Falling Ceilings


LOCATION West Village

RENT $1,625 [market]

SQUARE FEET 420 [one-bedroom in pre-war walkup]

OCCUPANTS Wendy Lau [lawyer]

Fascinating the way your dog leans over. Now his mouth is around my arm. He’s 16 months. The only thing he humps is other dogs.

Then I can lean back and relax. Other male dogs. We think Jack is gay.

Everyone thinks their pets are gay lately. I think my cat’s asexual. She’s old and cranky. Her name’s Anaïs. I wanted to name a dog Henry so they would get along but Jack didn’t look like a Henry.

Were you reading Anaïs Nin when you were growing up in Australia? Maybe. I was born in Hong Kong. My parents moved to Sydney when I was eight. My father is a semi-retired surgeon. I went to law school in Sydney. I’ve always wanted to come to New York. I saw an ad—one of the larger firms was recruiting, 2001.

The prescient foreshadowing . . . March 2001. I lived at the Hudson Hotel for six weeks. They gave me an allowance. Then I moved to a beautiful loft on Fourth Avenue. I was laid off after September 11. I’m in real estate and construction law. I moved in with a friend on 9th. It was kind of a throw-caution-to-the-wind situation—someone I was kind of dating. September 2002, I joined another big firm and moved to a huge loft sublease in Chinatown. Then another on 8th—two NYU professors, one German and one Austrian.

Hmmm. She taught Japanese art. He taught Chinese history. She was going on sabbatical. It was faculty housing, 1,200 square feet, skylight, beautiful modern furniture, floor-to-ceiling books.

Were they happy? Yes. [Then she tells me about a brownstone and the landlords, who were really cheap and used sand, not salt, when it snowed and their Dobermans were banned from the dog run and then they sold the building.]

Do you get sad when you have to move? That one I did; the others, not so much. Except for the Hudson Hotel, every place I’ve lived, the ceiling has fallen down.

Really. The dog and cat are going at it. He wants to play and she’s not interested. He used to drag all his toys and put them in front of her.

How hopeful. You know I was thinking about all your moving about. Lately all these people keep asking, Where can I buy an apartment, where can I buy an apartment? Over and over and over. They won’t shut up, like marionettes with their mouths going up and down. First of all, I’m not a real estate agent and second, what is all this? There was a time when people wanted to see the world and eat olives in the Mediterranean and have romantic experiences in Gabalaba or wherever. And even later, when they had to take day jobs, they still longed for that other life. Today all people long for is to buy some dopey beige apartment in Brooklyn. Nobody can afford anything anyway. No more journeys. It’s a sodden world at a standstill. So many are becoming like parents in the 1950s, little Eisenhower people thinking about kitchens all the time. They still have the politics of the bohemian left—like they’ll protest Bush a few days a year—but not the passions. When I was living in Sydney, I lived with someone for a very long time. We were the corporate couple. The minute we closed on this beautiful townhouse, I knew it was the biggest mistake of my life. It didn’t feel like the great achievement everyone said it should be. I still wanted to travel. For the last four years, people have been telling me, You’re a big corporate lawyer—buy. I’ve gotten to a stage where I don’t want to move again. I don’t feel like I’m wasting money by renting because I don’t pin my success on whether I own a one-bedroom or not.

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