My best friend Janet and I shared a fifth floor walk up apartment on E. 83rd between Park and Lexington Avenues in NYC during our early twenties. The neighborhood was phenomenal, ideal, a combination of serenity and vibrancy just a stone throw from both the Lexington Avenue subway and the majestic Metropolitan Museum of Art. Our apartment was a tiny two room structure, the first room comprised of the kitchen and living room and the second containing two twin beds crammed so close together our toes almost touched. A visitor entering our living room with two bottles of wine under each arm once remarked, “I’ll just put these in the kitchen!” to which I replied, “You’re standing in it.” I remember one hot summer day our window air conditioner dripping rhythmically on the unit directly below us, prompting the downstairs tenant, an eccentric but pleasant woman to pay an impromptu visit pleading, “please, can you do something? that drip, drip, drip is driving me mad. Why the sound is going right through my teeth!” I handed her a pillow to muffle the offending din and politely bid her adieu shrugging the encounter off as typical city living, neither of us no worse for the wear. On the floor above us resided two young men, Dave and Barry, new to the city from the Midwest. Both possessed polite and kindly natures and we struck up an easy friendship often playing monopoly or simply running up and down the stairwell to each others apartments just to say hello or drop off a plate of brownies. . The casual relationship we shared with the boys gave our apartment building a feeling of dorm living and shelved the belief that living in New York meant never getting to know your neighbors. Tuesday was “Beauty Night,” a weekly ritual we cherished involving face masks, pedicures and chilled cucumber slices on eyelids. These do it yourself escapes soothed both body and soul though I do recall an unpleasant incident involving a peppermint foot cream which caused a burning reaction on Janet’s feet. I remember one dateless New Year’s Eve cozily holed up in our apartment watching the entire 24 hour Twilight Zone marathon thrilled to not be out with the hoards attempting to hail a cab on a bitter night. Though it took some getting used to, our apartment’s five floor ascent allowed us the best physical shape of our life and in no time we could sprint up all five floors like marathon runners. An added perk was the old fashioned candy store we frequented only steps outside our front door on the corner of 83rd Street, a neighborhood landmark that has stood the test of time and still serves homemade lemonade and egg-creams. But as they say, all good things must end.
We said goodbye to our fifth floor walk up for a larger apartment in Stuyvesant Town located in lower Manhattan. My dad had put his name on the waiting list five years earlier. “Stuy Town,” as it is affectionately known, allowed more space at a rent controlled price an offer we could not refuse. So we packed up our bags and headed downtown to a two bedroom, elevator building on East 20th Street carrying too, memories bittersweet.
I visited our old fifth floor walk-up last summer, thirty years later and stood on the doorstep, it’s appearance virtually unchanged. I snapped the below photo as a testament to my first apartment and the days of living in New York City. And somewhere right now, I feel one thing is certain. Uptown or down, east side or west, a vacant apartment lies waiting. Awaiting a pair of twenty-something roommates eager to unpack their bags alongside their dreams, maybe in a fifth floor walk up.