I spent June encamped in an empty room at my friend Adi’s apartment on the 38th floor of a brand new building. It’s three blocks west of Lincoln Center somewhere between Hell’s Kitchen and the upper west side—did you know there’s such a thing as “west of Lincoln Center?”—in an area that no one lived in 10 years ago and was probably a sand bar 50 years ago. Even today it’s a bit of a no man’s land, though buildings are going up all around. There’s a waste disposal facility a couple blocks south—really a dock where they load trash on a barge headed for Staten Island; the real upper west side doesn’t start for at least another 15 blocks to the north. From the Columbus Circle subway stop (brought to you by Time Warner) you walk through some projects, where the people are friendly and sociable, though Adi claims a disheveled woman once threw an egg at him at 4 in the morning after she bummed a cigarette and he said no. Politely, he insists.
The entire building smelled like a swimming pool, in a nice hotel-y kind of way. The first night I was there Adi warned me not to sleep on the mattress left in my room. The prior occupant, it turns out, rarely bathed and everything he touched turned to skank. He also apparently had a bit of coke thing: I found enough rolled up bills to buy a sandwich!
So on Adi’s instructions, I called the doorman, who said leave the mattress outside and we’ll take care of it. And voila! no more skank! They also do your laundry and dry-cleaning, bring your newspaper (in my case, three papers, since the guy before never cancelled his subscription) to your door, fluff your pillow (not really), and generally act extremely courteously and help you get over the paternalistic reality that you’re young enough to be their child but probably make more money than them.
The month was easy and blurry. I slept on an air mattress that sagged to the floor by 3 a.m. and stored my clothes on a bookshelf. I smoked two hookahs—Adi is known as “Flavor Country,” after all—a night, and watched lots of very large, very HD tv.
Most of the month not on the couch smoking rose-flavored tobacco was spent looking for apartments—a future post, one involving a Hasid who complained incessantly about non-existent traffic and an amped-up pay-day loan realtor who drove me to distraction, crumbled a housing group, and indirectly ended a promising flirtation I had a-brewing. The last day of the 20 some-odd apartment search, the very last apartment, the sole remaining stop between my real life and the realer reality of living with my parents for a really long summer, I found my mecca: an illegal loft in Crown Heights.
Here I am now, the ceiling 20 feet above me. The usual occupant is an artist, so plants and strings and umbrellas are dangling from the rafters, drugstore kitsch and pyramids of old decorative luggage are piled within and atop antique bureaus. I'm happy as can be. It’s a creative space, filled with creative people, and I’m probably only writing now to taste the spirit a bit. The whole place is entirely self-made: a circa 1950 Vernois Constellation oven found in a junkyard; cabinets that formerly housed beakers and bunson burners at the Pratt science center; halogen lamp light fixtures connected by extension cords; and so forth.
(I’ll be posting pictures soon: I apparently left the cord in my long-term storage room, that place in my life on 4th Avenue between here and there and then and now.)
No door man in Crown Heights. No tv. That chlorine smell isn’t the complimentary pool, but rather the industrial strength cleaner used at the factory next door.
Yes, perhaps I’m a gentrifier, maybe even an alarming sign of things to come (future post number two: riding the front wave of gentrification a couple years before the tide comes in). But for the guys on the corner, the group of a half-dozen West Indians who sell watermelons out of a cardboard box (to whom, I don’t know; but they start at $7), I suspect I’m more of a tourist than a colonizer. They chat me up, not because it’s their job, but I think because I’m a weird and new presence to them. And they’re just friendly like that.
All in all, it feels like home. Man, I missed Brooklyn.