A roof over my head isn’t so much to ask — is it?
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A roof over my head isn’t so much to ask — is it?

Ah, New Jersey. It’s a breath of fresh air after my 16-year exile in central Pennsylvania. I never did get the hang of breathing air that I couldn’t see. My story begins almost ‘5 years ago; I lived in Teaneck until, at the ripe old age of 8, I moved to State College, Pa., with my parents. It wasn’t exactly a center of Jewish activity — to this day my mother visits Bergen County a few times a year to stock her freezer with kosher meat. Armed with Internet listings, the local paper, and a cell phone, I began my search for an abode of my own.

I made two trips to the area to look for apartments. On the first, I looked at three buildings. One was a basement apartment in a rabbi’s home. He was a very nice man, but unfortunately, the ceiling was about six feet from the floor. I am 6′ 4", so that obviously did not work. Next, I looked at a very tiny place in Hackensack. Not only couldn’t I stand up straight, but I wouldn’t have been able to fit a decent-sized bed into this one. After that, I looked at a garden apartment in Bogota. It was a wonderful apartment — spacious, walking distance to some small shops and restaurants, and plenty of free parking. There had to be a catch, and there was.

A freight train ran directly behind the building at all hours of the day and night and blew its horn every time it came by. On one hand, I might have gotten used to it. On the other, I might have gone insane and climbed a bell tower with a rifle. I opted to pass.

On my second trip I worked with Realtors. Realtor number one showed me half a dozen apartments, including two-family homes. The first had limited street parking, and I couldn’t park in the driveway. The inside looked pretty nice, and there was a brand-new sofa set in the living room. I asked the landlord if the furniture came with the rental.

"No," she said, "it’s unfurnished. I just bought this," she added, pointing to the sofa, "so if you don’t like it or have your own, I’ll move it out."

Huh? Was it furnished or not? I never did get a straight answer, and the real estate agent shared my confusion.

The next place had a rusty metal fence and a "For Sale" sign laid out on the front lawn. The owner — a heavyset woman who was missing a few teeth — came wheezing to the door to let me in. The foyer reeked of cigarettes. But I journeyed upstairs to look at the rental. It looked like the place had not been visited by a human being in more than a year. A fine layer of dust and paint chips covered the floor and the sole piece of furniture. I quickly made my escape, trying my best to be polite when the owner asked me what I thought.

We couldn’t even find the next place. After a few phone calls, we found what we thought was the right building. The agent went in first, just to make sure. He came back and said he wouldn’t waste our time with this one.

In all, that agent showed me six apartments. Either they were incredibly small, didn’t offer any parking, or the landlord was just a bit crazy — and not in a fun way. There was also an apartment with oven and kitchen counters that looked like they had recently been engulfed in flames.

I later went to visit a large complex, whose manager told me to stop by. I did, and he wasn’t there. I called his cell. He said he was at lunch and would be there in ‘0 minutes. Then he called and said he had car trouble, could we do it another day?

Then there was the apartment beneath one gentleman’s office. After climbing a shoddy wooden staircase that creaked and cracked beneath my feet, I learned that the apartment was inhabited by his mother, who wouldn’t be out for another month. I’m sure she’s a lovely lady, but still….

In the end, I decided to go with a very nice apartment complex in New Milford that — although on the higher end of my price scale — offered a secure neighborhood, nice management, and no train horns in the middle of the night. I decided to sacrifice my wallet to preserve my sanity — a small price to pay, I suppose.

The next time I decide to make a major move a month before Pesach, though, somebody please smack me upside the head.

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