August 23, 2004

On the subway this morning I was in a car of Nader/Camejo supporters. One of them was wearing a t-shirt that said (in big letters), "I AM NOT IRRELEVANT!" Another had a shirt that said, "MY VOTE COUNTS!" They were handing out buttons and half heartedly chanting "Nader, Nader, Nader, no more Bush or Al-Sadr." One guy managed to spill his coffee on a commuter who was not amused.

I've been spending way too much time on the subway. Almost 2 hours a day. Things will get better once we're moved in. But being subterranean for so many hours a day makes you think about things... like why is it so darned hot down there? Heat rises and yet 50 feet underground it is often 10 or even 15 degrees hotter than outside. The culprit, I'll bet, are all those air conditioners on subway cars spewing hot air. Why not just AC the stations and forget out cooling individual cars? Or maybe just turn off the AC in the cars and see if the whole place cools down. Also, who is busy scratching all the windows? Every single car I've been in has windows scratched so badly you can barely see out of them. The scratches aren't even tags, just random angry hatchmarks. What's the point? I understand tagging. But this is just stupid. And what's the deal with the variety of color/tiling schemes going on? Why for example is 49th street bright orange? Why not paint the columns at each stop based on the color of the line they are on? Stations with multiple lines would have stripes on the columns. Easy & logical. Also why has New York never instituted route maps like the London Tube System which is regularly hailed for being well signed. Every day I see hapless tourists scrutinizing maps and getting on the wrong train. Sigh. I could go on.

Happily it was another day of perfect weather. I dealt with painters and spent some time exploring my new neighborhood.


August 22, 2004

We spent several hours swatching the walls of the new place and had our first run in with the landlady (the colors are too bright!). I do find it amusing that she is hassling us. We're paying to have the entire place freshly painted top to bottom, are tearing up a nasty green rug on 3 floors of stairs (replacing it with sisal), and a making a host of other improvements. She should be grateful!

The weather has turned perfect... almost felt a hint of fall.


August 21, 2004

Before the thunderstorm today the air was thick and muggy. You would think rain should cool things off but it only seemed to add to the oppressive humidity. I was headed down to Pearl Paint and had just entered the subway when the storm broke. Crowds of people without umbrellas ran down into the station for shelter, many of them slipping on the feces left on stairs by some severely gastrically challenged individual. Once in the station, water suddenly began pouring down through a ceiling grate onto the tracks and a small swarm of rats jumped onto the platform seeking drier ground. The commuters, many of them still dealing with stinky shoes started freaking out. One woman actually screamed "Oh my God, RATS!!!!"

When the train came everyone stared down at the ground and avoided eye contact.

I think it was just as the woman screamed that I realized LA is all about comfort. Not once in the last six months have I sweat through my shirt just trying to get somewhere (this happens at least 3 times a day here). Not once have I had to avoid human feces. And I've haven't seen a single rat (although skunks are another story). But oddly enough none of the unpleasantness bothered me the way it might have in the past. Perhaps it's because I haven't been back long enough, perhaps I was just in a good mood today, but I think part of it is that I chose to be here and I know the deal.

I've had lots of internal dialog about this sort of thing lately. I've realized my 10 years away have changed the way I see the New York. I keep noticing how dirty the city is and how long it takes to get from point a to point b and how there is real weather. But I also notice how much more rich my life is here, how many new faces I see each day, and how great the water tastes. It will be weird to be back in LA next week. I imagine the experience will be something like going back to school after you have graduated... we'll see.

Done deal.

August 20, 2004

So if bank people tell you 48 hours is the minimum time for a wire transfer to clear, don't believe them. With a bit of persistence and sweet talking of old ladies, it can be done in 12 hours.

We went down to State street and signed the lease. I couldn't be more pleased. Great house, great street, great neighborhood. We can't wait to get moving on the painting and so on...


August 20, 2004

We're counting the final hours to the signing. I hate depending on wire transfers and things. Inevitably there will be a fly in the ointment. We're walking out the door in 2 minutes.

After looking at scores of apartments the best ones (by far) were from craigslist apartments by owner or via local brokers. The local brokers are a colorful bunch and the best way to find them is simply to walk the neighborhoods that interest you. Many of these offices are one or two person operations. Frank our broker has a small chaotic office right down the street from the townhouse we are taking. Several of his workers are octogenarians, the office couldn't be more disorganized, but Frank consistently delivered nice apartments. We had similar experiences in Fort Greene, in the East Village, and further up the street in Cobble Hill. Most of the websites of big brokerage companies were near useless and mainly seem designed to draw you in. I probably called on 30 ads from big sites. Maybe 2 or 3 were actually available. I also found MLX and RentDirect to be fairly useless, unless you are into giant high rise buildings. Both had 5-10 new listings a day, almost all for huge developments.

Craigslist isn't as pure in New York as it is elsewhere although Craig is trying diligently to weed out the drek but it's tough. Some shady things we've seen: Brokers list apartments in the 'by owner' section simply ignoring the classification, they take listings by legit owners and re-list them with their own phone numbers or with different wording, they list completely fake apartments and when they have you on the phone try to get you into something else, and they tend to hassle owners renting their own apartments and often bully them into some sort of deal, etc. This is a huge extra tax on New Yorkers who rent both in time and money. This said a good broker will have access to a database with almost all non by-owner apartments. If you see something you like even if it is listed with someone else as an exclusive, call the broker you like. You are going to be forking out a month and a half of rent so it might as well be sombody cool.


August 20, 2004

Yesterday I found a shop selling digital copies of South African photo studio portraits:

Mai Mai – 251 Smith Street

The images reminded me of my own collection of photos from Tibetan photo studios:

Colors magazine recently had an exellent series on similar photos.

Finally a decision

August 19, 2004

You know how sometimes in the city certain images stick in your head? This morning it was this guy, holding his Bible aloft, speaking in tounges, and ranting at nobody in particular (in the middle of Park Avenue). I swear I've seen the same guy next to the Santa Monica ferris wheel:

We were on our way to see more lofts. This one on Lafayette would have been cool if we had a few more months to clean & renovate:

Then we went down to Brooklyn to check out our options. All morning we had been debating the Dean Street loft versus the Brooklyn Heights townhouse. Jenn was leaning towards the loft I was going the other way, but a trip out to the loft and meeting the owner revealed that the back yard would soon be cut in half and the other half would be a smoking area for a bar. So basically there would be people hanging out a few feet from our bedroom late into the night..every night. Not cool. Also there was some issue with radiant heating and Persian carpets. This cemented our decision against the loft. So assuming money gets wired on time tomorrow we sign our lease and will end up in Brooklyn Heights in aa 19th century townhouse. We wanted a funkier neighborhood, but this is actually the only place we've seen with the right space/price. Note we saved a few hundred bucks a month by offering to pay 6 months up front (which shows it never hurts to ask). Frank our geriatric broker is happy. We're happy. We're going to start painting next week and then I'll go back to California to get the car and load the moving van. So that's the plan.

Afterwards we went to the new mall at Columbus circle. Locals don't like it being called a mall, but a mall it is.


August 18, 2004

Spent the day all around Brooklyn...

We saw one nice townhouse in Brooklyn Heights that I was ready to take:

This place was big enough for us (2200 square feet), the price was right, and I loved the block... but Jenn feels Brooklyn Heights is too genteel and too far away from shops/restaurants, so I think we're going to stick with the place on Dean with the storefront/parking/garden. The owners have been super accomodating, the site is only a few steps from Smith street, and the F is literally one block away. It's a construction site now, but come October, we're moving in...

my new york

August 17, 2004

With a bit of photoshopping I can create the New York I see in my head.


August 16, 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


August 16, 2004

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.


August 15, 2004

I had forgotten how much I miss a good rainstorm.

Getting close

August 15, 2004

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.

Ah, New York

August 13, 2004

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?

me: Raul.

Frankie: What kind of name is that?

me: Mexican

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.

Final goodbye

August 12, 2004

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...

Closing Time

August 11, 2004

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.


Dead tired

August 10, 2004

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:

Moving day has arrived....

August 10, 2004

So I've been up packing for the last 24 hours... The trucks arrive in about 2 hours to take everything to storage.

The plan:

Today: Stuff to storage.
Tomorrow: Close.
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.
Drive back.
Wait for stuff to arrive.

Jenn is trying to get me to dump the drive back portion and ship the car... we'll see.

Bohemian Rhapsody

August 9, 2004

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.

Making Packing Up Easier

August 9, 2004

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.

Back in LA

August 8, 2004

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.

a break

August 7, 2004

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.

Getting Down To Brass Tacks

August 6, 2004

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.


August 5, 2004

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.

Good Spirits

August 5, 2004

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.

More apartments on the hunt...

August 4, 2004

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):

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