Magic Money Part I: City Living


Whoever said you can’t do it all in the City that Never Sleeps on a salary of $11,000?

At the end of the last century, I lived in a fabulous one-bedroom apartment somewhere between Prince and Spring—in the center of Soho—in the city that’s the center of the universe. It was a real one bedroom, and it didn’t have a shower in the kitchen, it wasn’t secretly somebody’s walk-in closet, and the bed was not above the kitchen. Might I mention it was all my own! After living with a girl who consistently forgot to close (yes, close, forget about lock) the front door to our apartment (in the concrete jungle!), didn’t know that pots had to be cleaned before being returned to the cabinets (I swear!), and, hating me as deeply and as thoroughly as she did, emptied an entire 1-gallon container of milk over and into all the cracks of our parquet floor before moving out (aren’t I lucky to have an extra-strong sense of smell?), the all my own bit was key.

Outside the door of my apartment was everything a Princess on the Town could desire: a view down town of the Twin Towers; a little bar across the street my friend and neighbor, Chanda, and I deemed our “local” bar (à la Cheers, but filled with model-types); beside it, the best sandwich shop in town with a line down the block; and all around, celebrity-inhabitants, like Sandra Bullock and Richard Gere.

OK, so the apartment was not what you would call large. Yes, the whole thing would have fit into Nancy Botwin’s ensuite bathroom, but really, does anyone need a dresser, a sofa, a deep freezer, a desk, and a desktop computer in their bathroom? (I exaggerate a little . . . but only a little). In my sweet bachelorette pad, you shaved by sticking your leg out of the shower and resting it on the sink. It was convenient! Also, mirrors strategically placed throughout the apartment made it feel big and I could always see how my butt looked in my various outfits.

I admit there were other issues. Despite five windows, there wasn’t a whole lot of difference between day and night in there. Perhaps it was because the apartment was on the first floor and overlooked the courtyard (a word I thought adequately described the concrete rectangle below that housed the garbage and the entrance to the laundry room—until The Dentist and Nancy Botwin came to visit and told me they had envisioned a lush quad with sunlight filtering through elm trees) (have I mentioned they don’t leave Agrestic often?). Also, at the beginning of the current century, the apartment received unwanted visitors—as so many Gotham apartments do—but at that point, I was packing up to move on to my next adventure.

In any case, size or varmint or size of varmint hardly mattered in a place where that age-old real estate adage could not be more true—


SoHo, in the day, was that perfect combination of quaintness and chicness, full of buildings that did not overpower you with their size even as they overwhelmed you with the style of their wares. It was not the poor bohemian artist’s home in the 1990s. It was trendy and touristy, sumptuous and luxurious, even as mom and pop shops abounded, and deals could be easily found. Videos, at the local rental place, cost $2.75. The guy pulled out your card—a piece of paper on which he put his rubber stamp with your due date—and then he put a matching stamp on your video, just as the old-school libraries did.  If we didn’t want to wait in line at Tomo sushi, another Japanese restaurant up the street offered 2 pieces for a dollar. Many places were cash-only. There was little of that jostle and frenzy that dominated midtown, and a genuine friendliness extended from Mary, the elderly woman who lived with her elbows in her windowsill in the front unit of my building, to the workers who always paused to say hello, to the well-dressed poodles that politely shared the sidewalk. Despite the area’s popularity, Sunday mornings offered the meditative calm of a vinyasa yoga class. SoHo was on the rise—Prada opened its flagship store, as did Apple; The SoHo Grand had just been built, and an old Astor building was converted into the The Mercer (Hotel and Kitchen); reservations for Blue Ribbon Sushi had to be made long in advance—but it was not quite as big-boxed out as it is today, complete with Old Navy, Crate and Barrel, and Bloomingdales. In short, it was perfect. And I was a part of it.

Ah, Gotham living below 14th. Dinner at Nobu, Cristal at Cipriani, an endless book supply from the Strand, food delivered from Gourmet Garage. There was no place like home.



7 responses »

  1. We had a Mary living in the windowsill of our East Village building back in the 90s. We even had access to the dank, dim courtyard from our dark, dreary first-floor apartment. And oh, the vermin.

  2. Every now and then, SoHo in the early weekend mornings (EARLY, like 730) you can still catch that old world (by which I mean 1998) charm as the sun filters through old buildings and smells of coffee waft through the streets. But by 1030 it’s all over: tourists, Big Stores, Hummers. Sort like being at the Short Hills mall but with cobblestones.

    • Don’t you love that the old world was 1998? I never thought I could be nostalgic about something so recent . . . Too far for me to visit at 7:30am (!!), so enjoy on my behalf! I’ll go by the Short Hills mall and *pretend* I’m in SoHo :-).

  3. Sorry I’m reading this so late, but I am VERY impressed by your crazy roommate’s last revenge. Was it someone I know? -A guy

  4. No, but she would make quite the character in a novel. And our final fight–though not physical (which is why it was all far more novelistic than filmic)–was something I’ll have to describe to you in person, as I’m not in the habit of using such language on the internet (in fact, I’ve reserved such language for this particular roommate and one very nasty counter agent at American Airlines . . .).

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