Tag Archives: adventures in subletting

Adventures in Subletting: I’m Doug, but I’m outta here

Just a few short days after moving into my second Brooklyn sublet, while I was still exploring its own rich quirks from the extensive comic book collection to the hodgepodge mix of furniture, my roommates hit me with bombshell news for a potential celebrity sighting that would trump all others so far.

Michael Showalter is a resident of the building. Just two floors down.

In our relatively  small building with only four apartments, the chances for intersection on the stairwell and multiple passings of pleasantries were high. But not wanting to cast my lot on happenstance, I immediately began drafting a full-on, creepy to the max, has-to-go-before-a-trial-judge-before-it-stops stalking campaign.

Stalking, but with a very defined, even noble purpose, mind you: Showalter must answer the question once and for all of when I am going to get the goddamned State on DVD.

My roommates saw him occasionally over the months. Not exactly the most outwardly friendly person, they said, though roommate Christine had several discussions with him; roommate Charlie had only exchanged a few words here and there. Roommate Brittany said she sometimes would check whether he was home by reading his blog.

Indeed, when I went downstairs the next day, one of the mailboxes had his name on it, accompanied by a name of another person he is listed as living with on Wikipedia. Wikipedia being the salted cud at which all human knowledge licks, any remaining skepticism weakened.

Then, sifting through the mail one day (completely legit I SWEAR, FEDERAL AUTHORITIES, because all the mail for the building comes in one pile), I found this:

return address of Porcupine Racetrack

not pictured: return address of Porcupine Racetrack

This news came only a few days after watching Wet Hot American Summer again with a group at the home of L. Golfer, who named her cat Coop after Showalter’s character. Her friends recite nearly every line from the movie Rocky Horror-style. I was impressed at their rampant fangirlism.

The State on DVD, as any fan will tell you through gathering tears, is quickly turning into one of the last remaining pop culture unicorns, even as other contemporary improbabilities such as Chinese Democracy somehow stumbled into the world of the tangible. The State for me and others represents everything that was right about Generation X and MTV at its peak in the 90s — absurdism as a means of shaking up boundaries, grunge-fueled wild binges of humor and art, the last vestiges of what it was like to be part of an alternative culture operating below the mainstream radar before the alternative got absorbed by the ever-hungry gaping maw of its parent. They spoofed MTV Sports and spoke as a cast directly to Chelsea Clinton. They lampooned censorship and publicity stunts while never seeming to care that much about the topics beyond the humorous impacts.

And it was retarded funny.These were the years when Saturday Night Live was funny but reeking of staleness and the only competition deemed worthy of a prime spot was the middle-school fart joke known as Mad TV.* Even Kids In the Hall sketches were occasionally over long, and the genre’s sainted king, Monty Python, was often the kind of humor you laughed at more inside your head more than outside on later viewings.

Before the internet created a free market for creativity, with FunnyOrDie and Dr. Horrible challenging the tyranny of the TV network board room, and before Stewart and Colbert provided a nightly sanity check, The State was a vehicle for salvation, though ultimately, a short-lived one. Not to mention the group got its start doing bits for the Jon Stewart show, “You Wrote It, You Watch It.”

The State found humor in juxtaposition, nihilism and octane, from the discussion of what kind of wine goes with Muppet to the classic Louie appearance at the Last Supper, to the cerebral discussion of monkey torture. And I don’t doubt that it was the perfect show for its time and place that probably would not have worked outside the context of the mid-90s.

Most cast members from the show went on to varied comedy projects like Reno 911!, the well-reviewed live show Stella followed by the terrible Comedy Central program of the same name, several movies and, for Michael Ian Black, a thriving career in VH-1 instant nostalgia. Some reunion shows have taken place, and more projects are in talks.

But no sign of the DVDs. The internet says this is because the show was broadcast during a time when MTV had the rights to a vast pantheon of contemporary music. Obtaining the rights to the songs  now (“Cannonball” or “Supernova,” for instance) would be too costly. They released the first season of the show on iTunes a few years back with rerecorded, generic versions of the songs in place.

It just wasn’t the same. The problem is: the music is an integral part of the aesthetic of the show. You couldn’t put a DVD together and change the names of “Barry and Levon” to “Burt and Lenny”; you couldn’t change the beards of Space Station 11 to mustaches or put Louie in a bowtie. And you can’t have the Pants sketch without “Cannonball.”

The show was visual grunge — scruffy faced, disaffected slackers scouring the bottom of the Buzz Bin for something new and different for a vastly unsatisfied generation.

Back at my building earlier this month, I passed by Showalter’s room a few days later to see the door open. I craned my neck to peak inside. My heart sank like frozen pudding. The signs of a move in progress were apparent. Later that day, the name tag had been ripped from his mail slot.

Roommate Christine ran into him a few days later. Turns out he moved just down the street. The chances for an encounter still exist. He also frequents local coffee shops and comedy performances, and is working on other shows, including one with Michael Ian Black.

Scour the intertubes and you’ll find most State fans have given up on ever getting the series released on DVD, even as trash like “According to Jim” and “Delta Farce” are replicated for home viewing almost instantly. Fans have for now resigned themselves to coveting deteriorating VHS copies of the show, like one I came across sophomore year of college that was six hours long (with commercials edited out). Sorry, expensive education — I need to watch a grown man in a button-up short-sleeved shirt dip his balls in things.

Only the other day did it hit me that Showalter and I both live on State Street; me only temporarily and him for who knows how long, since he clearly could’ve afforded more lavish digs anywhere else in Brooklyn or Manhattan solely from the income from The Michael Showalter Showalter alone.

Maybe he chose to live on State Street for the same reasons I did: because he remembers what it’s like to be broke and struggling, to be in love with time and place and circumstance and determined to forge even a small path to success through unconventional means. The spirit of Brooklyn is multi-generational but still frenetic, pushed on by music and art and young people of all ages wandering the streets, always scouring the skyline and gutter for something new and exciting before the rest of the world catches on.

Maybe there’s still hope for a State DVD some day. Us bearded men of apartment 5 will still hold out hope.

*I have memories of The Edge being pretty funny,though also short-lived. I don’t entirely trust my memory on this. Other input is welcome.

Adventures in Subletting, Part I: The Victorian

First there was the Victorian, an apartment at the top of a hulking and majestic old-style house deep in Brooklyn, giving off an undeniable aura of haunted manor, complete with eerie stained-glass windows in the bathrooms, hidden secret room in my closet and baseball cards of Don

formerly autographed tile

formerly autographed tile

Mattingly inlaid in the tile, staring back at you from one of the bathrooms. A doctor owned the place previously, my roommates said, and those tiles were signed at one point too until the mother unknowingly wiped away the pen marks, mistaking them for her children’s scribblings. How you have signed tiles of Don Mattingly displayed prominently in your house and are unaware of their authenticity, I do not know.

The wood floors groaned painfully under the weight of any hallway traffic and the hot water would stop working periodically for no discernible reason. The front-door locks were a Byzantine system of switches and levers and gears and parabolas that often bested my feeble metal key and delayed attempts at entry for upwards of 10 minutes, once even forcing me into the unusual position of having to break out of the house by climbing down a second story balcony.

For all it’s ominous looming, the house was warm and friendly, a safe outpost from the harsh cold streets of poverty early this winter. It was described by my roommates on the first day there as “disappointingly not spooky.”

The space was ample and the roommates friendly, the neighborhood quiet and the subway a short walk away. Vegetarians outnumbered meat eaters in the house 2 to 1 and roommate Chris brewed his own beer, storing it in the kitchen closet to ferment  (or simmer? Or curdle? what does beer do?) for a month. The house had no TV save for an antennae-tuned small screen installed near the bathroom ceiling where I occasionally decided to put myself in the odd yet somehow acceptable position of standing dripping wet in the shower watching Drew Carey award cars to screaming black people and college students.

A bodega on the corner sold cheap beers without labels that Nubs, Pete and I bought on a cold Friday night as the first steps in a slow march toward drunkenness that eventually ended up with Pete in a bear suit doing karate poses in Park Slope. NY Mag labeled the area, Ditmas Park, the New San Francisco, much to the amusement of everyone in the neighborhood.

“Not spooky,” that is, until the final day of my residency there, New Year’s Eve, when the girl who took over my room and I were talking over drinks at the kitchen table, the closest thing to a common living space in the apartment. She was mentioning the possibilities of finishing the secret closet room to use as part of the bedroom, for studio space or whatnot.

“Is that box of whippets still in there?”

into the chamber of secrets

into the chamber of secrets

“Box of what?” I knew the room had a refrigerator, a vestige from the doctor’s inhabitance, where he allegedly stored medicines or other medical supplies to keep them out of reach of his children. But I knew the fridge had been empty.

We opened the secret panel in the closet and entered the room, where she pointed at a box on the floor I had overlooked or disregarded as a pile of random detritus from household supplies.

I bent down and shifted away the top layer of plastic bags and shingles to find a multitudinous cache of checkered yellow and blue boxes

that's a lot of homemade whip cream

that's a lot of homemade whipped cream

labeled “Cream Whipper Chargers” (fits all pressure whippers, fyi), enough to whip a parking lot full of Phish fans into a giddy, balloon huffing frenzy. Alongside those boxes were dozens of the discarded light blue containers looking like spent artillery shells, presumably long since drained of their nitrous oxide contents.

Holy damnit christmas, I exclaimed, or something like it at least. Either someone in this house was running a secret Carvel franchise specializing in banana splits, or they loved the hell out of some hippie crack. Further examination of the box discovered a ceramic container used for inserting the whippet (ostensibly to make whipped cream), a long, possibly tar-stained tube that seemed to attach to the container some way.

It was still possible, I thought then, that these belongings had some legitimate medical purpose we weren’t aware of. But why would a doctor have a huge treasure trove of tiny restaurant style nitrous cartridges? Surely there’s some way to obtain these in large medical quantities? It’s not like doctors need to go troll around college campuses to buy their Vicodin.

The next find in the pile cast further doubt on the medical hypothesis: some sort of metal bowl attached to tubes as if part of a hookah, filled with the residue of a black tarry substance I did not care to touch more than once.

I shut the door and walked away, now suddenly, in my waning hours of living in the big house with stained glass windows, wondering what other secrets it held.

The bathroom I used was a palatial monument to

bathroom glass

bathroom glass

a deep tub, with steep steps leading up to the basin, light from the stained glass window highlighting shades of the tile and an ample amount of polished surfaces that clearly were designed as some sort of involuntary sacrificial altar to the gods of Cracking Your Head Open.

The basement of the house allegedly contained an art studio that I never got to see. The porch I had to escape from that time was decorated with a mannequin woman’s leg, and the middle of the lawn had an inexplicable patch of dead earth in a perfect circle shape, perhaps, I guessed, the site of a well or a henge of some sort or a very unambitious crop circle.

The neighborhood was one some considered one of the last “real” (heavy quotes) neighborhoods in Brooklyn, and it had other curiosities I never got to visit either: a flower shop/bar combo that usually generated some buzz; a real dive bar along Coney Island Ave with free wireless internet, a pretty fantastic looking pita shop that was always filled with guys in yarmulkes, even at midnight, and a food coop I only shopped at once before taking an employee discounted job at TJ’s.

As I was leaving the house, I opened the secret door one more time and decided to grab a box of the whippets to take with me as a souvenir.

“New!” the box proclaims. “Misuse can be dangerous! Do not inhale. Keep out of reach of children.”

Even if this box weren’t crusty with age, I would have no intent on actually using them, or even how to go about that. I brought them to my new sublet, a huge loft much further up in Brooklyn this time, where I expect the box will fit in well with the other random decor: a hair dryer chair from a beauty salon, half a mannequin, a decades-old map of the New York subway system, a detached refrigerator door used as a wine rack. The place has roof access with a grand view of parts of downtown Brooklyn and the highlights of the Manhattan skyline

Williamsburg Savings Bank Tower

Williamsburg Savings Bank Tower

peak out not too far in the distance. The Williamsburg Savings Bank Tower, the closest thing to a skyscraper in the area, looms directly across the street. It’s spooky in its own way, with carved stone lions and other animals on the outside and a tall clocktower that looks like an anachronism at the busy street corner.

Then I read that Magic Johnson has a stake in the building and is developing it into luxury condos (as is happening around most of Brooklyn. Er… not the Magic Johnson part, the other one).

I wonder if he has a secret stash of whippets in there somewhere.

Come back later for Adventures in Subletting, Part 2: Loft Life