The Girl with the Lower Back Tattoo - Amy Schumer (2016)
Last year, I bought my first apartment in New York City—an absolute dream come true. I’ve lived here pretty much all of my adult life, but always as a renter, and I’ve always wanted to own a place here. I was born in Manhattan, and after spending the first several years of my life here, I had to admire it from the far reaches of suburban Long Island for the rest of my childhood and teen years. As soon as I could make my way back after college, I did, and I’ve lived here ever since—in almost every corner of this island, I might add. Even after my career picked up, I stayed in New York instead of moving to Los Angeles, like most people in this business end up doing. I will never leave. It’s home, the place where I can absolutely be myself—even if being myself means I have to nest with cockroach carcasses, rat droppings, and even worse, boyfriends.
I fucking love New York. It just makes sense to me in a way no other place does. Growing up in the suburbs wasn’t for me: big houses separated by big yards and fences on wide streets. Big parking lots outside of huge stores. When you’re in the city, everyone is so unquestionably close to everyone else, physically, that there’s no choice but to bump into other humans at all times. It always seemed so cozy in comparison to Long Island. Like in the movie Beaches when they share a shitty apartment in New York and sing Christmas carols. That’s what I longed for when I was a kid, imagining myself as a grown-up with my own place.
There’s more than one benefit to being on top of each other all the time. Everyone has to walk the same streets, smell the same gross hot-garbage stink, and no one gets to be better than or different from anyone else. The painful humanity is everywhere. The fucking queen of England could knock into you on the subway and you’d be like, WATCH IT, CUNT. Hahahahaha. I’ve never called anyone a cunt on the subway. But that image really made me laugh. Someone please make a cartoon of that.
I’ve lived in nearly every neighborhood in all the boroughs of New York City, with the exception of the Bronx and—of course—Staten Island. No offense to the Wu-Tang Clan—I’m on a strict no-Shaolin (Staten Island) policy. So many of the important life lessons I’ve learned are written all over this city—the streets, subways, bars, restaurants, theaters, parks, and comedy clubs. Fortunately, those lessons have all been completely obscured by a fine mist of urine and spray paint, with a confetti of bedbugs and survival sprinkled into the mix. This is the magic of NYC: you’re always starting over and moving fast. That could actually describe a lot of things in life: my relationship with my mom, my career, my digestive tract. I have, in essence, learned nothing, other than to keep moving.
I’m used to moving. I’ve been a comic on the road for over a decade. And before I went away to college, our family changed residences just under ten times. But it’s nice to be in one place now. I love my apartment. It’s full of all the things that make a home homey. In the bedroom, a great bed with soft jersey T-shirt sheets, and of course, my disgusting stuffed animals. In the kitchen, a good frying pan for eggs every morning, and a bunch of fancy teas that I never drink. Also a bunch of wine that I do drink (enough to outlast the apocalypse). And in the living room, there must be a good-size TV. It can’t be humiliatingly small, but can’t be too large either—I don’t need to watch The Bachelor on IMAX. I just need to DVR SNL every week and be able to see the whites of the Bachelor’s eyes. It’s a one-bedroom on the top of a four-story walk-up, and the lobby and hallway are kind of gross and no one wants to visit me because there are a lot of stairs to climb to get here, but I don’t care. It is MINE and it took me thirty-four years to get! For the last ten, I was always renting something, living with a new roommate, constantly moving around and storing stuff at my mom’s place. It’s exhausting to think about how many times I moved and how many landlords I paid more than 50 percent of my monthly income.
I never wanted to compromise and put down stakes in any other city. It always had to be New York for me. I know I can be a flake, but this is one goal from which I never deviated. Even if it meant I had to live in a shoe box, I never cared, as long as it was a New York shoe box. My first New York apartment was on Orchard and Hester on the Lower East Side of Manhattan. It was a studio that cost $800 a month—and it was tiny. A tiny apartment in New York is unlike any other in the country. I’ve gone and stayed with friends who worked as production assistants in Portland, Oregon, who’d describe their apartments as small, and then I would walk into a large one-bedroom with a balcony and think, Fuck you. You have no idea. Small in New York is small for real. Like you can reach over and flush your toilet while standing at your front door, which thankfully has nine locks. And you don’t even have the spare real estate in the corner that is your kitchen to stock some box wine, because the container is literally too big for your fridge. I was twenty-two years old at the time and couldn’t afford the rent on my own, so I put an ad on Craigslist for a roommate. Yes, a roommate—in a studio apartment. Hey, I said I wanted cozy, right? This was it. This is a reality that many New Yorkers have lived. The apartment was maybe about thirty feet by twenty feet, and it was filthy when I moved in. My mom and I scrubbed it clean and decorated it cute. I made the bed with my favorite sheets, and I was in heaven that it was mine.
I got a response to my Craigslist ad from a girl named Brittney who was from the South and coming to the city for art school. We spoke on the phone once and she moved in. I know this sounds like the setup to a shitty horror movie, but she was sweet and clean and we got along great. We never fought. We couldn’t afford cable but we had a little TV, so we watched DVDs of Sex and the City and Will & Grace. Now that I think of it, it may have been the best time of my life.
After paying rent, I could barely afford to eat. Fortunately, we lived in Chinatown, where food can be very cheap. There was a dumpling factory right around the corner from us, and for five dollars you could get a huge bag of them—enough to eat for a week. I ate a record-breaking number of dumplings that year. No nutrition, but delicious. My face would swell and lips would blister from the salt. Because the only way to consume them is by drowning them in high-sodium soy sauce.
The price of real estate—or just the price of rent—in this city can really warp your judgment. Rent is so high and good places are so scarce that sometimes you talk yourself into very bad ideas. Case in point: When I moved back in with Dan after the blackout of 2003, I told myself that my instinct to make it work with an abusive ex had nothing to do with his nice two-bedroom apartment. But of course it did. Not that I wasn’t enjoying folding my Murphy bed into the wall every night. It was a great way to kill the bugs in there and have space to lie on the floor and cry.
Dan was living with his friend Rob at the time, in Murray Hill. Both he and his roommate were children of privilege who could always rely on some rich relative to give them dough when the going got tough, but they had no jobs and no money of their own. The neighborhood was vile, home to young corporate America, shitty bars playing shitty classic rock, and shitty white kids drinking their parents’ money away. I’d take the subway to work and sling rib eyes all day at the steakhouse in Grand Central Terminal while Dan would do God-knows-what. He tried his best to be reliably sane for a while, but he eventually started acting nuts again and was scaring me. Remember: this was the same boyfriend who pulled a knife on me. I knew it was dangerously stupid to continue living with him, but instead of moving out myself, I convinced him to move home with his mom. Which wasn’t a tough sell because she happened to be a kind person with a dope-ass apartment. Right at the same time, Rob had been invited to travel around Europe with a cousin, but he didn’t want to go and leave his girlfriend, Mary, behind. But Mary was sick of him and was eyeing the apartment, so she convinced him to go. After both boys left, Mary and I lived there alone. I remember the day Dan and Rob were both officially out of the house. Mary and I jumped on our beds like little girls to celebrate our healthy relationship decisions and getting them out of our lives. But mostly I think we were delighted at how funny it was that we’d evicted our boyfriends from their own apartment. The bottom line to this sad story is that I would have done anything to be able to live in the city I loved. And even though “anything” included making a regrettable choice with a dude, I still take it as a good sign that I was persistent enough to fight my way from one gross overpriced domicile to the next.
I was always pushing and struggling for the easiest setup and the cheapest rent. I once shared an apartment with a married couple in Brooklyn who needed a roommate to make rent. Or so they said. They’d give me lots of attention and make me feel really wanted, but I soon figured out it was because they didn’t want to be alone together anymore. I see now that my presence was meant to distract them from their impending divorce. Some couples have a kid to try to save their marriage—these two had a twentysomething waiter/stand-up/actress who ate more than her fair share of pantry items she didn’t purchase. Their tactic didn’t work and they eventually split up, but they helped me get by for a while—so shout-out to that couple who prevented me from having to move back in with my mom or eject myself to the suburbs.
I’d also like to give a shout-out to the single-lady roommate who’d descend the stairs completely naked from the waist down, sometimes to get attention from my boyfriend. Here’s to the old guy who was still living in my new apartment on the day I moved in. My roommate and I had to pack all of his clothing and box up his huge collection of vintage nudie magazines. One of them featured a girl wearing a varsity sweater, and she looked so much like me. The magazine was called Babyface. I was flattered there was a market for girls like me, who resemble that eighties doll Kid Sister or one of the Garbage Pail Kids. Oh, and one more very special shout-out goes to the roommate who invited exactly one-third of Manhattan to our place for a Halloween party, which ended when I found an aggressive dude ass-fucking a woman in a cowgirl costume in my unlocked bathroom.
All in all, the common thread in my sad string of NYC apartments is that I put up with a lot of vermin and weirdness and “coziness” so I could be where I wanted to be. I believe you should fight for what you want. I’m proud of almost every housing decision I made in the sense that they kept me in the city where I needed to be. I wouldn’t have made it this far as a comedian or human if I hadn’t stayed here.
I guess I only strayed from this pattern when I would get distracted by a guy and moving became a dating tactic—a not very sly but surprisingly effective dating tactic. Besides the aforementioned time I moved back in with Dan, I set up a real nice home life with my boyfriend Rick when I was twenty-five. He wasn’t at all ready for us to live together but that didn’t stop me from pressuring him to let me move in with him. I’ve lived with four boyfriends in my life and I’ve tricked each of them into it. It always ended poorly. I don’t think I even wanted to live with Rick, but I wanted him to want to live with me. Being a woman is so fun!
Anyway, Rick and I lived together in Brooklyn in a small but not completely horrible one-bedroom apartment. We’d work hard all day at our respective restaurant and office temp jobs, and then I’d do a stand-up show at night, which I was just starting at the time. Around ten p.m. one of us would make dinner, then we’d watch a movie we’d gotten in the mail from Netflix. We’d drink wine, smoke pot, and eat ice cream. The fridge was big enough to house all of these things! It was heaven. What more is there to life than being stoned and full and having sex, unless of course you’re too full? Anyway, after living together for a while, Rick and I were in love and really excited about each other. We would make each other laugh and gaze into each other’s eyes—and it felt like life was going to be all right. But I was with him during a big turning point in my life—when I got the full-blown comedy disease (which I told you about in “How to Become a Stand-up Comedian”). I had it bad, and the only cure was to get on the road and do more comedy. I couldn’t imagine putting anything else first in my life. Not even a guy I loved. I was also learning that I was an introvert (one of the first things I told you about myself in this book) who worked best when she had large spans of time to herself. So even though the fake-married life was nice for a while, I realized it wasn’t for me. At least not in that moment in time. After we broke up (when I was on Last Comic Standing), I basically lived on the road for a while.
You’d think I would have learned my lesson about living with a guy, but not too long after, I became infatuated with this hot dude from my acting class, Devin, and eventually ended up moving to Astoria just to trap him into dating me. Which worked. But the joke was on me. Not only did I move into the worst part of Queens, but I also got bedbugs, the 9/11 of bugs, which provide both a logistical and existential nightmare when they come into your life. They are nearly impossible to get rid of—so I had to subject my poor elderly stuffed animals to a scary ride in a high-heat dryer. And everyone I knew was quietly reevaluating their friendship with me. This is not an exaggeration and it’s another classic New York story—some people will straight-up take you out of their phone when they learn you have been hit with this plague. But bedbugs aside, there are many beautiful places in Astoria—just not where I lived!
I went to the grossest carpeted gym of all time there. It was billed as being “just for women”—which almost always is code for “subpar.” The whole thing was built on a slant, so when you’d run on the treadmill, one leg would take all the weight. There were a lot of Muslim women in the neighborhood, and they would be on the ellipticals in their burkas while their husbands sat in the lobby area, waiting for them to finish their workouts, staring at the rest of us while they waited. I’ve been more comfortable getting a pelvic exam from a gynecologist with Parkinson’s. Amy, that is unsympathetic to people with that horrible disease and now we are mad and writing about it on message boards. Okay, you’re right, I’m sorry. But relax: my first-ever gyno actually had Parkinson’s and it was awful. He was a million years old, and I found out that he’d died when I went in for one of my annual checkups. The new guy told me the news while his fingers were inside me and my ovaries were being squished. The previous sentence is also the title of my next book.
In defense of the Rick and Devin situations, I think there is a lot to be said for just picking up your things and moving to the neighborhood of the guy you like. When you’re a child, you’re friends with people based on proximity—and I’ve found it’s the same for men. That’s why so many of them sleep with their nannies, because THEY’RE THERE! And besides, I’m still great friends with both of these guys. They’re both amazing actors, and Devin Dane (hahaha, his real name is Kevin Kane) has become my working partner in everything I do.
I feel like I could write a whole book on all the gross, weird places I’ve lived and all the bizarre or wonderful roommates I’ve had. Each place was just a temporary stop on the road to getting me where I wanted to be. I never quit moving and I didn’t bother getting too comfortable because I wanted to be ready for whatever came next.
Now that I finally own a place, maybe I will stay for a while. I have everything I need. I even live near a small body of water, where I like to do my preferred form of exercise—a long geriatric walk while nibbling on a scone. And, guys, I got a wine refrigerator for my kitchen! (Is that not relatable? Have I sold out from my days of drinking single-serving box wine with a straw? No, because I still drink those too. It’s just that I recently learned that I drink my chardonnay too cold, and I didn’t even know that was possible, but now I am dedicating my life to correcting that error!) Anyway, as long as I’m in this city, not too far from my second home (the Comedy Cellar), I’m happy.
I suspect I will never stop moving. Literally. I might live in a few (hundred) more apartments, but they will always be on the same island of Manhattan and I will continue to circle this same pond over and over again, until I am an elderly woman. I know there are probably bigger, better bodies of water in LA, but I’m pretty sure it’s illegal to transport a baked good from one location to another there. Can you imagine walking into a Beverly Hills SoulCycle with a fistful of quiche? I have to do that sometime. But even if they were cool with it, LA would never feel like home to me.