I woke up at 6AM on Sunday July 1 despite sleeping two hours and started hauling my possessions onto the corner of 135th Street and Riverside Drive. I shouldn’t have stayed out till 4AM with friends the night before moving to a new apartment.
“I’m ten minutes from you,” Pavel texted.
Plenty of time, I thought. The beauty of having few things means I’m able to pack in two hours and find a man-with-a-van on Craigslist the day before. Pavel pulled up to the curb in a van at 7AM. We loaded my stuff and began cruising down the West Side Highway.
He noticed my six-foot long potato cannon made of PVC pipe and asked a string of questions in a thick Czech accent: how I made it, how far it shoots, if it could hurt someone, etc.
Pavel knew how to enjoy life. He drove with one hand and his left leg bent and perched on his seat. He was taking the next day off from work and driving to Fort Tilden beach in Queens. He pulled out a map and traced with his finger the route he’d take — south down Flatbush Avenue and across Marine Parkway.
“And this is Dead Horse Bay. The city used to dump garbage here.”
Pavel would find and collect dolls heads that disassociated from their respective bodies and washed ashore. Briny ocean and elements hardened and warped their faces. Pavel demonstrated by putting his hands on his face and mashing it around.
Loading, driving, and unloading my belongings seven miles to 11th Street and 3rd Avenue took one hour and fifteen minutes (that has to be some sort of record), but cleaning the new apartment required the next six days. The amount of accumulated dust, soot, and dead skin cells was incredible. Dust bunnies had grown as big as tumble weeds. Scuff marks marred the walls. Tile grout in the shower was covered in mildew. The betta that the previous tenants named Muhammed and left behind was swimming in a Patrón bottle that seemed to have toxic concentrations of nitrogenous waste.
I hunted the dust bunnies with a mop and vacuum, spackled holes, sanded down bumps left by prior shoddy spackling jobs, and rolled three coats of light blue paint1 onto my bedroom walls. I slept on the living room floor to avoid the paint fumes. A truck careening down 3rd Avenue the next morning woke me. There are many things I like about my new neighborhood, but the noise from two bars, a club, a cinema, and a major thoroughfare isn’t one of them. Despite the added coolness of living in this area, I realized I was going to miss many things about the corner of southwest Harlem in which I lived for two years. I was going to miss living in a friend’s co-op unit without a lease for which I paid $800 a month in rent with my credit card2.
I remembered walking home towards the Hudson River for the last time. Even though it was past midnight, the neighborhood was alive with young girls squealing and dancing in and out of an opened fire hydrant’s jet. Some men were playing poker on a green felt table and smoking cigars on the sidewalk. Grandmothers traded gossip on doorsteps. A few people were blasting hip-hop from their cars while other sipped beer and observed from their windows.
I’ll miss the bridge that’s perpetually sprinkled with dog poop and broken glass from smashed car windows. I won’t have the Schadenfreude of seeing drivers who’ve sped down the viaduct get caught by the police’s speedtrap. I’ll miss Riverside Church’s beautiful tower and Fairway market’s cornucopia. I’ll no longer be within distance of my alma mater Columbia University or have easy access to the Hudson River bike path.
Three days, two gallons, and an eggshell finish later, I was lying on the hardwood floor. My back was sore, hands were swollen, and their skin was raw. But as I stared at the ceiling, I knew it was worth it.
Before and After Photos