Virtual Voices

N.Y. Journal: Apartment life contentment

Culture

When it comes to apartments, New Yorkers are actually content with very little. I moved this week. Our old apartment was a second-floor walk-up with laundry a block away. The oven didn't work at all. The air conditioner didn't really waft cold air into the bedrooms. The bathroom door didn't quite shut and you had to flush the toilet twice. Our windows faced a cement courtyard and our stoop was always covered with people drinking Budweiser from the biggest Budweiser cans I had seen. And I paid more in rent than a friend in Portland paid for a whole house.

But I lived there for 15 month barely noticing any of this. I cooked food in a toaster oven, flushed the toilet twice, and picked my way around the beer cans without giving it a second thought. When people asked if I felt safe, I would always say that I just chose not to think about it.

It was only when we found a new apartment, a month before we moved, that I suddenly became unbearably discontent with the old one. I knew that one month away there was an apartment in a newly built building where I could walk into a nice lobby and take an elevator up to a corner apartment with two windows facing sunlight instead of brick, a balcony, air conditioning in my bedroom, and tenant laundry across the street.

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Suddenly I couldn't tolerate the neighbor whose cough reverberated through the stairway. I noted every McDonald's wrapper and dog dropping left on the sidewalk. I walked past a man urinating next to a car, something I'd walked past countless times before, but this time I stalked into our apartment and fumed to my roommate that it was uncivilized and barbaric and I could not wait to get out of this neighborhood.

So we moved into our new apartment on Wednesday. Now that we've relocated and the euphoria over a working oven has tempered, I suddenly realize that the vacant hospital across the street is splashed with graffiti and gashed with broken windows. The grocery store is farther away, and the laundry costs a little more. It somehow takes me just as long to get to work, despite moving closer. Today there was a group of unbalanced-looking people loitering on the sidewalk and I crossed the street to avoid them.

It reminded me of a graph I saw this week that asked, "How much money do you need?" with the answer, "Just a little bit more than you have." No matter how much money people made, they always said they needed just a little bit more. Contentment was always just out of fingertip's reach. From apartments to iPhones, the more we upgrade, the more impossible it is to tolerate anything less.

Almost makes me nostalgic for the days when I was content with only a toaster oven.

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