Tuesday, September 06, 2005



My sister, well-meaning, continues to send us on-line listings for available condominiums in Jersey City. They are all aesthetically unsuitable, or far too small, or far too expensive. But constitutionally, I am a renter, not a purchaser. And
after a night spent marvelling at our ability to find an apartment in this neighborhood in the first place, I recovered my equilibrium today.

I have my Powerpuff Girls notepad and my telephone. But hesitation has cost me units; some of these places are gone already. During our last search, listings in the Hudson Reporter recurred week after week as good apartments went unclaimed. I doubt that will be happening this time.

The Windsor Apartments on fully-rehabbed Essex Street are the first to call me back. I'd scribbled down their number without thinking clearly after seeing it on an advert banner. I assumed these new faux-brownstones were priced for far more that we could pay; in fact, I didn't realize that these were rental units at all. During my two years in Downtown Jersey City, almost all new developments have been referred to, derisively, as condominiums. I'm now discovering something that any realtor-in-training could surely have told me: agents will sell where they can, and rent where they can't. Not all of these newly-constructed luxury complexes are playing for highest stakes.

The saleswoman is kind and patient with me. She is from the South, she is only mildly corporate, and she is not sizing me up too harshly. I'm wearing my backup glasses, having stashed the usual cracked and krazy-glued pair at home, in the vain hope of passing myself off as the sort of person who might reasonably live at the Windsor Apartments. Everything here is new and streamlined, including the courtyard pool. I don't swim.

The cheapest one-bedroom unit (The Alexander, my brochure calls it) is spacious and serviceable, but a bit antiseptic. The floor is carpeted and the kitchen is large, but it reminds me more of a chain hotel than the lovely brownstone interiors I spy into on a walk home through Paulus Hook. Unlike Grandview, there is very little attention paid to stuffy neo-con style. Just as the nicest Marriott suites still look like the human resources conference room, the Alexander seems drawn by Scott Adams: luxury for those accustomed to spending time in offices and corner cubicles.

Later, I examine a first floor unit in a gorgeous historic building that I have passed hundreds of times, always wondering what sort of extravagance I'd find inside. The interior turns out to be decorated in Early American Frathouse: chipping paint, bicycles chained to the wall, and a pervasive odor of mildew. The smell is even worse in the apartment itself, a low-ceilinged horror with misplaced brickfaces, fold-open closet doors, and a refrigerator and oven that even Holly Hobbie would have found unacceptable. Some molds are historical -- I am told there are gigantic colonies living in the Upper Peninsula of Michigan that have been there for decades.

Back home with my own mold, I meditate on the notion of luxury. I found the Hi-Vue luxurious because of the stained-glass windows and the spectacular balcony, but the roof leaked and the knobs came off the doors when I turned them. Strangely, I never noticed. An infinitely self-indulgent sybarite, I desire luxury. But it occurs to me that I should ignore the promises of luxury made by realtors, since I cannot depend on anybody to be able to understand my own specific and perverse relaxations. And I can't find my real glasses. Holler if you see me tomorrow, staggering down the street, hands in front of me, feeling my way from apartment to apartment.

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