About Punt King

Punts, Kicks

Other than the aforementioned jump in rent, the new apartment’s only adverse impact on life is the additional commute time.

I’ve gone from a two-decade run on the easiest to-and-from work ride imaginable to one that requires some patience and dexterity.

At the Jackson Heights apartment, I’d make a ten-minute walk to the bus stop for a ten-minute ride on the Q70.

Now on the lower east side of Manhattan, it’s at least a 35-minute subway ride from the new place to the same Q70 stop. It’s 35 minutes if the train is clicking right and potentially much longer if there are disruptions.

I work a 215 PM to 1215 AM shift four days a week. To play it safe, I leave at 1230 PM and have been reaching the airport by about 130 PM. If there’s a hiccup on the train, I have some cushion.

My building sits atop the Delancey Street F train stop. I’m barely exposed to the elements as I go into the subway. I simply exit the building and cross either Delancey or Essex and go down the stairs. If the countdown clock reveals imminent arrival of an uptown M train, I’ll take it instead because it’s empty and I can sit down immediately and get lost in the newspaper.

The M runs local in Queens – which adds a few minutes – but I justify it by starting the trip quicker – and by enjoying a quieter, more comfortable ride. The F is my primary choice , however, and I generally get a seat after lots of people exit at West 4th.

I’ve found going into work at midday to be almost entirely pleasurable and painless because I’m feeling alive from the coffee and I have a fresh bundle of newsprint in my hands.

The return home is a much different story. If all goes well at work, I leave at 1215 AM and make a dash across the 94th St. overpass to make the 1230 AM Q33 run to Jackson Heights. I avoid the Q70 bus from the airport at that hour because LaGuardia’s construction often forces the bus into either a major delay or an unpredictable reroute that leaves those waiting for it at Terminal B high and dry.

The Q33 that picks up on the other side of the bridge is reliably on-time at the bottom and top of each hour. From there, it’s 15 to 20 minutes to the 74th and Roosevelt subway station. Off the bus, I hustle down to the Manhattan-bound platform and look for the F. At that hour, they run about every 20 minutes, so if you just miss one – you’re waiting a while. After about a month’s worth of sample-size, I’m averaging an hour and 45 minutes door-to-door total to get home. I think my record so far is 90 minutes but there have been some nights that have become a real time suck fiasco.

Sometimes you’ll get stuck behind a “work train,” which is a slow moving string of cars pulled by a diesel-powered engine to either remove garbage from the subway or is responsible for moving maintainance equipment throughout the system.

Some nights, there are outages or diversions that are announced and published in advance on the MTA’s web site so there’s no surprise. Other nights, the changes can come out of thin air.

I’ve tinkered with improvisation with mixed success. My favorite go-to move so far has been an all-out effort to reach West 4th by any means possible and then switch to a Brooklyn-bound D which seems to run at a good clip. I take it two stops to Grand Street and emerge in old, old New York for a short, invigorating walk home.

The subway in the middle of the night is not only slower and more unpredictable operationally – it also sometimes hosts a less civil and less businesslike ridership. The homeless population finds relative warmth in the subway and on some nights can form a majority on the E and F in the form of full horizontal occupation of the benches. Worse are some of the heavy end-of-the-night drinkers who can inject anger or volatility into the equation.

Dressed as a regular worker, I’m almost always left alone by the late-night guys making trouble but I’ve learned that no matter what – it’s best not to allow oneself to feel peril. Make eye contact when engaged and offer straight, confident and matter-of-fact answers to queries that run the gamut from requests for money to directions to the bizarre, unintelligible blathering of a junkie.

Many of the lower Manhattan platforms, station corridors and foyers without token booth clerks appear to have become magnets for the hang-out drug guys – and so I’m learning on the go with some of those patterns and paths of least resistance.

The bottom line is that it’s a 24-hour a day subway system in a 24-hour a day city that doesn’t sleep. There’s almost always a highly favorable ratio of regular joe workers and happy out-on-the-towners vs. troublemakers – so you can’t sweat what you don’t control beyond utilization of one’s instincts.
Soon, I hope to switch to an early morning shift at the airport which will make the tough end of the commute the inbound one.

The payoff for this more difficult commute of course is the apartment – and the neighborhood. In addition to the F/M – I have the J/Z on Essex (just below me) which gets me into south Williamsburg, Bushwick and beyond in no time. On the days off, I can go a bunch of different interesting directions with great ease. As I’ve boasted to my friend Marc a couple times, I’m just a four or five-minute walk from the Mercury Lounge which is a favorite place that used to be a bit of a hike going back to Queens after a gig.

-Billed in the program’s intro as “live on tape,” the Stephen Colbert show I attended on February 19 2019 was actually heavily edited. One blunder in particular kept Colbert’s estimated 3.67 million television viewers from seeing what I thought was an egregious and embarrassing quip by the top-rated late night talk show host. About two-thirds into the show, Colbert brought on Schitt’s Creek star/creator Dan Levy for a short interview segment. There was banter about Creek’s meteoric increase in popularity (now in its fifth season) and some fun with the fact CBS requires an explainer graphic every time the work “Schitt’s” is uttered on the network. Where it got awkward was when Levy told Colbert that his character David is pansexual. Colbert didn’t know the word’s meaning and said for him it conjured thoughts of a pan used while cooking. Levy seemed surprised but eased Colbert out of his startling miscue and lame attempt at bailout humor by thoughtfully describing what the word pansexual meant. To spare Colbert widespread humiliation, the program chopped the entire sequence when it aired just after midnight in the East. Also on the program was Andrew McCabe, the former acting FBI director who has written a book about his harrowing time in government under Trump. McCabe had already done the big spot on 60 Minutes with Pelley two nights earlier – so there wasn’t the same intrigue – but Colbert excelled at attempting to break new ground. The audience learned that McCabe’s book was subject to US government review prior to publishing. Also, McCabe believes the NY Times, Washington Post and Wall Street Journal are covering the executive branch with a veracity not ever seen which says a lot given the way the newspaper business had been going up until Trump’s election. McCabe backed away markedly from the 25th Amendment imbroglio that generated so much reaction after the 60 Minutes piece but left no doubt that respected career law enforcement officials are on high alert over this President’s maneuvering and lack of respect for the FBI as an institution. After wrapping up the segment with McCabe, Colbert told the audience that it went way longer than planned. He assured McCabe the interview would remain fully intact but with a commercial break in between. At that point, Colbert recorded fresh outros and intros with McCabe in his chair for later insertion to make the interview whole. Also cut from the show was a really clumsy exchange between Colbert and band leader Jon Batiste that played out at the outset. The Norwegian pop singer Sigrid concluded the show with a full band performance of her catchy tune “Don’t Feel Like Crying.” The comedian Paul Mecurio warmed up the audience at the ice-cold Ed Sullivan Theater (capacity 400) on Broadway and 54th just before the 530 PM taping. Mecurio was funny and helped charge up a crowd that had waited on foot for two hours to enter the theater. I sat in the third row on the aisle just in front of where Stephen did his opening monologue. Most interesting to me was the movement of both the technical and editorial people on stage as the show was about to start – and then as it rolled on. They all worked with the confidence that goes with winning such a coveted time slot.

Soon after I moved to New York City at the end of 1997, it became clear I wanted to remain here long term.

The friends who preceded me here – and encouraged me to take a shot at living in the big city – are all gone now. They cited the cost of living and the state of the public school system as factors for leaving.

For me, the monthly rent loomed as the only threat to me staying. What saved me up until now was a lucky break with the studio apartment I’ve been at in Jackson Heights, Queens for the last sixteen years. It was listed in the Times real estate section back in late 2002. I responded to the ad, looked at the place and paid the guy repping the apartment’s owner first and last month’s rent, security deposit, a big broker’s fee and the cost of a credit check.

I lived on the first floor of a six-story co-op building and loved the neighborhood. My commute to LaGuardia was ridiculously easy – and it became even more so a few years ago when the MTA initiated express bus service to the airport from Jackson Heights via the Q70.

My rent was $850 in 2003. It has gradually climbed to what I’m paying now: $1350 a month. My landlord has been fair. I’ve never personally met her. I just send the check to her PO box. Only twice in sixteen years did I call her seeking help. Once for bed bugs and once for a protracted months-long cooking gas outage. On both occasions, I got little more than lip service and worked through the problems on my own. But on balance, I never got sour about my living situation because I loved the apartment so much. It was perfect – or nearly so.

The wood floors, shower head, kitchen appliances and radiator all worked to perfection. I was a ten-minute walk to the subway station which would whisk me into midtown in another ten minutes.

I was so close to the Mets ballpark, I could get home in time after the game to listen to the post-game wrap-up.

It’s only in the last two or three years that I began getting concerned that I wouldn’t be able to stay forever. There was an obvious and dramatic influx of people with money. In my building. In my immediate neighborhood. At my train stop.

This invasion was really noticeable on my Sunday morning visits to the nearby greenmarket. People were openly discussing co-op unit sales figures and parading their rare breed dogs and fancy strollers while clogging the market’s pathways.

In my building, brand new residents didn’t wait to flex their muscle. They sought to rally pressure on local elected leaders to stop airplane noise (good luck with that). And they moved formally via board action with backing from building management to isolate and embarass longtime Russian occupants who smoke cigarettes in the outdoor common spaces.

My lease was year-to-year with no protection from either ouster or significant rent increases. While my landlord offered renewal each autumn with tolerable, incremental hikes, I didn’t have the slightest read on her long-term intentions. Her letterhead indicates she’s in the real estate business. About six or seven years ago, she intervened on my behalf legally to stave off an effort by my building’s co-op board to get rid of sub-tenants – or residents who did not own their units. Eventually, the composition of that board changed such that the building adopted a more tolerant position toward sub-tenants.

The real fear I had came while seeing neighbohood real estate listings with rent and sales numbers for units similar to those of my size and quality. Since there was no meaningful bond with the owner of my apartment, why would she continue settling for substantially less than what the market would bear?

Concurrent with my feeling of insecurity was a progressive push by the city’s current mayor to force builders to set aside a substantial portion of new development projects for “affordable housing.” It is now a condition of most new construction in the city to earmark a percentage of units at below market rents to people in qualifying income brackets.

Via a web-based lottery system, I put my name in the hat for nearly every opportunity in all of the city’s boroughs except Staten Island. A different mail-in effort landed me on the waiting list for a building at 110th and Amsterdam. Unfortunately, for reasons unknown to me, my position on that list stalled hopelessly in recent years.

I started getting nibbles late in Bill deBlasio’s first term via the Housing Connect site. There was a fifth-floor walkup in Harlem that I got cold feet on because of the stairs. And then a brand new building on the ocean in Rockaway (across the street from Rippers). I nearly acted on the Rockaway chance but then did a few practice commutes and decided I couldn’t handle the really long bus ride to work every day.

Last year, I had a fitful interaction off an invite to advance in the process for an apartment in a new high-rise in downtown Jamaica (Queens), but a series of blunders by the management company handling that tenant search ultimately left my application in limbo. That experience – along with another badly-hosted interview for a building on the west side of Manhattan left me cold on the whole process. I started to feel like the game was rigged. I had decided about midway through last year that my fallback position was readiness for a move to market-rate spots in further-flung neighborhoods with perhaps lesser quality living arrangements. Amazon’s announcement late last year sent further shivers through the renters’ psyche – especially in Jackson Heights which has become front and center as an emerging neighborhood after years of what felt like a best kept secret.

In late October of last year, I had another interview – this time for a new building on the lower east side of Manhattan. The woman who conducted the interview was warm and encouraging about my chances. She noted my longevity at the airline and offered suggestions about how best to present information on certain parts of the application.

A couple months went by and the same friendly woman from the interview called seeking supplementary documentation. My application was now in the hands of city government which makes final inquiries and approvals on tenant selection. During the period from just before Christmas until around New Year’s Day, there were further questions about my finances. And then out of the blue – on the 4th of January – a woman from the real estate management company offered me an apartment. I would be allowed to see it on January 7th but would have to decide on the spot whether to take it – or leave it. If I took it, I’d need bank checks for first month’s rent, a month security and one for $25 for the carbon monoxide detector.

All of a sudden, I had four days to decide whether to make a move with significant implications on all life’s fronts.

My income put me in two categories of contention for a studio apartment and the one I was offered was in the much higher cost tier. The rent is $1967 a month! My annual income is on the flat bottom to qualify. More ideally, I would have been offered the same apartment sitting near the top of a lower income tier but that didn’t happen.

So, I looked at the apartment on that Tuesday. It’s small but new and has a view that will never get old. I said “YES,” signed a lease effective immediately and started sleeping here on the 22nd of January.

I handed off the keys of my cleaned-out old apartment in Jackson Heights on the Tuesday after the Super Bowl. The landlord was totally cool about the hasty exit. She graciously accepted my explanation for leaving and my offer to forfeit a good chunk of change on the way out the door.

With little time between the job and all the detail work associated with the move, the last six weeks or so have been a blur.

The new rent number is an imposing one for sure but the key to this decision is that the rent is “stablized,” which provides government-imposed protection on the level of future increases.

Set aside the fact that I’m now living on the lower east side of Manhattan. The way rents are going all across the city means the market will make my rent look more and more “affordable” as time goes by.

$1967 is a lot now. And it will be a lot in five years for an hourly airport worker. But at least there’s some form of a harness on it which I didn’t have at the market rate apartment.

I only got the internet hooked up last week and have started to sleep a little better now that I’m settling in.

I’ve always wanted to live in Manhattan and now I’m here. I’m very excited about learning and living and seeing and experiencing the old streets and businesses and people who comprise the Lower East Side.

I can’t stop looking out my window.

Much more to come on this new chapter…