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to the Dollhouse
hunting, East Village-style. By Lee W. Bailey
by Ellen Weinstein
The way people
talk about it, you would think that finding an apartment in New York
is like questing for the Holy Grail. Horror stories abound, especially
tales of duplicitous and greedy brokers. In my recent move to Manhattan
(I went to Penn; it was inevitable), I decided to circumvent these excess
lipids of the real-estate market by seeking a sublet situationa room
in an already-inhabited apartment. The best sources of listings for such
situations are Internet sites and the Village Voice. I visited
about 10 apartments, mostly downtown. The places in Soho were lamentable,
one a barely standing shoebox inhabited by a gruff man whose main concern
was that sublettors might actually receive mail at the apartment. I looked
some in the West Village, but didnt take well to the existing roommates.
And then I found the Dollhouse.
Dollhouse is an apartment in the East Village. It has four bedrooms. To
reach it, one must walk through the ground floor of a walk-up, exit through
the rear, and cross a catwalk. It essentially lies between two blocks,
very much in the spirit of the demi-story in Being John Malkovich.
When I first visited, I was greeted by a woman Ill call Tina. Tina has
a head shaved except for dyed-silver bangs. Tina has no eyebrows, and
wears turquoise glasses that are encrusted with rhinestones. Tina, a fashion
stylist, is the apotheosis of classic East Village stylethe very look
that in the 1980s informed my mothers general opposition to the neighborhood.
I arrived for my appointment, Tina greeted me cordially, offered me a
drink, and began showing me the place. The common areas are painted pink,
and the aesthetic is equal parts A Clockwork Orange, Evel Knievel,
and Barbies Malibu Dreamhouse. Mannequin parts are affixed randomly to
the walls, as though a bomb has gone off in a Bloomingdales storage closet.
There is an impressive projection television (quality home electronics
are a major plus in sublet hunting).
Tina explained that she has lived in the apartment for three years, and
that the roommates are pretty laid-back and friendly, we descended a spiral
staircase, and Tina threw open the door to the room to be rented. The
room is small and windowless. Think glorified walk-in closet. There are
two other bedrooms (of the fenestrated variety) off the foot of the stairs,
as well as a bathroom. Tina lives upstairs, off the living room, with
her own bathroom. If you had told me that I would soon be living in a
windowless box with a silver-banged fashion stylist, I wouldnt have believed
you. I would have been wrong, though.
a second visit I met the other roommates, whom I will call Tobias and
Josh. Tobias, an architect from South Carolina, was watching That 70s
Show, prone before the image projected on the wall, Budweiser in hand.
He seemed to be the quiet couch-potato typethe kind of guy who likes
his TV trashy and his brew cold. Anything else goes, including alien-like
cohabitants. Roommates are just people to share the remote with. Downstairs,
Staten Island-raised Josh was looking for a new job online. He is a Web
designer fearing that he might be the next victim of a dotcom bomb. Nice
guys, both. They seemed to get along well with Tina, despite their apparent
differences in background, vocation, and hairstyles.
was on this second visit that Tina informed me of the apartments name.
I am immediately drawn to people who name their residencesnot in a faux-English
estate, Davisthorpe-on-the-Heath sort of way, but in a self- deprecating,
fun sense. In Boston, my friends and I called our little street Trash
Alley, because it was, well, littered with trash. Such places assault
the senses at first, but grow to occupy a special spot in our geographic
hearts. I couldnt believe it was happening, but the apartment known to
its inhabitants as The Dollhouse was growing on me.
that week, I visited a third time, check in hand. Tina and I signed an
undoubtedly unenforceable and illegal sublet agreement, by the terms of
which I would pay her rent each month, and give her a security deposit.
Why am I handing over thousands of dollars to a woman whose last name
I just learned? I asked myself. Shut up and do it, another part of
me said. And I did. I moved in a couple of weeks later. Hello Dollhouse,
have now resided in the Dollhouse for several months, and its been a
great experience. The roommates are just as they seemedfriendly but independent.
I love the neighborhood, and bringing friends home has never been more
fun. Kitsch brings out the best in people. Soon, were throwing a party,
which will unite our diverse groups of friends under one candy-colored
finding a place in Manhattan really isnt that hard, and Ive found that
windowless boxes can be pretty cozy once properly decorated.
Lee W. Bailey
C98 currently works at Talk magazine.
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