Iguana in a Hell's Kitchen Apartment
Not sure if I ever shared this story before but it's quite amusing and every once in a while, a remnant of that story comes back and interjects itself in my life. For instance, a friend of mine from New York wrote me yesterday and asked me what the name of the iguana was, in that practical joke I'd played on our friend G.
Herman. The iguana's name was Herman.
But I'm getting ahead of myself.
A friend of mine, G, was looking for an apartment in the city and his preference was Hell's Kitchen. For the uninitiated, Hell's Kitchen is a hood on the west side of midtown Manhattan. In the 70s, you couldn't walk through that place without someone cutting you with a rusty blade or, worse, ejaculating over you. But like most things New York, it became gentrified during the late-Giuliani era and now it's as hip as can be (with a ton of street credibility, which is rare).
Hell's Kitchen is expensive. You can expect to drop eighteen Benjamins a month for a one bedroom that makes my cubicle seem like a mansion. And my friend, while of capable means, was in the process of saving up for the broker's fee, the first and last month and all the other financial penalties one seems to incur upon establishing domicile in Gotham. So G was a couple of months away from actually being in a position to call leeches...sorry, brokers up, flash his cash and get them to find a pad pronto. In the meantime, he would scour Craig's List every day, looking at vacant apartments in HK and torture himself whenever he found something he liked.
"Why are you doing this to yourself?" I'd ask. "Why not wait til you're ready and then start looking"
"I just want to get a feel for what's out there" He'd respond. "Besides, it doesn't bother me" he'd assert, less convincingly.
So of course, evil Basil hatches an evil practical joke. The next day, the following ad appeared in the New York real estate section of Craig's List.
2BR in Hell's Kitchen - $1200
I'm moving to Milan on a grant for a couple of years, to study law which means I'd like to sublet my very cosy Hell's Kitchen apartment to the right person (or persons). Lawyer from the Boston area, fortyish, fully own this property. This apartment is partially furnished and is in remarkably good condition.
So why's the rent so low? Because it comes with a two year commitment and during those two years, I'm looking for someone who can look after my two pets: my English sheepdog, Patsy, and my pet Iguana, Herman. I can't take them with me and I absolutely cannot give them up, so this is the only solution I could come up with. I'd totally reimburse you for their food and any veterinary expenses (they're both in good health, so this would be a checkup every six months or so) but you'd be their primary caregiver while I'm away.
I care more about their welfare than making any money out of this place, so applicants will be asked to demonstrate their responsibility, not their bank accounts.
And I posted it, reasoning that someone who followed CL as diligently as G did would have no problems "stumbling" onto this ad. I then shut down my computer and went home.
The next day, I came into the office and opened my email account:
346 new emails. Four were from friends and 342 were applicants for the apartment. Incredulously, I opened one and read it. The most ingratiating piece of brown-nosing I'd ever read. I opened another one: "I had an iguana growing up, so I think I'd be great at taking care of your iguana". Another one had a picture of an English sheepdog that the sender had apparently grown up with. Yet another told me it would be a "privilege" to look after "Patsy and Herman". My head was spinning at this point.
I skimmed through them and eventually found G's offering to this ignoble affair. His was ingratiating but not as bad as some of the others; he managed to maintain a semblance of dignity, at least. Chuckling, I wrote a reply back to him.
I don't know why but I have a good feeling about you. The fact that you come from my hometown of Boston is, as you pointed out, also a plus (Go Red Sox!). Let's set up a meet-and-greet and see if we can agree on the details.
All the best,
Theophilus S. Hawthorne III
I didn't have to wait long for a reply. My friend wanted to know when we could meet.
Right away! Please get in touch with my representative and he'll set it up. His name is [Basil Fawlty] and his number is [gave him my office phone number].
Theophilus P. Beaushitar IV
Twenty minutes later, G storms into my office. I look at him, wide-eyed but barely capable of containing a wave of laughter that doesn't look likely to subside this century.
"What's the matter?" I asked. "You look like hell!"
"ASSHOLE" he snarled at me. "ASSHOLE!!!"
"Why didn't you tell me you knew him?"
"Who?" I asked, genuinely puzzled by his query. It dawned on me. But it couldn't be...could it?
"The guy with the iguana...he said you represent him!"
I started losing it, of course, but that didn't deter the poor boy.
"You had access to a great apartment and you never told me!" he fumed.
Eventually, I calmed down enough to tell him the scale of my duplicity. He listened and (I swear) his breathing became heavier. He was so pissed off, things weren't right between us for a week.
I'm pretty sure I told this story on this blog before (though I can't find it). But the reasons I'm telling it again is because I just got reminded of it and......I thought it would be fun to reprint, on a daily basis, a new email from the list of responses I got for that apartment. I'm going to start tomorrow. They're all still in a file named 'Iguana' on my Yahoo account and I'd been meaning to print them out and store them somewhere; it seems like a shame to throw away or delete the earnest efforts of so many apartment-hunting New Yorkers willing to suspend their disbelief and parlay their dignity in return for a cheap apartment in a trendy part of town. Not that I would be any different! In fact, I'm grateful that, in this case, the evil genius who concocted this sordid plan and succeeded in dashing the hopes and humiliating so many people, was me.
For a change.
Not that my designs at world humiliation would have ended there, given the right opportunity popping up: my original plan was to do a coffee table book about New York apartments, with images of English Sheep Dogs and Iguanas in a sort of Pink Floyd/ Purple Haze/ Acid-trip design, interspersed with the funniest, saddest, most desperate portions of the email I got. I even purchased the rights to the website http://iguanainahellskitchenapartment.com in case this thing took off, and even spoke to someone in the New York Times about it.
Needless to say, it never went anywhere.