Looking for an apartment in Boston is sort of like purchasing drugs.

You agree to meet on some street corner in a couple of hours. Do you have a cell phone number? No? How about a beeper?

You get there. Hi, sorry I'm late. I brought along someone else who wanted to look, too -- I hope that's okay. You walk down an alley and up a staircase. First you knock, once soft, once loud, then the keys come out and the door gets opened. Hello! Hello! the dealer yells, as a formality.

Or maybe you pull into a parking lot. You sit on your hood for a bit, waiting for a car matching the description you were given last night. When it pulls in you see that the driver's still talking on his cell phone. Or maybe you're late, and he gets there first, leaning on his own hood, chatting on the two-way Motorola radio. To his sister. Or his partner. His man on the inside.

You get in and drive. You follow down winding roads that you thought you knew, but you have no idea where you're going. When you park and get out, you're confused. I thought we were just going around the block?

There's walking and looking and talking. Lots of looking and talking while looking. What else do you have? Nothing else like this but cheaper? It's where? That's too far. What? Why can't we see it today? Can't we talk to the owner this afternoon?

Or maybe you do get to meet the owner. We're just waiting for Jimmy. He's a bud of mine. He's a short guy, he'll probably be smoking a cigar, he's real funny. Sure I trust him. And sure enough he is funny and he's got the cigar. Jimmy will cut you a deal. Utilities are included.

We have to move fast on this. The market is so tight. Let's pull off on the side of the road -- into this abandoned lot -- and make some phone calls. So you like it, can you cut a check? Not now? Later today? How much money do you make? Nobody's selling these days -- prices are so high that nobody wants to move from where they are. People aren't moving so places aren't opening up. Five years ago everything was twice as cheap. The landlord wanted to sell to a quiet married couple. Keep it on the DL. You guys might be too young. Do you party? Are you loud? Can you handle yourself? I'll see what I can do to smooth him out. Leave it to me. I'll take care of it.

In the dead time you get to philosophize with the realtor. Yeah, it's an awful business. So competitive and catty. We're not your average dealers. We're looking to get out. Just a few more sales, buy some property, move on. I used to be an investment banker overseas. Or I spent seven years climbing the corporate ladder. I thought this would be freedom, a way out, but I was wrong.

And meanwhile all you want is to find a nice place to live. Something to make you feel good.