Malfunction: How the Fuck Do I Survive in New York City?

On a freezing day in New York, the Naked Cowboy's concerns are much more external. (Photo: Robert Giroux/Getty Images)

Welcome to New York City, where a cowboy busking in his underwear is the least of your worries (Photo: Robert Giroux/Getty Images) (Photo: Robert Giroux/Getty Images)

Hi Meredith,

I recently moved to Brooklyn after I found an 11 day room to sublet. Right now I am stuck in a vicious cycle of “what comes next?” I am aggressively searching for jobs and another room to rent, however it seems I can’t successfully obtain one without the other. In order to apply for jobs, I need to provide an address. I don’t think I should use the address for the room I am currently subletting because I’ll be moving out soon. All of the people I’ve contacted about renting a room are either not responding to me or they do not like that I am currently jobless (despite having the money to support myself for a few more months sans job).

I do not know anyone here in Brooklyn well enough to ask to stay with them or ask to simply use their address for my job hunt. Any advice on getting out of this predicament is greatly appreciated! ❤️ 

I grew up in the kind of place that derives most of its excitement from a newly opened chicken wing chain and a bus that shuttles people between the army base and the mall. I went away to college in a town where I regularly bought rhubarb from Amish kids off the back of a horse-drawn buggy. For a hot minute, I lived at a hunting camp with no electricity. So given my complete lack of street smarts and overwhelming fear of change, I was terrified of moving to the city, though I’d been daydreaming about it for over a year.

Then, in one of my trademark manic episodes, a long weekend in the city became the perfect opportunity for me to stay forever. The decision, when I finally made it, took less than 20 seconds. Suddenly I was “living” in New York with nothing more than a suitcase and a laptop. That’s it. No address, no bed, almost no money, and worst of all, no plan to get any of those things. I was scared shitless.


Lots and lots of people live in Brooklyn. Many of them are idiots. They all survive somehow… right?


I kept telling myself I’d figure it out. Lots and lots of people live in Brooklyn. Many of them are idiots. They all survive somehow… right?

You’re scared like I was scared, because this is really scary. It’s time to start asking for help, which seems like the one thing you really don’t want to do. You said you “don’t think” you should use your temporary address to apply for jobs, you don’t know anyone well enough to even ask if you can crash with them or use their address, but there’s really no harm in asking, especially when you’re in need. You have to ask, because nothing will be handed to you. If you’re brave enough to start over in a new city, then you’re also brave enough to ask for help. For some of us, that’s the hardest thing in the world, but in your case, as in mine, it’s essential to your survival. A combination of asking for help and saying yes to everything will almost guarantee your success.

First, I asked a friend if I could stay with him for a few days while I looked for work. Then I asked him to convince his new roommate to let me rent their empty room. My second-ever foray into the wild world of public transportation involved taking trains and buses out to Ikea alone, then dragging a giant rolled-up mattress and a bag exploding with bedding back home the way I came.

After that I had $42 in my bank account, so I asked every writer friend I knew for advice and contacts, pitching to every publication I could weasel my way into. Around Thanksgiving, I begged my sorry ass into a part-time job at the record store. I started to ask friends if I could DJ their shows. I was deathly afraid of the dude I liked finding out how broke I really was, so I would live off dollar pizza, lonely fried eggs, apples, and peanut butter for a week at a time, saving whatever I had left for when I went out with him.

I would be on the phone with friends for hours, begging them to explain to me how they survived, asking for honesty, if they really thought I would be O.K. eventually. Through the fall and into the winter, I drank pot after pot of gross coffee and smoked cheap rollies, staying up late, writing and writing and doing 87 things every day just to stay afloat. It was stressful, yes, but at some point I realized that I was happier than I’d ever been in my life. I kept pitching, I kept saving, and I kept asking.

SAMSUNG DIGITAL CAMERA

NYC’s spirit animal (Photo: Cristina Bejarano)

So yes, you should ask if you can use the address of your sublet to apply for jobs. There’s no harm in asking. The world is huge and scary and trying to kill you, but these things you need are really small, reasonable favors. If they say no, ask everyone you know until you find someone who’ll agree to it. You say you don’t know anyone well enough to ask for a place to stay, but now is the right time to ask anyway. Run toward the life you want and let nothing, not even your own fears or preoccupation with following arbitrary social rules, get in your way. Not knowing someone very well does not mean they will refuse you a night or three on their couch. Friends, new friends, friends-of-friends, ask and ask and ask again. Using someone’s address to apply for a job, sleeping at someone’s place for a few nights, these are not major inconveniences, especially if you are a good houseguest (and you pay it forward someday when you meet someone in need).

Poll your family, your friends from home, anyone and everyone you know in the city, do they know anyone in Brooklyn with a spare room or sublet? Is their place of employment hiring? Do they know anyone who is? Make a post on Facebook, ask everyone you know to “share” it. Join any one of the many Brooklyn-centric Facebook groups designed to help people find housing. Post on Twitter. Walk into restaurants, clothing stores, cafés, anywhere with a sign on the window that says they’re hiring—make bike deliveries, steam dresses or wash dishes for a few weeks, any work to hold you over for a little while until you get established.

I’ve been here in Brooklyn almost eight months and that once-crippling fear has abated slightly. Things feel different now, but I’m not sure much has changed—it just got easier to manage. It’s still extremely demanding. I’m still asking for help constantly and I’m barely breaking even, but I’ve got a roof over my head, I’m really happy, the work hasn’t evaporated, and one day I might not even need these anxiety meds any more.

This is all to say: I am basically completely fucking useless, and if I can do it, literally anyone can do it.

I’ve asked a bunch of my friends in New York, all of which are waaaayyyyy more successful than I am, how they got jobs and apartments when they first moved here and were struggling. Hopefully between my saga and theirs, you can find some comfort, or a solution that will work well for you. Good luck. You got this.

"Virginia Placement"

Your morning commute. (Photo: Getty)

TIFFANY PATTON

Makeup artist with Bernstein & Andriulli

What brought you to NYC? My job, more opportunities to work in the type of world that I wanted to be in as a makeup artist. There are lots of jobs to do makeup in L.A., but not a lot to do makeup in the fashion industry—they’re more competitive out there. I moved specifically to work more and build a portfolio here.

How did you get an apartment and a job? I had a friend who was leaving to go to Peru with her mother and needed someone to cat-sit for three weeks. That was in Fort Greene. I was not making enough money in N.Y. I was having to work back in L.A. to pay rent in N.Y. An acquaintance friend of mine—again, because I asked—said I could stay with him on a blow-up mattress in his living room. He put a shower rod up and literally, it was me and this twin blowup mattress behind a curtain in his living room. When I was not home and they wanted to close off that area, we pulled the curtain over. I donated my time by cleaning the apartment and helping with groceries and beer, buying cheap dinner here or there. I had no money. I got the apartment by subletting from somebody else (you’re gonna have to fill someone else’s sublet). Again, I had no friends here—just the one. I was taking every job I could. It was always a struggle. But I think that one thing to remember is that the amount of opportunity here means you will find work. There’s a lot of work here if you’re willing to swallow your pride or do whatever.

I made another friend, we hung out at a bar with $4 Miller High Life, drinking our sorrows in 32 ounce styrofoam cups. His friend from back in Long Beach had a roommate who was moving out, and he needed a new roommate. I had a little bit of money saved up and I gave it to him. I was never on the lease—you have to skirt the lease. After that, my best friends moved to town and we got an apartment together. They got the lease in their name, I had a bedroom that was just a lofted space. Then I lived alone in a studio across from the Margaret Hotel in a rat-infested building, but I had my own backyard. I had to pay four months’ rent in advance to skirt having a guarantor. I borrowed that money from friends. You have to ask. You have to swallow your pride and find help.

MEAGAN FREDETTE


‘You have to ask. You have to swallow your pride and find help.’


Freelance writer, customer and account management at a tech startup

What brought you to NYC? I came to New York to meet somebody I’d fallen in love with and it didn’t go very well, but while I was visiting, I couldn’t shake the feeling of coming home. It was a feeling I’d never had in Chicago. I kind of felt like where I was living in Chicago had a lot of memories of my ex, and I wanted to get away from that. Also, I had really stupid, silly dreams of being a writer. I realized I already had a community here of people who loved and cared about me. I didn’t have family in Chicago and I have family here. I also hated my job.

How did you find a job and an apartment? Oh god. It took me six months to find a full-time job. I survived in the meanwhile by beating guys up for money, doing some freelance writing, and consulting in subsidized housing work, which is what I did before I moved. It didn’t go very well. I was very poor. I would have literally exactly $800 to pay my rent and nothing to eat. I sold almost all my beautiful designer clothing—I have no clothes left—in order to pay for things. That sucked. I had a few different living situations. When I first moved, I was on a two-month sublet with a friend that she’d posted on Facebook. I figured two months was enough time to find work and an apartment—wrong. After that, I still didn’t have a stable place to live, so I rented a room for two weeks with some people I didn’t know through word of mouth. A couple weeks after that, I stayed with a friend in Greenpoint. After that, I found another room for two months with other friends. Now I have my current apartment, through another friend.

The best way to find housing is through friends and word of mouth. The Facebook groups for housing are wonderful. I use them a lot, that’s how I was able to find housing in a couple of places, and I’ve used them to find housing for other people, too. They’re like a black market of housing, and they’re super helpful. You can definitely find a room for the summer. You might not be able to sign a lease, but if you’ve got money to pay rent for a few months up front, offer that right away. It will make people comfortable subletting to you while you find stable work. Also, please remember—I wish someone had told this to me—it is temporary. It does get better. It may seem impossible now, but you will be fine. Don’t hesitate to reach out and ask for things. Utilize your support network. If you can, go out and do things and read books and do all the things that make you feel like a whole person whose life isn’t total shit. That’s the only way you’re gonna survive.


‘I wanted to be a part of the creative force that I was being handed through culture and things that I read about. I didn’t want to be someone that absorbed it, I wanted to be someone that helped create it.’


DIMITRI ‘DVS’ STATHAS

Rapper, Hustler/Mutant

You were born and raised here. Why are you still in NYC? I’m still here because, I dunno, it’s a symbiotic relationship. I need it and it needs me. It’s a lopsided ratio, it’s not 50-50 like I’d like it to be, but it will get there. I’ve been other places for weeks at a time and tried to do how I do here there, and nothin’ doin’. I’ve grown up in this petri dish where I know how all the germs and lightning work, and I know where to stand if I don’t want it to hit me, and what to feed it if I want it to grow. That’s not true of anywhere else.

How do you find a job and an apartment? There are a bunch of little, more secret-type spots like the 80/20 list. I’m unfamiliar as to the full scope of the program but there’s some decree that the government has to set aside a percentage of subsidized housing for people who are lower income. You get on a list and stew until they hit you up like, “Yo, we found a thing over here and it’s for you and it’s super cheap.” I know people who have gotten gorgeous situations for $500, $600 a month. It is rare and takes like 10 years, but in the meantime, ones do pop up. There’s a website, and they definitely make it bureaucratic-difficult where it seems like they don’t want you to do it, but that’s only because it doesn’t benefit them to make it any easier.

A lot of people I know who move here who I’ve met during all my crazy promo jobs, people being mad nomadic, they’d say, “I’m from Cali, but I want to do stuff that I need to be in New York for—how do I live? You may still have to have proof of address, but I don’t see why you can’t list the address you’re currently at. In terms of a job, if they’re gonna check, they’re only checking to see if it’s a real address, and if they check at all it’s going to be a problem anywhere unless your name is on the lease. Some of this shit gets tangled. Some of it is going to end up biting you on the ass. Keep doing it. It’s a formality at this point, honestly. Whatever check they’re going to do to is just to make sure you’re really there. But if you do land these jobs, make sure they hand you the check instead of mailing it to an address you don’t live at any more.

All the jobs I ever did or found have been really specific ones, because I’ve got a really specific skill set. It’s all about filling in the gaps. That’s what life here is until you’re fully on top of shit—which you may never be. But you’ll be more so as time passes.

First off, it’s not a lifesaver, but a little life boost every so often—find and sign up for as many focus groups as you can. There are a handful, maybe three or four main focus group companies (Inspired Opinions, the Focus Room). Sign up and keep searching, sign up for as many as you can, and when you get there, don’t shut up. Regardless of your opinion, the more you say stuff, the more likely you’ll get hired for more of those.

Prospect Park

Oh, right, that’s why we put up this shit. (Photo: Wikimedia)

When you’re waiting on a check, there’s two ways to go about it. Either you know that in a week you’ll have $300, so you lie very still for a week, or you use that time to do literally anything. You go to the Craigslist gigs section. A few years ago it was very real and now a lot of it is, “Are you a carpenter? If so, come to my house and suck my dick!” But there are still real ones. I’ve spackled a lot of holes and installed a lot of air conditioners for $30 by babysitting the Craigslist gigs section. You keep stringing together shit like that, that’s how you stay afloat. New York has a lot of loopholes where you can stitch it together. This shit is all about Mary Tyler Moore, you’re-gonna-make-it-after-all shit. There’s plenty of niche pockets. You can do whatever for a small amount of money, then you stitch a lot of small amounts of money together.

TORI COTE

Sponsorship coordinator for LiveNation (Gramercy Theater, Irving Plaza, Nikon at Jones Beach Theater, and NYCB Theater at Westbury)

What brought you to NYC? When I was 10, I said I was going to move to New York City. I planned on going to college here, but I decided not to at the last minute, and attended the Bandier program at Syracuse University instead. When it came time to graduate, I definitely wasn’t sure what to do. My boyfriend told me I needed to move to New York, to get over it and do it.

How did you find a job and an apartment? I had three friends that lived in NYC at this point—I was fortunate enough to have that. I called one of them and said, “Hey, I’m moving here, can I live in your apartment?” I had a place to live before I had a place to work. This was probably in April, and I graduated in May. So I went home to Boston for a week, and emailed everyone I knew in the music industry to get coffee. I would take the train back and forth from Boston to NYC and get coffee with people. No job semantics, I had no leads, it was just meeting people. I did that until, all of a sudden, people started recommending me for jobs. Then I got three job offers in one week. I took the first job that paid me the most money. That’s what I had to do to be here. And I worked there for six months until I realized it wasn’t what I wanted to do—I wasn’t being treated fairly. So, I applied and looked around and shopped around for new jobs until I found this one. I love it. I like what I’m doing. But it was really hard work and I wasn’t happy for the first six months I was here.

Manhattan is actually kinda alright sometimes ... don't repeat that. (Photo: Jeff Chien)

Manhattan is even kinda alright sometimes … don’t repeat that. (Photo: Jeff Chien)

I didn’t put my address down in Brooklyn when I was applying for jobs. I used my old address from home. If potential employers asked when I was moving to Brooklyn, I’d lie and say I already moved here. I’d tell them I’m using my parents’ address because I wasn’t on the lease. No one ever questioned me.

I think the most important thing for apartment hunting is to act quick. You need to be ready to go at that moment. But for subletting, asking everyone if they have a room open and posting on Gypsy Housing [Author’s Note: That’s a racist-ass name but I’ve heard it’s a great, useful Facebook group.] a group on Facebook for subletting rooms for people in the arts—that’s important. You have to sublet to move here, or else you screw yourself over. I got my own apartment later, and I’d definitely recommend that.

HANNAH SILK CHAMPAGNE

Project manager, Captured Tracks

What brought you to NYC? Wanting to move back to the East Coast from the Midwest. I had two good friends who moved from Minneapolis to New York about a month before me, and I decided to move to New York because of that, essentially.

How did you find a job and an apartment? I came here with a job through Whole Foods, which was a terrible job that made me miserable every day, but I worked there 40 hours a week while I also did an internship for about 30 hours a week. I went in before work every day and on all of my days off. That led to the job I have now.

If you just need a job to live, take whatever job you can get. Then do whatever you can to get closer to the field you really want to work in: volunteer or find a community organization you want to work with, something you can do to establish connections with people. I went to shows alone. I met people smoking outside. I put myself in the places I needed to be in order to make the connections I needed with people who were doing things. That’s not only how I made job connections, but also how I made friends.


‘New York has a lot of loopholes where you can stitch it together. This shit is all about Mary Tyler Moore, you’re-gonna-make-it-after-all shit.’


For housing, initially, I looked on Craigslist. I found people who had short subleases. I got to my first sublease and it was way, way out in South Brooklyn, beyond where I felt comfortable living, so I went right back on Craigslist and found a place where I could live for one month. If you can find a place to sublease for one month, it’s good, because they won’t ask you for first, last and deposit. I would take one-month subleases, which aren’t always the best situations, but usually you’ll be able to find someone like college kids going home for the summer, or someone going out of town for a month, people who don’t do a background check and won’t do a credit check as long as you have cash in hand to pay them. I took a risk on that. I found, through someone who I’d met, a few people who were looking for a roommate and that’s where I’ve been living for the past three years. It happened to work out.

IAN SCOTT DOREY

Freelance hairstylist

What brought you to NYC? I wanted to be a part of the creative force that I was being handed through culture and things that I read about. I didn’t want to be someone that absorbed it, I wanted to be someone that helped create it. I was already doing hair, but I wanted to be the best of the best, and in the culture of top hairdressers in the world. For me that meant coming and working at Bumble and Bumble and learning from them, then creating what happens in the rest of the world. It really does trickle down from what happens here and in a few other places. I don’t think of it as “I wanted to be the best at my job,” it was more like I wanted to be around other people who were motivated to be as good as they could get.

How did you find a job and an apartment? My then-boyfriend took a job out here and spent two months finding an apartment. He saved up money, sublet a room and looked for an apartment before I was even out here. He, myself and this girl all applied for apartments until we got one, but it took one of us coming out here, taking a sublet and looking to find one. We had to look online, but it was really something you had to be present to do.

I knew I wanted to work with Bumble & Bumble before I came here. I already worked at a B&B network salon in New Mexico and I had come to B&B here and taken classes, so I was determined that that’s where I would work. I was literally so persistent—I went there every day for five days straight, and then the manager laughed and interviewed me after refusing to do it so many times. She gave up after I was so persistent about showing up and asking if she was there. I had to work there. It’s not even easy to get the lowest job at Bumble because so many people apply for it.


‘Most people attain their highest degree of success when they decide they can do it.’


Within a year of living here, NARS contacted me to give lectures to their employees about current trends in hair and fashion. I was put on a team with a global NARS top educator and a wardrobe stylist to give presentations to hundreds of employees in D.C., Philadelphia and New York. This was all through networking and being determined. If I did that for one day, it would pay almost my rent in my first place. It was crazy. It was such a lucky thing, it actually saved me from not being able to eat or pay my bills at the beginning. Doing that job gave me more confidence in myself. It gave me a sense of self-esteem. It helped me financially and mentally.

But after that apartment, I had no money. I tried all these different rooms. I think I looked at 30-something apartments. I had not one but two cats, so all the apartments said, “Well, if you have ONE cat this would work, but we already have one and we don’t want three.” I couldn’t find anywhere to live, so I started asking my friends in a total desperate two-weeks-to-move way, and one of my friends said they lived in a brownstone in the upper west side. “Let me see if there’s a room that’s not being utilized.” And that’s where I’ve now lived for five and a half years. She said I could stay there for one month for a $1,000—normally the rent was $2,700—and I never left. At first, I would paint the walls, I’d do her hair, and as I made more money I’d give her more and more. Now I pay full rent. It was very desperate and scary at first but I was determined. I was more concerned with my cats being homeless than I was. Oh my god, I could go to a youth hostel if I had to, but I can’t put my cats in a youth hostel.

Ultimately, everyone becomes self-employed. After a period of years it’s sort of like, most people attain their highest degree of success when they decide they can do it. They don’t need a platform or a facilitator. Once you make that choice, then you really fly. And then, you might come back around eventually and work for other people or companies, but at a much higher level and a different caliber. Once you’ve done something yourself and taken on that success, that’s the most respected way to be in almost all industries. That’s it. You can be a freelance this or that in New York City? That’s incredible on all fronts. If you ask for it, anything can happen.

Malfunction is a new monthly advice column from Meredith Graves, lead singer of Brooklyn’s Perfect Pussy, and creator of Honor Press records. You can send any questions, problems and concerns to Meredith Graves at meredith@honor.press. Your information will, of course, be kept completely anonymous. 

Read Malfunction No. 1: Confessions of a Serial Cheater

Malfunction: How the Fuck Do I Survive in New York City?