A Quick Update for 2014

First, a big thank you to everyone who checked in via facebook or email about my ceiling! I am deeply grateful to have such thoughtful people in my corner. The holidays, working extra hours, the apartment repair, and a deadline to write a foreword for the re-release of a friend’s book (more on that when it’s out) added up to no quiet time to blog. I have other stuff on my mind to write about, but thought I should update this first:

My building manager was so shocked when she saw the photos of the hole that she made my repairs a priority and is now more amenable to listening when I complain or warn that something dire is approaching. It helps that she is female and was there when I told the contractor the ceiling was going to cave while he quietly blew me off as the usual hysterical female. I sure showed him! Too bad my last laugh had to include weeks of cleaning, severe emotional stress, the risk of my cat’s life, breathing in a quantity of black dirt and damage to an irreplaceable antique photographer’s chair that my mother refinished by hand. 

I did go to a friend-recommended lawyer who told me that my rent is so low that by the time we went through the trouble of legalities and the court system I would owe him more than I would make back in a one or two month rent abatement. When I asked if my landlord would ever offer anything out of sheer decency, he laughed. Apparently no landlord offers anything except a low ballpark buy-out these days. I told him I’d come back when I’m ready to leave so they can pay me for the favor 

But my kitchen and living room ceilings are now repaired. It was a big chore and mess, and meant 75% of my apartment was off-limits for days at a time while they worked. I had to herd my four animals into the bedroom and was nervous about leaving them alone for major stretches of time. Which, truth be told was not the worst thing as it was nice to have an excuse to lounge in bed for hours, reading and surrounded by animals.

The ceiling looks pretty good; they drilled drywall into the existing beams and plastered and painted over the whole thing, which, according to friends in the know, is how it’s done nowadays when an apartment is still occupied. Our little family is no longer living under a rain of plaster or in fear for our lives. I also got a promise of a new paint job, new cupboards and possibly a new sink unit if I harass them enough. 

I went upstairs and looked at the mini-palace being built in a space the same size as mine, which is a one bedroom with the bedroom being extremely small. The renovated apartment is quite fancy, with nice looking tile and floorwork and even including a tiny washer/dryer in the bathroom, which will probably steal all my hot water. I am guessing they’ll call it a two-bedroom as a section of the kitchen has been maneuvered into acting as a tiny living room while the actual living room is walled off into what could pass for as the bigger bedroom. I’m guessing this apartment will go for $2500-$3000. Wrap your brain around that: it’s a six flight walk-up in a no-doorman tenement building on Avenue B.

My poor little apartment is still in desperate need of renovation, which can only happen properly if I exit with all my stuff, never to be seen again, leaving the landlord free to gut it and start afresh. This is not going to happen right away. I have no desire to live out my dotage in a crumbling five flight walk-up; I have a life here, with friends I love and really don’t want to leave.

Still the nudges that it’s coming get more frequent with each passing month. Every Saturday night there are always two or three incredibly bad and spoiled eggs present during my bartending shift that remind me that this city, at least in its current state, will not be my final destination. Last week I waited on a guy who claimed to once have been a bartender, then announced that all bartenders are shady, then didn’t tip because he thought $10 was too expensive for his premium bourbon, the implication being that I was already scamming him out of money. So he essentially called me a thief and didn’t pay me for my work, the energetic equivalent of spitting poison at someone and then walking away. The tip stiff is less hurtful than being insulted and demeaned for just doing my job. That kind of thing gets under your skin after a time, and is the reason there are so many surly bartenders and waiters in the world.

Then there was a this guy, who will remain legend among my co-workers for years to come:

1. Upon entrance dropped his coat down on a banquette and walked away for the night’s festivities, never looking back.
2. Had a few Jamos and Bud Lights (it’s their favorite) and eventually got so drunk that he felt the need to show me how limber he was while bro-dancing to Daft Punk ripping off Earth, Wind & Fire by throwing his foot up on the bar as if it were a barre.
3. Discovered at 3:00 am that he couldn’t find his favorite $2700 pea coat. Not finding his favorite $2700 pea coat where he was sure he left it made him feel cranky and convinced that someone had stolen it. Because he left it RIGHT THERE.
4. When security found his favorite fucking $2700 pea coat on a different banquette, probably the first one he passed on his way in to show us how awesome and bendy he is, instead of being grateful and relieved and perhaps embarrassed that he made such a stink, he only got more angry and belligerent and accused security of trying to steal it.
5. Got so aggressive regarding the imagined grand theft of his bullshit $2700 pea coat that he got in people’s faces until he had to be forcibly shoved out the door.
6. Once shoved out the door he announced to very visibly tattooed and non-golfy members of the staff that they were going to be really sorry because they were now banned from the fabulous golf courses that his dad, and he by default, own. 

You can’t make this stuff up, people. Well, you can, but there’s no need when it’s happening nightly right outside your door. And I do mean right outside: I have to step over vomit nearly every weekend on my way into my building.

So how long can you live next door to it, or above it, or underneath it, unless your name has a III after it and you enjoy golfing and drinking until you vomit in the street? My guess is not forever. But I grateful that I am living in a building that while undergoing the standard painful upgrades and ensuing market-value price gouges, remains relatively safe for its rent-stabilized tenants for the time-being.

I am also really gratified that the people in our little community of aging freaks are still willing to reach out to one another in time of crisis. That connection is invaluable and I hope that I am able to pay it forward when the opportunity arises. I am sick of talking about how New York sucks these days and want to focus on what we do have, and that is primarily each other. There is still a bit of time left and it would be nice to enjoy what we can while we can.

And lastly, on the topic of the shortness of life– the very talented Philip Seymour Hoffman. I didn’t know him, but by all reports from people who did, he was a very nice guy. Many in our scene are no stranger to drugs or drug addicts, and I’ve read some strong opinions on his weakness, on the weakness of junkies, etc. I have witnessed that weakness firsthand and yes, it’s frustrating and many times you just have to walk away or lose your mind. But I loved what Puma Perl had to say about it, and thought it was worthy of sharing as a final thought:

“Addiction is sneaky and insidious. It’s not a rational being where you can explain that you have kids, fame, talent, a wife, and it agrees to go away. I’ve read a few ‘how could he’ statements. Because he suffered from this disease, the same one as the guy on the corner, that’s how. Please don’t judge. RIP PSH.”

Let’s Lynch the Landlord!

New York, New York. It’s a helluva town.

My friends and I spend an extraordinary amount of time talking about how it’s changed since we grew up or got here in the 70’s, 80’s, and early 90’s. It’s nearly impossible to move to New York now if you aren’t wealthy; and development of luxury housing is raging, as I type, on nearly every block in the city. Glass terrariums for the rich (a quote I’m stealing from the genius Judy McGuire) rise daily and at an alarming rate. The rest of us, the artists who choose to stay because we are rent stabilized and can still afford to live here and/or cannot afford to leave, keep our heads down as 7-11’s replace bodegas, as we weave in and out on sidewalks full of bros in a uniform combo of basketball shorts, flip-flops and winter jackets, shouting into their phones as they make beer or laundry runs on down time from parentally funded college-studies and raging bar crawls and house parties. Sometimes we go into denial for a few hours and pretend that it’s all going to be okay. But I don’t know that it is anymore.

There is a website dedicated to chronicling our plight. It’s called E.V. Grieve: http://evgrieve.com/

I try not to be bitter. I even like some of the new New Yorkers that I wait on at Dream Baby on Saturday nights. Some of them see my tattoos and want to connect with me. They want to know who I am and what my opinion might be. Some of them just see me as a part of the landscape that they now own, but for the most part we still get along. I do my best to be friendly and nice. It’s entertaining to me at times that they are often so clueless and probably couldn’t fathom all I have seen and experienced in this city, but I remind myself that I have not walked in their shoes either. And someone probably looked at me and thought the same thing upon my newbie arrival from the Midwest.

Sometimes I marvel that the people I moved so far to escape have now taken over. It used to be that they stood outside velvet ropes while the freaks paraded past them to congregate in our happy and very large misfit groups. We had an extensive subcultural community and it was grand. Now we are all old, and while there are still more youthful attempts at holding the flame in small pockets around the city at parties advertised on shiny square flyers, it will never be the same, at least not while I live. But that is how life works; change the only constant, and like sharks, if we are to survive, we must keep moving forward.

The apartment above mine has been a constant source of pain since I first moved in directly under my soon-to-be-ex-husband in 1991. That’s a very long story going in the book. Short version is that it sucked living under him, but eventually he moved out and now I wish he was still there. The landlord renovated the first time, causing me all kinds of drama and ceiling collapse, since then there have been a series of more minor renovations with the afore-mentioned parentally funded NYU students coming and going at school year opening and closing, the most famous of which was the girl who didn’t know how to use a toilet: http://darkladymissanthrope.blogspot.com/2005/06/meeting-my-new-neighbor.html.

I have had to deal with many other floods and leaks, including another girl who opened her window as wide as possible, then disappeared during a major thunderstorm, leaving me and her dog to howl in agony as water poured through the ceiling over my bed. The hammering of loft-creation at 2 am, moving in and out at equally difficult hours. I have had keggers going on over my head when I should have been sleeping for my day job, beer bottles smashing on my fire escape or deposited in front of my door. Ah, dorm life!

But hope doth spring eternal, and with every August comes a new tenant, all fresh and shiny and ready for the upcoming school year, cringing as they pass Drew and I in the hallway as if we are criminals, or at the very least, of that lower caste that mommy and daddy told them to avoid. Working-class poverty might be contagious.

Unfortunately for me, this year the building was sold by the somewhat dysfunctional, but always accessible family who owned it for generations to a mystery landlord who remains shrouded behind a management corporation. When I have issues my only recourse is to call an office and speak to a very pretty young woman named Emily, who while intelligent, responsive and clearly capable of making better life/career-choices than I was at her age, only gives as many fucks for my quality of domicile and spiritual well-being as is required by law.

And so, without so much as a warning phone call, Drew and I awoke one recent morning to the sound of massive destruction overhead, accompanied by the feel of a rain of plaster crumbs lightly dusting our faces, our pillows, our sheets, our coffee maker, our pets, etc.

It sounded as if someone, or rather, a few someones, were working with sledgehammers as hard as humanly possible to break through the floor above and down into our home. I freaked out, called Emily, and told her that the ceiling was weak and would come down way sooner than later. She said, “Fie on your petty concerns and a pox upon you and your filthy livestock, you vile and insignificant serf!”

Okay, I dramatize slightly. She was polite and said that the worst would happen over the next couple of days while they gutted, and then it would calm down. She gave me a timeline of two months.

A couple of days later and under thunderous duress, the decades-old ceiling began cracking and dipping before our very eyes. Drew and I stood staring up, mesmerized as damage unfolded like a much uglier version of a stop-time video of a flower growing. I called Emily once again, this time with a hysterical, weepy tone to my voice and the announcement that the ceiling was most definitely coming down, and soon. She arrived an hour later with the contractor and looked up for a few moments, then told me that they would make the necessary repairs. Repairs, mind you, not a new ceiling, because, hey, let’s not get too crazy here, we are just biding time until we can find a way to get you and all the other geezers out of this building and turn it into the goldmine we so rightfully deserve. I was assured that the demolition portion of the festivities had concluded and it was all gentle tapping and safe passage from here on out.

Well, okay, if you say so…Gee, I guess you wouldn’t put a household in physical danger for a buck, now would you? I went upstairs and asked the workmen for the fourth time to please be careful when slamming things onto the ground. They looked at me as if I had three heads and continued slamming things on the ground, without missing a beat.

OOPSIE!! Noon the next workday, which was the day after a blissful and sledge-hammer free Thanksgiving, the ceiling came down while they pounded and slammed. Quel surprise! Quel dommage!

Now I could actually see and curse out the workmen without having to trudge upstairs! Everything in the vicinity, including an antique photographer’s chair that my mother painstakingly refinished by hand, was damaged and covered in chunks of ceiling and dirt. And the entire apartment, bedroom, bathroom, kitchen, rest of living room, was coated in ancient plaster dust.

Thirty seconds before this happened I had moved the Booper (Albert) away from his usual spot on the air conditioner next to my desk, which lies directly under the scene of the crime.

Unlike this photo he was sitting up and staring intently at the ceiling, which was what initially gave me pause, then the intense and sudden urge to move him. If I hadn’t, would he be dead or injured now? I can’t say for sure but I am very grateful for intuition and beyond angry that he is in danger in his own home, where I have often made the pledge that I will keep him safe and happy until his dying day.

Anyhoo, so I did what any normal person would do, which is stand still while covered in thick black dust and stare in shock at the now visible feet moving around above me (still hammering away, cause mime is money!).

Then I took a deep breath of the afore-mentioned dust and let out a blood-curdling scream, followed by a list of screeched expletives which may or may not have included derogatory comments toward the mothers of everyone involved.

Clean-up ensued once I stomped upstairs, still shrieking, and dragged the head ceiling-pounder down by the arm to see the world from my point of view. Note that they are wearing masks while I stood feet away, maskless and shivering in my jammies with the windows open for air, taking photos and crying. The pets were shoved into the bedroom for protection, the fair Emily could not be contacted because it was still technically a holiday and there is no emergency contact phone number listed on evil super-villain lair answering machines.

Drew rushed home, hugged me hard, and we cleaned up as best we could until we both had to go to work. After my shift ended at 10pm I had a few decompressing drinks with Zoe and Tim. I had a couple more than necessary, so Tim very graciously walked me home and up the stairs into the apartment. I said, “Tim, I’m not okay with this.” And he said, “I know, Honey.” and gave me a hug.

After he left I sat for a moment and then decided to carry on a full-blown hysterical, exacerbated-by-booze sobbing meltdown, which culminated in a call to Richard Manitoba for a sober and sane, calming male talk-down-off-the-ledge. He got me grounded enough to go to bed and sleep it off, and I awoke with a booze and crying too much headache to spent the next two days scrubbing off the filth. My hands are burning and cracked from being in cleaning water for so long.

Which leads to today. Emily did apologize via email yesterday and this morning sent one of her minions in with the contractor for assessment. They deemed that yes indeed, the kitchen ceiling (and therefore we) could very well be a danger, and while again, there are most likely no fucks to be given concerning the health of Drew, myself, or our pets, an actual physical injury or death due to construction could cost cash money. Emily sent an email stating they would like to begin the messy, short-term life-ruining job of replacing/repairing tomorrow. I said yes if they bring an air purifier.

I also said that while I will try to be as accommodating as possible, I have contacted a lawyer and it would be great if the mystery landlord could start thinking about what kind of abatement/recompense he/she/it is willing to offer, as this shit is, in my admittedly not-completely-professional opinion, not at all cool. I am waiting to hear back as things continue to slam and pound dangerously on the ceiling above my head. Drew and I are taking turns on who leaves the apartment during work hours so someone can be here to watch and keep the animals safe. It’s been a few hours since Emily got my email, but they’re probably very busy trying on tiaras and eating canapes made of endangered species at the office right now. I’m sure someone will get back to me eventually.

This blog is primarily for my friends and family, who have been very worried and very helpful with advice and shoulders to lean on. It seems easier to write it out here one time rather than to keep explaining it via facebook or via phone. I want you to know how truly grateful I am that you are so evidently there when the shit hits the fan. All of the facebook comments and notes, the calls and texts, all appreciated and heartening. This morning I got a phone call from Clayton Patterson, who I highly admire and who I know but have never known that well, checking to see if there was anything I needed from him. It was a lovely reminder that we still have some community left, and that united, even though our numbers are much smaller, we can stand upright in front of the bulldozer for at least short while longer.

%d bloggers like this: