back to the Black Table

 A friend called at about 4 p.m. Sunday afternoon. “Will, isn’t it beautiful outside? It’s summer! Have you been to the park yet? And have you seen the women that are out? The breastometric pressure today is way high.”

I slipped off my latex gloves, wiped my sweaty brow with a soiled, swarthy towel and sighed. “No, sorry, I haven’t. I’ve been inside all day. Fuck this guy, man.”

About a month ago, when matters were cruising along at Brill’s Content and my life was just a few steps away from normal again, I let it be known to associates that I was on the search for an apartment. I was almost whole. After six months of living in a state of either joblessness or homelessness (and sometimes both), my life was to be put back together again. I scoured through apartment listings, just trying to find a room, somewhere, anywhere. One day, I received an e-mail from my friend Heather, alerting me to a suspiciously cheap apartment on Manhattan’s Upper East Side. My ears perked, I fired off a witty, charming, don’t-you-just-love-me? e-mail to the guy with the apartment. He called me within 20 minutes and asked if I wanted to come over and see the place.

The guy’s name was Vin. He was about 35 years old, with stringy, long and strategically unkempt black hair, a week’s worth of stubble and a Genesis T-shirt (he would later attempt to explain to me, with varying degrees of success, how Phil Collins ruined the group and that Peter Gabriel was a true visionary on the scale of Bob Dylan, Gandhi and Christ). He began to show me around the apartment. It’s a one-bedroom with a huge front room that served as his bedroom as well as a living room (big wooden screens separated his bed area from the rest of the apartment; quite effectively, I might add). The one bedroom, which I would be renting, was down the hall and set off from the rest of the place. It had two windows, a spacious closet and, perhaps most important, its own door for privacy, a luxury I didn’t have at my twice-the-rent apartment in the West Village. It was clean, nice and perfect.

The front room, however, was a whole other ball of wax. Vin had somehow, for some reason, done everything in his power to shut out all the light in the apartment, hanging odd shawls from the ceiling and draping curtains over the windows. It looked like the section of the zoo that caged the lizards, and though I lack olfactory nerves, I suspect it smelled like it too. It was dirty, dank and repulsive. But I didn’t care. That was his room. I would just be spending time in mine. He could do whatever he wanted out there.

We sat down in the front room for a get-to-know-you session. I told him I was a writer and was looking forward to having a boring life again - New York always seems to find a way to drag you into its drama - heading for work, going home, locking myself in my room to write and leaving everyone well enough alone. He said that was cool. I told him I had a cat. He was down with that too. I had noticed a pack of cigarettes on the table in the kitchen. I told him I smoked too. His face turned to curiosity.

“I should let you know, I smoke pot. I hope that’s OK.”

Hey, man, it’s the ’90s (well, actually not, but you get what I’m trying to say, right?). No problemo.

“Do you want to smoke now?” he asked.

Now, at best, I’m a recreational pot smoker/paranoia purveyor, which is another way of saying that when I’m hanging out with a bunch of people smoking pot, I’ll join in and spend the rest of night wondering if their heated conversations about old Scooby-Doo episodes are veiled references to how much they truly despise me. Ordinarily, the last place in the world I’d want a bong hit would be in the apartment of a guy I’m trying to impress. But I needed this apartment, and he was looking at me as if this were some sort of test.

“Uh ... sure, yeah, I guess, if you’re going to.” And we were off. He fired one up, and I did my darndest to inhale as little as possible (I have become an expert at this tactic, if just because I am wont to begin violent coughing jags). And then we started “conversing.”

“You seem like a nice guy. I think you might be my first choice. A friend of mine was wanting the room too, but he’s kind of unreliable. He pretty much just plays Magic with me.”

Magic: The Gathering?

“Yeah, that’s it. Do you play?”

Uh, no.

“Shame. It’s an incredible game.”

And ...

“I know people will find this strange, but I think you can learn more from one episode of Star Trek: Voyager than from any philosophy book. There’s some serious shit going on there.”


And ...

“I just decided about three years ago that I didn’t have to play the game anymore. I realized, man, that I can be Jim Morrison, yeah!”


“Ride the snake.”

He asked me about Brill’s Content, where I was working at the time, and then he paused.

“I’m in publishing too.”


“Yeah. In fact, you should know this. If you move in here, there are going to be a lot of people who look like this hanging around.”

He handed me a folder. I opened it and, to my shock, saw stacks of black-and-white glossy photos of women. They were like headshots for a casting call. Except the women were naked. And probably about 15.

“Yeah, I work in porn.”

Oh. That’s something. What kind of porn?

“I work for a magazine group. We publish Cheri, High Society, Playgirl and various niche publications.”

Various niche publications?

“Yeah, you know, midgets on tricycles, that type of thing.” (He actually said this).

We both had a cigarette, and then he said he had to meet his girlfriend - this man dates! - and needed to go. He smiled and said he’d let me know if I got the place in the next couple of days. That night, he called me and said it was mine if I wanted it. Two days later, he dropped by Brill’s - a porn editor in Brill’s offices is a surreal image that amuses me every time I think of it - and I handed him a deposit. I was to move in three weeks. And then he vanished.

No matter what I did, I couldn’t track him down. I called his cell phone, I left notes at his apartment, I e-mailed him. Nothing. Finally, the day before I was to move in, he called me, said he’d been in England and invited me to come over to his office (gulp) and hand him the first month’s rent. I left work early and headed over, where I was greeted by him and an odd-looking British woman with fingernails the length of No. 2 pencils.

He cleared his throat uncomfortably. “Listen, Will, I’ve been thinking. There’s this leak in the apartment, and I don’t want to have to deal with it. So I’m moving out.”

Ahem. Um, sir, that could be a problem. You see, I have all my stuff ready to move in right now. And I don’t have anywhere else to live. I thought I was going to pick up the keys today.

“Yeah, what do you think we should do about that?”

It dawned on me what he was doing. He wanted out of the apartment but couldn’t wiggle out of his lease until October. What to do, what to do? Ah, yes, we’ll put the Midwestern kid with the center part and big cheeks in a position where he has to take over the lease, so I can bolt and leave him responsible for everything. His plan worked beautifully.

Sigh. “I guess I could take over the lease,” I told him. I had no choice. He smiled. “That would be great, Will.”

I called him the next morning, trying to organize a time to move my stuff in. He didn’t call back for two hours, and when he did, he sounded harried.

“You’ll have to excuse me, Will. It’s been a busy day. I got married this morning.”

You what?

“Yeah, we decided to go ahead and get it done. We’re moving to England.”

You know I’m moving in today, right?

“Sure, no problem, we can swing that. Just drop by my work and pick up the keys, and we’ll all go up there together.”

By the way, where are you right now?

“Oh, I had to go back to work. The wife’s at home. We may go out tonight, I’m not sure.”

The next time Romantic Vin saw his new wife was while holding the door for me as I dragged in two suitcases. We went downstairs and spoke with the landlord, who clearly didn’t like or trust Vin, but he took a shine to me because he’s also from Southern Illinois. The lease was signed in my name, and I paid the full April rent, with the assumption that Vin and his wife would be out in a few days so I could find a new roommate.

Three weeks later, Vin left. I only knew he left because he wasn’t there anymore. I received no clue from the apartment, because everything he owned was still there.

Vin had told me he would leave some things for me, in case I wanted to keep them once he was gone. I recognized immediately this was code for, “Listen, I don’t feel like throwing all this shit out, so could you do it?” He had left everything. Some stuff was labeled with “Please Leave.” Everything else was just lying there. He hadn’t cleaned the place, he hadn’t even bothered to take the socks and stained copies of Barely Legal out from under his bed.

I mean, the place was a disaster. I don’t know, you tell me: It’s common courtesy to clean your apartment before you leave it, right? Or at least get rid of all your shit? But no, instead, it was on my shoulders. So I’ve been cleaning.

I tell you, readers, I have seen things you cannot unsee. An unspooled condom lying under a stack of Batman comic books. A Hustler video called 101 Horny Nurses (And One Lucky Guy) (complete with some doofus with a dipshit grin on his face wearing a doctor’s overcoat). A notebook full of musings on the unlimited depths of the lyrics of Yes. (Yes!) All of these items were covered in about three feet of dirt and grime.

I’m still on the roommate hunt, and it’s difficult to explain to prospective renters why the entire apartment is surrounded in a cloud of dust. Sure, it’s a nice place, roomy, quite a steal at the price, if I say so myself. But it certainly doesn’t look it now. And I have to have the place cleaned up and spotless by May 1, whenever the new roommate moves in. This asshole dropped all this shit in my lap. Good thing I have this to occupy all my time too, considering I don’t have anything more important to do, like, say, look for a job.

I don’t know what the weather’s like right now in England, but I hope it’s rainy and gloomy and awful, because it’s gorgeous in New York, and I’m not seeing a second of it. Instead, I’m peeling Trojans off the floor and earning valuable practice at fighting off the vomit reflex. All for a room I won’t even be living in.

Isn’t spring the most wonderful time of the year?

Believe it or not, I actually plan on having this apartment cleaned up by Saturday, April 28, when I’m hosting a housewarming party. Readers in the New York area are warmly invited to attend. For details, e-mail me at I figure it would be nice if somebody showed up.



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