Êyiv, 17 march - SV Development. With apologies to all my past boyfriends, I never loved a man the way I loved my old apartment.
A crumbly, old concrete loft with 14-foot windows, red pipes running all across the ceiling and a view of a girls’ yeshiva and a hint of the South Williamsburg waterfront, it was the place I came of age, and by coming of age I mean it’s where I spent my early 30s. Before that time, I was a corporate Manhattan Internet kiss-up who spent long hours at the office and believed her work was her life. Once I quit my job and moved to my loft, I was a freelancer, an artist, a pioneer. Few cabdrivers wanted to venture to my neighborhood. My friends swore they couldn’t find it on a map. And perhaps most shocking, I had to walk at least 15 minutes from my apartment to find a cafe.
Oh, but I loved it there. I loved the political graffiti in the elevator (this was a resolutely antiwar building) and the trash bags of used clothes left behind in the lobby. I loved the painters and printmakers and photographers and sculptors who settled the building a few years before, renovating with their own hands the top floors of raw space into vast, stylish studios. I loved how on New Year’s Eve I could walk through the building from floor to floor and go to a dozen parties in one night. I loved having barbecues in the summertime, enjoying the stunning view of Manhattan from the roof. I never understood how big the city was and how it was actually laid out until I looked at it from the outside in.
I know I am romanticizing it. There was plenty that was difficult about living in that building. There were three muggings in the lobby the first month I lived there. Sizable jagged paint chips fell from the ceiling of my apartment hourly. Some sort of seemingly toxic dust blew in from the East River, covering my apartment with a layer of film, during days I kept the windows open. My neighbors on one side drank too much and crowed loudly in the night. And then my neighbor on the other side slowly went mad on painkillers and eventually died in his apartment face down, lying there for several days until the smell overpowered the rest of the floor.
I started spending summers in other cities — a trial separation — and subletting my place to young, eager couples moving to New York for the first time. They would walk in, wide-eyed, gape at the industrial ceilings and the high windows and say: “This is it. This is New York.” By the end of the summer, they all ended up with apartments in Manhattan. Sick of the commute, sick of the waterfront — ready for the big time. They just didn’t love that life the way I did.
I always came back from my travels out West grateful to be home in my ever-gentrifying neighborhood, where there was now a cafe five minutes away. No matter what had happened over the summer — a brief dalliance with Napa Valley, a steamy relationship with the Pacific Northwest, six weeks of soul-searching on the road when I just needed to be alone — I always came back to my loft on the Brooklyn waterfront. I could think there; I felt safe there. In my apartment, I felt clear and free.
And then, in January of last year, after two weeks out West, I stepped off the plane at Kennedy International Airport to a text message from my Canadian cat sitter. “You probably shouldn’t come back here,” she said. “They’re kicking everyone out.” Everyone had been evacuated from the building. There had been a matzo bakery in the basement for years. There were grain silos down there that were fire hazards. The building could blow at any moment, according to the Fire Department. Not to mention that all those rustic red pipes running through my apartment did nothing in particular but add to the charm. There didn’t seem to be much in the way of a functioning sprinkler system.
I don’t think anyone who lived there was particularly surprised that the building wasn’t up to code. This is New York City — is anything up to code here? What they were surprised about was that after 10 years and no warning, public officials had suddenly decided that on one of the coldest nights of the year — the Sunday before a government holiday, no less — it was urgent for 200 people to be forced out of their homes without a moment’s notice.