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Tuesday, January 06, 2004

Yesterday morning’s rent check marks the 119th rent check we have written for our apartment in beautiful uptown Astoria, which means that next month, when we write check number 120, we will have lived in the same apartment for ten years.

It’s a pointless question to ask, “how do you know when it’s time to go?”, because the real answer, the only one that counts, is “when the money runs out.” We live in three rooms (living, bed, kitchen), 350 square feet, second floor, back of the house, view of the Triborough Bridge, the landlord’s backyard and garden, and the backyards of our neighbors.  Our previous two apartments together were studios, the first a mid-sized one in Philadelphia, the second a closet-sized space on the Lower East Side, so the thought of being in an apartment where you had a whole other room that sat empty while you sat in another room doing something else was exciting.  Now we look at the ten years’ worth of stuff accumulated, the stuff we have not yet moved into storage, the stuff that could fill a bungalow quite cozily, and we think, we have to go.

Except, of course, we can’t, at least not here.  Back in 1994, when we met with the real estate agent who was helping our landlord rent the apartment, we told her we were looking for a place with a rent of $500 to $600.  She took us to various small, dark, scary apartments, and then she brought us to this one.  Enough space, big kitchen (I had yet to learn that square footage is meaningless if you don’t have workable counter space), views of Manhattan, walkable shopping, subway around the corner.  We’ll take it, I said.  The landlord wanted $750.  “Don’t even think about it,” said the realtor.  We met him halfway, at $675.  “I still think you’re paying too much for this apartment,” sighed the realtor as we handed her a check for the first month’s rent plus security deposit.  Maybe we were, but in exchange for ponying up, we got a terrific landlord and landlady, who were enthralled by our newlywed status, who gave us tomatoes and peppers from the garden in summertime, and who didn’t raise our rent for the first four years we lived here.  Now we are paying $1,000 a month in rent.  We have the best deal in town.  Were we to move from this apartment into another one of comparable size, we can expect to pay, at minimum, about $1,300 for the privilege.  This means that when the time comes to go, we really have to go.

Thus starts the dance in my head.  Step forward, This is my home.  Step backward, Get me out of here.  One, two, love it here; three, four, out out out.  On good days I walk around the city and absorb the energy pulsing up from the sidewalk, propelling me and 7 million other people through space and time.  On bad days, I huddle and race, holding my breath until I know the worst of the bottlenecks are behind me.  On good days Lloyd and I go to the movies, or he accompanies me to the farmer’s market, or we go to the park. If the weather is nice and the crowds are amiable, it is easy to feel like we are a part of a larger picture, that the city is spreading out its best for us, inviting us to marvel at its hundred hundred little marvels, like Patchin Place, the little street in the West Village where E.E. Cummings lived and worked; or Prospect Park, where you walk through a narrow, dark, shady path, cross under a bridge and reemerge into the most open, beautiful green space you could imagine in a city; or my beloved Fort Tryon Park, with spectacular Hudson School-views of the river and a Heather Garden so beautiful, quiet and sweet that it is almost beyond imagining that such a space is in Manhattan, half an hour from midtown.  On bad days...well…

December 23 was a very bad day indeed.  It was my last day at LuthorCorp before heading to Philadelphia to spend the Christmas holidays with my parents.  I was brooding.  I was too tired for Christmas, missing my recently-deceased grandfather, feeling a fresh round of misery because it was two days past what would have been his 83rd birthday.  In addition, I was feeling quiet and thoughtful because the previous week I had read a Hartford Courant article about and which orionoir had written and linked, about twin sisters, one a psychiatrist, the other suffering from schizoaffective depression.  It was a terrific article, fascinating, occasionally funny, thoroughly heartbreaking, and it made me realize that the more one learns about mental illness, the more one realizes just how much we don’t know.  I thought about this article, as I did every morning for a week, as I rode the escalator out of the Grand Central Station subway stop, as I listened to a homeless, schizophrenic, possibly psychotic woman harangue all of the white men riding up the escalator with me as neo-Nazis trying to rape her mind.  Every day, the harangue was different, but my thoughts were the same:  this is somebody’s daughter, maybe somebody’s mother.  Where are all of the outreach people the NYCTA claims to have on staff to help homeless people get the help they need?  Why isn’t anybody doing something?  Why am I not doing something?

On the 23rd, she was still there, crying out that John Ashcroft was trying to steal her thoughts, but she wouldn’t let him.  I started turning over the same thoughts...then I heard the guy on the step behind me, parrotting her words right back at her, loudly, shouting her down.  I stood perfectly still, wondering what was coming next.

She kept yelling, seemingly impervious to the guy behind me.  He did it again, in a snotty teenage voice.  He’s mocking her, I thought.  As he talked, there was another voice, a high-pitched female giggle.

“John Ashcroft—“ said the homeless woman.

“I’m a Republican,” yelled the guy.

His wife/girlfriend giggled again.  “Why do you want to do that?”

“Because I’m a Republican, and I think she should shut up.”

“Why?” The woman was still giggling, and she had a whiny edge to her voice that made me feel like piano wire was wrapping itself around my head.  “It’s a free country.”

“Yeah,” said husband/boyfriend.  “It’s a free country, and I’m free to tell her to shut up.”

It started deep inside.  It was like the famous “Click!” of the 1970’s, the moment when feminists realize for the first time that they are feminists, except this was less a click than a snap, something breaking apart rather than coming together.  In my heart I knew that only trouble would come from this, but, officer, there was this snap.  I turned around.  They were both dressed in business attire. He was wearing aviator shades.  She was about 5 feet tall.

“That was really brave of you,” I said, “fighting with a schizophrenic like that.”

“Hey,” he said.

“No, really.  Obviously she made a choice to be sick, and to be here, and to purposely ruin your commute by suffering, but you really showed her!”

Wife/girlfriend glared.  “You need to mind your own business,” she said.

“Well,” I replied, “when you pick a public fight, you make it everybody’s business.”

I had resolved that once I had said my piece, I would stop, because the one thing I hate about your garden-variety New York City fight between strangers is the bickering aspect, the desire to get the last word so strong that anyone unfortunate enough to listen to you is treated to profanity-laden versions of “you are!” “no, you are!” So I turned back around, which was just as well because a) we had reached the top and b) before I’d made it to “everybody’s”, the guy had already told me to shut my fucking mouth.  As I walked toward the main concourse, I heard him continue on, as once again wife/girlfriend giggled for him to stop, continue to hurl more words, every version of every epithet that could contain “ugly” or “fucking.” I think a comment was made about my ass, too, as well as to my obvious frigidity AND lesbianism.  (At least I give the appearance of versatility.) It was not the words I minded nearly as much as the fact that this was going on during rush hour, so as he yelled, people turned to see who he was yelling at, so I was treated to everyone around me swivelling their heads, Busby Berkeley-style, to see the target.

I should have had adrenaline on my side, and for about 30 seconds I did, but it was instantly replaced by sadness.  What had been accomplished by all of that?  Who did it help?  Not the homeless woman.  Not the guy, or his companion.  Not anyone who had had the misfortune to listen to us.  Certainly not me.  I went to work, spent the day listening to customers yell at me, went home as quickly and quietly as I could, flung myself on Lloyd and cried get me out of this fucking city, please!

And yet, and yet, and yet.  Last week Lloyd came home from his temp job at Great Financial Behemoth, LLC, where he works with executives and partners in the firm, and told me about a conversation he had with two of them, guys who commute in from fancy suburbs in New Jersey, both of whom said, with venom, that they hated New York, only come in to work and then get the hell out, they don’t understand people who come in on weekends, why would anybody want to do anything here, because they sure don’t, and god, why would anyone live here?  And my back went right up.  I wanted to go to work with him the next day, invade the personal space of both of these guys and say just who the hell do you think you are, anyway?  If you hate working here so much, why don’t you get a job in Metropark and leave this city to the people who want to be here?  Now take thy beak from out my heart, and take thy form from off my door! And get the hell off my lawn!

How do you know when it’s time to go?  What do you do when it is?

Posted by Bakerina at 10:48 PM in anger is an energy • (1) Comments • (1) Trackbacks

Gosh.  My outlook is much better on this in the nice warm light of day (this said when it is 19 degrees in NYC).  I guess my problem is that usually when there’s a public dustup like this, I just keep my mouth shut, and then get angry at myself for not doing the right thing.  This time I did the right thing, but I still got angry at myself.  If anyone else had told me this story, I would have been proud of him/her, but with myself, I can’t stand up for falling down, which is just wrong.  I didn’t think I changed any minds that day, but really, who knows?  Thank you, dear friends. 

Thanks also for the feedback on the “when to go?” issue.  It’s a common rant of mine.  If I could afford it, I’d buy an apartment in my old LES nabe, send my kids to the public school on 4th & C named for Roberto Clemente, join the PTA and the community board, and just work to make Loisaida a better place to live.  Since I can’t, well then, we’ll just find another place to make better by our presence.  wink

orionoir, I appreciate the attaboy but I don’t really deserve it, as those lines were delivered in a tense, reedy, girlish voice.  In situations like that, I try to sound like Barbara Stanwyck, but I end up sounding more like Don Knotts.

collena, I would pay money to go back in time and watch you set that preacher man on the subway right.  smile

Bakerina on 01/07/04 at 01:35 PM  
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