Tag Archives: New York

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?

Remember?

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!

Two Tales in a City

When attacking industrial New York with a Brit, Charles Dickens comes to mind. On Saturday, my dear British friend Fizgig (also a very talented actress and jeweler) met K-Pants and I for a Brooklyn adventure walk. To feast your eyes on Fizgig’s version of what happened, click here. My version of the truth is below.

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Sometimes I need New York to show me a secret. After living here five years, I’m often on edge and apathetic. (Recognizing my issues is the first step, right?) My relationship with the subway—for instance—is incredibly rocky and bordering on emotionally abusive.

I’ve flipped off MTA employees (I love me some CityMini stroller: you can drive with one hand and flip the bird with the other). I’ve tried airing my frustrations in writing: All I get are do-not-reply-to-this-email messages. I don’t think counseling will work. The wheels on those tracks are grinding me down and pushing me toward the third rail.

But then on Saturday, as K-Pants and I escaped the transportation netherworld and our eyes adjusted to the light, Auntie Fizgig appeared with sweet fruit cake from Narnia, a dog who acts like a dressage horse, and plans for a walk filled with glass-tiled sidewalks, hidden, rusted alleys, and secret food-truck getaways.

Here’s Auntie Fizgig; just what the anti-cynicism doctor ordered:

And here’s Dressage Dog:

Armed with two cameras, K-Pants, and Dressage Dog, we headed to the Gowanus Canal—an area that is one of Brooklyn’s rough diamonds being polished.

The canal has been ridiculously polluted, but is on the mend. Here’s a photo of the Gowanus—kind of reminds you art history geeks of a dirty Flemish landscape painting, right?

Fizgig pushed us into a hidden parking lot where New York City street trucks go to rest up on the weekends. This is like sneaking up on your favorite celebrity in her local hangout.

Our gallant guide showed us a street mural by Shepard Fairey (of Obama poster fame).

Bright, bold textile prints…

Technicolor grafitti plays with nature…

…and the grafitti also poses as stained glass in the broken windows.

So, if you are in New York and looking for urban refreshment, sneak up on the Gowanus Canal. Just take the R train to Union Street and head west.

City Stroller Derby

These are mean streets. A friend of a friend came to visit and was surprised at how nice New Yorkers were…except when you got in their way on the sidewalk. Amen: get out of my way, tourists and slow people. I have to get to daycare before 6 pm and I have about 45 seconds per block. I will use my laser eyes to destroy you, if necessary. However, this is tame compared to leaving daycare. Because then I’m armed with the stroller (pronounced “zee strohler”).

K-Pants and I seem like an innocent picture—the sidewalk equivalent of an old lady in the freeway slow lane—a woman in a furry, winter pig hat pushing a Graco stroller with an adorable baby in three layers of fleece. How cute! Until we cut you off and clip your ankles.

Pretend like you are a tourist from Des Moines, Iowa walking down the street in the Theater District. Here come K-Pants and I. You think: “A baby! So adorable! How do they raise kids in New York City?!” By this time, you start to wonder if you should move out-of-the-way or if I will swerve with the stroller, but it’s already too late. I’m coming too fast. You’ve eaten too many hot dogs. “Oh my God! Helen! [your sister from Muncie] That woman ran over my Aerosoles!”