I owe it to Carmen Jones. That’s the musical I recently saw with my friends, Pam and Steve. Even though the production had nothing to do with real estate, it made me rethink my current apartment fantasy: trading in the responsibilities of co-op living for a carefree rental.
In Carmen Jones, soldier Joe abandons the dependable and loyal Cindy Lou for the flashy and faithless Carmen Jones. At dinner after the show, my friends veered from discussing the drama to trading design ideas for the upcoming apartment renovations each was about to start. Listening to them, I thought about my own not-so-old co-op renovation and my recent flirtation with renting. I began to wonder if I wasn’t a bit like the character of soldier Joe.
My unit had been spacious and sturdy, a Cindy Lou sort of loft. But over time, as things fell apart, I began to yearn for an updated Carmen Jones sort of place. I drew up an A-list of features, most of which were a dreamer’s folly. The apartment is in a landmarked 1930s warehouse, so I could never install central air-conditioning, carve out a fireplace, or hang a terrace. I couldn’t even knock out a few bricks to install simple air vents so that I could cook without filling the apartment with smoke.
But I didn’t want to move. My co-op was my home. Fellow shareholders, the super, and our managing agent were my tribe. Over many years we have celebrated, upgraded, and made mistakes together. My desire for something better did not include wanting better neighbors.
I decided to try again with the space I had, this time with more modest desires, like privacy. After years of loft-living, I wanted a bedroom and bathroom with walls that stretched all the way from the floor to the ceiling. I wanted doors with knobs and latches, not wood and pulley contraptions that were designed for a barn. And while venting to the outside was still off the list, I learned that I could get the same results with state-of-the-art appliances.
After a year of planning followed by a year of construction, I was back in love with my Cindy Lou apartment. At least for a while – until I discovered that renovations and complicated machines age at a distressingly rapid rate. Despite my updated surroundings, in many ways I was back to square one: fixing stuff. The now out-of-warranty condenser dryer left my clothes wet. The high-end oven couldn’t stay at 350 degrees for more than 20 minutes. And the tall, beautiful doors would unexpectedly drift closed without any prompting.
Then one day, while I waited on the phone, holding for service requests to be answered in the order in which they were received, my eyes began to wander to the window. I saw nearby rental buildings where residents simply drop off repair orders with their landlords. Plus, I was facing major assessments while these carefree renters were paying exactly what they’d paid the month before.
But after seeing Carmen Jones, I came back to my senses. Even with the work required for ownership, my renovated Cindy Lou apartment is still pretty nice. If I packed up and moved in hope of finding a carefree Carmen Jones rental, daily life might be easier, but at what cost? Instead of neighbors like mine who are bound by shared responsibility and goals, I might wind up living among people as fickle as I had been, brought together only by proximity and sheetrock. If I took the option to turn in my key whenever I thought of greener pastures, I might be forever unsatisfied, like Joe. Or worse, like Carmen.
Months later, Pam and Steve are still in the planning stages of their renovations. Me? I am on hold for the exterminator, looking up painters to give my Cindy Lou apartment a new winter coat.