04/22/16 9:00am

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I have to get something off my chest: It is hard as hell to attempt to live alone in New York City.

At least a few times a year, when real estate sites like Street Easy crunch the median rents in NYC, and publications like Gothamist and DNAinfo broadcast the bleak figures, it becomes explicitly clear that even if you have relatively low standards for living and are making decent money (say, $45,000/year), you have only a slim chance of ever living on your own while you’re still in your 20s.

I understand this is hardly news and anyone who complains about this even in passing will often get a “Hey! Roommates are a part of the deal here,” or “You have to earn that privilege,” or, even worse, “Move away if you hate it so much.” But as we become ever more individualistic—and watch friends back home start making down payments and lifelong investments—it becomes harder to accept the status quo.

Let’s focus on the current state of living alone in New York City at a basic, financial level. In January, DNAinfo built a handy module that allows you to simply enter your yearly salary to find out where you can afford to live based on the median rent of each neighborhood. If it’s in your price range—meaning you earn 40x the monthly rent and aren’t “overburdened”—the neighborhoods in your range light up. At $40,000, you’re a perfect candidate for the Bronx neighborhood of Morrisania and that’s it. At $60K, your selection of neighborhoods increases twelvefold, but your options are still restricted to the Bronx. Skipping ahead, things improve drastically at $100,000 when the reach of your paycheck spreads to Harlem, to Sunnyside, Queens through Jamaica Estates, and into South Brooklyn, starting with Sunset Park and stretching down to Brighton Beach and oceanward to East New York. North Brooklyn is more or less reserved for those making $130,000 and up. (more…)

04/20/16 9:00am

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My ten-year-old tore open the envelope, a slightly unhinged smile of anticipation on his face, and pulled out the sheet of paper inside. I held my breath. The paper rattled slightly in his hands.

Silence.

He stared.

I would have snatched it from him, but my own hands were shaking too much. “What’s it say?”

“I don’t…. know?” He handed me the letter, and I understood his confusion instantly, with dismay: the middle school he had been matched with was not on the list of the schools that we had ranked.

“Oh. Well…I guess…” I looked at his deeply baffled face and screwed up my courage to finish the sentence. “You didn’t get into any of the schools on our list, honey, so they….they put you in this one. But we can –”

He didn’t hear the rest, though. He was sobbing too loudly.

The rest of that April afternoon was a bit of a blur. Tears and texts, as all of his friends’ parents texted me with their matched school: “447! You?” “51! First choice!” Except for our closest friends, we chose not to respond. Two of his best friends, though, both stellar students and cheerful, polite kids with the requisite good test scores, had found themselves in the same situation as my son, and came over ashen and crying.

We ended up having a damp dinner at the local burger joint, our children drowning their sorrows in shakes while their friends and their families, a few tables away, celebrated their good news.

We, the parents of these “unlucky” sons, were drowning our sorrows too, with something a bit stronger than milkshakes. Some of us were angry. Emails were sent. Others were grim, despairing. “We’re going to have to move out of the city,” one groaned. Another mentioned homeschooling, followed by hysterical laughter. (Nobody mentioned going to the underperforming school where we had been placed; perhaps we should have sent them there anyway, there’s an argument for that, a very long one, or maybe a simple one: but that’s not what this piece is about.)

This piece is about what happens when the school choice process sloshes you around in its mysterious and complicated maw and then spits you right out. (more…)

12/18/15 9:54am
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Illustration: Vinnie Neuberg

I got paid today, a lot of money for me, a great feeling. I walked through the holiday market at Union Square, wishing, hoping for anything. I ended up buying an abundance of weird and beautiful beeswax candles from the weird and beautiful honey people and some French lavender, because I believe it is calming.

I like to give money away, and I have my own completely sliding scale list of rules for it. I don’t care what you do with it. I like the honesty of giving money to people standing outside of liquor stores–I go to that liquor store, too.

Then I took the 6 to Canal Street so I could pay a stranger to touch my feet and make them work again without vocalizing grievances. The train was full, not packed, but certainly not empty, and there was definitely a smell in the air.

The first time I got on a bum train I was dazzled at my luck that the car was so empty that I could sit. It was empty for a reason. A homeless person smelled so badly that no one else, save one person, was in that car. I moved onto the next car. I deemed it The Bum Train, and talked about it with some friends, and they discussed their moments on bum trains. Recently there has been another bum train moment, one not completely polarizing, some people stayed on the train, using their scarves and coats to try to mask the smell.

I moved onto the next car again, because I do not want to smell that smell. In the world of what I can control, I can still switch trains, so that smell does not permeate me. But it does, each time, in a way. That is a person, a human being, and we are all fleeing him. And previous to him smelling that way we fled him before. This smell is the indication of a journey, a devolution of life, to reach that smell. It doesn’t happen overnight.

In most cases when you are on a bum train the person is asleep, or under a coat or the like. It’s easier to walk away from a pile of dirty clothes. I should know, I do it pretty much every morning of my life when I leave my bedroom. (more…)

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11/16/15 10:54am
Baklava and a martini--what else do you finish the night with? Photo: Kenneth Rosen

Baklava and a martini–what else do you finish the night with? Photo: Kenneth Rosen

The Lobster Shift is a monthly column by Kenneth Rosen that explores the city’s all-night eateries and their inhabitants.

At two a.m. the Empire State Building goes dark. I’ve seen the lights dim while wandering the city during or after my overnight Lobster Shift at a newsroom in Midtown. The lights extinguish and the skyline edges closer to the eerie Gotham that this city once was. The past lingers below, on darkened streets where cabbies sip from Anthora cups, couples clutch each other and stagger home, manholes puff scarves of steam beneath high-pressure sodium light fixtures–a nocturnal landscape that may soon disappear.

South of the Empire State in Madison Square Park, the mellow amber glow from the Met Life Tower’s gilded peak is the piece of Manhattan that persists after my exit to Queens–always visible during my nightly walks home through Sunnyside. Its glow is so insusceptible to dimming that I like to believe the luminescence of its bigger sibling uptown hides there overnight, waiting.

When I think of those two towers, I think about a time in New York that lingers after dark. Like North Stars, they lead me to where people are awake, where there’s revelry and, importantly, food. (more…)

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12/18/14 7:43pm

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This is the second installation in our new essay series. Last time we heard from writer Judy McGuire about being forced out of a rent-stabilized apartment in Williamsburg by developers. This time Eliza Hecht, whose byline you may have seen on the Modern Love column in The New York Times recently, reflects on crying in public. To submit essay pitches, email us.

I live in Crown Heights, which I chose partly because of the convenient trains–I can catch both the 2/3, to go up the west side of Manhattan, or the 4/5, to go up the east, at Franklin Ave.

Not that long ago, I was taking the train home from school in the West Village. I was sitting, but strangers were standing crowded around me, commuting back to their lives at home. As the train rocked its way back to Brooklyn, I was listening to This American Life. It was an episode I had heard before, one that concluded with several girls in juvenile hall singing to their mothers.

“Mama. I’m sorry,” the girls sang. “I’m sorry. Mama, I’m sorry.”

This particular episode is one of those stories that doesn’t even pretend not to be emotionally manipulative. These girls, in a home for committing crimes, were apologizing to their mothers for what they did. In song.

I have always cried easily. (more…)

11/21/14 8:39am
Take control of the turkey--it's the main event after all. Photo: Gabrielle Sierra

Take control of the turkey–it’s the main event after all. Photo: Gabrielle Sierra

Ah, Thanksgiving, a magical holiday that gathers friends and family around a table filled with flowers, candles, food and an obscene amount of wine.

Whether you’re hosting a traditional Thanksgiving, or a Friendsgiving before you head to the family homestead, coordinating a big dinner can be hard work, and unexpected issues can crop up before, in the middle and even after the event.

Over the past few years I’ve become a Friendsgiving pro, hosting a group of pals each year before we all scatter across the country, but these lessons work for any big dinner party. Here are a few tips and tricks that can lighten your workload, streamline your planning, and help make your holiday as easy as pumpkin pie. And as sweet as pumpkin pie. And as delicious as pumpkin pie.

Mmm pumpkin pie.

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09/12/14 10:00am
Moving away from Williamsburg requires a gentrification tag sale. Photo: Judy McGuire

You’ll find genuine artifacts of middle-class life, plus plenty of vitriol at a gentrification tag sale. Photo: Judy McGuire

After 20 years in Brooklyn I was finally priced out of my borough this summer—much like I’d been priced out of Manhattan two decades earlier. It’s a typical NYC story, but unlike the couples profiled in the most recent eye-roller of a NY Times story on the phenom, my man and I weren’t in a position to lick our wounds in a $500k Jersey City loft.

While Williamsburg has been the butt of five bazillion jokes, I was born in New Jersey, so I’m used to being at the ass-end of a funny. Yes, Bedford Avenue has fancy cheeses and boys in too-tight, ill-fitting women’s skinny slacks to mock, but I’d lived there for two decades and I was kind of attached to the four walls I’d painted loud colors, to the ridiculously specific restaurants, to the little community my neighbors and I had become. I mean, how lucky was I to have one of my closest friends in the same building, just one floor away?

Growing up, my family moved around every few years, so until I landed on North 11th Street, I never really had any place that I considered home. But this place was big enough for one person (though it eventually housed two humans, and three felines) and cheap enough that I could afford it on my own, which was key as a freelancer with a rollercoaster-like income. After five or six years, I started to consider it my home and instead of freaking out at the commitment, I liked it.

I loved it, actually. (more…)