It was costing me $500 a month for rent and almost another $500 a month to commute to work. I
drove each day from Dix Hills at 5 AM to Hicksville to catch the westbound L.I.R.R. to Penn Station with all the other sheep. I paid for the car, paid for the repairs, paid for the insurance, paid for the gas, paid for the parking, and paid for the railroad all for the privilege of working in the city. And I worked on 31st Street and 7th Avenue, or I would be paying for the subway, too.
I was newly divorced, with two kids, in my 40’s, and I was aging by the day.
I also had a teaching job in the city at night. When each class was over, I would flee to Penn Station praying that I would catch the 9:20 back to Hicksville. Twice I was awakened by a guard in the Amityville train yard who pointed me towards the westbound track back to Hicksville, and my car. My workday was whipping the weight off me, and I often felt betrayed by my choices.
One day my Dad was on the phone and he suggested that I go out to a certain rent stabilized complex in Forest Hills and put my name on the waiting list for an apartment. For once, I listened to him and was off like a shot to Forest Hills on the F Train. I grabbed a quick sandwich at the T-Bone Diner, and dared to dream of the simpler days that would someday be mine.
The Rental Office contained exactly two people in exactly two small rooms. A man eyed me suspiciously as he asked what he could do for me.
“I’d like to put my name on the list for an apartment.”
This was met with a thousand yard stare. “May I put my name on the list?”
Reluctantly the man slid some papers over to me.
“These apartments are very popular and the wait is a very long one” he said in a discouraging tone. “How did you happen to hear of us?”
“Well, my family is in the building trades and my father works for the City,” I replied.
The man suddenly shot up and shrieked “We don’t do favors for anyone! We have a policy here to treat everyone the same! We don’t do favors and if that is what you’re expecting, then you’re wrong because we don’t do favors!”
“All I want to do is put my name on the list like everyone else,” I replied.
“Just so you know….” The guy said as his voice slowly went back down.
A woman now slid over and I tried to smile my best smile at her as I started to place my name on the list. “Oh, so you work with architects,” she cooed. “You would be perfect for us. You know Junior Fours don’t come up often, but one just came us this morning! A wonderful tenant is leaving after 26 years. You’d only be the second tenant in a fabulous space. I have the key, would you like to see it?”
“Well, a Junior Four might be out of my price range…”
“It would be $604 a month with all utilities included and a free reserved space in our underground garage…”
How could I offend this nice woman by not taking a look? And, it was more than I could have ever hoped for. I would save over $300 a month, not to mention the headaches of commuting.
And so that day a one page lease was brought forward. And I signed it. That was in February, and on April 1, I was in. It was all mine and I even had a doorman! Who would have thought? But then fear started lingering in my head. I didn’t ask for a favor, but what if the owner thought that I did? I got the owner’s name and address off the lease and wrote him a thank you card just in case there was a misunderstanding. I told him that I supplied architectural renderings to building owners and should he ever be in need of my services, I would be happy to supply them at no cost as a thank you.
Fast forward to November and my first autumn in Forest Hills. One weekday night the phone rang at about 9:30. I thought this could not be good news. I picked up the phone and there was an operator asking me if I would accept a collect call from Florida. I asked for the person’s name thinking someone had made a mistake, but it was my landlord.
I said of course I would accept the charges and asked him how I could be of service to him. He said that he needed nothing, that no favor had been extended. After all this time, and all of the favors that had indeed been extended, he didn’t remember ever receiving a thank you card until he had received mine. He just wanted to tell me that it was appreciated, that no favor had been extended, and if I still thought otherwise he was informing me that any debt had been satisfied.
What a nice man he was to do that.
I was in shock, and probably still am after 37 years, that the call was collect.