Nick’s school had had a housing shortage that year (emergency housing not usually associated with that institution), and he was possibly being kicked out of his apartment at the end of the spring. So perhaps I could stay with him, but we shouldn’t count on it. Between his classes and his job, Nick had little time to look for summer housing, whether that meant some kind of apartment with a month-to-month lease (I’m not sure if that really exists in New York) or a sublet. One idea that emerged was staying in the NYU dorms, which people seem to do in the summers, although we didn’t actually investigate it. So come June I must have run home to Maryland for a week or two, and then jaunted back up to New York, a plan having unfolded through no effort on our parts.
In short, we got lucky. It turns out Nick was not being kicked out of his apartment/emergency dorm for the summer, and one of his roommates was moving out, and their school was slow to fill that slot with another student, so Nick’s sneaky idea was for me to squat. I was a squeaky clean suburbanite, so this appealed to me: Living in New York in an apartment I had already visited and was therefore familiar with, rather than leaving it up to Nick to find something on his own, something that could have been a living situation-nightmare the likes of which I’d only seen on TV and in film. And it was a nice neighborhood, if you could call it that. (More in a paragraph.) And further, as much as it was an apartment, it was also a dorm room. Again: safe.
But then there was an element of danger: What if the school found out I was there? Would I be kicked out? Would Nick? Would I have to couch surf all summer, bouncing from apartment to apartment, using up any goodwill I might have had with the cousins and friends-of-family who lived in the Big Apple? But since I didn’t know anyone in New York, this scenario was tantalizingly worrisome and romantic at the same time. (I actually did know a friend-of-the-family in NY, so it probably would have fine, but that option was off my radar since this was to a be a summer with Nick, another 18-year old very much in my boat, doing what college sophomores did in the summer: work.) Plus it would be cheap, and meant I had to do no legwork. All I had to do was to move into Nick’s apartment.
I should note here that Nick’s apartment was unusual. It wasn’t in Manhattan, even though his school was. And it wasn’t in Brooklyn, even though that’s where a lot of cool, artsy people that couldn’t afford Manhattan were moving. It was on Roosevelt Island, a no man’s land that even native New Yorkers don’t know much about. It’s a little sliver in the East River, between Manhattan and Brooklyn. My knowledge of it is limited, but almost no one actually lives there. And with so few residents, hardly anyone is ever outside. From my limited view in 1998 Roosevelt Island boasted two apartment buildings, a mental hospital, a grocery store, a video rental store, a beautiful view of Manhattan, and nothing else. It was isolated.
A single subway stop allowed access to the two neighboring boroughs, (although long term MBTA construction meant that the F train acted only as a shuttle all summer, moving between two stops and requiring an additional transfer). Barely anyone drove cars. No traffic lights. Just one or two roads. You couldn’t even drive to Manhattan, despite the fact that the island itself is directly under the Queensboro Bridge! The lone road off the island takes you to Brooklyn, and then you can turn around and take the Queensboro back to Manhattan. A giant trolley car does ferry people directly from Roosevelt Island over the river and into the city, but this felt more like a novelty ride than an actual mode of transport, like taking a Duck Tour in Boston to get from your hotel to Fenway Park.
Plus the southern tip of Roosevelt Island is abandoned. Maybe there was a power substation there? Much of the island was green, with grass and trees. The two apartment buildings seemed to be mostly students from Nick’s school. The total effect was that of a ghost town. People were there, but we didn’t see them, and everyone left for the workday. It was strange, and I noted while reading books in the park looking out on Manhattan, oddly beautiful. So, yes! What a thrill! I lived in New York City for a summer in college! But no, I didn’t really live in New York. I lived in The Twilight Zone.
What scenario threatened the peace in Nick’s apartment? Tune in next time to find out!