Do you remember when smoking was allowed in bars, and you didn’t smoke? You’d start your “going out” planning by deciding what jeans were about ready to wash. What sweater you could part with for a week at the cleaners, and perhaps, what jacket you might be able to tumble in the dryer with a handful of dryer sheets at the end of the night. You knew everything would smell like an ash tray, so you planned accordingly. I feel like that’s what it’s like going out now. You feel when you come back that things might be dirty somehow. I can’t wipe my clothes with Clorox wipes, but I can plan accordingly. I wore this sweatshirt all week and slept in it last night. I wore it to the doctor’s office today. I can now wash it and cleanse any “dirt” real or imagined. At least it doesn’t stink. No harm. No foul.
Winter in the city. When you enjoy some snow beers with your neighbors on a snowy evening before arm wrestling them for a parking space the next day.
Signs of an overheated real estate market? When you get these cards weekly.
In short, Al was a great neighbor who diligently took care of his home, but he never updated it. As in never.
One day last week, I caught the painter Lenny leaving the house, which is now a full on construction site with variable hours. He said, “Did you know this house hasn’t been painted since the ’80s? I mean it has to be that old. It’s oil-based paint. No one uses that inside anymore. I have to cover it just to get started.”
The new owners did much of the initial demolition themselves with the hopes of moving in by early November, when their lease was up.
But the thing about a reno is, where do you stop?
They started with the easy decisions. The galley kitchen with the 80s cabinets and appliances has got to go. Out came the wall.
The ceilings were next. There were stapled ceilings all over the house. In every goddamn room. What is a stapled ceiling? I’m glad you asked. It’s an ugly ceiling. According to my contractor dad, they were popular in the ’70s as a way to cover up plaster cracks and water damage. “Popular in the ’70s” is all you need to know, right?
Next came all new electricity, which is wise, and by mid-October they were onto the bathroom. It’s small, but when we renovated, we left the footprint and layout. They changed things up by reorienting the tub, which probably pushed things back a bit.
By early November, the central air was in, but the new owner said he was keeping the radiant heat, another wise move because radiators rock. Best. Heat. Evah.
Mid-November brought a lull, but the contractor was back on Thanksgiving morning to finish up a bit.
Enter painter Lenny. As far as I can tell, he’s been at it at various times and on various days for about three weeks now. I look in the window and see little change. That oil paint must be a bitch.
“As I was posting some free furniture, I saw a number of posts of pets for free. This made me feel uncomfortable. Hope if people are looking for a good home, they can reach out to some of the local adoption folks, like Lost Paws or PAWS, both of which operate out of the local Pet Smarts. They do a very good vetting process to make sure pets are going to a good home.”
“Looking for the owner of a Siamese type light fur cat. I was informed by a neighbor that it was hit and killed by an unknown vehicle on Oak Lane on the North side of Columbia Avenue. Happened today, not sure if it is still there. If you know the owner or are the owner, sorry for your loss.”
“My name is Timmy and I’m looking to walk any dog at any time. I’ll also make sure to do a great job!👍”
This is my garage. This is my house. The Amish crew builds it on weekends.
Work begins at my neighbor’s house.
This house on State Street burnt in April of 2017. It’s slowly coming back to life. This is the current iteration.
This house on Marietta Avenue constantly displays this sign offering free water for thirsty horses passing by.
Rosa Rosa is a beloved pizza place on the corner of State and Harrisburg Pike. It burnt in November 2016. It is scheduled to open next month.
I’ve written about my attached neighbor, Al, here. The short version is that he left this earth in early June in the same week and in the same manner as Kate Spade and Anthony Bourdain. I watched the coroner carry his body bag out of the house with the help of a young funeral home aid dressed entirely in black.
The house fell to his cousin and an aunt, who alternated between bewildered, angry, and ashamed at the acquisition. They hired an auction company, which was a wise choice as the house was filled to the rafters.
Al’s father, a veteran, died the year prior, and Al hauled what seemed like all his father’s possessions into his house usually at night when he wouldn’t be questioned. Occasionally, he’d show me a war memento — a photo of a beautiful Japanese woman, an old newspaper, a medal. “Those are worth keeping,” I told him. He must have thought I meant everything.
July 4th weekend is State Street Garage Sale Day in our neighborhood. It’s legendary. Al hatched a plan to sell some of the things he acquired. “Can you help me put them in the yard?”
“You can’t keep everything. You know that, right?”
He sold quite a few things that day — mostly fishing and hunting gear — a few outboard motor parts and tools. The spread extended into my yard and included an alcove in one of his cars, which was parked on the street. The four battered hardwood school chairs with attached desks didn’t sell. “Can you believe that?”
Yes. Yes, I can.
He never made it to the next garage sale day, and the stuff clearly never moved. When the auctioneer showed me the house, I felt the walls close in while I wandered around and nervously ran my mouth — his house a hoarder’s mirror image of my own.
The only room that was orderly was the basement. He liked to fix things, and all his tools had their place on the wall. Bars extended from the beams carried neatly hung hip waders and Carhartt jackets. This was the stuff that was clearly his.
Neighbor Dawn told me that Al felt alone in this world without his dad. Clearly the concept of impermanence had no place in that house as he carried the past around like a Sherpa. Everything fixed to a point in time.
When the bidding was going on, I asked about a lot number for the wind chime on the front porch. The family gave it to me. I put it in a side porch I intend to renovate soon. The partially screened walls mean no wind hits it. Unlike when it was his, I never hear it now. This week, the auction company finally hauled his two boats out of the back yard and erased the last daily reminder of him.
The very first time Jeff and I went to NYC together, we stopped by the World Trade Center. “Do you want to go up?” Nope. I hate heights. That was the first and last time I saw the building until it fell to the ground in September 2001 and took 2,606 people with it.
On Monday, I traveled to the 9-11 Memorial Museum. The Met houses paintings worth tens of millions, but the 9-11 Museum has TSA-level security, which is a fitting way to show how life has changed since then.
The entire thing is underground and covers much of the site of the original twin towers. You can see the original “slurry wall” built to contain the Hudson from the North Tower. There are pieces of steel twisted from the impact of Flight 11 with building, the carcass of a fire truck from Ladder Company 3 in the East Village, where all 11 firefighters reporting died, a broken ambulance, plane seatbelts, dusty shoes, and, curiously, an unbroken window.
Always a tough thing to enforce that requires constant nagging, photography is not allowed in the mausoleum-like interior spaces, which largely house some of the spectacular photographs of the day. You won’t want to linger long as there is a constant loop of TV footage from the day that made me feel ill. The only thing I wanted to capture in pixels was a fossil like lump called a composite. They are basically four or five floors of compressed material that remain un-excavated. It remained unexplained how many of them exist.
The space is open with no clear beginning and end, and those joining me on that hot Monday largely roamed in silence. The only point of levity were several walls of poster-sized New Yorker covers that really capture the zeitgeist of that year.
We’ve lived in our city duplex since 2005, and in our entire tenure, a fireplug middle-aged man named Al has been our neighbor. We have many fine neighbors on this street, but Al was our “attached” neighbor. Jeff complained about his chattiness, but I quickly remind him that he was the ideal neighbor – polite, quiet, helpful, and rarely home. (He worked nights.)
On Friday, I came quickly after a phone call at work from another neighbor, Dawn. “Al passed. When are you coming home?”
Al’s mother passed away about a year into our tenure on State Street. I believe she had cancer. I never spoke to her but saw her often in her mid-80s, white American car with “Mom’s Taxi” on the front plate.
Al’s younger brother followed a few years later, one of the early victims of the opiate epidemic. “He installed carpet,” Al explained once. “He got hooked when he was injured on the job.” Al found his body in a “pay by the day” motel he was staying at. They were to go fishing. Al later inherited his brother’s small boat, one of his only possessions.
Al’s dad was the only one left and a near constant presence at the house. He didn’t speak much, but you’d know him by his pipe smoke. He was quiet but quick to complain about change in the world or a health problem if you inquired. He passed last year.
We attended his funeral and learned he was a veteran of WWII in the Pacific theater. Al proudly showed off the medals and photos he inherited while also confiding that he could never do enough in his dad’s eyes.
He seemed energized that summer – up at all hours of the night and overly eager for conversation. He went out of his way to fix things for us or inquire into our home projects and lives. “He’s used to being a caretaker,” I explained to Jeff, “and now he has nothing to care for. He’s trying to be helpful.”
I didn’t see him much over the winter, but for a season associated with hibernation, this was nothing unusual. Dawn stopped me about a month ago and told me Al was depressed. I sent him a text message with no reply.
His cousin would tell me that Al had recently bought a gun. The time of death was 1:48 am Thursday night, the same time Baby Cow had started barking but then didn’t want to go outside. She sat on the dining room rug looking around like she had a superpower. “I’ve summoned my human, and she is here.” I remember the time but noted nothing myself other than the earliness of the hour.
Not much changed at his house in the 13 years we lived next to one another. He has the same cars and the same boat neatly winterized in the backyard. His garden hose has it’s own housing, and there are pots quietly stacked next to his patio. Several neighbors reported speaking to him on Wednesday, and one asked him directly if he was suicidal. He didn’t want to talk about it.
In November 2017, my husband and I went to New York City for a Jets Thursday Night game. We spent three days total and filled the first one with, among other things, a trip to the Society of Illustrators (128 E 63rd St, New York, NY 10065) for their fall show. The show, which featured children’s book illustrations, was due to officially open that night, so the two floors of framed illustrations didn’t all contain information about the author or the book involved. The majority of the placards were in a tiny pile on the lower level waiting to be installed. This actually added to the show because you really viewed the work disconnected from the book.
I asked a curator how book authors and illustrators are connected. She said that the illustrator was the author’s choice and that authors frequently had long standing relationships with artists. This made sense when you looked at the variety of styles evident in the illustrations. Some were hand drawn and others were digital. There was even some photography combined with illustration and some mixed media.
The second floor was a George Booth show. Booth was an illustrator best known for New Yorker cartoons and covers, and this show was small but lovely. The hand drawn comps were on display with no explanation. Again, art to be enjoyed for it’s own sake.
The third floor was a restaurant and bar, the 128 Bar and Bistro, decorated with the society’s annual member show. The theme this year was “Food Fight”, and each artist interpreted it very differently. This was art created just for consideration for the show, not necessarily a commission.
This gallery was a reminder that there are places for talented artists that you might not expect. It also probably pays to network and build relationships with unlikely allies, like children’s book authors. Always keep your eyes open for potential projects.