10 Things I Hate About NYC

As I’ve done once before, it is time to add some vinegar to the sugary gushing that I usually do about life in NYC. So here goes:

10. Times Square. When I end up here through some mistake of my directionally-challenged brain or because of subway closures, my heart sinks. The militant crowds of tourists and the sadness that is consumer capitalism is a devastating combination guaranteed to shred your soul.

New York Times Square

9. Lack of Cape Cod potato chips. I have no idea why I don’t see these in every grocery store/pharmacy/convenience store. Purple Terra chips and unsweetened plantain chips can only go so far.

8. Traffic noise. To live here is to be whittled down bit by bit under the cacophony that is cop cars, ambulances, and fire trucks. Bonus misery if you live/work near the subway, especially the elevated trains.

7. Traffic. I’ve been on buses that took fifteen minutes to go four blocks because, apart from there being parking on both sides of the street, cars and delivery trucks have double-parked at strategic distances from each other on opposite sides, forcing the bus to thread itself through a snake-like path.

6. Machines that give/take stuff and the people who can’t work them, resulting in crazy, long lines.


This includes, but is not limited to, ATMS, subway ticket kisoks, post office drop boxes, secure lobby entrances, paper towel dispensers in bathrooms, motion-sensitive faucets, and water fountains.

5. The post office. Someone needs to tell the postal service that the reason they’re in the red is that NYC post offices are overrrun by folks who just want to talk to another person and therefore take 15 minutes to post a letter. Sad face.

4. Hipster parents. These souls move to “diverse” neighborhoods so the fruit of their loins can run other denizens down on their scooters–to which the mom/dad respond with stern lectures. E.g. “Oliver/Mia, what was the discussion we had earlier about how far you could go down the sidewalk by yourself? Oliver/Mia? Oliver/Mia!” Meanwhile, everyone nearby is nursing bruised toes and murderous thoughts.

3. People who go around blind corners of subway stairs on the wrong side. Stay to the right, you animal.


2. Citibikes. FFS.


1. Still Williamsburg. At least until the L train shuts down.

1. Bushwick. Because.

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An Armitage Afternoon

Among the many pleasures of living in New York is the possibility of seeing great theater at one of the excellent companies on and off (and off off) Broadway. What makes the experience even sweeter is getting to see an actor you’ve admired on other media, be it film or tv. While I’ve been lucky enough to catch plays with stalwarts like Sir Ian McKellen and Sir Patrick Stewart in the past, I was thrilled this weekend to see a Roundabout Theater preview of “Love Love Love,” starring Richard Armitage (a.k.a Thornton/Thorin/Harry/Lucas North) and Amy Ryan (Holly from the Office and Oscar-nominated for Gone Baby Gone).

Staged at the intimate Pels theater on 46th street, the play by Mike Bartlett is steered by Michael Mayer over the course of about two hours. Fitting half a century of British (and late capitalist) social history into a couple’s interactions in three different homes, it takes us from the 60s to the present in no time.

While much of my starry-eyed watching had to do with Armitage, Amy Ryan gave a bravura performance throughout, and the script bounced and cut its way through snappy line of dialog. Like my fellow viewers, I found myself chuckling at the characters, though often in a sort of appalled fashion.

After the show, I was hoping for a chance to meet the actors, though security was unsure if they’d be signing autographs that afternoon. (They may not if there are two shows on one day.) As luck would have it, Armitage was out within minutes of the curtain, and quickly signed playbills and posters. I snapped a few pictures in profile


and was delighted with his consent for a quick selfie as well. Swoon.

The icing on the cake was an unexpectedly shy Amy Ryan exiting from the cast door and kindly signing autographs for everyone who rushed around the corner on noticing her.


She posed a striking contrast not just to the character she had played but also to my image of an Academy Award nominated actor.

I think I’ll be framing my Armitage and Ryan photos, along with the signed playbill and the ticket. *Whistles “New York, New York, What a Wonderful Town*

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A Wishful New York Day

If my father were alive and visiting New York, we would start a day with brunch at some little place in Jackson Heights that serves Udupi food. (When we were kids in Bombay, that’s what we did with him every Sunday morning.) Then we’d head out on the 7 train into Manhattan, switching to the 1/2/3 at Times Square and go up to Columbia.

Though I’ve never been a student there, the university has a mythic resonance for my family because Dr. Ambedkar got a degree there


and there is a small memorial to him at the International Studies building. I can imagine my father delighting in the sprawling quad and marveling at the thought of his (and my community’s) mentor walking the campus paths.


We’d walk down a little to the Cathedral of Saint John the Divine because I think he’d love seeing the whimsical little (non-religious) architectural flourishes on the columns at the entrance.


Our next stop would be the fountain at Central Park where he’d take photograph after photograph, trying to catch the light on the water and in the sky at every angle.


He’d get my mother to be in some photos and then coax her to smile for the camera. I think he’d love the concept of the group selfie so there would be some of those, with the sprawl of the park behind us. We’d sit on a bench while eating ice cream from a cart and people-watch as visitors and residents from every corner of the world streamed by.

As the lunch hour beckoned, we might get on a bus to Lower Manhattan so he could see the city unfold before us, block after block of office buildings towering over brownstones, neighborhood parks sheltering chess tables and dog runs, schools gossiping next to coffee shops and grocery stores. We’d try felafels near NYU and then amble to the Strand.


For once, he’d be the one receiving books as gifts as thanks for all the years he took us to a bookstore after Sunday brunch and let us pick one book each.

Weighed down by food and purchases, we’d go further south in a cab. (Growing up with almost nothing, he walked and then took public transport as a young man, so he loved comfortable cab rides when he got older and sprang for them when we were whiny kids, too.) He’d start a conversation with the cabbie and they’d soon be talking politics and religion with gusto.

We’d stop at the South Street seaport and marvel at the water. If the ferries were running (or a sailor friend was working on her tall ship), we’d go out into the harbor. Islanders like us are most at peace when we can step into that liminal crossing between land and sea.

On the way back to Queens, if it was late summer, we’d try to catch a match at the U.S. Open in Flushing, recreating one of the many evenings we watched tennis on tv in India. We’d stop at a hole in the wall in Jackson Heights and get some biryani, and maybe even some kulfi, another childhood treat.

At home, we’d go over all the day’s memories captured on camera. And I’d have some more photographs to look at on days like yesterday, which would have been his 82nd birthday.

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Welcome to the U.S. Sort of.

I travel in and out of NYC more than some people, less than others, and often through the much bemoaned LaGuardia and John F. Kennedy airports. But like Louis C. K., I am always aware that air travel is basically a miracle in which you sit in a chair that floats around in space and moves you speedily from Point A to B on the planet.

So on a recent return to JFK from India, after a 14 hour non-stop leg from Dubai, I didn’t grumble when we landed 15 minutes behind schedule. Nor did I let out more than a quiet sigh when we were told that there was no gate free so we’d be sitting on the tarmac for an unknown period of time. I continued to watch Mother’s Day and fantasize about getting through immigration at a superheroine-like speed, thanks to having signed up for the Global Entry program. When the plane finally started to crawl toward a gate an hour later, I gratefully gave up on trying to understand Kate Hudson and Julia Roberts’s problems in the movie. Instead, I flexed my feet in anticipation of that leap everyone does to reach for the overhead bins as soon as the seatbelt sign is off and then crowd the aisles. I am usually foiled in this endeavor despite my lightning reflexes because I’m too short to reach the bins and have to enlist the support of normal-sized fellow passengers, as was the case here.

Thanks to being in row 2, however (and in an Airbus, which seats the Business class on the upper floor), I was on the gangway as soon as the doors opened and set to speedwalk like a champ. This lasted for all of 20 yards before I came to a complete stop, foiled by a dozen other people who had also stopped in the corridor that led to the immigration pen. For a few minutes, I thought they were just controlling congestion in the hall because of the huge backup of planes that had landed at that point. It soon became clear that this was not the case. Even from my short height, I could see security personnel holding passengers up on both sides of the immigration area entry ways, and the ground crew of Emirates appeared equally confused by the bottleneck. Soon, the flight crew appeared from behind us, and were also sent back by the security guards without any information. People milled about restlessly, some clearly regretting not having gone to the restroom before exiting the craft. A passenger managed to get online and found a tweet about a suspected shooter–in another terminal. An Indian-Canadian complained loudly that he would never fly through JFK.

At one point, I overheard the the pilot telling his crew that perhaps they should get everyone back on the plane as the delay was apparently going to last for a couple of hours. The head flight attendant returned with news that the ground staff would not allow anyone access to the craft now. I was starting to think I was in an old Cecil B. DeMille movie–unwilling to go backwards and unable to move forwards, thanks to mysterious forces outside my control. Miraculously (isn’t that always the case?) we were suddenly allowed to descend down the gangway toward immigration after about an hour. The immigration lines were massive but the Global Entry sign told me to turn toward a row of empty machines, just waiting to clear me through. After some puzzling attempts to scan my passport and greencard, I was able to get myself fingerprinted and photographed. Just as the machine was spitting out my receipt, however, a wave of people came rushing back from the exit, shepherded by staff (I think). The night wasn’t over.

At this point though, I really needed to use the restroom, so I grabbed my receipt and ducked into a roped off one right by the scanners. There were a few passengers in there and no one seemed that worried, so I stepped into a stall. Within a minute, security personnel (I think) were calling us to vacate the premises immediately and go back toward our plane. I resigned myself to being in some other movie involving a bystander sitting on a toilet seat when something crazy happens. Fortunately, I was actually in just an arthouse movie so nothing happened. I washed my hands and went back to the gangway. I was at the tail end of the crowd but no one was going anywhere, so I found a spot on the floor and sat down to wait out the drama. After about a half hour of no more news, staff started allowing groups of 8 people to go down to use the restroom. The remainder sat, stood, grumbled about how terrible JFK was, tried to get a cellphone signal, etc. I worked on a difficult Sudoku and wondered what kind of world we lived in where a newspaper had a Sudoku and that other weird math puzzle but no crossword.

Finally, another hour later, we were suddenly released without explanation. Not looking for one, I sped down the same gangway, waved my receipt at the security guard by the scanners, sped off to pick up my one checked back (sitting forlornly with all the other waiting baggage on a silent carousel), and ran through the empty customs pen to the Border Security agent. He appeared to be in a cheerful mood and just took my receipt and waved me through. Just wait, I thought silently with a pang of sympathy–après moi, le deluge.

Stuffing my carry-on into my checked bag, I stepped out of the secure area and saw that it was midnight. I’d been at JFK for 3 hours after landing, which had been after a 20 hour trip. If there was ever a time to take a cab, I told myself, this is it. The cab line inside the terminal, usually a soul-crushingly long one, was empty. This should have told me something but I was on a high from the rush through immigration and customs. On stepping on the sidewalk, however, I was reminded that nothing is that easy. The usual taxi attendant was missing, as were the cabs. Passengers wandered about in angry disarray. This was clearly not going to be the fast option.

I turned around and headed back inside and went up to the Airtrain. The monitors on the platform said–you guessed it–“Airtrain not in service”. I heaved a slightly louder sigh than the one I had expelled three hours ago and sat on a bench, out of ideas. Finally, about 15 minutes later, a train hove into sight. Now, there are two Airtrain routes from the airport into the city–the Jamaica one that connects to the E train, which goes through Queens, and the Howard Beach line that connects to the A train, which goes through Brooklyn. There was no announcement about which one this was, so I just got on. And then got off at the next station because it was–ding, ding, ding–the wrong train. The following train was also announced as a Howard Beach one first, but then somehow the monitors said different, so I got on it.

As we rode past Terminal 8, everyone took out their cellphones to document the flashing lights of the police cars and ambulances that were still blocking off the access to it. I was too tired to bother. Instead, I eavesdropped as locals on the train tried to advise confused tourists about the subway/MetroNorth/NJTT. From the Airtrain, I hopped on the E, and in the absence of a 7 train or a bus at 74th street in Jackson Heights, took a cab home for the last 12 blocks. I arrived close to 1:30 in the morning.

Over the next two days, information emerged about what had happened that night. In all likelihood, some staff had been watching the men’s 100 meter dash at the Olympics and celebrating, and a passenger in earshot decided that they had heard a gun. Pandemonium ensued. People screamed that “They are coming!” Some ran out onto the dark tarmac that had active runways. I’ll never think of Usain Bolt in quite the same way again.


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Returning home from travel is often bittersweet; the warmth of the familiar also signals the end of a period of excitement. But knowing that I have a home to return to, especially in these troubled times of massive forced migrations–I am humbled by whatever stroke of luck brought me here. And yet, this is not what I was thinking on my return to my brand spanking new apartment in March after being away for two months.

Imagine my dismay when I walked in and saw survey-maps of mildew crawling around the apartment windows and occupying huge corners of the bedroom. The paint around those surfaces had bubbled and cracked with the moisture, making it seem like the apartment was slowly turning into a cartoon monster. Turns out that the windows form such a tight seal, that while I was away, the heat from the radiators under the windows had caused moisture to condense on the sills and then gather mildew. It felt like a disaster. Even the presence of an Amazon package at my door (containing the cutest shower curtain ever—a pastel sketch of the NYC skyline) was not enough to ward off a sense of doom.

After a restless night, my call to the super led to his inspection—mostly him looking grim and saying “Yeah, this is not good”—of the water damage. But in a day or so, two handymen showed up to take care of the problem. They scraped off the mildewed areas and appeared to have painted over it with some sort of mildew-eating mutant paint. I suspect I should be more afraid of it than the mildew itself, which did add some character to the starkness. Even so, every time it rains, I worry about the corner of the bedroom that juts out from the building and gets the most exposure to the elements. But so far, so good. Mutant paint 1: Mildew 0.

As for “decorating” the apartment, it’s been a ragtag combination of old Ikea posters, prints picked up from museums and Christmas markets, and framed images from thrift stores. Amazon, Ikea, and furniture stores have made a steady pilgrimage to my door, dropping off everything from spice rack carousels to sofa-cum-beds and dining sets.

For now, I’m getting used to leaving the windows slightly open, tuning out the sirens from the firetrucks that scream down the block, and watching the phenomenal sky afforded by my east-facing view.


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Water, Water Everywhere

While I’ve been finishing the sprint to the final paperwork that makes me a debtor to the bank, I’ve also been asking around for recommendations on moving companies. Friends mention several, and reviews on yelp suggest a few that seem promising (till I scroll to the inevitable “I hated this company. They are useless and kick puppies” rant each is graced with by some unhappy soul). Finally, out of some strange sense of solidarity, I pick College Educated movers. Their website has a phone number but when I call, I’m asked to write. How delightfully old (and new) fashioned. So we have a few email exchanges where I estimate my worldly possessions and he offers a reasonable quote. We settle on a date with a possible option for rescheduling, though it doesn’t come to that.

Since the course of true moving never did run smooth, however, the morning of the move (which my landlady plans to monitor), sees me taking me a call from one of the movers at 9:30. He lets me know that they are finishing a move before mine—I am scheduled for the 12-3 slot—and wants to know how large a couch I have. That seems like a reasonable query, so I send him a photo and assure him it’s pretty light. A short while later, someone else rings to explain that the first guy (let’s calls him Jim) had to leave because of an emergency so he (let’s call him Tim) is going to move my stuff alone. The query about the couch from scofflaw Jim now makes more sense—he wanted to feel better about abandoning his co-worker. A college education has apparently resulted in this sort of flawless logic and  ethical relativism. I email his boss my worry that the one-man crew seems like a bad idea, not to mention in violation of the agreement we had. To top it off, the weather guys have predicted storm-chaser worthy thunderstorms starting mid-morning, so a quick move is really in everyone’s best interest.

Around noon, while my landlady has parked herself in the hallway and I’m packing the last few boxes with a friend who has come to help, Tim calls again to say that he has finished his morning move. He’s on his way, but he’s going to find someone to help him with mine. I am zen. Instead of freaking out, I ask my friend to help me walk some bags over to the new place (since the quote was based on the number of items that I decided really needed professional movers). We trudge back and forth a couple of times in a misty drizzle. The clock keeps ticking, the landlady’s cousin starts to clean out my fridge—they really want me gone—and the clouds gather like the vanguard of an approaching army.

My friend leaves when I suggest she wrap up other errands on her to-do list as the afternoon passes us by. I almost step out with her to make another run to my new place on foot when we notice the van parked outside. It’s Tim the mover. Cue thunderstorm. Of course.

I take him back upstairs with his dollies while he explains that his helper is finishing another job and will be here any minute. (I am too tired to feel any trepidation when he explains that he tried to pick up a helper by just driving around a Home Depot parking lot.) To his credit, he is quick, as is the second guy who does arrive shortly after. (Let’s call him Bearded Guy from Brooklyn Wearing Plaid because no other dude names go with the Jim/Tim pattern–and because he’s a bearded guy from Brooklyn wearing plaid.)

By this point, the sky is angry and dark and rain is hammering the ground. I try to stay out of their way (which turns out to be a mistake because I will discover months later that I’m missing some boxes of books and pans).

The landlady’s cousin tries to help me in a manner that is part helpful, part eviction-like. I am not bothering to vacuum or do any more cleaning than I’ve already done since they have already notified me of their refusal to return my deposit for some bogus reason (which is apparently standard NYC landlord shadiness).

I hand over the keys to the apartment, drag the trash to the recycling, and walk out of my home of the last three years. Usually, I find moving to be a soul-crushing ordeal; but this one leaves me fairly untouched. It could be that I’m moving three blocks away or that I’m moving to my own home. Irrespective, I follow the van on foot, and though I am being pelted by rain, my face stays dry.

The streets are night-dark as I walk to the service entrance of the building and let the guys park the van before they start unloading. Friends who’ve been waiting all day to help me but need to leave for other tasks by this point, gather to say hello for a minute as the last boxes get carried in. They are wet with some rain but don’t grow mildew despite staying shut for the two months I will be away right after the move. (Or I should rephrase—it’s not the boxes that grow mildew despite staying shut for the two months I will be away right after the move.)

I pay my college-educated peers and tip them for their troubles. The rain hammers away as I look out my new windows but I think it’s nearly over. And it’s almost Christmas Eve day.


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Walkthrough and Closing

The last steps before you finally commit to the home buying purchase is the walkthrough and the closing. In my case, once the closing was scheduled for a Tuesday morning, the listing agent and I scheduled a time for me to do a final check of the apartment on Monday afternoon. While I had thought of doing it earlier, the lawyer’s office advised me that it should be done less than 48 hours before the closing, perhaps even the morning of, so that the period between assuring yourself that you are getting what you’re paying for and making that payment is minimal. Otherwise, for instance, if you do a walkthrough a week before the closing, and the place is somehow damaged during that week, you won’t know till after you have signed and sealed the purchase, at which point it’s your problem to fix, not the seller’s.


(The last walkthrough assumes, of course, that you did a thorough inspection at the time you first saw the place, as did the bank’s appraiser.)

At my walkthrough, I saw that the seller (or co-op) had continued to improve the apartment by re-glazing the tub—the masking tape and paper was still in place. I did have a moment’s worry on noticing a fair amount of water at the base of several window sills, but we realized that it was condensation from the radiators being turned on for a while in a closed apartment. On the advice of various recent home-buyer friends, I checked every outlet by plugging in my phone, flushed the toilet, turned all the hot and cold water faucets on and off, and opened and shut all the doors and windows to make sure everything worked.


The broker turned on the oven to make sure it was operational, but since all the appliances appeared to be new (with the manuals still in their plastic wrapping), things seemed good to go.

On our way out, I checked the building’s closest service entrance so I would know the easiest way to move my stuff in. As we left, the broker left me with a valuable bit of info: the final numbers of what checks I needed to bring to the closing the next morning might not be decided till an hour or two before the actual meeting. I was glad to hear it, because I had assumed I’d get them before the end of the day (so I could go to the bank and get the certified checks that these transactions required); without his remark, I would have been an even bigger basket case than I was at the moment—with the closing, move, and a long international trip scheduled in the next four days!


(Since one of my banks is only in Manhattan, I had taken the precaution of getting a certified check from them the previous week after checking with my lawyer about the name of the payee.)

The lawyer also emailed me at the end of the day of the walkthrough to assure me that if she didn’t get the final numbers from the other attorneys that night, she’d have them for me in the morning. As I planned for the closing, I was also emailing and calling different movers, and finally settled on “College Educated” movers, whose reviews and quote seemed reasonable in light of my meager, non-Waterford possessions.


But there was a hitch. Of course. When I contacted the management company that handles the building to notify them of the date of move (per the house rules), I was told that before I moved (1) they needed a refundable $250 move-in deposit (2) copies of the closing documents. They suggested I give these to the co-op’s attorney at the closing, who could have them messengered over to the management company’s office.

In the eventuality that this didn’t happen—the one thing this process has reinforced in my mind is the need for Plan B—I informed the moving company of the possibility of rescheduling the move from Wednesday to Thursday (Christmas Eve, with its mythic reminder of the search for shelter). They seemed okay with that, and since they didn’t need a deposit, it felt like the best I could hope for.

On the morning of the closing, I continued my packing tasks, in between posting items for sale on Craigslist or for free on Freecycle. (No one would show up to get these in time, which meant they ended up in my building’s recycling room.) The saving grace of the process was that my landlady had already sent certified letters declaring that she would be using my security deposit to clean the apartment, so I wasn’t going to be doing that on Thursday and could rest after the move on Wednesday.

At around 9:30 a.m. on Tuesday, my attorney called to say that she had received the numbers and I should get the checks as listed in her email. Again, as is the theme of this process, I had a moment of panic on noting that the payee’s name for the primary payment in this list was different from the one she had given me last week when I got funds from my Manhattan bank. I hurriedly wrote her asking if I had to go to Manhattan in the 2 hours before closing to get that check redone, get to a local bank for the rest of the checks, and make it to meeting in Forest Hills at the seller’s attorney’s office. I followed it up with a phone call, which thankfully revealed that the new payee name had a typo and the original one she had given me was accurate.


Armed with the information, my check book, and photo ID, I left for the bank. (Well, not quite. When I checked on the closing’s location, Google maps gave me two different addresses, so I called both my attorney and that office to confirm where on earth I was supposed to go. What a time for Google to be confused.)

The bank had its own drama—because my life is a soap.


As the automated service economy grows, banks are slowly eliminating human tellers, which means that there were two tellers when I got there before 10:45. By the time I got to one, and she began meticulously fulfilling my requests for four certified checks (1 for the remaining cash I owed the seller, 1 for the transfer taxes that I paid as part of buying a sponsor apartment, 1 for December’s maintenance—allegedly refunded after pro-rating—and 1 for January’s maintenance, the second teller had gone on break. This meant that there was a snaking line of customers behind me that slowly turned into the French revolution.


(Note to self: when asking for multiple bank checks, you should not just give the details of the payees and amounts written out on a separate piece of paper, but also fill out withdrawal slips for each one as if you are asking for cash withdrawals. If you need this money to be taken out of multiple accounts in that bank, arrange to have the funds transferred into one account in advance.)

I fled as soon as I could, but was definitely running late for the closing at that point. A quick call to the lawyer has her assistant assuring me that it was not that big a deal. Despite the rain, I managed to get to the office of the G&G legal firm just past 11:30, and thus began the closing. It is, as these things go, fairly anti-climactic (though the paperwork means you are signing your life away).


The attendees included the bank’s attorney, the seller’s attorney, and the co-op’s attorney, as well as my lawyer and me. (The listing agent would come late, since his only role is to hand over the keys.) My lawyer first inspected and tallied all the bank checks, and then passed them to the various parties’ representatives. Following that, she explained that my name on all the documents had to be redone since there was an inconsistency between how it was written on some. Fortunately, it appeared to be a simple matter of showing my ID, and then initialing and signing in documents as and where the attorneys requested. She then notarized the changes as desired.

At the end of this process, I received an enormous tome of the co-op’s details, keys from the broker, and a stock certificate (rather than a deed, which is what one gets when buying property, such as a house or condo).


To be even more accurate, I held the stock certificate for a minute for a photo op, because the original stays with the bank till the mortgage is paid off.)

Though we were technically done at this point, we then spent some time figuring out the management company’s requirements for my move the following day. The co-op’s attorney flatly said that they do not take that move-in check, nor would they messenger the documents over that day. My lawyer suggested calling the management company and asking if I could just bring copies and the check over to their office myself that afternoon. The attempt just reached the voicemail, so on my lawyer’s advice, I took the check back, and left the management company a message with that suggestion. Their work done, all the other parties left, and I wrestled my new paperwork into my bag, and headed back to the subway. As I said, anti-climactic.

The management company and I managed to get in touch while I was on the subway platform and agreed to the handoff if I got to their office before 5. Reassured, I headed in later in the afternoon, having already emailed scanned copies of the stock certificate and some other paperwork that seemed to authorize my purchase. Following a quick chat with the management staff, who seemed very pleasant, I handed over the check for the move-in deposit and headed back to my last night in my rental apartment.





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