Monthly Archives: May 2011

Packing Rules to Live By

The wedding we attended last night differed from other events in recent weeks because it was close to home so I was able to get ready at home! With so much recent traveling to fancy events, it can be a challenge to remember to pack everything. I am waiting for the day I forget a shoe. Not a full pair, just one.  I knew I wouldn’t forget my shoes yesterday, because I’d have left home barefoot!

Traveling for dressy events requires me to pack choices ensuring that I pack way more than I normally do. You have to remember the dress, the shoes, the undergarments, the jewelry, etc.

I love traveling. Don’t get me wrong! LOVE it. But packing for a formal event requires more thought when packing than a regular weekend away. Typically I am a light packer (maybe too light) and I live by these three simple rules when it comes to traveling:

1. If I forgot it and I need it, most likely I can find it at my destination [Band-Aids fall into this category. I have bought Band-Aids, plasters and Hansaplast (and a knee brace at that) in a variety of countries.]*

2. If I won’t be able to buy it at a local vendor AND I absolutely need it – do not forget it [an extra pair of contacts and my glasses fall into this category]

3. Checked luggage is potentially lost luggage [plus, in the event of a delayed or cancelled flight, you are seen as a less flexible traveler to the airline because it’s an ordeal for them to find your luggage or if you are running late for a connection, you know your luggage will be with you – wherever you wind up. But…after an international trip, I’m usually game to check my luggage. I can do without my dirty laundry for a few days if the luggage goes missing. I just make sure to pack the necessities…again, my glasses fall into this category!]

* I have a permanently packed toiletries bag loaded with everything I would need, including an extra pair of contacts, that is ready to travel at a moments notice (and it’s been used at a moments notice). It’s so ready to go that I just need to remember to pack my glasses. And, of course…there are some random adhesive bandages from various countries in there too.


Tunnel Traffic

There’s nothing more daunting to a commuter heading into New York’s Port Authority Bus Terminal than hearing “Due to a disabled vehicle, please expect delays.” There are also electronic message boards informing commuters of delays.

Without even hearing the announcement, a seasoned commuter, like myself, can figure it out by seeing the length of lines. Lines that normally move at a fast pace – the bus comes, loads up commuters and departs. The next bus comes and does the same thing. It’s a very efficient process. Usually.

If there is a standstill, you can try to figure out how long people have been waiting just by looking at the faces of the people in line. Joining the standstill is daunting because it is a bit of a crap shoot. Will the line start to move? Am I going to be one of those faces in thirty minutes?

I digress. This is what I don’t understand. The Lincoln Tunnel “carries almost 120,000 vehicles per day, making it one of the busiest vehicular tunnels in the world.” Thank you Wikipedia.

Did you get that? IN THE WORLD. That’s a pretty grand statement.

I am going to make an educated guess that most of those vehicles are buses, carrying thousands of travelers. Yet they can’t figure out how to quickly fetch the disabled vehicle to ensure smooth traffic flow in the middle of evening RUSH HOUR?

Granted, it’s a tough job to keep traffic moving and ensure seamless commutes. Which is most of the time. I’m not knocking anyone.  I wouldn’t want to be responsible for getting a disabled vehicle out of the tunnel, or even be that disabled vehicle! I’m sure they have a system down but since I had time to think about solutions on my commute (that was three times as long as normal) earlier this week, here’s my proposed solution.

Caveat: I only know that there are three tunnels. I don’t know anything about traffic planning, routing or any of the other technical stuff that’s probably useful in making general statements like the one I am about to make.

But let’s pretend there is a disabled vehicle in the tunnel. Obviously all the traffic in front of said vehicle can move forward. Everything behind is totally screwed. Well, let’s get all the in front traffic out of the tunnel and have a tow truck planted at either end of the tunnel. Bring that puppy in and tow said disabled vehicle out. This should take mere minutes to clear up.

For further explanation, please see my diagram.

Thankfully, I only take the bus home at night. I wait for the day when the morning ferry is delayed because of too much traffic on the Hudson River.


Sushi Slumber

Are the boyfriend and I the only ones who suffer from sushi sleep, as we call it?

Sushi at dinnertime causes the weirdest dreams.

I wish I could write them down because they would make for great stories.

Anyone want to share theirs? I’ve been in a car that doesn’t stop, I’ve been shot at, I’ve been flying…like Superman, I’ve been snorkeling, I’ve been on endless goose chases, I’ve met famous people…I can’t remember them all, but seriously…this is the stuff sci-fi movies are made of. Maybe?


WHY? Wednesday

Why oh WHY did I live where I did!?

I’d like to think my friends and I had standards. Clearly, looking back on these stories I posted the past few days…we didn’t.

There will be more apartment stories…but be thankful you never lived in a hellhole with me. And if you did, well, we’ve got great stories!


Small Spaces

What you’ll put up with for location, location, location.

My first NYC apartment was in the East Village with two girls I met on Craigslist. The apartment was a converted two bedroom. As in converted into three bedrooms making the only common areas the hallway, the “kitchen” and the bathroom. For three girls on different schedules, it was perfect.

[By “kitchen” I mean two wooden countertops on either side of you and a fridge.]

I’ll never forget my uncle, who hadn’t been to NYC in over twenty years, said, this is where you live? In a room? My bed and my couch all fit in this cozy space. He was flabbergasted. My response was that NYC was my living room!

In another apartment, in the Village, my brother-in-law, who had never seen a NYC apartment, other than the ones that Monica, Rachel, Ross, Phoebe, Chandler and Joey lived in…opened one of my closet doors (which happened to be in the living room) and as he opened it, said, is this your dining room? Obviously once he opened the door, he realized that the apartments featured on Friends were not real NYC apartments.

In that same village apartment, there was no oven. Really, let’s be honest. The kitchen in the East Village looked like a gourmet’s kitchen compared to this one. The ‘kitchen’ here was literally a countertop with some cabinets…in the foyer.

My mom, before seeing the apartment, said maybe it’s an old building (which it was) and maybe the oven is hidden in the wall that you can’t see. Um. Not so much. Under the mini stove, where you would typically find an oven, was a mini fridge. Stainless steel and granite countertops, which was great for um…aesthetics?


Hello, is this the Fire Department?

My junior year of college, I lived in my sorority house. There were nine of us in the house. Every Sunday night, was chore night. There was a chore wheel and each week everyone in the house was assigned a chore for the week.

This particular week, the only eventful chore night, my assignment was the kitchen. So I did my thing. And in my younger days, I sprayed Fantastic directly into the stove top. Some steam came out and then there was a funny smell.

I went to tell the house ‘mom’ – a dear friend of mine to this day – and couldn’t stop laughing. She called the Fire Department and this is the phone call, as I remember it:

House mom – Hello. I live at [address] and we’ve had an incident. There was Fantastic sprayed into the stove top and now there’s a bit of a smell. Is this a problem?

I was not on the phone, so I do not know what the reply was but can imagine because this is the rest of what we had heard…

No, really, it’s not an emergency.

<Pause>

Really. It’s not an emergency.

<Pause>

Um. Ok.

Hangs up the phone and screams “Evacuate!”

Which most of us promptly did. Except another one of my friends had just gotten out of the shower as the phone call was happening. She said that there was no way she was going outside in a towel, and without any makeup if firemen were coming over. Sidenote: It’s so funny because now, she’s one of my most responsible friends.

The Fire Department came. We lived on a main road, so they parked the truck, lights and all, on our front lawn, suited up and went inside. We were all standing on the lawn waiting for the go-ahead to go back inside. But this being a main street, and it being a small town, this was huge news, and we saw plenty of people we knew drive by. 

I think the pilot light had gone out but everything else was fine. I think I got off kitchen duty the rest of the year though.


“No, No, you not moving in until Friday!”

Moving day is always a pain but have you ever tried to move in only to find out that they were painting your apartment?

As my roomie, M, and I were moving into our very first apartment after college, we found the painter there…in full on work mode. He shook his finger and said in broken English: “NO NO, you not moving in until Friday!”

It was Wednesday.

WHAT!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!

So much for our families coming and helping to unpack. They got off easy because we had to move all of our stuff into the middle of the living room, as to not touch any of the wet walls, and then everything had to be coverednow covered with tarps.

We peaced out and headed to a bar. Our landlord put us up in a hotel for a couple of nights. I’ve moved a lot but that was probably the most memorable mess.


Luxury Living

While I’m on a roll with hellish apartments…here’s yet another apartment story, from a different apartment…it’s from my roommate at the time’s perspective and it’s from an old email so it really captures the true essence of the nastiness.

I either blocked this one out of my memory or I was traveling for work at the time. I remember a brown water incident when the pipes in town burst and we couldn’t shower for three days. This was, ironically, not THAT time.

Courtesy of M:

After a long and exhausting day at work, I came home. After laying on the couch for a few minutes I decided to get into the shower. I walked into the bathroom and I am now standing in ankle deep water!

HMMMM! What is this? I turn on the light and the sink is filled with dirt, water and peices of sheetrock. The toilet looks like it has been rained on and underneath the sink is a pool of water -destroying all the cotton balls, Q-Tips, Band-Aids, etc.

I go into the kitchen [yes, we had a landline] to call the landlord and the phone and microwave are both soaking wet. I open the cabinets and I am now wet from the water that came pouring out of them.

The landlord tells me that the pipes burst on the third floor and the water has traveled down into our apartment, but the cleaning service [that the landlord owned] will clean it tomorrow. And he had the nerve to say this was not an emergency.

Everything in the cabinets, kitchen and bathroom, had to be cleaned and moved, so the cleaning people could do their job. Making it grosser was that the water was brown with chunks of sheetrock floaters. This concoction was in our kitchen cabinets and in the bowls and glasses that were in the cabinets.

Sidenote: we had several bad experience with this cleaning service, one being the underwear thievery, the other, when they ‘cleaned’ as we were moving in…which happened to be the day the painters were painting the apartment. Yes,that really happened. More on that in another post.

Ah, luxury living [at the time we thought this was the life – HA] at it’s finest.


House of Hell_Final

Seriously. I wasn’t lying when I had hellish living situations.

Want to explain that the subject of this blog is not a typo. It is, in fact, the final document name of a letter that my roommates and I sent to the better part of everyone who is anyone to help with renter’s rights. This was sent back on July 28, 2005 and nearly six years later still makes the three of us laugh, cringe and wince that we actually made it there for a full year. What were we thinking is right?!

As with all my letters posted on this blog, names have been removed, or use initials, and funny identifying details have been placed [in between these little doohickeys].

I can already hear the gasps when you start reading this letter…

***

Dear All [all is everyone and anyone that would have been in a position to help with renter’s rights – there were many names on this list, as well as cc’d]:

We are writing to have a formal complaint noted on record against our landlord, [landlord from hell who will be referred to as LFH throughout this letter].

Please note we have placed several complaints to City Hall, but as you read on there is not much they can do because of the type of dwelling we live in.

We have had no assistance to date other than sending letters to the landlord from City Hall requiring him to clean up vermin. As you read on, you will find that is probably a minor concern along all of the other disasters occurring in our apartment.

Your help is urgently needed to stop this landlord and others like him.

Also note, we are writing this and copying many different people and departments because our goal is to:

1. Make as many people as possible aware of our situation
2. Beg for help in resolving this situation

With that said, no help has been given, no results have been gotten and we are living in what can only be called an unfit living situation.

As ridiculous as the reality genre has become, perhaps this can be Real World: Hoboken or perhaps Bad News for the Landlord. Maybe Saturday Night Live needs a few skit writers. Well, they can find them in this letter.

Before going to the formal complaint, please know that we have exhausted all of the resources that we know of – the landlord himself and City Hall, to no avail. You are our last resort. Please don’t let us down.

The Situation:

We had telephoned in a complaint earlier in the year, February, 2005, regarding vermin in the apartment. Before that complaint was filed, we had approached our landlord directly about exterminating the apartment after several mice were found in traps that we had set down. He gave us more traps and steel wool and told us that “the mice won’t hurt you. They are looking to stay warm.”  Cute or not, the three of us do not wish to share our apartment with vermin. Therefore, we did not accept this excuse and telephoned the complaint in to the Board of Health, which had sent out a letter requiring him to hire an exterminator to comply with being a landlord in Hoboken.

We have been living with exposed poison and traps, since then, but finally the problem seemed to be resolved, until recently.

We have found half eaten and completely eaten blocks of poison. Traps have been moved and feces have been sighted.

The laundromat workers at [the laundromat the landlord owns on the ground floor of the building we lived in] told us that the [landlord] is out of the country for several weeks. They had not informed us of this themselves and now we find ourselves with a mouse problem coupled with several other issues.

The water leakage has been a recurring problem since we have moved in and with the amount of rainfall expected in the next few days, that leads us to a leakage.

Above the bed in one of the rooms, the ceiling continuously falls each time it rains.  Our landlord’s “solution” to this was to have the ceiling repainted back in November.  A second “solution” was to cover the roof with a garbage bag to hold the rain and prevent further water damage.  Both “solutions” clearly did not work, as they had nothing to do with fixing the ceiling and were merely cosmetic.  Since the time of the repainting, the paint chips fall on the bed, bedspread, and even S, as she sleeps.  This is an unacceptable living condition for one who is paying money for a solid “roof over her head.”

Please note: the health department is sending a NOV (notice of violation) citing unsafe living conditions

Another issue occurred in mid-May 2005, when [LFH] decided to fix the stairs, which had been shaky since we first moved in.  We had complained several times to him that it felt as though the stairs would simply going to collapse at any time.  Clearly not taking this complaint to heart, he finally brought in two “workers” to repair the stairs, some seven and a half months later.  We would have been elated about this, had he informed us when these repairs would be made.  However, he did not.  M came home one afternoon to discover that the staircase leading to our apartment was gone.  In its place were beams and two “workers” constructing what appeared to be the beginnings of a staircase.  With no idea how to get up to her apartment, one of the workers suggested he give her a boost.  Since she had to change to get to work, this seemed like the only option.  One “worker” then literally tossed her through the air where she clung to the upstairs landing, hoping against hope, not to fall to her death.  Upon exiting her apartment some 45 minutes later, she discovered only one stair had been built.  She was now required to climb down the fire escape into her downstairs neighbors apartment to leave, as the “leap of faith” did not seem as though it should be tested twice.  Again, these are not living conditions that any person who is paying decent money to occupy residence within a building, should have to sustain.

Another problem we would like to report, which has since been resolved were lights, Christmas lights, which hang around the awning of the Laundromat. The lights have fallen down and now block the entrance to our doorway. This is a problem that needs to be addressed as soon as possible because the outlets in our apartment are very old and [LFH] himself will not touch them. For example, the lights in L’s bedroom went out a few weeks after we moved in and his solution was to provide a freestanding halogen lamp so that he wouldn’t have to bring in an electrician. Well, if he is afraid of the lighting, we are too. And would prefer someone with a knowledge of outlets to take care of this problem. [Please note: the health department told us to call the department for fire safety and they were called at 3.35pm on Monday, July 18, 2005 and made the fix.

With that said, we have another problem to site.  The bathtub does not drain water when showering.  We have tried everything from Liquid Plumber to Drano to plunging the tub and still, when one takes a shower, you exit from a bath. In fact the water is so high the body would displace the water over the tub if you were to take a bath.  With three girls all having tight schedules in the morning, this makes for yet further unacceptable living conditions.  We are literally forced to shower while standing in the previous occupants water. We have complained several times to our landlord, but he has yet to take action.  Now, when it is at its absolute worst, he is conveniently out of the country. And we are out of the bathroom. We are forced to brush our teeth in the kitchen since the water in the sink fills up without draining – and better yet, we are forced to find alternate showers around town — either at friends’ apartments and at the gym.

Finally, we would like to point out that the Hoboken Housing Authority told us that if there were three or more units in the building, housing would take over. Unfortunately, with only two units in the building, we do not fall into that category. Instead, we are considered a one to two family house and are exempt from a good portion of the housing standards that other buildings need to comply with.  We were told that the city needs to adopt certain buildings and we have not been adopted. With these violations, we would strongly recommend the city reconsider their guidelines.

We would also like to note that between the three of us in the apartment, we are not newcomers to Hoboken. Combined, we have been living in town for over ten years and have been exposed to a variety of apartments, landlords and procedures since each of us has lived in different apartments around town. This is the only living situation that we have all encountered that has no procedure and where the landlord has not a care in the world about his tenants.

We also plan on attending the renter help meeting we were informed of, that takes place at St. Matthew Parish House on the corner of 8th and Washington this Thursday night. They have a drop in center that offers free advice to tenants and landlords.  Hopefully we can be helped, since clearly there are major violations going on here.

In the interim we would like to have this letter on file as a formal complaint by the residents of [our address].

We have taken many pictures of the disasters in the apartment, overturned traps, flooded floors, tubs and broken mirrors that have not been replaced.

We have also attached renters rights act as we have it. We believe Mr. [LFH] is in violation of several of these rights.

Please let us know if there are any necessary next steps to take. Please do not tell us to suck up the next few weeks because we refuse to do it. And he should be stopped – this is unfit living and no one should have to endure what we have.

Best Regards,

[disgusted tenants]


Smoker Stench

Sigh.

With the weather turning nice, we’ve been able to open the windows and the door to the balcony. And then we have to close it. Why, you ask? Someone near us is smoking and the stench is coming into our apartment.

I’ve lived with scaffolding, lived with horrid plumbing, lived with rodents (and I will share those stories) and now I’ve got to live with smoke? I mean, I’m shocked it’s taken this long for me to have this problem show up in apartment living.

The worst part is that it’s hindering my ability to sit outside on the balcony. Which is the BEST part of the apartment. We’ve been sleuthing and we thought it was coming from right below us. The smoke is new, so we figured we had new downstairs neighbors. After I sent a letter to the management company (see below), they were able to “confirm” our downstairs neighbors don’t smoke. That doesn’t mean the apartments next to them aren’t the smokers.

Here’s the correspondence thus far…

My email to the management company (not my first, but my first about this situation):

Hello,

We have a neighbor, directly below us, who chooses to smoke throughout the evening on the balcony. We’re not sure if this is a new neighbor, or they have just recently taken up smoking, but it’s been a couple of weeks and it’s becoming a problem.

We can no longer leave the balcony door or even the windows open as the smell permeates the apartment.  Smoke rises, so it comes into our home. I can’t imagine  we’re going to want to sit on the balcony come warmer evenings because the smell is very unpleasant.

This upsets us because that’s the best feature of our apartment, and I’m sure we’re paying a premium for it, but I simply cannot take the smoke. If this continues throughout the summer, we’re also going to be paying a premium on the air conditioning because we won’t be able to enjoy the breeze off the water if it’s accompanied by the stench of smoke.

Short of going downstairs and making them aware of the situation (which can have several outcomes), as we plan to do this week, have you had any tenants encounter this problem before? We are forced to breathe in secondhand smoke, in the comfort of our own home, and short of shutting the door and windows, it still seeps in. And obviously being on our balcony is out of the question right now thanks to the toxins coming up from below.

Is there anything you can suggest as an option before we go to speak with him/her? Any suggestions you can provide thanks to previous experience you may have had would be appreciated.

Thanks,

Response from the management company:

Hi,

We have experienced similar situations in the past but as [your building] is not a smoke-free environment it can be a little tricky.

That being said, sometimes people are responsive to complaints/requests to limit their smoking or to do it elsewhere but this is usually a problem we have with people smoking in their apartments and the odor permeating into the hallway or the apartment above or below through a bathroom vent.

In any case, I just spoke with your downstairs neighbor and neither his girlfriend nor he are smokers so the cigarette smoke must be coming from another balcony.

If you need further assistance from me please do not hesitate to ask.

My response:

Hi,

I realize this is a very tricky situation. Even trickier, because we were convinced it was coming from straight below. Thanks for checking with the downstairs neighbor on our behalf.

Now I’m at a loss because the smoke is coming from somewhere. Maybe next to the apartment on either side, though I think there’s an empty apartment towards out right. Even so, that former tenant did smoke occasionally but the stench was not nearly as bothersome as it is now.

Will try and figure out who is smoking and reach out to you before we reach out to them.

Thanks,

***

That’s all the correspondence thus far. Am certain there will be more once I can pinpoint the offender(s). Now we’re (okay, it’s probably more me than the boyfriend but whatever) determined to figure it out. Our neighbors dogs pee in the elevator, they poop right outside the building and I can’t do anything about it (really, I have tried). I refuse to let someone ruin the best part of my apartment living in the spring and summer with their damn cigarette smoke. Yes, I realize it’s public property, but it’s making me breathe in secondhand smoke against my will. I cannot go anywhere to escape it because even inside I can smell it with the doors and windows closed. I like sleeping with the windows open. I like coming home and drinking wine on my balcony. I do not like being forced to breathe in secondhand smoke. It. Is. Gross.

But ironically the night I sent the letter was the first night I did not smell smoke. Fascinating. I’m sure this saga will continue because I want to enjoy my balcony! In the meantime, I’ll share some of my apartment woes in upcoming blog posts.