August 17, 2004
Now that I've left LA, here are some of my favorite craftspeople:
Bookshelves - Scott Ryle 213-90-5885
Decorative Painter - Fernando 626-960-0046
Gardener - Shorty 323-459-2579
Garden Design - Kameon, Judy 323-226-1191 Elysian Landscapes
decorative linoleum - Lori Crogin 310-474-1821
floor finishing - Don Henderson 310-391-7578
hardwood floors - Shong Hardwood (Scott) 310-787-9819 or 310-753-4842 m
Tile - George Hernandez 310-777-9325 b
Unfortunately Jenn didn't like the loft on 22nd street as much as I did. The major complaint was bad feng shui (fair criticism). Also the entire lower floor was really a finished basement with little light. I was swayed by the no-brokerness of it all. Jenn was not. It would have been cool to have Soderbergh as a neighbor, we might have seen George more that way. Oh well. Next.
So today we saw lofts.
The best of the bunch was probably this one:
The views over Canal and Broadway are out of a movie, and the light is unbeatable. As for negatives this loft had a completely unfinished kitchen (which didn't scare us too much) and an unfixable (without lots of $$$) bathroom. Also the space was significantly smaller than the 2000 square feet advertised. Jenn ixnayed the project on the spot.
Trying to get into this loft was a prime example of how looking for places in Manhattan is a huge hassle. The loft was listed on craigslist as a no fee apartment, but only a few hours after it was posted the owner said she was so harassed by brokers that she didn't want to show it to individuals any more. So she recommended a broker. That broker, James, didn't actually have the keys so he had to find the proper person to co-broke. James tracked down someone at the agency which supposedly had the keys (a guy named Jan), but when we showed up Jan didn't actually have the keys to the front door, so we sat there waiting for 20 minutes for someone to exit. Nobody did so we left. Later James found out that another broker named Karen actually had the key to the front door. Karen had called us the day before about this place but we already had the appointment with James so we passed. Also Karen had been a bit shady about some other places she was pushing often stretching the truth or fudging on details. An hour earlier Karen had tried to show us another apartment which we had already seen (she had claimed it was an exclusive and this was the first time she was showing it). Anyway so when we showed up with Robert, and Karen was there it was all somewhat awkward. There has to be a better way. This is like bad hight school and I hate it.
Jenn liked another loft over on Howard (great windows) but I hated the way it was finished and the entire building was shaking due to an improperly secured AC unit.
Perhaps by the end of the day our standards were impossibly low, but we are excited about this place in Brooklyn:
No we're not joking. The place has a parking spot, a garden, and the owners will let us have a say in how it is finished. Also no brokers fee. We're meeting with the owner tomorrow to see if we can work out something that is cool with both of us.
I had forgotten how much I miss a good rainstorm.
I saw a loft on 22nd street I rather liked today. It's not perfect (what is?), but it did satisfy many of the boxes on our checklist. Also no broker's fee which would save us around 10K. The big issue is that it's on the ground floor and the windows to the outside are frosted. The lower floor is all underground with only a few skylights. So it might feel a bit enclosed or claustrophobic. But it's 2500 square feet. The appliances/kitchen are top notch and the ceilings on both levels are very high (about 20 feet upstairs). I could go for it. Jenn is less sure.
I also saw a house out in Brooklyn that would work. It was bigger 2800 square feet with 3 floors, but it took me almost an hour to get back to the East Side. Also it was still being finished. Although the owner promised it would all be done in 2 weeks, it looked more like 2 months to me... maybe more. The materials and workmanship was 2nd rate. Who uses soft yellow pine as flooring?
We had a nice dinner at the Park Avalon with Al and Josie who are both doctors. Josie who is only a week behind Jenn in her pregnancy was telling us some horror stories about C-sections. Apparently Al is regularly called in to fix mistakes made by residents in which bladders get sliced open. Their advice: if you must have a C-section demand that your OB or someone in the practice do the deed. The vast majority of the mistakes are made by residents.
I've been enjoying calling around and setting up apartment tours.
Some of the more amusing snippets from the day:
Frankie: What's your name sir?
Frankie: What kind of name is that?
Frankie: I don't do Mexican, not even the food.
me: Well I'm Mexican-Irish if that helps.
Frankie: I don't like them either. [click.]
Heidi: You'll have to call the super, Paul, to get in, but I warn you, he gets in fights with people.
me: What you mean?
Heidi: He's disturbed, you know, he gets in fights.
me: That's scary.
Heidi: You don't have to live with him, he's just the super... But when you see him make sure to speak gentle.
me: I'm calling about the apartment on Duane.
Jim: Yeah, what else is new?
me: Would it be possible to see it?
Jim: Call me tomorrow.
It took me three final trips to get the last odds and ends into storage. Then I walked the empty house, took one last tour of the yard and closed the door.
I realized that I had renovated every single inch of surface in the house and that I was responsible for virtually every single fixture. It will be a long time until I have another place that is so uniquely tailored to my tastes... but it will happen eventually. It will just take time...
Our closing has been delayed a day. Some minor work we agreed to do before the house was turned over is being done today and until the workers release a certificate saying the job is done, no closing. All the houses I've bought and sold in California have always had some back and forth between buyer and seller so this is no big deal. The system here is fair to both sides and is basically a series of inspection/response/inspection/response. In my experience the speed and ease of closing a deal in LA depends mainly on the party thats need to move the most. So if you are a seller and you are dying to move you'll do whatever the buyer asks without fuss. But if you are a buyer who needs to move you'll forgo asking for the picayune in order to get in the door. If neither of you care, it's a negotiation, but LA being LA it's always mellow.
My experiences in New York have been much more chaotic with multiple added layers of bureaucratic drivel often involving lawyers, co-op boards, city inspectors, extra taxes and fees, and so on. After you've bought an sold in New York a couple of times you become so hardened to the process that buying somewhere else is so easy as to feel wrong. The first time I bought in CA after having just experienced the process in Manhattan I was actually paranoid someone was trying to pull a fast one.
Anyway, it's almost done, I'm using the phones while they are still connected to do some last minute business...
Also I'm happy that many of the plants will have a good home with the Hacketts.
Well it almost killed me, but all 18,000 pounds of our stuff is in storage. Our 10x40 unit is full to the brim.
Now that it's over I'm back in the empty house and feeling sad. Gotta get out of here. Perhaps I will visit Bob Plummer LA framer extraordinaire to get a few final photos/paintings done. I've been pulling them as I packed. Bob is the best framer I've ever met. He KNOWS wood. Leave your email in the comments if you need his number. He's also a swell guy and better read than just about anyone you would ever meet.
In NYC Jenn is feeling sick (maybe I gave her my cold in Chicago), but she found a decent place in Clinton Hill. I'm eager to check it out.
Shots from the day:
So I've been up packing for the last 24 hours... The trucks arrive in about 2 hours to take everything to storage.
Today: Stuff to storage.
Thursday: Fly to NYC.
Next week or so: Secure a place by hook or by crook.
Then: Fly back to LA, supervise the move from storage to a truck.
Wait for stuff to arrive.
Jenn is trying to get me to dump the drive back portion and ship the car... we'll see.
This apartment was listed for 6500/month and was described as "bohemian".
The bathroom is in the middle of the room:
Well at least something can still make me laugh. The audacity!
It's hot. I'm sick to the point of feeling woozy... hundreds of boxes to pack before I sleep. Feeling grumpy.
1. Get Boxes from a box wholesaler. Boxes on the Move 1-800-BoxesON has been been a good one in LA. Note that there is a big quality difference in boxes (UHaul boxes for example tend to be fairly flimsy).
2. Get color coded labeled tape. Smart Move tape is what I've been using and I love it. You can buy it at U-Haul, but U-Hauls prices are high. Find it cheaper on line.
3. Use plastic bins for fragile stuff. If you can find a plastic bin wholesaler the cost of these is only a dollar or two more than a box. I use rubbermaid bins with latches. The great thing about the bins is that you can use them to store stuff in closets and under beds once you are all moved in. I packed all my dishes in pastic bins. Feels much safer than dish packs.
4. Label, label, label. I print mine out but I have a touch of OCD. I use a nice bold sans serif font ( http://www.typography.com/catalog/gotham/index.html ). Makes everything look organized even if it's not.
5. Put together an essentials bag... the stuff you will need while your stuff is in transition.
6. Pack early (I've failed on this one).
7. If you have something really really fragile or delicate, pack and move it yourself. You'll sleep better.
8. Be generous with packing material and pack all boxes to they are fairly tight with little give.
9. Use small boxes for heavy items like books.
10. Use big boxes for light things like linens.
11. Use small-bubble bubble wrap to prevent scratches. Use large-bubble bubble wrap to prevent breakage.
All of this is common sense, but it never helps to be reminded. I wish someone had reminded me.
Rob and Deb's wedding went off without a hitch...
My friends spent lots of time on the phone with their respective wives.
Happily I was with Jenn...
It was a nice weekend.
Now I'm back in LA. Back to business.
So I'm in Chicago for a wedding for the weekend. Just abandoned the moving project until Sunday... After one hour of sleep last night I slept most of the way here. I was served a single cracker. A single cracker? Who does that? It's almost more insulting to serve a single cracker than nothing at all.
Ok must to bed.
I was staring at the nails on the empty wall when it struck me that this must be how the expression "getting down to brass tacks" originated. But alas no: According to the "Encyclopedia of Word and Phrase Origins" by Robert Hendrickson:
There are no brass tacks, only brass-headed ones, used because they rust less easily. The American expression, which has been traced back only to 1903, though it may have been common before then, has several possible origins. Brass-headed tacks were used in upholstering chairs, especially at the foundations of the chairs, and in taking a chair apart to reupholster it from the bottom up, craftsmen might have said they were getting down to business, to the root of the matter, getting down to the brass tacks. There is no solid evidence for this theory, however, just as there is none for the country-store hypothesis. Merchants in country stores, it's said, hammered brass-headed tacks at intervals into their fabric department counters to indicate lengths of a yard, a half-yard and a quarter-yard. After a customer selected the cloth she wanted, the merchant would say, 'All right, now we'll get down to brass tacks - I'll measure it up for you.' This certainly was a practice in the country stores and a common one at about the same time the expression is first recorded."
Have been listening to: Nina Simone, Tom Waits, Duke Ellington, Ike Turner, Linda Jones & April March.
Am feeling: feverish and vaguely clammy.
Have been dreaming about: Papaya King on 86th street & the grapefruit gelato on 2nd Street & Ave. A.
I want: to meet: Olivia.
I miss: my wife.
I should be: packing instead of blogging.
Is it crazy to consider a house in Norfolk or New Canaan? We could buy the place outright have loads of space (and money!) left over.
We both have been mulling this over. But it's hard to commit to the idea. Would we go stir crazy out there? Would we ever make it into the city? Things to ponder.
Jenn says this blog is positively maudlin. Rereading it I suppose it might come off that way. Maybe it's because I tend to post when I'm frustrated. For the record, I'm excited by the move, just frustrated by the process. And as sad as I am about leaving this house, the prospect of setting up a new one together should be great fun. I think my main issue right now is that I have a horrible head cold. This is the first one in 2 or 3 years and being sick makes me grim.
I'm always first to dinners.
A friend from Hong Kong who joined the dinner later was complaining about rents in the $17,000/month range.... and I thought I had problems.
Stuff. Stuff. And more stuff.
Jenn looked at a bunch of places today.
The most promising was a converted firehouse. True 1800 square feet with a view of the Statue of Liberty from the roof:
The drawback to this place is that it's right next to a BQE onramp. So it's noisy. Maybe it's not a great idea to have a newborn right next to all those fumes.
Another place that was sort of promising was this one in Carnegie Hill. Fairly normal apartment with a nice big terrace:
The drawback here was that it is small... 1300 square feet. The whole apartment would fit in the downstairs here... and we've always been cramped in this house.
The other places weren't worth mentioning...
Final note does anyone know where to get Indian lamps like these ones (Jenn spotted them on the ceiling of a restaurant in Brooklyn):
As the move has become more real I've started to think about things I will miss about LA.
Here are a few that struck me this morning:
bizarre suburban architecture
headshots of jackasses in random places
scary Christo-like termite tenting
I looked through 200 craigslist listings yesterday... probably 120 of them were obvious bait and switch. I called 50 that seemed real/reasonable, of those exactly 2 turned into places worth seeing. This is depressing.
I saw one place on 34th and 10th Avenue. It was a true loft and not a bad space but it only had windows on one side and was way too dark for a baby. I saw a second loft in Tribeca that was being rented "as is" which meant unpainted and dirty (you could barely see out the windows). It would have been ok to clean it up, but it was also too small. Both of these were in the 5000-6000/month range.
The broker today was a nice French guy. He said 2 kinds of brokers handle rentals:
1. Many successful brokers have relationships with buildings or a specific client. They'll put up an ad, show an apartment 20 times, and one of those people will bite. They have no desire to traipse around the city with you and don't actually care about you and what you want... so if you are not interested in that specific apartment your relationship is over. Most brokers who handle rentals work this way and it makes sense that they would.
2. The much rarer breed of broker actually does care about you and will try to find you what you are looking for, but these guys get burned constantly because even if they show someone 20 apartments there is no guarantee that that person won't see an ad somewhere else and the 21st apartment will be handled by someone else.
Brokers who sell have it much easier because they follow you around wherever you go...
The coyotes are so loud tonight... another cat bites the dust.
The somewhat evil Autobar on the corner of Glendale and Lakewood is finally being renovated (just in time for our departure) and turned into something else (I've heard deli, restaurant, bar). As they were tearing down the shutters some cool paintings were revealed.
It always seems to happen this way, just as I vacate a neighborhood, good things start to happen. Silverlake finally got a Vietnamese restaurant two weeks ago (no nearby Vietnamese was a longstanding gripe) and I expect the "anti-terrorism" fence around the reservoir will come down just as my moving vans head into the sunset.
No luck on the apartment hunt yet. Jenn asks "What's the deal with New Yorkers and green carpet?"
Jenn and I are both feeling down about the move today. After you've been away from the city for awhile, all the gotchas seem so petty and ridiculous. Also NY Times stories about possible terrorist activity for the convention don't make me feel all warm and fuzzy... sigh.
At least I've made it out of the garage to the kitchen.
Is it just me or having a party in a Glendale storage facility kind of creepy? The klezmer music they were playing added to the x-files vibe.
Jenn has been relentlessly searching for rental apartments in the city. I've been trying to help her online from here in LA. I haven't found a truly great site for rentals yet (if you know of one, please leave the name in the comments), but I'm looking. This is what I've found so far:
The big brokers: (Corcoran, Citi Habitats, etc):
Many if not most of the listings on these sites are fake or expired. They seem to put up nice reasonable looking apartments (but actually unavailable) to draw you in. Many of the brokers we've dealt with have been lazy, rude, or incompetent... All this joy for 12-15%... I know, I know, welcome to New York. After 10 years away you forget what a nightmare house hunting can be. For reference, here in LA a few years ago myself and 4 friends rented a 1920's mansion from record producer Rick Rubin with a handshake and one month deposit. The rent was around $5000/month. In NY that same rent gets you.... but why go down that road. Must accept new reality. Ok. Next.
This is a site for buyers but can be useful to get building info if there happens to be an apartment for sale in a building you are considering.
This company has lots of listings for big horrible buildings. The site is hard to navigate and search. Also there are many bait and switch listings.
I've been disappointed by craigslist new york. In LA and San Francisco craigslist is probably the best way to find an apartment, but in NY it's full of bad broker listings and quacks. Disappointing.
Edit a few weeks later: If you are diligent you will eventually learn how to weed out the bad seeds. Craigslist is still the best site to find a no fee apartment in New York.
We didn't discover this site until too late, but it's a good source for by owner listings. Especially down in the East Villiage.
This is by far the best site I've found, but it's not free... 4 nice features: full addresses are shown, the listings are good, detailed building info, and email updates. It's not perfect though--the user interface is busy, you can't sort in detail view, and there are still too many expired listings. After one day on the service Jenn finally saw some places she liked. The one she REALLY liked was out of our price range (6500/month and it already had 2 offers) but then again it was a 4 story brownstone:
Edit a few weeks later: In the end MLX wasn't that useful for us. Most of the apartment listings were for big high rise buildings.
Jenn says Olivia has been kicking much higher than last week. I wonder if that means anything. Maybe she gets tired of all the traipsing around in the heat...
ps I should note that on the buying/selling side we have had some great experiences with NY brokers. Louise Devin of Brown Harris worked tirelessly to sell a family apartment on 63rd Street and in Brooklyn Heather McMaster of Corcoran has done a fantastic job of letting us know the lay of the land...
When packing up a house, there is always a point in which you think you have lost your mind. I am at that point. Why are we leaving this beautiful place? What madness inspired this rash decision? It's beautiful day, clear, sunny and I just had a nice afternoon swim. Will I ever experience this kind of domestic bliss again?
I'm on day four of packing and haven't even finished the garage yet.
On my feet. LL Bean Blucher moccasins circa 1985. I found them in an box of old Princeton stuff.
Everything feels bittersweet.
So I have 14 days to pack up the house and get myself to New York.
I'm not sure I'm ready. Jenn left last night and is already in the mix of looking for a apartment (I can't have Jenn who is 5 months pregnant lifting heavy boxes). This snapshot was taken as she walked out the door for the last time:
Haven't done a damn thing about packing the house, but that seems like a minor issue right now. More importantly we went to the OB and found out the baby is a girl. Her first name will be Olivia after my grandmother. The middle name is still undetermined. This was a perfect birthday present for Jenn (in addition to the letterpress I am giving her).
In the evening we went out to the Buffalo Club to celebrate and enjoy what was left of her final day here.
I never thought I would rent again, but with the baby due in November and the short time we have, it seems like the most practical choice at least for this year. We don't want to be rushed into buying something and with a 60-90 day close we would be moving in just as Jenn is going into labor. So rent we must. There is no economic way to justify renting. It's money out the door. I hate it.