Tell us your Brooklyn war stories

One of our own, done-in by Ikea. Photos by Eric Reichbaum.
One of our own, done-in by Ikea. Photo by Eric Reichbaum.

To a large set of our country’s undergraduates (of whom we know a few), Brooklyn these days is seen as the holy grail of post-graduation locales—a sort of hipster paradise of bloggers, vegans, flannel shirts and facial hair. Misguided and idealistic? Maybe. But surely these future Brooklynites can’t be entirely naive. On some level, they must know that all’s not perfect in their dreamland of outdoor concerts and roving gourmet. And if they don’t, well, then it’s our job to educate them—not to turn our future readers away (never), but to keep it real—to prepare them for the worthwhile hardships they might just face on the way to enjoying all of Brooklyn’s splendor. And we need your help.

We’re looking for your best (or worst) Brooklyn war stories. Tell us your housing hurdles from hell and weeks of supreme broke-ness. Tell us about the time you thought would be the last straw, the job you’re embarrassed to tell your mother about.

We’ve sure got our fair share. Here are a couple of our own, to get you shy ones started:

From contributor Rocky Mills:
The only room I could *barely* afford when I got here was the front room in a railroad apartment.  I had my own entrance, and my roommate blocked off the third room that was the kitchen and bathroom and the second entrance. Without my roommate letting me pass through his dungeon inside, I became a constant creeper in the hallway, either wrapped in a towel or carrying a plate of food.

And from our contributing editor, Tim Donnelly:
I can stand a financial hit associated with moving when it’s expected: security deposit, travel expenses, even clothes for a new job interview. The big karmic skull-fracks that really get me down are the ones when New York is saying to you: “Think you’ve made it so far? Suck on this, jerk.” I had an ill-fated idea of bringing my car into the city when I first moved up in fall 2008. Then one night around midnight it got towed. For a brief moment, I fantasized that it had been stolen instead of towed. But then I came to reality and braced for the ignoble and dehumanizing process of reclaiming my car from the Brooklyn Navy Yard. That weekend, and $200 later, I unloaded the car and drove it back to my mom’s house in New Jersey, where it has sat to this day, through snow, rain, cold and heat, its tow yard numbers still visible on the window. I vowed to never drive in Brooklyn again.

Time for yours. In comments, tell us the moments/days/weeks when the borough almost did you in… but of course, made you stronger (you’re still here, right?).


  1. Peter

    My first apartment in Brooklyn was a beautiful but poorly maintained one-bedroom in Cobble Hill, which I subletted for a song from a guy I happened to meet over a cheese counter I was working. One night it rained heavily, and I learned what it means to never, ever clean your roof drains my light fixtures and stairwells were transformed into a cascading waterfall. I called 911 (after being unable to reach the landlord) and found that the FDNY will not ask a single question before gleefully knocking holes in the ceiling to drain it and bashing the hinges off a steel door to get to the basement to cut the power. I didn’t stay too long after that.

  2. two weeks after my wife and i moved to brooklyn from greenville, sc, jobless, insuranceless, and having blown the wad on first month, last month and deposit, we found out she was pregnant. uh…

    fast-forward 4 years, and now we have two kids and i am part-owner and prinicple of a multi-thousand dollar (before distributions go out) design company. it all works out if you just keep hammering.

  3. My first apartment in BK was in that gray area between Wmsburg and Bushwick. It was only supposed to be a temporary situation but I ended up living there for four years. The first roommate there we ended up kicking out by pretending the landlord’s family was moving back in upstairs – he was that bad. He had taped ripped out pages from rockclimbing magazines all over the walls, and the furniture was fashioned from things found on the street – one chair was made of an old ironing board for a back with a cushion propped up against the bottom.

    Also in that same neighborhood I was walking home from the grocery when I noticed someone following me on a bike. I turned into my street and he kept up, then went ahead of me and cut me off. He whipped out his dick and kept telling me to suck it. Stupidly I ran home and threatened to call the cops, instead of running to the bodega where I knew those guys would chase him away. I never saw him again, thankfully.

    I moved out of there over three years ago and have been happily living in a 4-story walk up near Fort Greene. My old roommate still lives there – I have not been back since.

  4. Being a native of the area, i knew EXACTLY what i was getting into when i rented my first apartment in Park Slope (or so I thought)–I was willing to dodge moms pushing their babies (stroller derby) and sacrifice a bit of hipster cred for safety and all of the conveniences of Brooklyn, ya know dining, night-life, park access–the works.
    So you can only imagine the emphatic blow to my psyche when my bike was stolen from the lobby of my building WHILE it was locked. my building, mind you, which has a whopping total of 8 residents, all who fit the typical slope profile.

    I couldnt even play this off as being a victim of the mean streets–let me reiterate. my bike got stolen from INSIDE my apartment in Park Slope–So if anyone sees a stroller with some killer Peugot tires rolling down to the co-op to go buy some local figs or whatever the fuck people buy in that place, make sure somebody gets punched.

  5. I was apartment hunting and found a beautiful, light-filled 1 br on a tree-lined block. It was slightly above my price range but my realtor called the owner and found that the price had some “breathing room”. When we got back to the office to negotiate, the agency’s manager spent 15 minutes talking with my realtor and making phone calls. Once they both emerged, the manager told me that he spoke with the owner and he “didn’t want to Jew him down on the price. That would offend him.”

  6. Apologies for how long this is, but have no fear — the punchline’s great.

    I’ve stayed in enough horrific European hostels (including a 15-bed room with triple bunks populated almost entirely with foreign undergraduates who gave new meaning to the term “body odor”) to think that I can spend a night almost anywhere. Not so, and I have Brooklyn to thank for proving me wrong.
    My friends and I (disclaimer: one of them is Alex Weisler, of Brokelyn fame) bought tickets online almost immediately after we saw Amanda Palmer was playing a show at the Williamsburg Hall of Music last November. Getting housing for a few days was another matter. Alex’s parents were out for the weekend and didn’t want us using their apartment in Sheepshead Bay while they weren’t there, and we didn’t really know anyone else in New York willing to house four people for the weekend (when not driving stupidly long distances to see punk-cabaret heroines, we all go to Penn State).
    So Alex, in his infinite wisdom, turned to craigslist, where he found a listing for a “weekend getaway” that displayed bright, cheery pictures of a small but charming apartment in Bensonhurst that we could rent on the (very) cheap for the weekend.
    I had never heard of Bensonhurst. I spent last summer living in the Village, and I still had no idea where it was in relation to my usual Brooklyn haunts (read: the Bedford Ave L stop). Whatever, we said. It’ll be an adventure!
    It was an adventure, in the sense that it resembled one of those horror movies where our plucky teenage protagonists spend the night in an abandoned house because “it’ll be an adventure.”
    I woke up the morning we left with an enormous headache, chills and a cough, popped a few Tylenol and figured it would go away soon enough. Seven hours into the trip, we were still lost somewhere in New Jersey, I was swallowing pills like it was my job to stave off my mystery illness, and Alex was next to me in the backseat looking like death. Joy.
    When we finally rolled into Bensonhurst, which looked like a charmless version of Northeast Philly, I was a wreck, Alex was worse, and our “apartment” had been taken over by an NYU student film crew. The proprietor of said urban paradise apologized and said he’d knock a few dollars off the price.
    He should have given us the place for free. Two flights up a staircase that stank of urine and god knows what else, we were shown our lodgings for the weekend: four stained mattresses and a few holey sheets, a kitchen covered entirely in (I kid you not) adhesive sheets of wood paneling and a bathtub layered in grime.
    Alex, by this point, looked like a zombie: red eyes, grey complexion, the shakes. He’d stopped coughing and had switched over to his sick voice: a quiet, pained rasp that he uses to elicit mass sympathy and simultaneously assure everyone he’s fine. He wasn’t.
    We grabbed horrible greasy-spoon diner food around the corner, Alex sat next to me and shook some more, and then we all went back to the apartment only to be greeted by enormous roaches in the kitchen. Hello, friends!
    No one wanted to leave Alex alone in that hellhole, so there was nothing to do but hole up on our disgusting mattresses, sadly drinking Dixie cups of Jack and Coke and discussing how to get Alex home in one piece.
    The next morning, Alex was bright, chipper and alert. “I feel great! Let’s go to Brighton Beach!” he trilled. I could barely hold my head up, but persevered through several subway transfers, pouring rain and cups of borscht in Brighton Beach.

    We had to get to Williamsburg by 8, so we decided to take the G train and transfer to the L at Metropolitan. Gentle readers: never, NEVER take the G train. Don’t be deceived by its seeming convenience, its promise to ferry you safely through Bed-Stuy on your way to hipster paradise. It will stop in some godforsaken neighborhood in between and force you onto shuttle buses that wheel in circles around said godforsaken neighborhood until you’re sick and hungry and cold and shell out $20 for a cab.

    We made it to Williamsburg for the concert, but I was out of extra-strength Tylenol by then and spent half the night on the couch in the basement of the Williamsburg Music Hall, trying to work up the strength to go back upstairs. Caveat: Amanda Palmer did give me a fist-pound when she came down after her set (I must have looked awful enough for her to take pity on me). I could barely drag myself to the car the next morning, but we got back to Penn State in one piece.

    That week I went to the doctor and found out I’d been staggering around Brooklyn with a bad case of mono. Such is life.

  7. where to start- the homeless pole dancer on the JMZ my first day in the city? the nice, clean cut kid on a bicycle who offered his escort services personally? the ex boyfriend roommate who gave the keys to my apt to some random friends of his, who moved in at midnight and gave me the stink eye about leaving? or what about when i crashed my vespa on metropolitan ave, and cars were beeping and squeezing by my road-rashed ass lying on the road… jerks. the film crew running around manhattan ave filming a crazy naked man, who was throwing himself all over the sidewalk. and of course, the sheer nathan barley esque horror that is bedford ave, every time i walk down there. i’m waiting for someone to just out and wear a purse on their head.

  8. to “a” (who lived in that area between wburg/bushwick): hasn’t changed all that much.. i got my ass beat and iphone stolen like three blocks from my house a few weeks back. things get tense around there during the summer, apparently (according to NYPD) because the demographic is like 65 percent people under the age of 20 or something like that.

  9. I was living with my boyfriend when he broke up with me, so I needed to find a new place in a hurry and didn’t know anyone who needed a roommate. I found a studio in Bensonhurst in the very top of my price range and was overjoyed…only to find out one month after moving in that the whole building was bedbug infested…and populated by a lot of suspicious residents who wouldn’t allow an exterminator into their homes…and owned by a hugely negligent landlord. I couldn’t afford to move out, or go to housing court without giving up on NYC and going to live with my parents, so I stuck it out trying to fight them off on my own with varying degress of success for a year. Thank god that nightmare is behind me and I only have bite scars to remember it by.

  10. I first moved into an sub-let from craigslist with a three-legged cat and two rather non-communicative girls. Compared to DC rents, the $650 price tag was a steal. It wasn’t until months later I found out the my leaser had been overcharging me and had left the apartment on a bad note with the other roommates. Luckily, the daily 7 a.m. neighbor’s screaming domestic disputes in the streets made sure I was awake in time to look for a job.

  11. So the other night, famed Brokelyner Alex Weisler and I met up in Brooklyn for the Korean BBQ advertised here the other day. Keep in mind, I have only been in BK 2 other times and both have ended in similar, although not at all as disastrous as this one.
    Upon hearing that the BBQ was 21+, we were saddened and forced to seek nourishment elsewhere. With two others who are picky eaters, we unfortunately had to turn down all kinds of tasty Asian places. We ended up at Pop’s and the gourmet ice cream truck, which turned out alright. We then wandered around Williamsburg and ended up at Glassland’s Gallery.
    Alex was hopped up on the excitement of opening his first tab, the both of us enjoyed one PBR and a “Fancy Drink” each. Which took longer than expected. Being a suburbanite, I rely on NJTransit to get home. My line runs on a limited schedule, one train at 10:35 and the next at 12:48. Now I’m not one to miss a train, but when Alex is around, it seems to happen more frequently.
    Once I realized that it was 9:45 and our window for catching the train was quickly closing, we closed the tab and booked it out of there. After hurriedly leaving Glasslands, we almost boarded the J train headed toward Queens, instead of the train to Manhattan. Luckily we did not. However, not wanting to wait until 12:48 in Hoboken, Alex and I called a whole phonebook of friends to see if any would pick us up and return me to my home and Alex to his temporary resting place. One finally agreed to, but just as we were finalizing out plans with her, the one operating cell phone between the two of us lost power and shut off.
    Being the geniuses that we are, we begged a wonderful Korean bodega owner to use his phone, which he allowed us to under one condition. That we did not use the phone to call Korea. (We didn’t. We called our friend in NY.) She agreed to pick us up in Hoboken, however not knowing how to get in touch with us once they arrived there, we told her that we would be patiently awaiting their arrival in the Dunkin Donuts.
    I am convinced that this would have gone much smoother had I not agreed to meet with Alex in Brooklyn and I have since vowed not to go back. Sorry, y’all.

  12. When moving to my second apartment, I went to a place that seemed normal, with a big common area. But the room I was looking at was up a rickety staircase, with only half a door at the top. Turns out that’s how tall the room was, and it had no windows. There was a mattress on the floor and clothes strewn around. Basically, a tomb. And someone was paying $675 for that.

  13. To the comment above. Yipes. Sorry bout that.
    I make less money here than I did in Texas. I have been and will continue to defer my student loans. I have lived on 75 cents for an entire week. My computer really sucks so I use my roommates alot and ended up entirely screwing up her itunes, a catastrophe that deleted alllll her playlists. Woops. And I’ve had 11 different roommates in the past year, not at the same time.
    Sometimes you have to wonder…and what exactly makes all this worth it?

  14. served with eviction notice by landlord, upon which i discovered that the roommate whom i had been paying had NOT been paying the rent with my money (or bills, either it turns out) for 4 months. Turns out said room-mate is also cooking drugs in his (locked) bedroom. Roommate skips town leaving me with tons of bills (all in his name, thankfully) and lots of sketchy people trying to buzz up into the apt.

    i now live alone.

  15. Forgot to mention at my first sublet I was awakened at 6 a.m. by three large detectives banging on my door. When I opened it up, they gave a collective sigh of relief. They held up a warrant poster asking if I had seen or heard from a former occupant of my apartment from well-before I or my roommates moved in. The poster pointed out that the man was a wanted drug dealer and murderer.

    In my sleep-deprived state (I was working nights then), I said that we get tons of mail from that guy. I, of course, meant “for,” and the police freaked out. When I explained what I meant, the cops gave me the “well, if you see/hear anything…” speech. As they were leaving, the most senior of the three turns back and says, “oh, you might want to reconsider living here. This is a really tough neighborhood. Be careful.”

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