The Cost of Living

white linesMichelle Rick

If you don’t live here in the East Village, you all naturally assume that we collectively get up around 10:30 a.m., rearrange our dreadlocks, drink coffee while sitting on a fire escape, admire the worn painted ads on the sides of our buildings, and then begin our long day of dance auditions before our bartending gigs start at 5 p.m.

You imagine that our clothes are beautifully tie-dyed and that our jewelry looks like we sprinkled a Tibetan souvenir shop onto ourselves. You picture us writing poetry on a bed of leaves in Tompkins Square Park, only raising our heads to drink wheatgrass smoothies. You are not wrong about any of this, and we are ALL like this.

However, it has recently come to my attention that real estate in the East Village is incredibly expensive.

Expensive to the point where if a group of roommates were to live in a two-bedroom apartment overlooking Pommes Frites and live the lifestyle described above, said group would need to be about 10 people to afford this kind of East Village abode, and that is not including the upkeep of dreads.

So how are there still people in leather vests and violins walking their French bulldogs up and down Avenue A like they own the place? Why are there people — good looking young people with perfectly faded designer jeans — studying each other’s tattoos while I’m in line at Ninth Street Espresso? Am I missing the East Village forum that tells you when your next paycheck is coming if you live here? Is there some sort of First Bank of Bowery that gives you money that I don’t belong to?

Matt Logan

If we live in a famously artistic neighborhood full of artists who live, breathe, and care for the music and culture of this vibrant neighborhood and (given their hygiene) certainly don’t care about the money, how do they do it?

I decided to do some research and conducted interviews.

“I pay $462 for my rent, never paid a cent more!” said every single guy playing chess on the corner of Avenue A and Ninth street. “It’s really cheap to live in New York City, when you don’t have health care!” said the hostess of Angelika’s Kitchen. “I make six figures here,” said the guy behind the counter at my deli. “I also live in the freezer aisle.” Whatever works, it seems.

But something did not seem right. I questioned further; what cross streets do you live on? How much do you pay in rent? Where is your apartment? Do you have roof access? Can I come over? Can I live with you?

I sulked home, not even enjoying my wheatgrass smoothie, and collapsed onto my roommate’s queen-sized bed. “What’s wrong?” she asked as she steamed one of her skirt suits. I couldn’t hear her because she was on the far side of the room, and her room is the size of a real bedroom. “Are you worried about your next paycheck?” I stretched both of my arms out, a luxury that I could not perform in my own bedroom. “Yes,” I admitted. While she bought me dinner to cheer me up, I conducted more interviews.

“My roommate works on Wall Street. You won’t see him out here though, he gets up very early and comes back after I’m working,” said the bouncer at Blind Barber. “We are perfect roommates.” And how much do you pay? I asked “$800.” He said. “Oh, well that’s what I pay.” I said, and sulked off. Perhaps Craigslist was wrong; perhaps rent was really cheap here in the East Village.

Mobile HomeTim Schreier

The average price of a two-bedroom apartment in the East Village is $3,000 and that’s without a window. As I walked up and down 11th Street, the men and women with cello-shaped backpacks and interesting facial piercings were smiling, laughing, and did not look they were on food stamps.

Then I noticed something funny across the street; early-graying college-prep adults were wearing backpacks and uncomfortably trotting down the street, avoiding eye contact with passersby. Where were those people going? I’d seen them all before, eating in our neighborhood restaurants while I gave an impromptu poetry reading. They were also there, buying me drinks at bars and more often, buying drinks from me at bars. I always thought those people were tourists or from Long Island, or tourists from Long Island, but did they actually live here?

I followed one with a rolling backpack. He bought a falafel on St. Marks then promptly gave it to a sad, sleeping man in an American flag bandana who was nested outside the shop. He bought another, then strolled through Tompkins Square Park to his building on Avenue B. To my surprise, he lived in my building, even though I thought everyone in my building took yoga class with me. At that moment, my roommate came home. “Hi Jeff!” she said. “Jeff and I work together,” she said when I looked at her in disbelief. “Here, I got you some falafel.”

It occurred to me that in my investigation, I had never interviewed myself. How did I do it? Well, I could never make it without my roommate. She pays more because she’s trying to cut me a break while my sculpting career takes off. And then I realized that everyone in the East Village that makes the East Village interesting is actually just living with a less interesting rich person that charges them a cheaper portion of the rent.

From Bowery to the East River, the East Village continues to produce artists and great dance auditioners because of young rich people who are nice enough not to charge any of us real rent. Perhaps they see it as “giving to the arts,” or even “giving to the arts for children,” but it doesn’t really matter to me, because I am one of these people on the lucky side of the spectrum, and until I marry/meet/convince someone who makes as much money as my roommate to live with me and watch the interpretive dances I’m constantly working on, I’m never moving out.