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I was 22 years old and finally getting out of my hometown and moving to New York City.
My acting teacher in New Jersey, Nancy, just so happened to have an apartment on Lexington Avenue, and if I wanted, I could live there for only $400 a month.
Mom drove me up and Nancy met us in her 4th floor walk-up. She greeted us with a big smile and showed me to my room, the first door on the right, which turned out to be the closet. Big enough for a small futon but not a bed. Mom had a blank look on her face. When she supported my decision to move here it was because she thought I had an actual bedroom.
I wasn’t looking at my living quarters. I was listening to the sounds outside. The car horns honking, the tires spinning rain water on the wet streets. I was in New York City. I was living in New York City. I was a New Yorker!
The rest of the apartment was one room. It had a half kitchen against the left wall, a small television on a dresser in front of the window, and a couch, where Nancy slept when she was here.
Mom reluctantly said goodbye and I settled in to my new life. This was the beginning of living my dream.
The next day I went to my new place of work. I’d made a trip up to the city in advance and found a job at a restaurant in Midtown. The manager hired me on the spot and I couldn’t believe my luck. When mom came up with me to visit, we went there for lunch and he said to her, “Your daughter is in good hands.”
I walked into the restaurant and saw my smiling manager’s face. “I’m here!” I told him. “I just moved in yesterday. I’m ready to work.”
The manager informed me they didn’t have anything available right now and good luck.
I was back on the pavement, walking door-to-door with resumes in hand. Each time a restaurant was hiring, there’d be a line out the door to apply. I was good at this part, and quickly landed a job at T-Bar Steak and Lounge, a hoity-toity modern joint with white linens and overpriced cosmos.
I trained with another bartender, and it quickly became apparent I had less experience than I professed during my interview. After two weeks of training and not receiving a paycheck, I never heard from them.
It was my acting teacher who came through for me. She frequented a place close to our apartment, The Corner Cafe. She knew the owner and would be happy to introduce us.
Besnik agreed to hire me. It wasn’t much of a bar, but they needed a “bartender” to pour some wine, make desserts, and serve the few people who sat at the counter.
The pay was abysmal. I worked for tips but didn’t have any customers, while still being slammed with dessert orders and whatever else Besnik barked at me.
In the mornings, I set up the bar before we opened. The phone rang. It was Besnik. He told me he could see me holding that glass. I looked at the glass in my hand, then up at the camera.
“Okay,” I replied.
“I’m always watching,” he said. “Know that I can always see you, Charlie.”
Besnik had a temper. He snapped at me often for not doing things the right way. His brother, Andrei, took a liking to me and became protective. Whenever he was around and Besnik spoke disparagingly to me, Andrei told him not to speak to me that way. Then they would stop speaking English and start yelling in Albanian. It escalated to the point that customers would turn and watch. I never knew what to do, so I wiped down the counters until Besnik stormed off to the basement office and Andrei threw up his hands and walked out the front door, but never without checking in with me first.
“You okay?” he asked.
“Yea, thanks. What did he say?”
“Nothing, he’s an idiot. Don’t worry about him. Pour yourself some wine when you’re finished. The kind you like.”
Each week I watched the money in my bank account drastically dwindle down. I paid Nancy $600 a month: 400 for rent and 200 for acting lessons. She gave lessons to other students in the apartment. One day when she was teaching a student in the morning, I took a shower. After the student left she knocked on my door. I was sitting on my mattress on the floor and looked up when she entered.
“Did you take a shower while I was with a student?”
The answer felt obvious but I said yes, anyway.
She told me I was being rude and couldn’t shower when people were there. I apologized profusely and she left.
When I wasn’t working or drinking bottles of Yellowtail on my bedroom floor, I was attending acting classes or going on auditions. No matter which room I was in, I felt like everyone else knew what they were doing, while I was lucky they even let me in the door.
One day, Nancy canceled our acting session because she had a conflict. I rescheduled to another day and she ended up canceling that, too, so I didn’t see her that month for any acting lessons. I put the $400 cash in an envelope and left it in the freezer, just as she asked me to do.
A couple days later I was home in New Jersey visiting my boyfriend when I got a call from Nancy.
“Why is there only $400 here?”
“Oh, well, um, I didn’t have any acting lessons this month.”
“Is this a joke? How ungrateful can you be? I open my doors to you and let you live in New York City for dirt cheap and you think you can just not pay me?!”
I called Mom crying after that. She said Nancy was a nutcase and I needed to get out of there. She added, “Under no circumstances will you pay her the $200.”
My Great Aunt Jackie lived alone in New York City. She took me to a few nice dinners while I lived there, and now she welcomed me to stay with her for good until I figured out my next move.
I took the bus back to the city when I knew Nancy wouldn’t be there. I didn’t have a lot of things, but to move it all, up and down four floors, by myself, I knew I’d have to take two taxi trips. Instead of walking up to the apartment, I walked to The Corner Cafe and sat down at the counter.
I wasn’t there long before someone sat next to me. It was Nancy’s best friend, who I’d met many times.
“Are you okay?” she asked.
I erupted into tears. She was there to help me move. She had a big SUV and would drive me there in one trip. I tried to explain to her what happened but she didn’t seem to need an explanation.
I stayed with Aunt Jackie for one month and then moved to Hoboken with my boyfriend and three other roommates.
I lasted nine months in New York City.
A new memoir deep dive is here!
I read Love Warrior by Glennon Doyle. I feel more connected to Glennon than any other writer, and because of this book, I’ve figured out the structure for my book.
Until next week,