The tote I’m sitting on cracks underneath my weight. It’s packed to the brim with clothes, barely surviving the eight hour car trip, our cramped Holiday Inn room, and the Jeep of the stranger we hired to bring it to our new apartment. Now, sitting in the tight hallway as we wait for the building super to replace our lock, the plastic lid collapses.
Eric, a real estate agent who I have renamed for the purpose of this story, promised us the keys days ago. It’s now late September 1st and our lease has started. The building super, Gus (again, renamed), is refusing to come by and give us the keys to our apartment.
A phone call with Gus
“I have a doctor’s appointment, I’ll come by after,” Gus tells us when we call.
After two hours of waiting, we call again, “Will you be here soon?”
Gus groans, “I don’t want to go out in the rain. I’ll come over tomorrow morning.”
“I have an umbrella you can use.”
He offers up another excuse, “I have to pick up my medication.”
“Our lease starts today. Just give us the keys and we’ll be out of your hair.”
Eric the Salesman
When we showed up at our apartment the night before, no one had any idea who we were. Eric hadn’t told us about the documents our guarantors needed to mail at the request of the building owner. I tell this to the maintenance man who is painting our walls.
“Ah, a salesman,” he quips.
Eric cut contact with us after we had handed him the check with our first month’s rent and security deposit. Our apartment wasn’t even habitable yet. There was fresh paint on the walls and new floors that needed time to settle. We were strangers to maintenance, to the building owner, to anyone who would listen to our pleas for access to the apartment. Eric saw us, two young, first-time renters, and lied so that he could fill a vacant apartment.
I cried on the phone to my dad in the space between the first and second door, anxious about the fee I’d have to pay for cancelling my mover, even more upset that I so easily believed Eric.
When I came back up, face a little swollen, the man painting our walls — the one who wasn’t supposed to give us the keys — told me about his own scummy landlord. He slipped me the old key and told me I could use it the morning of September 1st, then swore us both to secrecy. True to our word, we waited until the morning to bring my things over, only to find the lock removed and the door dead-bolted. We had all my belongings, but no way to get in.
We found the building owner’s number posted on the bulletin board. He assured us that we would be in by the end of the day. After a few fights over the phone with Gus, we were.
Lessons not learned
So now we’re in our new apartment with a twelve-month lease. And when the year ends, a new landlord or real estate agent will screw us over again.
There’s no lesson to all of this, not really. I don’t know how to make people better. I don’t know how to get our building super to stop yelling at us over a simple request, or how to make a grown man care that he let a 19- and 20-year-old fend for themselves with only a day left in their hotel room.
But I do know how to cry quietly in public spaces. I know how to call Eric names. I remember talk to my dad instead of my mom when I’m scared and want to move back home. He’d never let me go through with it, and my mom would already be on her way. I know how to build an IKEA desk, and that my room looks pretty in shades of green. And, if I can ever find it thrifting, I want a pale pink chair to sit on while I write.
I want to burn this whole city down, sometimes, just to get rid of the scammers and the cheats. But my roommate is just a shared wall away, and the nice maintenance man is somewhere in the building, and our friend from freshman year is living with a kind woman in Bay Ridge. The comedy club I’ve been going to since I was just shy of eighteen hosts funny people, and I like the baristas at the coffee place down the street.
I know that the art of getting screwed is taking it like a champ. And that’s all I know so far.
Lauren is a 19-year-old Politics and Creative Writing major at NYU. She currently lives in Hamilton Heights, but is from a small town in Ohio near Lake Erie. She's previously been published in online zines such as Unpublished, Lithium, and Luna Collective.