Thursday, January 13, 2011

Moving (Part 1)

Many people find moving traumatic. But I was never one of those people.

Growing up, I was the opposite of an army brat: my family only moved once my entire childhood -- and that was to a house a few blocks away, which was larger, so we didn't have to throw anything out.

When I went to college, I spent two years in dorms, then got my own place for two years. After I graduated, I lived with my parents while kickstarting my journalism career, rented a few NYC apartments, then bought a place and remained there for 12 years.

Then my marriage ended, and my living situation became....entropic.

In that first year of separation, I lived in three different friends' apartments, surrounded by their stuff. At the last one, which I actually sublet, I went to Ikea to fill in the gaps.

In the next few years, I would come to make that trip to Ikea more times than I could have ever predicted.

Then I got invited to write for season four of The West Wing.
It seemed like a long-term prospect. The show had won Emmys every year, it was in the top 15, and its creator, Aaron Sorkin, was one of TV's few namebrands.

Of course, my divorce lawyer warned me not to take the job because it would probably increase my financial obligations. But I needed the fresh start.

I found a great apartment in a classic West Hollywood building (left). I got some free furniture from a fellow writer who was moving in with his girlfriend and then headed back to Ikea to fill in the gaps.

It hurt to be so far from my kids, but I flew back every month to see them, staying in the sublet I kept going. And when they came to see me, they fell in love with L.A.

The biggest trauma of that move was delayed: halfway through the year, I decided it didn't make economic sense to keep the apartment in New York for once a month visits, I could stay in a hotel. So during a trip back in February I hired a UHaul to get out of my friend's sublet.

Then there was a blizzard.
I found myself pulling an all-nighter driving furniture up to my parents' and to my ex-wife's country house. I remember I went inside to see my former cats and they seemed almost feral.

I got back to the apartment at 5 a.m., drove the UHaul back to the dealer and caught a cab to the airport to catch a plane back to L.A., completely delirious.

Later I learned that I had accidentally left the door to the apartment ajar. Nothing happened, but my friendship with the apartment's owner has never been the same.

And, as it turned out, I should have held on to the place. Because West Wing's ratings tanked, the costs of the show were skyrocketing, and a few months later, Sorkin departed. Seven of the staff's eleven writers, including me, were not asked back.  I didn't land another job for the following TV season, and found myself 3000 miles from my kids with no income to pay for a return to New York.

I ended up engineering several apartment swaps on Craig's List so I could spend more time with my kids.

I got a job in June 2004 to work as the only writer on the Jane Pauley Show, a guaranteed two-year gig hosted by "America's Sweetheart." The girls came out to L.A. for a farewell, and helped me pack up the place (right).

Back in Manhattan, I found an affordable rental in a somewhat seedy building -- no doorman, no laundry -- but it was a three-bedroom, which allowed my daughters their own bedrooms when they stayed with me. So what if my own bedroom had been carved out of the living room?

I splurged on nicer furniture at Crate and Barrel (and, yes, filled in the gaps from Ikea).

Then the show was cancelled after seven months.

Over the next four years, I moved back and forth to L.A. twice more for staffing jobs. Having learned my lesson about moving, I simply mailed myself boxes and sublet furnished places....filling in the gaps with Ikea. It was a good life -- no more snowstorms -- but always felt as temporary as the tattoos Nancy would get at Venice Beach (left).

Of course, part of me found it exhilarating: new experiences, new neighborhoods. And when I think about it, I've never had a job longer than four years, so I'm sure the peripatetic bent is an extension of my freelance mindset.

Which itself was probably a pendulum-swinging reaction to my parents, who never left that house we'd moved to in 1976, and over the three ensuing decades gradually turned it into a virtual 5000-square-foot self-storage unit.

After they both died suddenly within 18 months, my brothers were finally forced to make the hard choices about their stuff -- and our own that we'd let fester there. My brothers took so much they hired a moving van to drive it to the Pacific Northwest; I made off with a couple of boxes, stored a few pieces of furniture at a friend's (and have since told him he can get rid of them). I was kind of glad I had been forced to streamline my life.

But now I had some money from the sale of the house, and started a new job at CNN. It felt like it was time to leave the rental apartment I'd been calling home for over six years, surrounded mostly by college students or families who'd been there forever.

I thought, before I hit 50, it would be nice to really set up a home with my miraculous, lifesaving girlfriend Sydney, who had moved in with me five years ago and saw me through two of the moves back and forth across the country and the deaths of my parents.

So I contacted a realtor to do some casual apartment hunting -- and we fell in love with the second place I looked at, in a new building in Harlem.
In retrospect, I realize all my life I had always lived in old buildings and houses, and somehow the newness helped mark a fresh start. After lowballing and waiting out the sellers, I bought it. (Not without some major trauma inflicted by Wells Fargo Bank. More on that some other day.)

Sydney cautioned me: was I sure I wanted to take this on? Among life's biggest stressors were deaths of loved ones (check), starting a new job (check) and moving. Why voluntarily sign up for another. My feeling? Since I was already numbed, let's just get it over with. 

This attitude, of course, did not really work, since I had forgotten that moving is one of those tasks in life that has no end, only the vast middle. But I wanted a sense of home (and the end of hemorrhaging rent) that comes with ownership. Little did I know what I was in for.

To be continued.....


Cara said...

Ain' it amazing how much time and money can be spent "filling in the gaps" at IKEA? One of the big draws to the place, for me is the siren song of Swedish meatballs with Lingonberry jam. Never again will I make the mistake of letting the neighborhood kids repeatedly jump on one of their patented 'frame beds'. ;-p

JanDev said...

IKEA is a brilliant business model -- wonder if the Swedes are as peripatetic as we are? My first encounter with IKEA was when we moved to Paris, to a 5-room apartment with NO kitchen cabinets and NO closets. Delivery guys (grudgingly) walked our purchases up to the 6th floor; soon after, my husband was sent on an extended business trip to Amsterdam and I was left alone with 6-week-old baby and a pile of unassembled IKEA furniture.

Good luck to you and your new gig!