Does the cliché "diamond in the rough" have an opposite? If it does, it would describe the living room in which I sat. Outside, meticulously maintained brownstones walled off the neighborhood from the rest of Brooklyn. Birds sang, squirrels scurried, and young, white people walked large dogs and larger strollers up and down bright sidewalks.
Yet this apartment rotted like a cavity within an otherwise healthy set of teeth.
But hey: rent-control.
"Why are you looking at this place?" asked Pat, whose name was on the lease. "You could probably afford something in Manhattan."
That was a good question, but it wasn't addressed at me. Pat had double-booked this morning's interview for the roommate share, which would have been awkward had my current hangover not made me too sluggish to give a damn. I should have given several, considering the competition.
The soft-spoken vice president of a prestigious insurance firm sitting next to me replied with a cocky grin, "You know why divorce costs so much?"
"Nope," Pat replied.
"Because it's worth it."
"No frickin' kidding," Pat chuckled. "Want to see the room?"
Mr. Right nodded. I stood up in agreement, mostly because I was on the verge of dozing off.
Pat led the way down a short hallway, opened a door, and gestured. The first thing I noticed when I peeked inside was the soon-to-be-former tenant piled up in the fetal position inside of a sleeping bag. He groaned and waved his hand just a little.
"Hi," I said, "I'm Max."
"Raymond," said my rival.
The tenant grunted.
"That's Sergio," Pat told me. "He's moving out later."
"Pleasure to meet you, Sergio," I said.
As we headed back to the living room, Pat asked, "And what do you do for a living, Max?"
"I don't know yet."
"I see," said Pat.
I may have been only twenty-three and fresh out of school, but I'd heard that phrase spoken with that tone enough times to know exactly he meant. I couldn't afford to scratch this apartment off my list, because it was the last item on it. The good news is, I had no objection to cheating. The better news sat on the bookshelf beside me.
"The Rise of the Son" was a fictional account of the End Times, written by a convicted tax-evader, noted serial adulterer, and beloved pastor named Jimmy Prewitt. A few years ago, while deep in an ironic phase, I'd picked up a copy, because I thought it would be hilarious. It turned out to be spiteful and self-righteous. Right now, it was my salvation. Pointing, I squealed, "I love that book!"
"Really?" Pat grinned. "I've never met anyone who's even heard of it."
"Well," I replied, "you know how the media is when it comes to Jesus."
"No frickin' kidding." He shook his head. "What's your favorite part?"
"That the Surgeon General turned out to be the real False Prophet. I didn't see that coming." I jerked my head toward Raymond with a convincing gasp. "Oh no! I probably spoiled it for you!"
"I wasn't planning on reading it anyway."
"I see," said Pat.
I tried not to smirk.
A few minutes later, Pat escorted us to the door, but signaled for me to hang back. Just as Raymond stepped outside, though, a pair of EMTs shoved their way in. They charged past us a few moments later carrying Sergio, still curled up in the fetal position in his sleeping bag.
Pat didn't blink. He whispered to me, "When can you move in?"
"Um," I replied.