I feel as if I have already written this story by virtue of other stories of mine that bear upon it: my senior year “zoo” and my year without a telephone, in particular. But, by popular demand (code for Suzy telling me it’s damn well time to get back into the Retro groove), let me focus now on my very first, very tiny apartment.
It required a convertible sofa, as there was no way that a regular bed could be put in there and allow for any other furniture. I used to semi-joke that it had the advantage, when the sofa was unfolded, that you didn't have to get out of bed to go to the bathroom...
Again, I had a wonderful, but exhausting, senior year in college with six roommates, almost all of us with semi-live-in girlfriends, assorted pals who gravitated to the suite, and, impossible not to mention, Carl. Carl was taking the semester, then the whole year off, from Swarthmore and crashed in one of our living rooms. An interesting, witty guy, but one who occupied what one of my roomies would label a very large “eco-space.” He spent a good deal of time playing bridge and smoking dope all night and terrifying sleepy girlfriends who would go off to the bathroom and forget he was lurking out there. At some point when Carl was particularly exasperating, we roomies had a heated discussion about him and realized we couldn’t remember whose friend he originally was. (I still don’t remember.)
So, when I went off to law school at Columbia the next year, I felt it was time to get my own single apartment, and not in a dorm. The latter part was easy, as graduate student housing was virtually non-existent at Columbia then. However, through its housing office, I found a tiny studio apartment in a building on Broadway and W. 108th Street. This was in the very much pre-gentrified Upper West Side of the early 70’s. As mentioned in my previous post about not having a telephone all year due to a NY Telephone strike, the apartment was right above Cannon’s Bar and Grill, a pretty seedy dollar-a-shot joint — but with a (very smelly) phone booth. Cannon’s was occasionally used in Law and Order episodes when they wanted to show a pretty seedy dollar-a-shot joint on the Upper West Side.
Again, the apartment was not only a studio, but a very small studio. (I was able to move to a slightly larger one in the same building the next year.) It required a convertible sofa, as there was no way that a regular bed could be put in there and allow for any other furniture. I used to semi-joke that it had the advantage, when the sofa was unfolded, that you didn’t have to get out of bed to go to the bathroom. (No; I never actually tried it.) The rent, as I recall, was $150/month.
That said, it was MY apartment and I had become compulsively neat at some point in junior high school, so I kept it quite clean and orderly — not that that was difficult. Plus, with a convertible sofa, “making the bed” simply required stuffing the sheets and blanket sufficiently back in that you could close the frame. Unless one were expecting a guest the next night — very rare for me at the time — no one was the wiser. And I appreciated the solitude, albeit being phone-less was sometimes a bit too much solitude. So, while I would typically study at the law school library during the day along with my equally neurotic IL classmates, I really appreciated being able to study in my apartment at night without the multitude of distractions — good and bad — that defined my senior year suite.
And I cooked for myself a fair bit. Disproportionately Hamburger Helper, but so be it. When I got dinner out for myself, I usually went to the counter of Tom’s, an old school greasy spoon on Broadway and 113th with fast service, good burgers and insane waitresses. Tom’s later became legendary as it was used for the exterior shots of “Monk’s,” the restaurant where Seinfeld and his friends would congregate. (The shots were taken at an angle so the “Tom’s Restaurant” sign could not be seen.)
The only downside to my tiny apartment — other than the phone stuff — was that it helped develop in me a sort of selfish isolation that I didn’t realize I had until I went home for Thanksgiving. Then, for the first time in months, other people were telling me when and what I would eat and that I had to be conscious of other people and their lives and schedules again. I quickly re-acculturated; Thanksgiving will do that to you.
p.s. For those who don’t recognize it, the photo I used is from the famous scene in the Marx Brothers’ “Night At the Opera” that takes place in the smallest stateroom in the world. YouTube it if you’ve never seen it. And wear Depends.