We currently live in our third, and last, Brooklyn apartment. It’s old and normal. The walls and floors meet at right angles. There are no infestations. I’ve only met our landlord once. We have a nice fire escape, which some nice people got engaged on last summer. It’s great.
One of the best things is the view from the roof of Lower Manhattan. It looks a lot different now than it did ten years ago. I didn’t live in New York then, but every September we get a beautiful reminder of the buildings that used to be there. They are on every New Yorker’s mind today.
He drove us to our new building, which was just fine, located on a street that was okay, but also at the depressing and dangerous intersection of three neighborhoods. Have you seen the wonderful movie Do the Right Thing? The one where Danny Aiello owns a pizza store and causes a race riot? I hadn’t at the time we moved in, but it was in the same area.
Which is fitting, because the first food we ate was from a really good, authentic New York pizza place down the street. While we were waiting, a couple of teenagers came in and struck up a conversation with the pizza guy. One of them said, “Man, I gotta ask, what’s it like being an Italian dude with your store in the hood?”
“Did you hear that?” I whispered. “Because I had been thinking that this seemed like the hood, but I’ve never been in one before so I didn’t feel qualified to judge. But those kids live here, so they should know.”
I didn’t feel scared — not then, not at 5:30 a.m. waiting for the train to take me to work, not walking home across the Williamsburg Bridge and all the way down Broadway in the middle of the night. I didn’t once feel afraid until a year and a half later when I got mugged. At noon on a Wednesday. Against a church. And then for weeks later, I felt scared all of the time.
Several months after that, we moved to the ramshackle place with a front yard on 19th Street in Greenwood Heights, the same mini-neighborhood we still live in. It’s safer and nicer, working-class, diverse, tons and tons of children. The second apartment was bigger, but more decrepit.
The most amazing thing about it was our landlord, a truly incredible human who always seemed like a fictional character even when she was standing right in front of me. She was an aging junkie who rode a Harley and had a Brooklyn accent that was so Brooklyn-y that it sounded like she was faking it.
She had inherited the house from her boyfriend, who left it to her on his deathbed. This meant that he had disinherited his daughter, who was in the process of suing our landlord. The house was weird for many different reasons, one of which was the size of the kitchen. It was enormous, probably the biggest in the five boroughs. But there was also this basement that had been a separate apartment at one time, but which was now filled with a Tim Burton-style melange of shit. And vermin. Sometimes, I would hear something scratching the door to our apartment and it would be several raccoons that had sneaked in through the basement window. Kittens would die down there in the winter and fill the entire house with death smell.
But that house will forever be defined by the Incident of the Busted Pipe. After a late-night geyser exploded, we turned the water off and made do till morning, when the landlord showed up with a plumber, a nice man in his early 30s. He worked while RZ and I sat with the landlord in our living room. The bill came to $200. “Not bad,” I thought, “for an emergency plumbing bill.” After hearing the damage, our landlord took the plumber out into the hallway, which was about four feet away from where RZ and I sat eating bagels.
And then she offered up a different — and much older — currency than the one the plumber had in mind.
When you donate blood, they ask you a series of screening questions, one of which is, “Have you ever had sex for drugs or money, even once?” But they never ask whether you’ve ever — even once! — prostituted yourself for plumbing services rendered. This is clearly an oversight.
Mercifully, the plumber demanded hard cash. But I wasn’t able to finish my bagel.
Another thing about that house — if it turns out that ghosts exist, it was definitely haunted.
A seven-year anniversary calls for a playlist.
I made this one a few weeks ago in preparation for this post, but I think it also works if you’ve got New York on your mind today. And don’t worry, there is no Billy Joel. But tell me, what didn’t I include that you would have?