The Not-Trump of the Lower East Side

Welcome to Surreal Estate, a column in which we explore listings and stories from the tumultuous New York City real estate market.

146 Orchard, 5B
? square feet
Nearest subway: JMZ/F at Essex Street/Delancey Street

“The idea of this neighborhood is basically bars, restaurants, and art galleries,” Joe Safdie, an agent with Misrahi Realty, told me as we strolled through the Lower East Side on Wednesday afternoon. We were supposed to visit three apartments that he had listed, but one had rented the day before and one was already under contract. (He generally recommends that clients look at ten to twelve apartments over the course of two, maybe three days.) “Inventory moves pretty quickly.”

According to Streeteasy, the studio at 146 Orchard last rented in 2012 for $2,295 a month—an increase of two hundred dollars in two years. It’s a simple apartment—basically just a rectangle, with two big windows looking out the back of the building. I asked Safdie the square footage, but he demurred. “When it comes to rentals, I don’t like to quote square footage, because square footage can be very deceiving,” he said. “When it comes to buying, then it matters, because you’re actually paying for every square foot. When it comes to rentals, I always tell my clients, don’t ever focus on numbers with square footage, focus on what you need to put in, what you would like to fit in. Can you fit your bed, can you fit your couch, can you fit your TV?”

A Poem by Morgan Parker

The Book of Negroes


You see the commercial on BET
while you’re painting your nails.

The women are only crying.
The cabins are dull. You’re trying

to text this dude. Negro, please,
why sleep when the world so bad.

Twisted golden butt in ash. You crazy.
D’Angelo. Slum Village. That good good

memory of skin. For him you would
be pumice shined to pearl.

He makes you wanna write your name.

Talking to a Former South Pole System Admin

port lockroy flickr
After we ran our piece about the new jobs at Port Lockroy, Antarctica, Sarah contacted me and asked if we’d like to learn about what it’s really like to work at the South Pole.

Tell us a little bit about what you did in Antarctica. What was your job, and what did you do while you were there?

Here’s the basic setup: Nobody owns Antarctica. A bunch of countries operate scientific research stations down there. The U.S. has three permanent stations and occasional summer “off-and-on” stations. When you’re talking about jobs down there, it’s support staff for the science research.

My job was—well, I had a bunch of jobs. I was first hired on as “entry-level computer help desk,” and then I built my skills and kept coming back with better jobs. I did the classic progression from help desk to PT tech to system admin.

What prompted you to go to Antarctica?

As soon as I heard that there were jobs there, I said “sign me up!” Then it took me five years to get in. The U.S. program runs everything through the National Science Foundation, and they hire out the support jobs to the contractors, so it’s just like applying for a job with a private company.

So in terms of money: first of all, before I ask about your salary, I’m going to ask about how your needs were taken care of in Antarctica. Did they give you housing? Did you rent housing? Did they provide you with food and uniforms?

Room and board is provided, so you’re not paying for that. You get cold-weather gear, though you’re expected to bring your own regular clothes to wear underneath. But you get the Carhartts and the parkas and you’re expected to give them back at the end.

“In one hour of chore time saved, Mallon estimates she can make $1,000 for her company. Tech companies have long realized that if you hook up your employees with everything on site, they’ll work longer, more industrious hours. And if apps deliver that same to the home, corporations keep benefiting. Employees can work even more undistracted hours remotely or buy even more on-demand services (like that Netflix binge). The perfect cycle of productivity and consumption is created— and all without ever having to step outside.”#

Bitchin Bajas, "Marimba"

Fair warning: If you press play on this one you are probably going to keep playing it over and over again and again until suddenly an hour has gone by and you’re like, Huh, what have I been doing all this time, oh well, let me play this track once more. It’s mesmerizing, is what I’m saying, and it also puts you in a state where you feel like you’re somewhere else, and what is better than being anywhere but where you are right now? Nothing, that’s what. Anyway, enjoy.

New York City, March 24, 2015

★ The distressing undynamic March continued, more of the same, nothing but February with better lighting. Still a lump of snow was surviving under the shrubbery. Out on Broadway, there was no real shade, only different illumination schemes in the crisscrossing reflected sun. Hair gleamed. The best measure of the sun, though, was the grim chill on descending into the subway. Downtown, the masonry was as stingy with light as the the glass uptown had been generous. Crossing the street into the shadow brought on an involuntary wince. Down by the floor of the eye doctor’s examining room, a space heater displayed wobbly (and blurry) images of ersatz flames and coals. At bedtime, Little Miss Stubborn got on the wrong bus: “It went to Coldland. A country so cold that everybody has a cold all year round.”

The Car Seat

Screen Shot 2015-03-25 at 4.59.42 PMIf I had to choose the single worst aspect of parenting in the first year of a baby’s life, I have a very simple answer: the fucking car seat. Every aspect of it—choosing one, buying it, installing it, removing it, putting it into another car, strapping a screaming baby into it—is totally maddening and utterly exhausting.

The first challenge you will face, alone as parents, just unleashed from the hospital, will be getting your baby home. If, like me, your baby was born at the tail end of a blizzard in Manhattan and if, like me, you live in Brooklyn, well, getting home will possibly be worse than the delivery.

We planned in advance: We researched the best and safest infant car seat (which it turns out is, unsurprisingly, probably the most expensive), and we bought it. We installed the base into our tiny car weeks before Zelda’s planned escape from my womb. We hauled the little seat into the hospital, where a nurse showed us how to strap her little body into the seat. She sat there, strapped in, surrounded by sausage-rolled blankets, seemingly gasping for each breath. We threw the seat into the base which, we’d read, shouldn’t budge “more than an inch” in its position. It budged. We white-knuckled it all the way home. We made it.

We didn’t drive that much after the baby was born, so she never really got a car groove going. She threw up in the car sometimes, she yelled, and I wrestled, often, with the sneaking suspicion that the car seat was improperly installed. Finally, I hired a professional car seat installer, and paid the best seventy-five dollars of my life to find that I was correct: The car seat wasn’t situated correctly. The installer showed me how to get it in and out of the car in seconds flat: You need to move seats and get your entire body into the back seat of the car. You push on the seat with your body, you tug harder than you’ve ever tugged on the seat belt which will be all that stands between your baby and the outside should an impact occur. You struggle and huff and puff. You turn red. And you get that fucker installed properly. And then, before you know it, the little rat has outgrown her first car seat and needs an upgrade.

The Tiny Blue Box That Makes 'The Daily Show' Work

snapstreamWhen you’re watching The Daily Show with Jon Stewart, The Nightly Show with Larry Wilmore, or Last Week Tonight with John Oliver, you often see these comedians contextualize their commentary with short, specific news clips, like John Oliver’s use of a 5-second clip from a Bloomberg TV news show — just long enough to catch a newscaster saying “March Madness now brings in over a billion dollars in TV ad revenue” — in his recent NCAA segment.

Have you ever wondered where these clips come from? Does one Last Week Tonight employee watch hours of TV in the hopes that someone will drop a reference to the annual March Madness ad revenue to fit in with what they’re writing? What about the recent Daily Show Vine featuring “50 Fox News Lies in 60 seconds:” did somebody watch Fox News for days to get all of these clips?

The way these shows compile montages and search through the vast wastelands of cable news every day has changed over the years, with a new technology making the process exponentially easier and more streamlined. It’s a tool that neither HBO nor Comedy Central were willing to talk about, not wanting to pull the curtain back on the magic behind what they do. It allows comedy shows to pull out the tastiest, most hilarious news and political clips for their nightly or weekly broadcasts like they never were able to before, and we’ve got an inside look at exactly how it works.

Domestic Work and Tipping in Tanzania

Dar_es_Salaam_before_duskWhen I first moved into my current house in Dar es Salaam, Tanzania’s commercial capital, my roommate had recently become a godmother to four puppies. These puppies happened in a very Dar way. My roommate, who founded a school for orphaned girls in a nearby town, had taken on a female dog as a temporary boarder. She already had a male dog, who is sadly blind after an encounter with what was probably a snake. The female dog belongs to a German family who wanted my roommate to “take care of her” until they “came back.” As in so many expat stories, that chapter ends with the Germans leaving Tanzania and never again asking after their dog. So we ended up with puppies, as if the accumulated negligence of Dar’s expat community had evolved into an organism that could reproduce.

We’re down to two puppies after two others left for their new homes last week. I miss the departed ones, even though having four puppies rushing the kitchen door whenever I tried to open it probably cost me many hours of starving-induced low blood sugar. It was easier to avoid the kitchen for a while. I haven’t paid for any of their food or vaccinations, so it’s hard to put a more specific price tag on the puppies. I did briefly consider negotiating down my rent because their presence (and that of their waste, mostly in the kitchen) was not really part of the deal, but I’m paying only $550 per month for a basic house very close to the U.S. Embassy, a price that includes utilities and most of our housekeeper’s salary. That’s low for Dar—I’ve written previously about paying around that much for a far less comfortable space. I decided it wasn’t worth trying to impose a tariff on the puppy poop.

Here I should thank the woman who has done virtually all of the puppy care: Stella, our Malawian housekeeper.

“Friends of Cameron said he had inadvertently outlined his private thoughts on two fronts in the unusually frank interview. They said he had made clear that he would like to stand down as prime minister at the end of the next parliament, assuming he is able to remain at No 10 after the election on 7 May…. Cameron’s vivid choice of language in his BBC interview, in which he suggested that two Shredded Wheats were better than three as a way of illustrating that he would stand down after two terms, showed that he had given a great deal of thinking to his plans, according to allies.”#