Okay Wowwow

One-Bedroom Duplex in 16-Unit Tenement Building

Location:Morningside Heights
Rent:$1140 (rent stabilized)
Square Feet:500
Occupants:Mike Bauer (graduate student, climatology; water vapor expert, Goddard Institute for Space Studies); Kim Haslinger (graduate student, anthropology; volunteer interpreter for non-English-speaking African women, Bellevue and Harlem hospitals)

Mike, until Kim arrives and we discuss the 35 apartments you looked at until you moved here six months ago, where is NASA's Goddard Institute for Space Studies and do you need special top secret security clearance?Just an ID card. The whole building is above Tom's Restaurant, the one where Seinfeld goes at 112th and Broadway.

Here comes Kim. She went right to the phone. [Kim on phone] Duffa bobo paray tete okay wowwow. [Mike]She's speaking Wolof. I don't speak a word myself. It's the language of Senegal. She lived there when she was in the Peace Corps.

Look at all the Nigerian batiks on the walls— and also steel muskrat traps from your youth in Montana and a huge stuffed lobster. [Kim] I made him play the rifle game at Coney Island. I wanted to be the girl carrying the big prize that the he-man won for her.

You met your first week of graduate school in Virginia. [Kim]We were long-distance for two years when he went to Columbia. Then I decided to do a project here. We lived for a year inRiverdale, a 1000-square-foot two-bedroom for $945, the most expensive apartment in the building. It was one of those Irish apartments, shamrocks on the windows. We couldn't stand commuting five hours a day. We looked for like two months between 85th and 116th. We saw one apartment so tiny for $1400. We put down a $200 deposit. We were second in line. This guy John answered. I thought he'd be nice because his wife is a grad student. Then some guy named Larry showed us the apartment. We didn't realize he was a freelancer. We gave him the deposit. The next day John called and said, Do you want the apartment? We said yes. Two months went by. I called to get our deposit back. I faxed them the receipt. He basically accused me of forging the receipt. I'd call once a week. Can't you just send me the check? I cried. I finally said, Keep your money, you ass. We never got it back.[Mike] We had another guy. He put a baseball cap on and showed us an apartment so horrible near 110th. This old lady came out and said, There's water in my apartment. He walked right by her and said, Talk to the superintendent. We thought we'd get the same treatment, plus we didn't want to be in a gentrifying building. [Kim] Tell about the French Canadian guy. [Mike] Oh, him. He showed us this small railroad for $1400, above a bar. I gave him $140 total to run credit checks on both of us. We never got the apartment. We went down twice to the real estate office. They said, Talk to Carl. Carl was never there. We never got the money back. We got so desperate. We saw this ad in the Times. We got here an hour early. We thought it would be a dump. We saw this carpenter working outside. He let us in. We gave him 20 bucks. We thought the apartment was great. We went back outside. Then people started to show up. We had to pretend we were waiting like everyone else. [Kim] We began plotting how to come in casually, then nail it by pulling out a cashier's check. We got it. [Mike] But we had to go to Astor Place to sign the lease. To pick up the keys we had to go to Teaneck. [Kim] It is a little dark. [Mike] We face another building. [Kim] We do have some climate problems. In warm weather, you don't open the windows because flies are breeding outside in our neighbor's recycling cans. [Mike] We're at rat level. [Kim] We've heard squeaking lately. [Mike] All night we hear bottles shattering. [Kim] Then the shower head. [Mike] There's too much water pressure. [Kim] When you turn it on, the head will blow off. [Mike] I've been knocked in the chest and the leg.

 
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