22 yrs, 7 apts

Updated: Nov 16

I went on a major stroll down memory lane and revisited all 7 apartments that I've called home in the last 22 years as a New Yorker. Figured with one last week of living here as a NY state resident, this retrospective would perhaps offer some kind of closure, summation, conclusion, affirmation that I need? What do you think?


So here's to 22 years and 7 apartments because there's nothing New Yorkers like more than to talk about where we live and how much we pay for rent.

Apartment #1: Riverside Drive, 3 bedroom, Columbia Housing, 1998-2000

This was my first NYC apartment right after undergraduate at Cornell in upstate NY. I lived here for 2 years while getting a MFA from Columbia University (useless, jk...sort of ) and shared a railroad-style apartment with 2 other women, one was getting her MFA in Writing and the other was deep in her Doctoral on...I want to say Gender Studies? We all got along and even went clubbing together. I was obsessed with MePa (Meat Packing) back then and super into club/rave culture so naturally, we went to Mother several times. Riverside Drive is beautiful and seeing it again reminded me of how I did NOT appreciate the cleanliness of UWS, the proximity to more trees and greens, and Sakura Park. Why didn't I appreciate this little gem of a park back then? That's the irony of age I suppose. It's always too late by the time you realize the shoulda’s.

Apartment #2: Park Slope, 1 bedroom, 15th Street-Prospect Park

After graduation, I got a job as a web designer for one of the early pioneers in the digital space, Oven. I found this apartment in Park Slope because my boyfriend at the time lived there and I didn’t really know a lot of people. Terrible decision it turned out as the break up was horrible, messy and traumatic. Anyway, this area of Park Slope was not popular back then. There was only a Connecticut Muffin (I was glad to see it is still there and thriving), Farrell's bar (old school dive bar...interesting characters), and an awful, neglected movie theater showing bad movies. I lost my wallet in that theater once and came back within 15 minutes to retrieve it and whoever found it had stolen all my cash but left my ATM card. The theater is now a fancy Nitehawk theater!


Then a new boyfriend moved in here with me. Think I lived here maybe 2 years? 3 tops. It was here when 911 happened. I was getting ready to go to work when my Mom called me. "Did you see what's on the news?" She asked. I didn’t and I was annoyed that she called and interrupted my getting ready. I ended up not being able to go to work for 2 weeks because we were located one street north of Canal. Those 2 weeks were weird...Everyone wanted to be together, even strangers, like no one could bear to be alone with their thoughts and the horror of what happened to the people so all the restaurants were overbrimming with people just needing to be around each other. I met up with co-workers who lived in Brooklyn as well. We took car service to see each other. This was before Uber and those green-cabs. I remember you could see ash floating all the way to Park Slope. Awful.

Seeing this street now I realized I actually couldn't remember which building was mine so I took photos of two - one of them had to be it.

Turns out it was the one below! My mom reminded me and then I remembered that my building was always the crappiest one. The landlord never fixed anything on the exterior, and I was too young to know any better. Today, when I went by I, peeped in the lobby and it was still so run down looking. This front stoop is still the worst looking one on this scenic block. Zero curb appeal. My apartment itself was probably too big for me back then as I had zero furniture other than a bed and makeshift computer desk. The couch I had was a freebie from studio class, a mauve colored couch with cigarette burns and so gross. I found a dead mouse curled up in the drain of my bathtub once. But the bathtub was a claw-foot tub, so that was cool although I didn't appreciate it back then. I did like the bay windows facing the street.

The first solo adult apartment

Apartment #3: NoLiTa, 2 bedroom, Broome Street & Centre Market Place

The boyfriend and I moved to Manhattan! Isn't this photo just so curmudgeonly NYC? This man was real grumpy today and asked me what I was doing. First of all, none of yo biznez. I said, “I used to live here,” and he grumbled, “Liar.” So now he is in this photo and on my blog to remind me what an unhappy time this apartment was for me. I got real sick with obstructed bowel syndrome and was rushed to Beth Israel Hospital and had a foot of my intestines removed because they were twisted and died inside. The romantic relationship was going to shit as well, again, too young and stupid to realize he was so, so wrong for me. The dotcom bust also happened during this time. Many rounds of layoffs from work and I was one of the last to go when the company finally declared bankruptcy. It was here at this apartment that my freelance ninja identity was born - a silver lining from the dotcom bust. Then the blackout of 2003 happened here while I was alone (bf was traveling for his own leisure). It was also during this time that I saw my first burlesque show at Rififis' Starshine Burlesque! I remember coming home and just about to lose my mind telling the bf about this amazing thing I just saw. Oh, neighbors were subhumans in this building. Bf had a couple of altercations and ugly confrontations that didn’t resolve anything, lots of banging on the roof, etc. Bleh. He decided he wanted to move out to his own apartment saying he never got to experience having his own place so I placed an ad on Craigslist for a roommate, interviewed a couple of people, and at the 11th hour, he cried and changed his mind. So we stayed together a little longer here but the unraveling had already begun.

The unlucky apartment
End of dotcom

Apartment #4: Essex Street, Studio

At this 275 sq. ft studio apartment is where I really grew! No surprise the previous boyfriend changed his mind and decided he DID want his own apartment after all and yada yada, we broke up. What a boring story. But what was exciting was taking classes at the NY School of Burlesque with Jo Weldon and Gal Friday! I debuted at the old Slipper Room, kittened for the first time for Broadway Brassy, and started to produce my first show "Dim Sum Burlesque" at West Village's Chow Bar (now defunct). I also think of this apartment as my "Sex in the City" days ;-). I had 3 serious boyfriends plus long term flings, short term flings, and everything in between. I went to London, Ibiza, the Galapagos, the Canary Islands-this was before burlesque took all my moneys LOL.


When I moved here there was only one restaurant Les Enfants Terrible and they were literally putting up the decoration as I moved in. Then Clandestino bar opened next door and I offered to design their website in exchange for free booze. My whole motto back then was "eating good, looking good, and paying no money" - THAT, my friend, can only come from someone who lived through the dotcom boom and bust! I made friends with the owners of Clandestino who remain good friends to this day. This apartment though was the smallest place I've ever lived, TINY, and a 5 flight walk-up. I paid $1000 a month back then. I checked on Zillow pre-pandemic and it was $1700. The building had an odd mix of older Chinese folks and new hipsters who traversed down to this part of Chinatown. It was pretty desolate for a couple of years, then it blew up and it's STILL continuing to blow up with Trader Joes, Target, Essex Street Market, etc. I spent many nights sitting on the fire escape drinking Olde English malt liquor and smoking with a variety of people. I even had a party on the roof. I met my friend Julie on the fire escape one July 4th cause we were both looking at fireworks outside. She and I ended up going to Kenya together for a safari! My downstairs neighbor, Mr. Albert, was an old Chinese man who lived alone. His apartment had not been renovated like ours so it was straight-up tenement style with the bathtub in the kitchen, a dividing window separating the living area from the bedroom. He didn't speak a lot of English and I don't speak Cantonese but he was the sweetest man. He had a home caretaker that came to visit him every other day. One night I came home, drunk, as you do when you are in your 20s, and realized I didn't have my keys. So Mr. Albert let me in his apartment so I could climb out of his window and up the fire escape to get back in my apartment Through my window. After I moved out of this apartment, I heard that he got sick and was hospitalized. I often wish I made an effort to go see him in the hospital but not knowing his last name etc, I never did. Sometimes NYC is like that. You live next door to someone for years and may not know their full name. Then they just disappear. Mr. Albert had a framed black and white photo of a young boy on his dresser, it was an old photo. Not sure if it was him or a son or grandson. Julie and I didn't think he was ever married.

I think it's worth noting that when I lived here, the storefront on the right (where it says "Psychic") was an old Chinese temple dedicated to a fertility goddess. You could pray for fertility or have your fortune told. Maybe the feng shui of this particular storefront is meant for other worlds...The hair salon on the left is still the same, it was run by a really sweet Chinese lady who used to trim my hair for $8. Lastly, below the hair salon was busted one year by NYPD, chain-locked with a giant orange sticker that said it was off-limits for prostitution. It was also in this apartment that Chewie came into my life! Then, later on, Michael, my now-husband but who was just supposed to be a wild, drug-infused one-night stand, moved in here with me for a few short months before we moved to Apartment #5!

My party apartment
Hanging on the stoop with Stella, Julie, and Mak

Ahah... wonder who took this photo

Chewie's first night with me

Chewie on the roof
I wasn't lying!
My bed/futon situation in this studio apartment

Apartment #5: Seward Park Coop, 2 Bedroom, 2010-2017

Being back in this neighborhood even now still stings. I love this neighborhood, one block from the F train, close to Chinatown but below Delancey, and far away from the bars on LES. USPS, grocery store, and my bank were all on the same block. I had friends who lived in this complex and it felt like a community. This was also the first time I experienced the difference between living in just an apartment vs. living in a co-op. In a co-op, people said hello to you in the mornings, you knew your mail person's name, the security guard's name, everyone knew Chewie and greeted her in the hallways, and people helped each other out during Hurricane Sandy especially for the older folks who had difficulty getting up and down 20 flights to get groceries, etc. The night the lights went out during Sandy Michael and I were picking up Chinese takeout across the street. While we were waiting, everything just went black. We were just in the elevator not more than 5 minutes before. Then it was about 2 weeks of no power. Which also meant no hot power. We heated up water on the gas stove and tried taking small baths that way. And during the day we walked over the Williamsburg Bridge where everything was normal. I was also a 4 minutes walk to Nurse Bettie where I had my weekly Thursday night show for 10 years. So convenient getting to any gig! We also had a little balcony-imagine that, a slice of outdoor space in NYC! We entertained a lot of friends at this house and both of our families from Canada and Texas came to visit. I also got married while living here. I knew he was MY person when he started bringing me an iced coffee to bed every morning. He still does this now.

Lots of interesting people lived here or came through to visit people they knew who lived here. One time I came in the side door while Louis C. K. was coming out with a little girl who I assumed was his daughter. He held the door for me while I tried to look nonchalant. This was before the sexual assault allegations came out. The guitar player from GNR supposedly lives here at least part-time. I've never seen him but Michael has.


I miss everything about this neighborhood and living here. In particular, I miss the time I spent with Chewie as she grew into her older years. The co-op had a private garden that connected the buildings together and in this area, I would take Chewie out for a late-night walk after coming home late from a gig. In the winter, she left funny-shaped paw prints in the unmarked snow, and when fireflies appeared I knew summer was just around the corner. She, I, we were so happy here. Our apartment is owned by a retired doctor from Hong Kong. He always asked me when I was going to have a baby, every year! I think he thought of me as a daughter he didn't have. The last time I spoke to him was just last year when he needed to forward a letter to me. Even then he asked how I was and if we had a baby yet. I heard the apartment is still empty due to this co-op's strict and unfair regulations regarding long term subletting. That was why we had to make the heartbreaking (for me) decision to move out, otherwise, our rent would have become $4,100/month.

Looks like I'm outside a hospital. It doesn't look like much from the outside.
Got hitched at City Hall NYC
late winter night walk in the back with chewie. show makeup still on.
Chewie in the summer night
the view we had of east river from the balcony

Apartment #6: Bushwick/BedStuy Brooklyn, 3 Bedroom with shared roof, gym, parking, 2017-August 2019

After looking at many 2 bedroom apartments in Brooklyn, we suddenly realized that the price point did not increase too much between 2B vs. 3B so we went for a 3B for the first time ever. It took a long time for me to adjust to a new neighborhood/borough, I would say I never got acclimated to Brooklyn. There are no Asian grocery stores, there are no Asians really, and that was a big change for me coming from the old neighborhood. Noise from cars zipping down the street became an issue. I also didn't always feel safe walking Chewie at night and I got street harassed pretty much every day walking by the construction sites on my way to the subway. I even called 911 to report street harassment, yes, it is something YOU can do. The building is one of these new luxury condos popping up all over the border of Bedstuy/Bushwick. They offer amenities such as shared roof spaces, laundry/dryer, gym, dog wash stations, and some have even more perks like communal pool rooms and an underground garage for rent. The trade-off for all these amenities? Small rooms, small living rooms, and a very small kitchen. I quickly found that the tenants were typically new college grads on their first NYC job, thus the atmosphere was still dorm-like. People left their laundry in the washer/dryer for hours. People partied on the roof and left beer cans and trash all over. No one acknowledged each other even when you were standing in the elevator together. Some tenants were just kinda too millennial for me. There were a couple of other neighbors who were older and they were more humanlike. The parking downstairs was very convenient, we were able to roll in and just go straight home. I think this is when we both started craving more space, a parking garage, and less noise. However, because the building is new, the window insulation was excellent.

Chewie died here. Most of the time spent in this place was caring for her, being worried about her, remotely monitoring her on Chewie Cam from work. 49 days after she died, the camera activated itself around 3 am and made a loud, shrill sound over and over. We were so startled by the sound that we unplugged the unit from the wall. I plugged it back in the next morning out of habit and also because I wasn't ready, and it happened again that night at the same time.


We lived here for just under 3 years.

Outside the very new and fancy yet soul-less building
The haunted Chewie Cam - also taken on my birthday
My first guests at the shared rooftop space: Varla (Left), Minx (Middle)

Apartment #7: Bushwick Brooklyn, 3 Bedroom w/private backyard, August 2019-December 2020

And lastly the "Pandemic Apartment". This is by far the largest apartment I've ever lived in NYC. 3 bedrooms (1 extra-large, 2 smaller), a private backyard, a proper living room separated from the dining room, and laundry/dryer in the unit. And for this I am grateful to have so much room during the pandemic so I could continue to successfully work remotely from home without feeling claustrophobic or lose my shit, to film 4 episodes of "Cooking with Calamity" and many other virtual shows, and to indulge myself creating IGTV content in different parts throughout the house. We were also featured in NYTimes The Hunt.


I am closer to friends in this location so that's been really great being able to meet up with them for outdoor drinks. I could NEVER have anticipated that we would be buying a house when we moved in and signed a 2-year lease. Guess that's 2020 for you. This space is still too fresh for me to have any insight or feelings. Will revisit at another time. This concludes my apartment retrospective, hope you enjoyed it. I hope you take some photos of your apartment. I found myself wishing I took photos of my college dorms, because where you live and lived is a part of your narrative, and without a backdrop to your narrative, where is the story?

Socially Distanct Series. Photo by Milton Arellano.
Socially Distanct Series. Photo by Milton Arellano.

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Fresh Off the Boa

 

Stripping through the American immigrant dream one feather at a time. Sharing my life as a burlesque performer, a NYC advertising Art Director (now remote), a woman of color, an ex-New Yorker of 22 years, a Texan at heart, a foodie, and a lover of vintage culture and glamour. Welcome to Calamity's blog!

© 2020 by Calamity Chang