Starlee Kine, with options.
Illustration: Lindsay Mound
Starlee Kine is trying to figure out what happens next. After a brief sojourn in Los Angeles, the writer and podcaster is seven months into her quest for the right Brooklyn apartment. “You’ve caught me in a real existential-crisis time,” she says, pointing out the added weight of doing, well, pretty much anything. “When you’re searching for an apartment,” Kine explains, “every place you go factors into where you want to set up your life — the identity you will be assuming going forward.” Read on to see what she discovered this week.
Thursday, January 6
Last January, I made a pandemic-brain-fog-influenced decision to give up my New York apartment of 15 years. I regret it mightily and have been looking for a new apartment for the last seven months. I know that there are more than seven months between that January and this one, but the search has been happening in earnest since July. The way we track time has changed for all of us since March 2020 and for me it now comes in sublet- and housesitting-stint-size chunks.
This week I co-ran a Zoom writers’ room for Excessive, a scripted podcast for Audible that I’ve been working on with my friend Dan Robert starring our friend Chloe Fineman, who is killing it on SNL. When you work in an in-person writers’ room, everyone gets lunch taken care of for them. It’s the greatest perk ever and I’m in a constant state of wonderment that it happens. I will never stop noticing and noting that it does and I will never forget all the jobs in my life where it didn’t.
It’s not the same on Zoom. Even if you have a per diem, you still have to make all the decisions. You still have to plan. You still have to time-manage. I don’t do well with that and most of my Zoom lunch breaks are spent walking my dog. Or two dogs this week: my dog, who is named Hi Sally — he’s a boy — and my friend’s dog, a five-month-old miniature long-haired dachshund named Morris. I was watching him in exchange for staying at my friend’s house in Bed-Stuy. I’ve never had much interest in little dogs and I’ve been adamantly against getting attached to any particular dog breed, but there is something about Morris. His fur is the same texture as your softest sweater. He chooses one person that he wants to be held by at all times and if that person is you, you walk around feeling a little luckier than everyone else.
When you have a dog, your errands route is often dictated by which places you can bring your dog to. There’s a relatively high number of those right now, in this hazy phase of the pandemic when things are still unsettled and rules are laxer, and for every human that left the city, it seems a dog has been added.
The room broke for lunch around three, and I went to Coffee Uplifts People on Gates Avenue. They have homemade baked dog treats in the shape of coffee cups that they keep in a glass jar on the counter. They always encourage me to take two, even though Hi Sally really gets them both, since giving a treat to Morris is like presenting a morsel of cheese to a cartoon mouse on a silver platter. I break off the tiniest piece of the coffee cup, a fourth of the handle, which Morris carefully chews for the next ten minutes while the rest of his is devoured in seconds by Hi Sally.
I ordered a curry patty and a black coffee. I love black coffee. It’s perhaps my truest pleasure in life. I always order it hot. The hot is what makes coffee coffee. The only coffee item that I care about, that I have a codependent relationship with, is my Japanese Kinto thermos. It keeps the coffee hot for an entire day, which is perfect for me, since I, like Morris, am a slower eater and drinker. It can take hours for me to finish a meal. Something I’ve been doing lately with my friend Hannah is to order a hot seasonal alcoholic beverage like mulled wine and then get so lost in conversation that I forget to drink it before it gets cold, rendering it undrinkable. I’ll then order another to win a battle against only myself, allow it to get cold and then in a burst of exasperation over my own pathology, attempt to pound the two cold, undrinkable drinks as the waiters bring us our check and wipe down the tables and place the chairs upside down on the surrounding tables.
The Zoom room went until eight because the other writers are on the West Coast. And then I went back to working on one of the episode scripts, invigorated by the much-needed energy and comic lens the writers had brought. I’m the kind of writer where it can take days, weeks, months before I’m able to start writing. Starting is absolutely the hardest part. My brain needs the conditions to be lined up just right. It’s maddening, most especially to myself, and I’ve tried to fight it, but, like that hot mulled wine apparently needing to become cold before I can take a first sip, it really is what happens every time.
Eventually something will happen that will be the thing that slight the fuse needed to get me to where I need to go. In this case, it was this smart, funny group of writers who led the way to a brighter path, and then I was off, incorporating their notes, unsticking the places where I had gotten stuck.
Whenever that miraculously happens, food is the last thing on my mind and it always feels like a desperate bargain when the hunger kicks in: Please just one more hour. Not just one more hour before I have to stop, but one more hour before I have to make a decision about what I want. I’ve been having trouble figuring that out. What I want to eat. Where I want to live. What I want my life to be. When you’re searching for a new place to live, choosing a restaurant is no longer a neutral decision. Every place you go triggers a barrage of, The barista remembered my drink order. This is where I should live, or The guy at the bodega insisted on helping me get the toilet paper down — I can’t live here.
Around seven, I ended up ordering from Maya Taqueria, but in a frantic, past-the-food threshold way, so I ordered from the Park Slope location by accident. I got enchiladas and corn on the cob because it had the cotija cheese, mayo, and hot spice like I used to love getting on corn from a taco truck near my old apartment. The food at Maya is good and always arrives really fast, but this night, two hours passed and it hadn’t arrived. It took every cell in my scattered being to focus on the confirmation email long enough to find the number to call. The nice man who answered said there must have been some glitch, because the order had gotten “stuck in the system.” I calmly said yes, that made perfect sense to me. The system didn’t have a writer’s room to help unstick it. The man put the order in again and said it would arrive in ten minutes. The Park Slope location was 15 minutes from the house by car, 12 minutes by bike. And yet somehow it arrived when the man said it would.
Friday, January 7
Last day of the Zoom. Last day at the house. Last day with Morris. First snow of the year for New York. First snow of their lives for Hi Sally and Morris. They frolicked on the little roof that could be accessed through the kitchen window.
There was only a French press at the house for coffee, and whole coffee beans that had to be ground. French presses are for days when you have your whole life ahead of you. Not when you have to do packing and last minute tidying. Last minute Morris cuddling. I’ve steadily brought less and less stuff to each new location I stay in. The dogs watched, nervous. Dogs always know when you’re packing.
On the Zoom we went through the finale page by page, uncaffeinated. Dan showed us his AirPods case cover that was shaped like a tiny bottle of Fiji water. He told us he would order one for each of us, as a gift.
I stared at the tiny bottle and wished I had a real bottle of water on the desk. A real bottle of water that was actually a hot thermos of coffee. Morris was downstairs with my friend’s son, who was taking over Morris-watching duty with his dad. I was afraid to disrupt the transfer of power. The only thing I had grabbed on my way up was a lukewarm kombucha. I remembered a bag of almonds I had in my bag, also downstairs. The punch ups continued.
The Zoom ended. I said a final good-bye to Morris and drove Hi Sally back to the sublet in Greenpoint I’d been staying in prior to this. The sublet was ending, and I had to pack up my stuff from there, too. Then I had to drop off Hi Sally at my friend Morgan’s house because I was flying to Los Angeles at seven the next morning. The television show I write for, Search Party, was having a private screening of our fifth and final season, which had premiered on HBO Max that morning. It was a trip that I thought I had decided against, just because it felt so logistically complicated, but every step I did indicated that I was in fact getting on a plane in a few hours. I’ve been listening to Company a lot since Sondheim died and I saw it on Broadway a couple weeks ago. I’ve been thinking a lot about what “Being Alive” means to me and in this case, it meant flying to L.A. for one day to watch the TV show I love working on with the friends that I love working with.
I drove to Greenpoint and texted Morgan that I’d be bringing Hi Sally over shortly, after I found food for the first time that day. I had so many things to do at once, all non-negotiable and equally big and hard, that it felt impossible to do any of them so I threw on my coat and walked to the bodega on Franklin and Greenpoint Avenue. They have good coffee there, but it’s one of those organic-type places that has no actual food-food. I thought about how I still had to pack up the sublet and arrange my stuff in my car and drop off Hi Sally and catch up with Morgan and get to the airport on time and go through security and then fly on a plane and the bodega’s selections began to swim before my eyes. I reached for a bag of croutons and a can of Amy’s No Chicken Noodle soup, which I didn’t end up having time to cook. And a bottle of Fiji water.
Saturday, January 8
I made it to the airport by 6 a.m. The line for Delta wrapped around and around and a man walked up and down the line asking us if we wanted to never wait in line again by signing up for an American Express card. The TSA agents were in a terrible mood, yelling at everyone. One of them screamed at a man in a wheelchair to get out of the way. I hadn’t flown in two years, since March 2020, and I figured this is how it was in airports now. In the world now. Everyone worn down to nubs from two years of dangling from the edge, lashing out, teeth bared. I found my gate and looked at the Dunkin’ Donuts line longingly before showing the gate agent my ticket and boarding the plane.
It was way less tense onboard. I asked the flight attendant for a water and a Diet Coke and a coffee, scanning the cart to make sure I’d maximized all options available to me. He joked that I’d left out ginger ale and then gave me extra cookies, which I swallowed almost whole, no longer the delicate seahorse that is Morris but the ravenous jock that is Hi Sally. They were the most delicious cookies in the world, the way food always is when you’ve gone too long without having any.
I landed at 10:30, L.A. time, and got a coffee at Starbucks and a chocolate muffin at the QR code that is now Peet’s. The muffin was less delicious than the biscuits had been. I had an hour to change and get to the screening.
The screening was at Neuhouse in Hollywood. Everyone there was involved in the show. The creators, Charles Rogers and Sarah-Violet Bliss. Three of the four main cast members, Alia Shawkat, John Early, Meredith Hagner. Jeffery Self, who played John’s partner, Marc was there with his real-life husband, Augustus Prew, who made a brief, wonderful appearance in the show’s final episode. Charles’s mom was there. Jim was there. Grace and Joe and Michelle and Larry and Greta who played Dory’s disciples this season were there. Clare McNulty who played Chantal was there. Sabrina Jalees, who was a writer like me on the show, was there. Our friends Bridey and Kelly and Alexi and Hannah, who’ve played small parts. We do these private screenings for every season — it’s our favorite way to watch the show.
It’s what makes the show feel real. Three out of five seasons of Search Party came out during the pandemic, so it felt especially good to be in a physical space watching the show together, for the last time.
There was a basket of concessions that kept getting refilled and I grabbed everything I could. I ate at least eight buckets of popcorn. I shared Red Vines with Clare. I kept going back for more coffee. I drank four glasses of prosecco. I grabbed a bag of Skittles and then I immediately forgot about them.
We watched all ten episodes of the final season. We laughed so much. We felt proud watching the finale. And then a little sad that it was over. We emptied out into the lobby and hugged and when we spoke, words kept getting caught in our throats.
The after-party was at Lolo Wine Bar, which I kept calling LOL Wine Bar, and kept being corrected about. There was unlimited wine that we drank in an unlimited way. The disciples sat at a table and ordered food together and then I intersected the waiter and ordered a bunch of plates just for myself: Japanese sweet potatoes and bread with honey butter and cacio e pepe because as much as the disciples seemed to think that is a plate you can share, it is not. Something about sawing through the pasta strand just goes against the entire endeavor.
Sunday, January 9
Another seven-in-the-morning flight, this time out of LAX. These TSA agents were in a great mood. Laughing, joking. Two of them forgot to tell me to exit out of the metal-detection scanner, they were having such a good time together. A tiny bit of balance was restored.
I picked up Hi Sally from Morgan, and then I had to go look at an apartment. My friend Whitney came with me. The apartment wasn’t what I had hoped it would be. It reminded me of my old apartment but wasn’t as good, and I burst into tears once we were back down on the sidewalk, from the exhaustion of it all. Whitney asked if wanted to come over for dinner and I went to her loft where she lives with her husband, Adam, and their son, Bear. Adam and Whitney had made shepherd’s pie using the New York Times recipe, which was exactly what I wanted, the best thing I could imagine being given that night, with two of my oldest friends in New York.