

Desperate, I reached out to a property manager I had gotten to know in the context of a quasi-adversarial litigation at my last job. Said property manager, unlike so many of the villains who kept me busy, respected clients and, even treated them like humans.

Despite coming from very different worlds, after I left my job, the manager and I stayed in touch. He drove from his home in Staten Island  to Brooklyn for sushi. Over dinner, he confided that he had never eaten raw fish before and that he didn’t know any other lesbians (he had many questions…).

The property manager turned friend responded immediately, offering to send “some buddies” over ASAP. Those buddies, as it turned out, were from a construction company that I had brazenly accused of negligence and tenant endangerment in at least two court cases. Having cross-examined the head of the company, I worried I might be recognized, and considered various disguise options.

Luckily, the contractors did the majority of the work outside, placing a ladder in front of my landlord’s front door to work on the installation. A young worker, new to the company, came to my apartment to handle the small tasks required from inside. As he chatted me up, I felt so relieved that he didn’t recognize me that it took at least 10 minutes for me to realize that his line of questioning about my favorite neighborhood bars wasn’t his way of filling the awkward silence—he was trying to ask me on a date. By the time I realized what was happening, he had my phone number (we exchanged numbers, at least I thought, so I could have a buddy to call next time my toilet clogged).

Later that day, with the AC safety bolted into the window, my landlord called me at work. “Do you know what those workers have done to my property?” As she ranted, I interrupted her to let her knew I believed each of her accusations to be credible—I had every reason in the world to believe each of her grievances. “Send me the bill,” I sighed.

Later that day, I told this whole story to a friend at a BBQ, and, without realizing, I pocket dialed my landlord, leaving her a three minute message in which I had just depicted her in a less-than-flattering light.

My father’s dire warnings seemed to be coming true. To solve a simple home-repairs problem I had spent hundreds of dollars, invited the enemy into my home, withstood said enemy’ sexual advances, upset my landlady, and left her a message describing my true feelings. On the bright side, I hadn’t killed the landlord and I don’t think she knows how to listen to her voicemail.

Despite my better judgment, I ended up telling dad this story, and exactly how impotent I feel around home repair. His side of the story remains that I never showed a shred of interest in tools as a child (lies), but we have agreed to put the past behind us and work on some repair projects together this summer. Stay tuned.

 

 

A Natural Born Cunt

I love the word cunt. I think it’s fun, intimate, and, still has shock value. I reserve its use for the humans I trust the most—my sister when she makes a hilarious but subtle dig at me. Or my best friend when she utters something particularly surly. And, under rare romantic circumstances, “cunt” can be really sexy.

This weekend, one of my best single friend (let’s call her “C” in honor of this post) and I took what has become a yearly end-of-winter pilgrimage to Miami Beach. While the majority of the tourists lean “frat boy” of center, the escape from New York’s late-coming spring is well worth it. And with dating apps like Tinder and Bumble, we figured we’d have the resources to locate like-minded(ish) vacation friends and potential flings. But, by the end of our Friday night on the town, I had met exactly zero single queer women and C’s date had called her: “a natural born cunt.”

Here’s how it all happened:

When I landed, C had already been in Miami for a few days, exploring on her own and having some fun on the dating apps. Since she had taken herself on a movie date that evening, I had an extra hour to kill before she got back to the hotel. When she returned, C asked me, “have you been swiping?” as if she’d been paying for my piano lessons and wanted to make sure I’d been practicing my major scales. “Yes, ma’am,” I replied wearily. With a tinge of self-pity, I lamented that I’d already run out of women on Tinder and had just turned to Bumble where I saw the same cast of (limited) characters.

As C and I sat down to enjoy our first official vacation libation, a pick-up truck with giant tires and an unbearably offensive sound system parked right next to our table on the street. Hordes of tourists descended to photograph the monstrosity and awkwardly bob up and down to the “music.”  Because we couldn’t hear each other speak, we both dove into our apps. C, a straight woman in her 30s, had several viable candidates on both Bumble and Tinder, and many more swipes to go. I glared at her in envy.

Spotted in the Sky in Miami Beach

A lovely advertisement for the “Firearms Museum” spotted in the sky over Miami Beach.

In the morning, I woke up early and checked my phone. I’d now been on the app scene a solid 12 hours, and I expected to wake up to a few matches. My mission was simple:  Find out where, if anywhere, queer women hang out on the weekends. And maybe, try to meet someone cute at said location(s). But I had just one match on Tinder and one on Bumble. I quickly realized it was the same girl who seemed uninterested in actually communicating.

Later, after a run in the warm sun, Tinder sounded the alarm to show me a second match—a girl I’d meant to swipe “no” on but inadvertently “super liked.” That apparently really does happen when you’re working quickly and dealing in high volume swiping. The day remained quiet until about 5:00 pm when I heard the charming ring of a Tinder match on my phone, inducing a Pavlovian kind of momentary excitement. But it wasn’t a match: It was an advertisement for the Body Shop. (Is this a thing? Ads disguised as matches? Was this ad sending me a message? Have a nice fragrant bath in lieu of a disappointing night out?)

At C’s urging, by 6:00 pm, I had broadened my settings to include women four years younger than usual (down to 25) and within 25 miles (rather than 10) of my location. It was vacation, after all. But still, no real luck. Lauren, from Bumble, the one woman with whom I carried on any sustained conversation, had an early class the next morning and refused to venture out. A business school student, Lauren fancied herself a rare breed of classy Miami lesbian. She provided me multiple levels of warnings about dating in Miami. I was to watch out for the following (and I quote): violent crime, uneducated women, women with penises  (she assured me she wasn’t transphobic—she had trans friends), STDs, and ghetto lesbians with gold teeth.

Despite, Lauren’s warnings, out and about on the beach at dusk, C and I met some vaguely bi-curious cuties who invited us to play “never have I ever,” and even shared their thermos of vodka. Even though the ring leader claimed to have moved past her “lesbianic” phase a few years ago when she stopped making out with her female friends, she seemed down to join C and I at Twist. The infamous local gay club, bragging “seven bars,” “three dance floors” and two stories of debauchery, Twist seemed like the best option in absence of guidance from the ladies of the apps. Surely, one of those seven bars must have had regular women patrons.

Before our night out at Twist, C and I stocked up on snacks and beer (liquor stores close at 8:00pm in Miami and sit down dinner will run you easily $50 a head).  As C readied herself, I offered to staff and monitor her apps (she had a number of conversations to carry on, and, of course, I offered to assist).

Dennis* took up the majority of my attention. On the plus side, he was close by and seemed amped to come out to meet us both at Twist. He’d even come to the club once a few years ago, and demonstrated none of the homophobia I might expect from a random cis, straight man. On the negative side, he seemed a little too eager to prove his ability to bed the ladies of the various cities he had visited (“Turns out Philly girls are really fun and hot,” he commented on his time visiting the City of Brotherly Love).

When C and I arrived around 11:00 pm, each of the seven bars at Twist were flooded with gay men. When we made it to bar number five on the second floor, C and I started dancing with a group of guys celebrating their buddy’s bachelor party. These 20-something male millennials identified as bi, gay, and straight. All pretty attractive, they each paid us a lot of attention, offering drinks, glow sticks, and inquiring about our respective relationship statuses.

The groom-to-be, who I had assumed was engaged to another man, told us that he was actually marrying a woman in August, and that they had an open relationship with his fiancé. It seemed several of them—even the ones on the straighter side of the spectrum—had “sucked a few dicks” and/or had been in open relationships involving folks of multiple gender identifies.  One cute guy, Jason, described his relationship status as “TBA” at least three times when I inquired.

Our 11 new bachelor party friends also came with one female gay friend, Anna. By the time I introduced myself to her, I’d heard a variety of reports from her male companions, all of whom seemed to feel for my isolation (let’s leave aside for a minute whether I even found her attractive).

In trying to effect a setup, I’d been told she was:

  • Single: I should do dance with her!
  • Taken: She had a girlfriend so I should be careful about crossing a line.
  • Taken: But, very recently. Reportedly, she’d had three dates with the same woman and was now “practically married.” I didn’t know if that was a warning not to dance with her or an invitation.
  • Taken: But, serving as the third in the groom-to-be’s open relationship AND dating her own girlfriend (of unspecified duration). I wasn’t sure how to take that.

Finally judging that her dance card was more than full, C and I turned our attention to Dennis who let us know he would arrive shortly. To help welcome him, C and I hung out on a balcony above the entrance to the club and called his name as he walked in. I think we made an adorable first impression.

Dennis, C, and I hit up bar number four, but after we ordered, I let the two of them have a few minutes alone to feel each other out. I wandered the club looking for the secret female hideouts but, after seven minutes of fruitless searching, I decided to check up on C and Dennis.

When I found C, Dennis had disappeared. Apparently, he didn’t judge C receptive enough to his initial physical “moves,” and then stormed away because she hadn’t seemed likely to put out within the first two minutes of their meeting. Definitely his loss, C and I concluded as we searched for our bachelor party friends anew.

Two minutes late—exactly 15 minutes from the moment Dennis had arrived—he followed up with C via text: “You’re a natural born cunt.” My jaw dropped. After a moment of initial shock, C seemed hardly phased. “Has this happened before,” I demanded. “Yea, once,” C answered nonchalantly.

Rage bubbled up inside me as I fantasized about an apt response to Dennis. Given Dennis’ rapid and rude exit, any unkind text would have been completely out of line. But, how dare he co-opt “cunt.” As I contemplated a retort, I realized I’d find no equivalent even within the deepest recesses of my crude vocabulary. In the way Dennis used cunt, it was inherently misogynist, and therefore uniquely oppressive when directed at C.  “Asshole,” “jerk”, “douchebag” would all just seem like a light tap on the shoulder—even an implicit congratulations for being a player—compared to the punch “cunt” packed.

Motivated to move on from Twist and realizing our “lesbianic” beach friends were a no show, Lauren from Bumble suggested a girl party allegedly happening at a venue in Miami proper (where we would find all that crime—she advised us to go “door to door” in a car). A roundabout Lyftline later, we found ourselves shoulder-to-shoulder with a crowd that was decidedly not that queer and not that female. Because it was 4/20, we were also surrounded by ample clouds of marijuana smoke. Less than thirty minutes after that, I paid for another “door-to-door” trip back to the hotel. Lauren sent me a screen shot of the club she had suggested, and informed me that we had gone into the wrong venue—the lady party was apparently across the street. Epic gay fail.

While my night ended without even exchanging a word with a single queer woman, C  got a text from Jason, the guy whose relationship status was thrice characterized as “TBA.” Jason offered to meet C at our hotel for a 2:00am stroll on the beach. As C later recounted, Jason’s situation gave him free reign to engaged in a limited set of sexual activities. And so, our truly bizarre night out ended in C playing by Jason’s open relationship rules for an hour on the beach.

While my failure to locate the lesbian scene and/or set up an online date felt deflating, I realized there was beauty in the fact that if my date ever used “cunt” with me, it’d likely be in a sexy way. To get to “cunt” though, I’d probably have to stick to the bigger progressive cities. Meanwhile, from now on, I’m taking Natural Born Cunt (“NBC”) away from Dennis to describe any female-identified badass women in my life. Accordingly, C is definitely a “Natural Born Cunt.”

 

*All names in this post have been changed to protect the innocent except for “Dennis” who I’m actively still trying to hunt down and find a way to shame.

Tinder-Connectedness

(Note: If you haven’t gotten around to watching Season 3 of the L-Word in the last 12 years, there’s a brief spoiler in paragraph 2)

Recently, a friend of mine started thinking about exploring her sexuality and, at the bizarre suggestion of her therapist, dove into the L-Word to try to sort it all out.

Of course, as a first matter of business, all the queers we know tried to steer her towards Seasons 2 and 3—the famously popular Carmen/Shane episodes (all except for the whole insane leave her-at-the-altar thing). But we also warned her that the show would prove heavy-handed, unrealistic, dated, and even offensive at times.

Carmen and Shane

Carmen and Shane being very hot

To be fair, before queer women had any real positive visibility in entertainment and media, the L-Word offered a peak into a world that we desperately longed to explore. Ten or fifteen years ago, young questioning women snuck around with DVD copies to stealthy watch after their parents went to sleep.

After plowing through the six seasons at an overachieving pace, my questioning friend shared her impressions. She confided that she was glad the show didn’t have much basis in reality; the notion of everyone’s sex/dating lives overlapping in an incestuous web of connections seemed very unappealing to her. Did she know me? Without giving it more thought, I blurted out, “that’s just about the only thing the show got spot on.” (I know know, way to lose a potential team member…)

Yes, Alice’s “Our Chart” is scary real.

Our ChartMy friend’s commentary got me thinking about my own “Chart.” This past year, I had tried (and sort of failed) to forge new, clean connections not haunted by ghosts of my past. But first, I realized, I had to dust the cobwebs off some of those older and still messy connections.

. . . 

I moved to New York City more than seven years ago.  And since that time, I’ve been in only one monogamous relationship that lasted more than eight months. And even if I haven’t been a total slut, I’ve gone out a lot.

I’ve been to lesbian networking events, lesbian speed dating, alcohol-infused “Bikini Brunch” parties, real lesbian brunch (with food), queer dance classes, annual pride parties, Stone Walls’ Friday lady’s night, the Hot Rabbit parties, etc. Whenever I go out, I run into friends, acquaintances, and folks with whom I’m excited to reconnect.  That part of our interconnectedness leaves me feeling energized and part of something special. And then, of course, sometimes I run into folks I really had hoped to erase from my life forever.

On the virtual side of things where you have a bit more control over “run-ins,” during the last nine months, I exhausted Tinder’s supply of potential matches without really going on that many dates. Perhaps I had been a bit too picky last summer in my early stages of single-life, applying strict rules by swiping “no” (a “left” for those not accustomed) on the following potential matches.

  • anyone in a relationship (at least 25% of candidates);
  • anyone who uses an Instagram filter to put birds/flowers/bunny ears, cat noses, other decorations on their heads/faces (about 10-15% of candidates);
  • anyone with the following words or phrases in their profile: “astrology,” “yoga,” “spirituality,” “vegan,” “free-spirited,” “420 friendly,” “cat mommy” “tarot cards,” “curious/questioning” (no offense, just not up for it now),   and “unicorn” (collectively, about 50% of candidates); and
  • anyone with too many emojis (not really sure why but another 5-10% of candidates).

Refusing to change my criteria, I accept the consistent appearance of that sad pink pulsing circle that tells you Tinder has no more ideas for you.

(As a side note: This is a circle that straight people probably never see unless they visit their grandparents in a retirement community. I recently spoke to a straight friend who didn’t even know about the pulsing circle of sadness. The friend also informed me that users have limited “right swipes” on Tinder. I had never reached the limit, apparently).

TInder Fail Real

When those pulsating radar-like circles appear to tell me that I’m now staring into an empty lady-less abyss, it also asks me if I’d like to upgrade and expand my search with the “Passport” feature.  I could, for example, pay Tinder a monthly fee of $19.99 to enjoy searches of other gay cities like Los Angeles, Austin, San Francisco, Portland, or Madison. If I struck Tinder gold in any one of those locations, perhaps I could consider picking up and moving for the lovely ladies of Tinder.  (Maybe Tinder wasn’t actually that crazy; my last girlfriend found the presence of exes in my life so “suffocating” that she suggested I move to LA).

But with some pesky long-term commitments like work and a lease, I decided to stick with New York and let Tinder hibernate for the rest of winter.  Sometime in February, I did open Tinder and found some new potential matches awaiting. Perhaps some gays had just broken up, moved to New York City, or opened their relationships? HOORAY—perfect candidates for more drama!  But, I soon realized, my app was flush with potential matches. Something wasn’t right.

As I sat there on the toilet, familiar faces started rushing across my screen (I swipe almost exclusively in the bathroom).* That’s when I realized that Tinder had reverted back to May of 2017. Tinder’s data scientists probably thought they were demonstrating some kind of great mercy by discarding almost a year of  “no swipes” (and people who swiped “no” on me). But as Tinder threw exes, friends, acquaintances, crushes and others right back at me, I started to have had more mixed and unsettled feelings.

Being queer in a small community doesn’t just mean that exes haunt my bathroom; they haunt real life spaces. Last year, at Dyke March, as I pushed through the crowd to avoid awkward encounters with some random hookups, my ex and her friends were attempting to evade me. The image of my ex running from me as I attempted to escape a number of other women struck me as so absurd that I recently vowed to face my lesbian demons:

  • My last situation-ship: Short-lived and intense, it ended with a barrage of very unpleasant text messages. Last week I reached out with an olive branch text, “hey, I’m sorry things ended so badly but I hope you know I think fondly of our time together and I’m really hoping you’re doing well.” I never heard back. Unresolved. And maybe to be continued?
  • Two situation-ships ago: Also short-lived and fairly intense (hmm…do we see a pattern here?), she reached out and we had brunch. We ended up talking about our dating lives and we each described a similar torturous Tinder date. You guessed it! Of course, it was the same woman (two weeks apart). Success.
  • My ex who stalked me for two years: Unfortunately, past attempts at peaceful dialogue failed miserably and only led to more stalking. I’d just have to engage in the usual risk management techniques (i.e. wearing lace up shoes in which I can run). Still unaddressed but I’m accustomed.
  • My most recent ex who told me to move to LA: A recent dating situation took me way closer to her on the vast queer”Chart” than I ever intended or realized. She had reached out several times in the past but I had always declined her invitations. I emailed her to see if she wants to get together. To be continued

As much as I gripe about the intimacy or incestuousness (depending on how you see it) of the lesbian community,  I don’t actually hate it as much as I say. Not only do I think it’s healthy to face my lady demons, but I love being part of a small community within a huge city (even if that community proves highly dysfunctional at times).

Last year before Pride, an ex from about five years before reached out. Even though I never ignore emails, I ignored her. She had caused me a lot of stress and I wasn’t in a place to face her. But then, I ran into her (because, of course, I did). She invited me to hang out a few more times and when we did, she offered me one of the most healing and kind apologies I’ve ever received. Now, running into her isn’t so bad at all.

. . .

* I almost exclusively swipe in the bathroom so that:
  1. I don’t get addicted to it at the dinner table or before bed (it can make you feel very shallow and even dirty); and
  2.  If any of my Tinder dates ever turn into a relationship, I can tell everyone I swiped on her in the toilet which, for me, is superior to the traditional, “we met on Tinder.”

 

Baby’s Got the Ben[d]s

Leaving New York City with no concrete plans other than a couple of plane tickets inspired a bit of anxiety in everyone I know. I hadn’t traveled alone internationally in four years and my Spanish felt rusty. The idea of sleeping in a bus station or on the floor of a random person’s apartment when things went awry felt less appealing now than it did in my 20s. And it didn’t help that when friends, family, and acquaintances asked me about my travel plans and I responded “no real plans,” they gasped in horror and basically told me not to die.

As I landed in Colombia, my anxiety reached its peak levels. I had to pass through customs, exchange money, and negotiate transportation to the city in Spanish. This would be the first of many days of uncertainty.

While waiting on the long line of foreigners entering Colombia, I caught the eye of an extremely attractive backpacker who soared over the crowd. Somewhat embarrassed, I looked away and wondered why, of all the short travelers with big bags, he choose to look down at me. Perhaps I had imagined it all together.

When I reached the airport exit, the handsome backpacker approached me to ask in English about where to exchange money. We later introduced ourselves and he told me he had been traveling for a month or so from Germany.

Gorgeous? Yes.

Ill-prepared? Completely.

I pointed to the money exchange counter. He handed the cashier $20, and he received back 60,000 Colombian Pesos. “Explain this to me” he barked into the glass. The cashier struggled to explain the math as he continued to puzzle over the exchange rate and ask questions in English.

Of course, as a female traveling alone, I had already done the math on the exchange rate and created a little cheat sheet to keep handy in my pocket:

$1=COP 3,000

$5=COP 15,000

$20=COP 60,000

$50=COP 150,000

$75=COP 225,000

$100=COP 300,000

$1,000=COP 1,000,000

Even if it seems simple enough to multiple by 3,000, I find the math extremely hard while under the gun to negotiate a transaction. Generally, I’ve always found numbers most challenging in a second language (my brain translates them first to English in a way it doesn’t for words).

While the German backpacker took at least five minutes to perform what should have been a five second transaction, I mused that he a lot like Ben Affleck. When Ben (that’s what we’ll call him) asked me to split a cab, I handled the negotiations in Spanish given my fear of his further English barking.

Although I love a good bargain, when a vendor (almost always a man) gives me the firm “no deal” sign, I either accept his price or walk away. Ben had a different strategy all together. Even without uttering a word of Spanish, he conveyed a firm tone that suggested he wasn’t fucking around.

At the airport we developed a strategy that would prove extremely effective throughout our time together. While I served as both interpreter and “good cop,” he played “bad cop” using a combination of English and non-verbal puffery. I never had to step out of the traditionally meek female role because ostensibly, I was only Ben’s messenger; if I failed to get him what he wanted, I too would face his wrath. I could throw up my hands and basically say “don’t shoot the messenger. He only wants to pay $6,000 pesos, no more.”

Even though I came to understand Ben’s demeanor while bargaining as a deliberate exaggeration of his actual mood, Ben’s bad cop disposition actually made me momentarily intimidated. Intimidation had never been in my box of negotiation tools and I couldn’t pull off these kind of deals without him. (I later learned Ben is actually a cop in Germany).

After dropping our bags at our respective hostels, Ben and I met for a late lunch. Lunch turned into a walk at dusk and then drinks. It was only several activities in that I realized that, for Ben, this was a day long date. Perhaps I sent mixed messages because of his rugged good looks, or maybe German women stereotypically present more “gay,” thus robbing Ben of his gaydar. (There’s a mildly offensive website (http://www.blairmag.com/blair4/dyke/square3.html) dedicated to this phenomenon). Whatever the reason, Ben seemed shocked to learn that that I identify as queer.

Of course, Ben had lots of questions about my sexuality most of which revolved around whether or not I’d consider myself bisexual. Subtly wasn’t Ben’s strong suit.

When Ben asked me about how “it works with a woman so I can imagine,” I avoided discussing anything explicitly sexual by describing how much I liked the lack of pre-assigned gender roles in a same-sex relationship. (I’d like to attribute the crudeness of this question to the language barrier—Ben’s English was mildly awkward—but that might be giving Ben way too much credit).

When Ben asked me to elaborate on how gender roles played out for lesbians, I told him that as a woman who presents as “masculine of center” or “androgynous” (some new vocabulary for Ben), I am sometimes expected to take the lead in certain ways. Ben reacted to this statement with indignation:

“I’d never find you attractive if you were masculine,” he protested. Oh Ben…

With Ben by my side (or more accurately towering over me), the world saw me differently. I encountered less street harassment, negotiated better deals, and even caught looks of envy from far more feminine women (“is he your man?” a woman asked me on the beach).

One morning, Ben absentmindedly placed his phone on the street to free up his hands to light a cigarette. Without thinking, he walked away and forgot to retrieve the phone. A few minutes later, he returned to search for the phone, and ran into a group of Argentine tourists who had found the phone laying on the ground, and decided to stick around to see if the owner would return.

When Ben attributed the return of his phone to his excellent karma—“good things happen to good people,” he boasted—I nearly snorted with laughter. Ben’s trip “karma” was nothing more than luck and a huge amount of white male privilege. His English barking, his bargaining over the equivalent of 30 cents, and his general lack of awareness of where his belongings and body existed in space didn’t buy him any karma points.

After nearly a decade of dating exclusively women, I probably stuck around with Ben longer than I should have just to take in the world as a straight woman might. While imagining life as Ben’s girlfriend induced feelings of panic, I couldn’t ignore the fact that the world seemed to have the opposite reaction.

As Ben and I parted ways (a moment we both welcomed), I realized that wherever I travel alone, I almost always find a “Ben.”

Bens have let me stay in their family’s apartments, offered me home-cooked meals (to be fair, cooked by their mothers usually), served as tour guides, carried my bags, drove me around the city, and even taken care of me when I was sick.

As I begun to recount my solo travels over the last decade, the sheer number of Bens astounded me. I’ve had several Argentina Bens (from Argentina, France, and the US), a Puerto Rico Ben (from the US), a Peru Ben (from Scotland), a Dominican Republic Ben (from the DR and New York), a Mexican Ben (a family member of a friend in the US) and now three Colombian Bens (one real Ben from Germany and two Colombian Bens). Once, a Chilean dude tried to become a Ben but I couldn’t understand his thick accent so we never ended up coordinating a successful meeting after getting to know each other on an overnight bus.

The vast majority of my Bens showed great kindness, respect and generosity without any expectations. I don’t regret my time with any of these Bens without whom I would certainly have missed out on incredible travel experiences (hitch hiking to a hidden river; scaling a mountain at an altitude I’d never attempt myself; hiding out in a tiny town far off the beaten path; bargaining at a Colombian outlet mall for new shoes).

A few Bens from my early 20s converted into short-term boyfriends. While I secretly dreaded sharing a bed (perhaps that should have tipped me off about the gay thing), I did like paying for only half of a private room. I even stopped protesting occasional assistance with my luggage when I saw how my 6-foot-something Bens made my backpack look like “Travel Barbie’s” favorite accessory. The majority of my Bens; however, were completely platonic friends (at least from my perspective) who served as travel companions and guides.

Unfortunately but not surprisingly, a handful of prospective Bens tried to pressure me into sexual situations that, in retrospect, I understand as attempted or even actual assault. These men never earned true Ben-status but it often took a day or two to rid myself of these parasitic travel relationships.

After I bid the real Ben goodbye in Colombia, I vowed to either remain solo or seek out a female Ben. But thus far, I continue to encounter male Bens. In Colombia, I stayed with a Ben’s family and had a personal tour guide (who drove me pretty much everywhere in terrible Bogata traffic).

Ironically, even when I engage in the most independent behavior I can imagine—traveling alone without any obligations or plans—it appears that societies across the world push me back into a traditional female role. To those I meet, I’m not a dyke traveling alone, I’m someone far easier to digest: I’m Ben’s other half; I’m Ben’s interpreter; I’m an outgrowth of Ben.

Before the end of this trip, I vow to push back against whatever  forces create a climate in which it’s always raining Bens. But that might mean a lot of time alone. A prospective Ben just interrupted this post, tried to read over my shoulder, and enticed me to come with him to the pharmacy because he has a toothache. I declined.

Travel Interlude

After I moved (see the painful description here and here), I got a new job (more on this later) and negotiated a month off to travel. Despite having just forked over half my life savings to a new landlady and her confederate (i.e. the evil broker), I decided to leave my newly-rented, highly-valuable real estate vacant for the month of December.

My lease says, and I quote, “ABSOLUTELY NO SUBLETTING.” Even though the law permits all tenants to sublet (if they follow certain protocol), my landlady has been on my case since I moved in and I didn’t want to make things worse.

According to the landlady herself, she’s not the biggest fan of single women. The other female tenant told me that there’s a bit of a hazing period that I need to just power through. Given our fragile relationship, I decided not to give the landlady another reason to hate me.

The state of the doors in my apartment has been the biggest point of contention. I have only three doors in my entire apartment—a closet door, a front door, and a bathroom door. Since I moved in, all three have broken in some form or another. The landlady has, of course, accused me of an insidious door-sabotage- scheme, and I’m still trying to put her paranoia to rest.

I’m lucky to have enough savings to dismiss the last six months to a total financial shit show and take this rare moment between jobs to travel. In the New Year, I’ll hopefully clean up my finances a bit. I’m sure I’ll have more to say about this. But until then…

. . .

I love traveling in South and Central America not only to escape New York winter but to freshen up my Spanish language skills and enjoy what is often a slower-paced culture. This trip, I’m visiting Colombia and Argentina.

So expect some travel-inspired posts. I say “inspired” because I’m definitely not turning Lawyers, Dykes and Money into a travel blog—there are already many excellent blogs about food, site seeing and bouts of travelers’ diarrhea (of which I expect many if the past is any indication—see previous post here).

There’s No Such Things as A Friendlord Part II

After posting the cautionary tale, There’s Such Thing As A Friendlord, I feel obligated to share the shameful results of my housing search.

Caveat: If I represented my clients in the manner I have recently represented myself, I’d be ashamed to call myself their attorney. All I can say is this: Please don’t judge me.

. . .  

In the course of about three weeks, I looked at more than two dozen apartments in Brooklyn. The vast majority of the places were tiny, dark boxes going for about $2,000/month, plus utilities and fees (we’ll get into fees later).

The brokers usually justified the astronomical rent by throwing in the ever-trendy pitch of “stainless steel appliances” and “granite countertops.” There’s nothing like cooking in luxury on top of your underwear drawer.

A few observations about brokers before I regale you with the pitiful results of my search:

1. Brokers are totally insane/evil: Although I’ve always attributed the evils of New York City housing to the owners and their predatory lenders (See An Introduction to New York City’s Slumlords), brokers have now gained a well-earned place high on my shit list.

2. Brokers create ridiculous lies about rent stabilization: Getting a rent stabilized apartment should be the goal of any apartment hunt in which a tenant seeks long-term (i.e. more than a year) housing. Stabilization means you won’t be evicted for calling the city to report a fire hazard and that your rent won’t go up excessively when a sushi bar and a Red Mango open on your corner. Admittedly, the question of whether an apartment is stabilized isn’t always straightforward but, the rules are generally simple:

  • The building must be erected before 1974;
  • It must have six or more units; and
  • The legal rent must be below $2700 upon move-in.

Of the two dozen or so apartments I saw, at least a third should have been subject to rent-regulation. When I asked the brokers about the status of the apartments, they made up ridiculous rules like, “oh see how the owner installed an elevator; that means it can’t ever be stabilized.” In order to avoid revealing my identity, I had to play along, “oh right, I forgot about the elevator rule…”

3. Brokers have all the leverage to totally F-you over (and they do.): Before you fork over your entire life savings and your first-born child at the lease signing, no broker will provide you a copy of the lease ahead of time. As scam artists, brokers require at least a $500 deposit to “take the apartment off the market” and then delay the lease signing by a matter of days or even weeks. By the time you actually meet up to sign away your rights, you really have no other option than to swallow whatever nonsense they put in front of you; it’s simply too late in the game to start the process over with another corrupt broker and try to claw back that $500 deposit. Rather than risk homelessness, you’ll sign the lease even if the rent happened to be a bit higher than originally advertised or the stove has “temporarily” been removed while the owner deals with a pesky little gas leak problem.

Now, that I’ve gotten that off my chest, without further ado: Of the three weeks of housing hunt hell, here are some of the lowlights:

. . .

1) Rent Stabilized Penitentiary-Style Building: The second place I saw was advertised at the address of a cute little brown stone but the actual studio was located across the street in a fortress-style 80-unit monstrosity in Crown Heights.  Because the building had a tax abatement, the unit was actually advertised as stabilized with at least 10 exclamation points. Sure, the building looked like a penitentiary and smelled like rotten eggs, but the kitchen did have those sleek stainless steel appliances and granite counter tops. And, for a studio, the square footage proved impressive. Despite an ungodly broker’s fee, the rent still came out below market.

The broker, Sharon, a woman in her 20s, showed up at 10am on Saturday morning apparently still intoxicated from last night’s escapades; she wore almost no clothing at all. As she showed me the building’s “luxury-style amenities,” I tried to avoid catching glimpses of her exposed body parts. But Sharon seemed preoccupied, describing the drama of her evening—-one involving a near arrest and an ex-fiancé.

As we made it to the unit, new details of Sharon’s evening emerged: Apparently, as she was drunkenly cruising around Grand Army Plaza at 2am, her ex-fiancé happened to spot her driving erratically. He also spied some nearby police getting ready to give chase. When he called Sharon to tell her this, her ex also instructed her to pull herself over and get out of the car: Apparently, if you’re just drunk standing outside your car, the cops can’t arrest you for a DUI? As we ended up outside the building at the end of the tour, I realized I had been so distracted by Sharon’s story I barely inspected the unit. No matter: Sharon seemed to feel more strongly about sharing this DUI-avoidance dip than selling me on the apartment. When I told her I didn’t own a car, Sharon seemed genuinely disappointed.

Why is this not my new home? Before handing over my social security number and various other financial documents, I did look Sharon up to make sure she had a an actual Real Estate license (she did).

After paying the application fee, it took me two weeks to “qualify.” Sharon dutifully texted every few days to say “we’re close” or “looking good on that application!” Finally, she told me I had officially qualified but when I asked to go back to the unit to take measurements (I had been so distracted last time…), she stalled and told me the “final approval” had “yet to go through.” With time ticking by and my move date coming, I finally realized something wasn’t right: Perhaps after a “Google” Search, the owner had wisely decided not to hand over a rent-regulated apartment to someone who makes a living suing slumlords. After all, his building had quite a few housing code violations already on record. Fair enough.

Compound outside

The “Compound” advertised as a brownstone

2) The Secret Terrorist: Shortly after meeting Sharon at the compound, I found an actual brownstone with a ton of character and the kind of easy subway access of which a girl who loathes winter could only dream.  For the size and location, the apartment was renting slightly below market even with the broker’s ridiculous fee. The catch? I really hated the mansplaining broker George, who, when I asked him to negotiate with the owner for me over a few small things, gave me a long lecture about how rental markets work in New York City. Thanks, George, I really appreciate the lecture on how tenants always lose—-cause I wasn’t sure about that.

When I asked George about who was running the show, he nearly lost his already dwindling composure. Though I had qualified for the apartment, as per George, apparently I had not reached “the point in the process” entitling me to learn of the Owner’s identity. At what point, I asked George, might the Owner reveal himself? Before lease signing? George, flustered, agreed that I could “know” the Owner prior to the lease signing but abruptly hung up. Despite George’s uselessness, my own research revealed that the Owner had not property registered the building in many years, and the last registered owner had just celebrated his 94th birthday.

Nearly ready to put down that non-refundable deposit, and my curiosity piqued by George’s strong reaction to my questions about the Owner, I decided to continue my own research. I knew the Owner would control the heat and hot water, and I also knew that I might file a complaint with the state for the Owner’s failure to register the apartment as rent-regulated. Basically, I wanted to know who I might royally be pissing off. A sweet old lady? A large corporation? A 94-year-old real estate baron?

Some quick Googling revealed that the owner who actually managed the property had spent several years in prison due to a conviction for terrorism-related activities. The media had labeled him a “home grown terrorist” with associations to major acts of domestic and international violence. To be fair, I wanted to research his conviction more before making a final decision (the media and the justice system does not tell the full story, especially when labeling people “terrorist”) but my decision was made for me. Good old George called me the next morning to say that the owner has revoked my approval; he felt I asked too many questions. Touché, George.

3) The Luxury Apartment: After losing the convicted “terrorist’s” apartment, I finally took a weekday off from work to try to get to see apartments just as they were coming on the market. After an exhausting day of viewing $2,000+/month apartments that didn’t yet have a bathroom or kitchen in less than ideal areas, I felt deflated.

The last apartment viewing of the evening, a brand-new luxury building, lured me to an area well east of where I intended to live. In an unfamiliar neighborhood, I saw a stunning one bedroom with a private balcony, new kitchen, new bathroom, central AC/Heat, huge closets, laundry, a roof top deck, and a real gym.

The price was high but a tax abatement rendered the property rent-stabilized so, in theory, the rent would never go up much (though, the broker refused to let me see the lease so I couldn’t be sure). A 23-year-old orthodox Jewish broker, Uri, immediately honed in on our Jew connection and told me that “God had sent” me to this apartment. When Uri asked me whether I had grown up in a religious family, I evaded the question and smiled.

IMG_1556

Amazing view of Manhattan skyline from luxury apartment roof deck (Not Pictured: Uri badgering me to transfer him $500 on PayPal).

As Uri and I sat on the roof desk watching the sunset over Manhattan’s skyline, I felt tempted to just end my suffering and lock down this apartment.  Uri sent me a link on my phone where I could throw down a PayPal deposit. Once I pressed send, all this would be mine and my search would be over.

When I demurred, the Uri urged me again: “This is going to fly off the market in no time; pay now or else you’ll lose it.”

I told Uri I needed a few hours to crunch the numbers and research the area a bit. As we left, (I’ll never know if she a plant) a young woman passed us and greeted Uri, “another broker,” my guy whispered. “She’s going to try to rent it; I’d move fast. You were first so it’s yours if you pay now.” During my train ride home, I texted Uri two words: “I’m sold.”

As soon as I paid application fee about 20 minutes later, Uri texted to say the other female broker had gotten a deposit exactly 11-minutes before. But not to worry, he’d fight for me. After dragging out the battle by 24 hours and asking me to add funds to my deposit, he assured me I had it. Success.

After putting a total of $1,900 down over the course of 24 hours, I began to feel a deep sense of regret. When I called to beg for my deposit back, Uri became positively distraught; “Oh no! Why in the world would you do that?”

He tried every trick in the book to convince me to take the apartment, and I endured another long mansplaining lecture about how the housing market functions. I countered that if the apartment had “flown off the market” so fast, he should be able to rent it easily. I also pointed out via screenshots that though I had paid my $1,900, the owner had NOT taken the apartment off the market; all the major rental websites still had it advertised as available.

All of the sudden, confident young Uri acted worried he wouldn’t find a replacement renter by October 1, still more than two weeks away. When he asked for my help advertising it on CraigList, I started to freak out. But Uri comforted: “don’t worry, God is going to return to your deposit; you’re a good Jewish girl.”

I told him that I didn’t think God gave two craps about my deposit but he assured me that God cares about all Jews (I’m not sure what God thinks about the others though…). To date, I have been wrangling with Uri and his company for three weeks and still don’t have all my money back. I might have to hire a lawyer…

And now for the winner:

4) The Winner: I honestly think a combination of fatigue and hopelessness put me in a vulnerable position, thus clouding my judgment and compelling me to break one of my golden rules:  There’s no such thing as a friendlord (i.e. don’t live with your landlord).

With two weeks before move day, yet another broker took me to the tiny unit under construction with no complete bathroom or kitchen. When I asked about the fee, she said $2,300 without a hint of irony. When I gasped I horror, she told me that the fee had been lowered; this was a deal!

When we were done viewing the construction site, and I descended the charming stairs of the brownstone, I had mentally decided that this was not the apartment for me. Sure, great location but the usurious broker didn’t really make a good sell: “yea the place is super small; needs a lot of work.” And when I asked if it would be ready for October 1st, she shrugged and said, “October 1st, um…sure, why not?”

IMG_1428

The kitchen upon viewing. As per the broker, “it’s getting a facelift” before I move in.

Nevertheless, when I saw some tenants hanging out on the stoop, I decided to ask them about the place.  They told me they loved living there. When I asked about the owner, a small older woman peaked up at me from the garden level door below and said, “well she’s right here so you can ask her yourself…”

 

Miss S., the owner, lives in the garden level of a five-unit building. She first charmed me with a story about investors aggressively trying to get her to sell the property in this quickly-gentrifying neighborhood. Her response? She called the police on them. I couldn’t help but fall in love.

We talked about the other tenants, her garden, local politics, and affordable housing. By the time it came to signing the lease, Miss S, given her more advanced age, clearly had not Googled me. Meanwhile, the broker in her attempt to do as little work as possible, also refrained from a Google search.

At the lease signing, the apartment still lacked cooking and sanitary facilities—the construction “team” (i.e. one dude who swore he was bringing in a helper) had made little progress. But I dutifully handed over my life savings to the landlord and her broker friend. I winced as I signed a lease containing unconscionable and illegal terms underlined in bold and followed by five exclamation points. It took all my will power to keep my mouth closed.

After the ink had dried, Miss S turned to me and said: “you know what, now that you’ve signed and paid, I can tell you the truth: I don’t usually rent to women.”  She told me that she likes female tenant as a general matter but that so many young women have aggressive, drunk boyfriends who create a ruckus. She started describing all the personal ongoings of her previous female tenants.

Taking my opportunity to rip the gay band-aid off, I emphasized to Miss. S that I would never bring home a boyfriend. When she failed to grasp what I meant, I tried to repeat with different phrasing but the broker shot me the evil death stare and nearly dragged me out of the building by my shirt collar. Looking on the bright side, I hope Miss. S will just think I have some very close female friends or maybe lots of sister. And if I have gas service and running water when I move in October 1st, all the better.

To be continued…