I was looking for an apartment, which in Manhattan means you have to sell your soul. Your W-2s are not signed in enough places; your hair does not make enough money.
You refresh Craigslist every 40 seconds and wait for virgin blue links. Doesn’t matter, because nothing is real. As in online dating, everything pretends to be a shade better-looking and younger. The West Village is the best and the worst. It’s where the smartest and the prettiest pay to live beyond their means and below their hygiene thresholds: celebrities with great dogs, public relations beauties, dark-haired analysts and models emerging from their rat holes on Bank.
I was moving out of Wall Street and I wanted to live in the middle of it. I wanted to thumb wrestle with the roaches. On Day Two, my phone rang.
“Hey you looking for an apartment in the West Village,” a questionmarkless question.
Who is this?
“Don’t worry about it. Meet me on the corner of Perry and Hudson, at 4 p.m. I will send a text to confirm.”
There were maybe 15 more words exchanged, but mostly it was me asking for answers he wouldn’t give. So I went to meet a man who wouldn’t tell me his name. He texted that he was two minutes late and then he arrived two minutes later, walking down the street, rippling in all liquid black like Johnny Cash, heavy in a way that meant he had once been fit. His hair was dyed the brown of pecans and shoe polish.
He introduced himself just as Cawsey and we shook hands and I followed him onto a block I loved into three apartments that hadn’t yet come on the market. The last was a sunny triplex that wasn’t for me, and when I told him why, I didn’t get the look I had gotten from other realtors, that of, You cannot have that kind of a kitchen for your budget in the West Village. The look of, You will not be happy, or even mildly pleased. You will pay more to have less and yes, that fire escape is outdoor space.
As we descended from the triplex and alighted on Grove, a younger man stopped him, palming some bills against my new real estate broker’s hand. Cawsey winked and said, “Don’t worry, dearie, nothing illegal. Get in my van.” And I did.
It was a 1996 forest green Nissan Quest minivan. It was dusty and the interior smelled of a lot of different owners. “Let me check the back,” Cawsey said. “Okay, all clear. Last client got in the van and there was a tranny hooker asleep in the very back. It’s hard to be taken seriously in this business when you smell like hookers.”
That was the first one. The first truthfictiontruth of the man named Cawsey, who said he was 70 but really he was 67, who indicated out the window, driving too fast, a wraparound second-floor on Horatio and called it his home.
Cawsey is the only realtor in Manhattan I know who drives his clients around, and I don’t mean from way downtown to uptown. I mean he drives you from Christopher and Waverly to Bleecker and Jones, from Horatio and Hudson to Barrow and Hudson.
The minivan gets towed on a pretty regular basis. Even more regularly, it runs out of gas on the Avenue of the Americas, and it is up to Cawsey and Edgar, the young man he calls his Tonto, to push the Quest out of harm’s way.
Edgar is 22 and has a rich, glossy, swirled 1950s baby pompadour. He walked off of the SUNY Binghamton campus, clutching his B.A. in economics tightly to his soul, and into a real estate company looking for a regular real estate job. Then he met Cawsey.
“Hey kid, you wanna work with me,” a questionmarkless question. He showed Edgar a W-2 form that said that last year Cawsey took home $350,000, and Cawsey said “You work with me and you will make that, Year One.” It wasn’t until a few weeks ago, when I was in the van with the two of them and Cawsey was suffering an honest hour did he admit to doctoring the W-2. From the back seat, Edgar said, “You fuck. You fucking fuck.”
IT WAS AROUND Day Four that I sent an email to my friend and she replied, “Please stop seeing this person.” On Day Five, I was moved by events to send a follow-up:
Cawsey had on the same shirt from yesterday and whereas some days he looks dapper, today he looked like a slob. So I asked to see his driver’s license, and he showed it to me; it was 40 Ann Street, which is the Coalition for the Homeless. I was pretty sure he lived out of his van. A homeless broker. Yesterday he asked me for two dollars, and today he paid me back from a roll of hundreds.
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