Opinion

The Village Idiot: The cost of living

Jim Mullen
Jim Mullen

The apartment prices in Manhattan have plunged, according to a recent Financial Times article. Last year, you needed to fork over $2.21 million for the average apartment, but now, you can scoop up one for the low, low price of only $2 million.

Why are you still reading this? What are you waiting for?! Shouldn’t you be on the phone right now, trying to snap up a New York apartment at a bargain-basement price before it’s too late?

Leave me out of the apartment hunt. For one thing, you couldn’t pay me to live there again. And then there’s the little matter of not having anywhere near
$2 million, nor being likely to get it in the future. Even if the price really plunged – to, say, $1 million – I still couldn’t afford it. There probably are very few people who work at the Financial Times who could afford it, either. So why are they using the word “plunge?” The more accurate headline would be, “Absurdly overpriced Manhattan apartments now just insanely overpriced.”

According to the Kander and Ebb song, “New York, New York,” if you can make it there, you can make it anywhere. But let’s be honest: “making it” is a very squishy term. There are high-profile surgeons who live in tiny Manhattan lofts with Ikea furniture. Married lawyers have to share a bathroom with their kids. Successful certified public accountants have tiny galley kitchens and panoramic views of dirty air shafts. People with Ph.D.s live in sketchy walk-ups. Well-respected artists live in neighborhoods so far off the map that they don’t even have catchy acronyms, such as Dumbo and NoHo, yet.

Have they all “made it?”

Divorces, children, college loans, rent, maintenance charges and mortgages eat up money like sharks going through chum. Not to mention, you also have to furnish that $2 million apartment. And who’s going to clean it? Not that they really get that dirty. The whole point of living in Manhattan is that you can eat out seven nights a week for 20 years and never visit the same restaurant twice. The chef’s kitchen you just had to have in your $2 million apartment will sit there unused.

It’s only Saudi princes and Russian mobsters who own those apartments you see featured in glossy magazines – the ones with two-story windows and views of the park and the skyline. Only rapacious Wall Streeters and their undeserving spawn own apartments with slash-free rooms. Meaning, no living/dining room, bedroom/office, kitchen/bath/weeping parlor for them. Those places are for the help. People like you and me.

“If the Russians had won the Cold War and forced people to live in apartments like mine,” said my work friend, Marie, at a long-ago brunch, “we’d rise against our oppressors and slaughter them with glee. But when we do it to ourselves, we think it’s wonderful. It’s Manhattan!

“What makes it even worse,” she said, “is that I’m second-homeless.” Marie was talking about the plight of many worker bees in Manhattan who were so poor that they couldn’t afford second homes in the Hamptons or the Catskills. The people who are buying those $2 million apartments also have second, and sometimes third, homes far away from the city center.

I called Marie this week to make sure she’d heard the news about all of the bargain apartments that she could be buying now.

“Yeah, thanks for telling me,” she said.

“Thanks for reminding me what a loser I am,” she added. “Do me a favor, would you? Lose this number. Bye.”

You just can’t make some people happy.

• Jim Mullen is a syndicated columnist. Email him at mullen.jim@gmail.com.

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