When couples married in the olden days – the 1970s – the first post-wedding task was finding the perfect house to move into together.
By the time I was married, on Nov. 1 of this year, my wife, Julie, and I had already lived together for almost two years. We weren’t house hunting, because she and her cat Ella had already invaded my one-bedroom condominium in White Plains like some imperial force. Julie and Ella, a cat so big she has her own gravitational pull, gobbled up all of my closet, drawer and even bed space.
They left a trail of blonde hair – human and feline – in every crevice and corner and on every piece of clothing in the condo. And just when they had finished rearranging all of my furniture and taking down all my decorative touches – like the signed Mariano Rivera jersey – they decided to pluck me from the New York mainland and take me to north Brooklyn, that far-off place I had read so much about in The New York Times’ real estate and feature sections.
I rented out the condo to a young woman who had moved to White Plains from Staten Island, that not-so-exotic place I had barely seen mentioned in The Times’ real estate and feature sections. Instead of moving into a new, white picket-fenced home with a yard, we went the opposite way, back to renting this year. We chose the neighborhood of Greenpoint, a tucked away, hard-to-access area off the dreaded G subway line with nonetheless great views of the Manhattan skyline that will soon be blocked by luxury residential towers, part of the overdevelopment of Brooklyn’s waterfront.
Greenpoint, we said, was mutually inconvenient, for me commuting by car up to White Plains and for Julie, commuting by subway and PATH to Jersey City, where she is a creative director. In the ancient times of the 1980s and 1990s, you might seek out a neighborhood for its school districts, access to public transportation or aesthetics. Our goal was to make life equally hellish for each other, one of the bedrocks of a good marriage I’m told.
Torture is part of any romantic relationship, but it’s important that both parties feel equally victimized, Julie tells me. What she doesn’t mention is that she lived in Greenpoint prior to moving in with me in White Plains. And when I say we chose the neighborhood for its mutual inconvenience, what I really mean was she decided it was where she and Ella wished to live. She assured me our rent and expenses, elevated by the word “Brooklyn,” would be offset by the luxuries of having a washer-dryer, central air and even a working garbage disposal. (Eat your heart out and pluck its bits out of the drain, Manhattanites). There is also the has-to-be-seen-to-be-believed roof-deck we have, where we can host barbecues and plant tomatoes when it’s warm while looking across the river at the city’s most iconic skyscrapers.
Julie and Ella used the move from White Plains as an opportunity to rid themselves of even more of my stuff. All of the things that had been taken off the walls or off the shelves were put into boxes and shipped not to our new destination but to storage. Once we got to the new place, Julie decided to celebrate with some new pieces of furniture. We discussed and planned what was best for the apartment. By discussed and planned, I mean she told me what to do. When I disagreed with adding a second bookcase, she took the strategy of revisiting the topic every single night, restating her case for the new piece of furniture. This conversation continued over and over until one day I said, “Fine.”
A similar conversation is going on these days, with Julie wanting to remove the second television in the bedroom. Like my impending male pattern baldness, I know it is only a question of when, not if, Julie will win.
We are under contract for the apartment until September. It’s a one-bedroom and we know it may not be large enough if babies arrive or if Ella continues to eat at her current pace and grows so large that the walk-up is no longer able to contain her. (Julie says Ella isn’t fat, just big-boned. She often comments that the cat looks skinny and wonders if Ella is emotionally fulfilled.)
We have talked about buying something back up in Westchester, where the property taxes are five digits long and people argue less over if their school district is good or bad but more over if it is elite or really elite enough. We’ve looked at real estate listings in other equally mutually inconvenient places in north Brooklyn, where the spillover from the Williamsburg phenomenon is encroaching on the neighborhood, overcrowding the streets and pushing buildings higher and higher – to say nothing of the rents. We get to pay New York City an income tax for the pleasure of dishing out these rents. Meanwhile, everything from car insurance to a gallon of milk seems to be more expensive the deeper we venture into the urban jungle.
With the cost of home maintenance and all the property taxes and fees, we – and many others in our generation, mid-30s – haven’t ruled out continuing to rent. “I want to buy,” Julie says, “but real estate in New York City seems daunting.” She chooses the word “daunting” carefully and I notice she says “New York City.”
We have a lot to discuss and plan. By that I mean wherever Julie decides to go with Ella, I’ll drive them.
Follow Mark Lungariello on Twitter, @marklungariello.