Moving in to the bright light city, gonna set my stove on fire
It was almost 70 degrees this weekend which always feels like a technicolor dream in those early days of April when it’s impossible to know if it’s time to pull out your light trench and throw your puffy coat in the dumpster. I was still wearing a sweater to be safe, but had propped myself on our three-step stoop to bask in the nascent sun while waiting for our new upstairs tenant to swing by and sign his lease.
For those who are new readers, my husband Vin and I have a two-family home in Queens, which is far more common in the northeast than other parts of the country because we have all deliberately chosen to live like a human club sandwich. So basically, our house is really quite modest in square footage and is essentially three small apartments piled on top of the other. We live on the first floor and basement levels, and we rent out the top floor apartment to tenants.
We’ve been really lucky (in many regards), and both sets of previous tenants have been terrific. The young guys who lived there this past year were the sweetest, but both wanted to leave our quiet neighborhood for the excitement of living in Manhattan. One moved to Chinatown and the other is a stone’s throw from the Diamond District, which if you’ve never been to New York City is not as glamorous as its name would imply. If I were 24, I’d leap at the chance to live in Manhattan too. At almost 42, both of these options sound absolutely awful. Though I wouldn’t mind having cheap soup dumplings nearby.
Anyway, last Sunday I’m sitting on my three-step-stoop waiting for our next tenant to come by and sign the lease. He is French-Canadian and has just gotten a job as a sommelier at one of the very finest restaurants in the city. (When I told a friend we had a sommelier as a tenant he asked, “Oh yeah? What’s your Somalian tenant do for a living?”)
We usually gift our new tenants a box of cookies from a local bakery and a bottle of wine, but I will definitely be buying olive oil and bodega flowers for this round. This gentleman and his wife sound both delightful and intimidating to me, and I hope they’re not put off by the massive pile of dirt and busted concrete currently occupying our front yard. See, we had electrical rewriting completed a month ago and our yard looks like this;
This is actually our yard’s finest hour in a month. Last week it looked like a construction site stoop sale, since the former tenants left behind a big floral grandma chair, four wooden tables and seven area rugs, all of which were scattered over the dirt until bulk trash day. Eventually Con- Edison will answer my nightly prayers and complete the job they were supposed to start a month ago, so we can clean up this yard and stop looking like the set of Sanford and Son.
Vin has joined me out front in the yard, and is standing on a gigantic piece of broken-up concrete like it’s a surfboard. He busted it himself with a jackhammer in preparation for the electrical work to save a few hundred bucks. Had I not married the Croatian Bob Vila, all this house/landlord stuff would be an absolute nightmare.
Lo and behold, who walks by but one of our former tenants, the one who moved to the Diamond District last weekend. He was picking up the car he’d left parked across the street. He was glad to run into us, as he had a funny story to share. Then he proceeded to explain how in the very first week of living with his girlfriend, they had managed to light their entire stove on fire.
“You know how sometimes that little drawer in the bottom of a stove is just a drawer, and sometimes it’s used to cook things?” he asked. I could already see where his decision-making had gone south.
“We put a bunch of stuff in it— a couple cookie sheets, a brownie pan, A WOODEN CUTTING BOARD, and next thing you know, my girlfriend was heating up a leftover hamburger and the whole thing just went up in flames. There was no fire extinguisher in the apartment so we had to call 911 and run out into the street. It was really fucking scary.”
At this point of his story, my chest had tightened and I wanted to excuse myself to run upstairs and check the batteries in the fire alarm, followed by a few quick calls to every insurance company on the planet. This wasn’t a funny story! It was a cautionary tale, the kind that makes landlords everywhere shudder in fear and amp up the clauses in their lease packets.
Granted, the landlord in his new apartment made some grave, criminal errors— they had not provided a fire extinguisher and there was no smoke detector installed in the unit, which will likely get our old tenant off the hook for replacing the entire stove. But still, this whole story gave me anxiety, and made me feel extra fortunate for sharing my landlady role with the world’s most thorough human.
Our new tenants will move in this Sunday, and they have already scrubbed the entire apartment with a toothbrush to prepare. We took the liberty of removing all the unused baking sheets and muffin trays from the bottom oven drawer in preparation. The former tenants had left every K-Mart cookie pan their sweet parents bought them behind, every one of them still with the stickers attached. From the state of things, it was clear they’d never used our upstairs oven, which is really just as well, don’t you think?
This weekend we’ll bring in our third round of renters, and I’m picturing a parade of tasteful furniture and nice stemware making its way past our mound of dirt toward the three-step stoop that leads them into their new home. I really hope they love it here.
I also hope our new neighborhood sommelier brings a case of some good wine because I think I’m going to need it.