Tag Archives: Bronx

Every Odyssey Must End Sometime

Remember when you walked hunched over like a reed in the dunes, deeply rooted but relentlessly blown by the winds?


I think there will be a time when I don’t remember. When the pain isn’t piercing. When I don’t have a hard time keeping my neck up straight and my gaze off the ground.

I recently heard on the Ted Radio Hour that it only takes humans three months to return to baseline after all but the most extreme traumatic events.

These are the kinds of things I take comfort in. We are built to be resilient.

A dear friend of mine was talking to me about her five-year-old daughter. “Five is hard,” she said. “It doesn’t get easier.”

I was glad to hear it. I’m tired of pinning my hopes on things getting easier. Five will be hard. I can spend my time sharpening my tools rather than filling my hope chest.

When 2013 slunk off into the dark night, my husband and I knew that 2014 was waiting in the corner with gloves on.

We’ve been trying to solve the problem of the apartment in the Bronx that we own. It was a good idea to buy it, newly married, planning a family, thinking of two bedrooms and a stable place to live.

Wasn’t it?

Every other young family I know seems to have a tale of real estate heartbreak and destruction. And they can all pretty much tell you to the penny the price they paid for their humility.

We’re still paying the bill.

New York was not content to let us go with scraped knees. New York needed to break our kneecaps with a crowbar.

When we moved to Oregon three years ago, we were underwater and couldn’t afford to sell. So we rented the apartment and took a hefty hit every month. And we watched as other people refinanced or got loan modifications or filed for Harp 2.0. But we didn’t qualify for anything because the place was considered a “second home” or an “income property.” So then we applied to sell it as a short sale.

The great thing about banks is they can require you to turn in every piece of paperwork that’s ever had your name flashed across it, and they can pass you on to case worker after case worker for months. And then say, “Oh, you don’t qualify for this. Someone should have told you that.”

This has been our purgatory.

Applying for everything available only to hear No, over and over and over and over again. The last time, with the short sale, the bank said, “You don’t qualify because you’ve made all your payments.” What?

It just didn’t pay to be starting your family and longing for a place to call your own in 2008. At least not for a lot of us.

The exhaustion, the stress on our marriage, the financial pain that our apartment in the Bronx has put us through is torrential. Right now. Right now it’s torrential.

But it may be over soon. Tomorrow. It may be over tomorrow.

But it’s hard to believe, because everything that could have gone wrong went wrong. Our realtor had other plans for us and started to work against us, our buyer’s bank got bought, the building’s management company decided to stop responding to bank requests. We watched as the walls of bureaucracy mounted around us, and as we disassembled one wall, another got built.

In all, there have been three banks, three lawyers, a transfer agent, two realtors, a management company, and a co-op board. This is standard in New York. And with so many people involved, it’s easy for people to say, “Well, it’s not our fault.”

I think I had to write about this because it’s the reason that I keep disappearing. When so much of my emotional and relational capabilities are taken over by one giant obstacle, I fall into myself.

Some wonderful things have come from this, however.

My husband and I have had to have some really tough, ongoing conversations—and I think this meatiness is where we’ve found our soul as a couple. It’s very clear what is important and what is not.

Our buyers are really, really wonderful people and we are leaving this odyssey friends who have battled the forces of bureaucracy together with faith and humor.

I am able to—sometimes, even most times on some days—live in the moment. Because often that’s been the only thing I’ve had. And it’s amazing what an afternoon coffee or an hour in the garden can do for me.

So if you’re still here, thanks. I’m grateful for your friendship and your readership, and for your continuing willingness to share a part of your own self with me.

3/31/14 UPDATE:

It happened!!!! The piercing pain is gone!! Prayers and persistence and the unwavering support of friends and family have carried us to the other side. We are truly grateful!

Laundry Wars

I hate the laundry. I’ve been doing it since fourth grade, but still, the washer, the dryer, and I are archenemies. I’ve melted red crayon into new school clothes; I’ve bleached and shrunk things.

I recently packed for a weekend trip and then pulled out my central outfit—a black, lined, wool jumper—only to realize that I had shrunk the jumper in the dryer. The synthetic lining didn’t seize up, however. This became very apparent when the lining presented itself a full two-inches below the wool. And my snafu was difficult to conceal over the laser-pink tights I packed to go with it.

Oh laundry: you’ve exacted your revenge again.

I’ve washed the dry-clean-only pile, I’ve made whites dirtier, I’ve twisted and generally destroyed. For something to become a lasting part of my wardrobe, it needs to be practically indestructible.

Luckily, in the past I’ve lived with roommates on a chores-bartering system that allowed me to trade cooking for laundry. Then I moved to New York and instead of spending the day in the Laundromat, I splurged and had the laundry people wash and fold it. That’s right: I had people.

When I started dating my husband, I quickly found out he did laundry, and if my clothes were at his house, he happily washed and sorted them not only into colored and white loads, but normal and delicate loads. I married him.

But now I’m a full-time mom, and suddenly I’m fighting with the laundry demons again (not because we abandoned the laundry people, but because K-Pants and his Paris Hilton wardrobe get special treatment).

Our laundry is in the basement of the building. The room is filled with old machines that often break down, and it seems like everyone in the building (me included) waits until their very last pair of underwear to do the wash (or in my case, K-Pant’s last pair of pants). That means everyone arrives with about 150 lbs. of clothes to pile into a small, under-trained army of rickety machines that often don’t work.

I know there’s some laundry magnate out their, living in a $5 million dollar mansion in Franklin Lakes, NJ, built solely out of quarters, hobnobbing with the Real Housewives. I bet he has a red Electrolux washing machine with a woman named Rosalinda who comes to use it. He probably doesn’t even know where his Electrolux is in the house, and he surely can’t hear it because it’s so damn quiet.

Well I can see the George Washington Bridge from my block, and I’m trying to figure out the best way to find the Laundry King and steal his Electrolux and haul that fire-engine-red beauty back to the Bronx.

Because today, as usual, I had to take out other people’s finished laundry to fit mine in, and on top of that the dryers did not dry my clothes. I’m pretty sure their only purpose is to dry clothes.

Maybe they’re having an existential crisis.

Or maybe they think their job is to simply warm up the clothes like a nice bowl of soup: warm and wet! I can certainly go for that combination, if you get what I mean, but when I’m on a tight schedule and the Pants is napping alone upstairs, I only have 10 minutes before he wakes up or the authorities come.

Laundry King, today you have won the battle, but this multi-book-saga-hopefully-morphing-into-a-movie-deal is far from over.

Sticking Up for the Smallest

I live in the Bronx and I’ve been following a few of the stories about bullying lately. Two weeks ago, however, they seemed to be following me.

K-Pants and I were returning a book to the library a few blocks from our house the last Tuesday in October. On the way back there were five or six news vans on 161st Street. Some of the Latin Kings—the alleged perpetrators in the Bronx anti-gay beatings—were about to come out of the borough courthouse. We watched as camera crews and reporters followed them to their cars.

On Monday, a friend and I took our kids to the Little Red Lighthouse under the George Washington Bridge. When you’re standing under the bridge, it doesn’t seem so far from the river. You watch the kids playing at the edge of the water and the bridge grows right out of the ground like a giant beanstalk. And though it doesn’t seem far to the solid, beautiful span, you know Tyler Clementi—hopeless—jumped off and died.

After Tyler’s death and the anti-gay attack here in the Bronx, I recommitted myself to showing love and care with all people.

But I discovered it’s easy to promise yourself you won’t post videos of someone on the web, or that you won’t invite someone over so you can beat him up. It’s even easy for me to promise I will never say something derisive to a gay person; I will never tell a black child she can’t play with my child; I will never spread rumors about someone because of her religion.

It’s simple to name these things, because I would never do them. It’s like saying I recommit myself to avoiding American cheese. Even so, I felt good about myself for a few days.

But then I realized the things I would do. I would cut off the fat woman who’s headed to the subway elevator taking my stroller spot.  She’s probably had a long day at work and two knee replacements, but I’m happy to clip her ankles and shove her out of the way telling myself that she should just lose weight. I would look away from every homeless person on the subway, thinking how they are ruining my ride. And I would forget to speak up for the disabled people who can’t use our city amenities, because my son and I can get around just fine.

I got this wake-up call by going to the Yankee Stadium parks redevelopment meeting (a thrill-a-minute, as one might imagine). I wanted a child’s safety gate installed at our park so kids can’t run into the street. Prior to the meeting, my neighbors and I had written to the parks commissioner. He told us we should watch our children better.

Them’s fightin’ words, Mr. C0-mish-on-her.

So I arrived at the meeting with seven pages of photos and admonitions I would use in future litigation once the first run-away child made for the street. However, the parks people stood down and said: Consider it done. Voilà! Child safety latches. Wind out of my sails and faith in government restored.

But other attendees were not so appeased. There were two people at the meeting from New York City Park Advocates, a group that pushes for accountability and inclusiveness in our parks. Did you know, for example, that there are 997 playgrounds in New York City and only 5 are completely accessible? Only five allow children and parents with disabilities to play like the rest of us. I mean really play, not just wheel around and watch other people climb on things.

I was like: Fo’ real?? I took this not only as an affront to the city, but a personal slap-in-the-face—I thought I was aware of stuff like this. When our new park opened, I thought: Great! Look at all these ramps and wide pathways.

But I learned that what I thought was open-access really isn’t good enough.

Sure, kids in wheelchairs can come in and use the ramps, but there’s a step stopping them from getting to the play equipment. They can push their friends on the tire swing, but they can’t get on. They can play in the water feature—when it gets hot enough. And if I were a parent in a wheelchair trying to keep my able-bodied child safe at the park—forget about it.

New York City Park Advocates calls this a culture of isolation. They asked those of us at the meeting for one thing: If you are able-bodied, speak up for those who aren’t.

I didn’t even realize that I wasn’t speaking up. So now, instead of recomitting myself to things I already do, I’m searching for the things I overlook.

To find out more about New York City Park Advocates, click here.

Feral Cats: Head for the Hills

There is a herd of wild cats that runs a decrepit secret garden in a synagogue down the street (with the aid of some Fancy-Feast-buying guerilla operatives). Find out the backstory here.

I spoke with my new friend, James Collins, the Superintendent of our Sanitation District, and he did some detective work to track down the owner of the synagogue.

James’s call to the owner came during the Jewish high holidays, but Mr. Synagogue promised him that the secret garden will be cleaned out by September 27.

On the 28, I have instructions to case the joint (from a legal vantage point) and report back. Should the cats and their henchpeople still be in charge, I get to push the big red button and James Collins will start summonsing Mr. Synagogue.

We’ll see what really happens, but in the meantime, enjoy your last days of despotism, Cats.