November 24, 2019

Sophie’s Choice Giblets and Gravy


Morgan and I were surprised to learn Louie, an old friend of ours from the New York Press days, was not only living in Bay Ridge, but about five blocks from us. That I’d never run into him on the street over the past ten years isn’t really all that shocking, as that’s the way things work in New York. We have another friend who lives a block away, and we’ve never run into him either. Louie had been born in the Bronx, knew the city like few others, and seemed to know everyone who lived here, at least within a certain cultural bracket. He knew bookies and low-level mobsters, cops, judges, writers, paramedics and thieves. Back in the day, if you were looking for some help or information of any kind, you knew that all you had to do was give Louie a tap, and he’d put you in touch with the one person you needed to talk to. For the last several years he’d been writing for a daily, and so had come, presumably, to know even more people.

            We hadn’t spoken in years, but when a mutual friend told Louie that Morgan and I were being evicted, he got ahold of our number and called to offer his services in finding a new place. He’s that type. This news raised our hopes. He was the kind you wanted on your side, and if it helped skirt the broker’s fees, all the better.

            He asked specifically what kind of place we were looking for, and I laid out the details. Then I added, “Oh, and it needs to be pet friendly, because we have cats.”

            “Ohhh . . .” he said with a tinge of doom in his voice. “Ya got cats.” He dragged out the word “cats” as if he was saying, “Ya got the plaaaague.”

            It was an unexpected response I’d been running into a lot lately. The first broker we spoke with asked what we were looking for, and again I told her. Then I mentioned the cats.

            “How many cats do you have?”

            I knew full well telling her four would be problematic, so I lied and told her three.

            “One might be okay,” she said, speaking of a specific landlord’s policy. “But three’s a problem.”

            When I moved into an apartment in Philly sight unseen back in 1987, I had no cats and the question never came up. When in the months that followed my then wife and I adopted two, we never asked the landlord’s permission, thinking it was no big deal. Of course the woman who lived above us had a German Shepherd, so what could anyone say about two cats?

            When I moved to Brooklyn a few years later, the cats came with us, though again it had never come up when we were negotiating with the landlord. When I moved to Bay Ridge twenty years later I was again catless, but the couple on the first floor were nurturing a tribe of twenty, feral and domestic alike, so it clearly wasn’t an issue when Morgan moved in with her three.

            But now as we started looking for a new place we quickly learned what kind of pickle we were in.

            There are few things more frustrating when you’re looking for an apartment than scanning through the description of what seems to be the ideal place on all accounts—it’s got the location, the price, the laundry room, the windows, the garden—only to hit the last line, where it says “Sorry, no pets.” A full eighty-five percent of the listings we saw specified bluntly, “No pets allowed.”

            This left me wondering. “Pets” is a pretty far reaching term. Yes, the implication was dogs and cats, but did it also mean the landlord wouldn’t rent to people with a parakeet, an iguana, a couple of gerbils, a goldfish or a ferret?

            There were a bunch of little things in these listings I’d never encountered before, like “applicants must have an annual income of $90K or more, and a credit score of at least 680.” Better still were those ads that stated “Income must be at least 40X the monthly rent.” What the fuck is that? If you’re making that much as it is, why in the hell would you rent a shabby one room for $1500 a month? Who were these landlords expecting to find? Slumming CEOs?

            But back to the pet question.

            After that first eighty-five percent of listings put the blocks on us straight off, another ten percent stated, “one small pet allowed at owner’s discretion.” And again I wonder, what constitutes “small”? A caterpillar? And what happens if you end up with bedbugs or a mouse in the kitchen on top of the caterpillar? Would the landlord be within his rights to evict you for breaking the one small pet policy?

            Only about that last five percent would allow cats. We were getting locked out even before any of these landlords knew I was a cripple, which I presumed would raise its own roadblocks.

            Plentiful as they were, all our cats were quiet, they were domesticated, they never went outside, and all were litterbox trained, but how do you convince a would-be landlord of that before the fact?

            Our cats, to put it bluntly, were quieter, cleaner and much more charming than most children, but you never ever see apartment listings that state, “Sorry, no fucking little screaming brats allowed.”

            One of our cats was seventeen and in poor health, and one was about four months old, so together, we figured, they constituted one cat between them. That they were both black helped the argument considerably, I thought. But even lying and saying we had three instead of four wasn’t helping our case. What the fuck were we supposed to do, hand two of them off to the armed SS guard as we got off the train outside the new building? I was already jettisoning tens of thousands of dollars worth of books and movies and records to make the move easier, and that was breaking my heart as it was. As much as the cats were getting in the way of finding a place to live with time running short, there was never any question of divesting ourselves of one or two to make our lives easier. Instead we decided to magnify the lie, telling real estate people and landlords we only had two. If called on it later, we figured we’d explain they were rare Indian shape-shifting cats. That would probably work.

            As the time we had to find a new place and vacate continued to dwindle, Morgan and I started thinking more along the lines of fuck it—we were going to load up on canned goods and firearms, barricading ourselves in here with the cats, holding off the SWAT team as long as we could.


Postscript: It was inevitable, and inevitably ironic. The day we were locked into a less than ideal apartment in Bensonhurst, I received a note from one of the half dozen or so other apartment brokers we’d been dealing with. He sent along links to a few places he thought might be a good match, noting in passing, “That ’No Pets’ clause usually only applies to dogs. Cats are generally fine.”


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