Friday, January 11, 2008

Times Have Changed

I had dinner with my mom last night. She reported that she'd just been at a co-op board meeting where she'd futilely voted against a 20% maintenance hike and the imposition of a sales fee (1% of sales price to the co-op association). The sales fee has been instituted because a well-known cosmetics mogul bought a full floor about six months ago and is now selling it for more than a million dollars more than she paid for it. "The building has really changed," my mother said.

When I was a kid, my parents' neighborhood was down-at-the-heels, full of artists and Hispanic church communities. There was a gas station across the street, a firehouse, a mysterious utility building of some kind, an Irish pub on the corner, nothing bigger than fifteen stories for blocks and blocks.

Now high-rise condo buildings are popping up like towering glass-and-steel mushrooms. Every time I go over there, my parents' big windows have less and less of a view.

Before I left last night, my mother showed me pictures of a townhouse they're looking at, up by Inwood, a beautiful four-floor Beaux Arts building with a rental unit. They could get it for substantially less than the price at which their current place is appraising, and that seems ludicrous, somehow, but I don't doubt it's true.

When I left the apartment, the elevator went up instead of down. Someone on a higher floor had called it, and when the elevator door opened, it was on the cosmetics-mogul's floor. The elevator opened right into the apartment, as it does sometimes when people own the full floor and want to maximize space, and there was a guy standing there, in an atrium of dark wood and glass, wearing what was very obviously more than a thousand dollars worth of clothing.

And I wonder what all those people must think of my mother at the co-op board meeting, what they think of the fact that she's lived in her apartment for twenty-six years, was married there, raised children there (we used to roller-skate in the big hardwood living room), left the piping exposed, buys her clothes at Housing Works and Loehman's and Daffy's. I know she has a few friends in the building--the other apartment on my parents' floor is still occupied by the sweet, round little artist and her lanky neuroscientist husband and their spoiled-rotten cats, who've lived there as long as my parents have, and there is a nice young mother of two with whom I know my mother has coffee, but the building used to be full of families with children; there used to be trick-or-treating from floor to floor; people used to organize children's innings for us in the beer breaks in the stickball games sponsored by the Irish pub.

It used to be a nice family building. The sense of community has somehow evaporated as the asking prices have escalated, and I know that now my parents are trying to face the idea of selling the family home, the place where they were married and raised their children, where we've celebrated one bat mitzvah, two graduations, and any number of family Thanksgivings, everyone sitting around the big wood dining room table. It's definitely a sad thought, but when it comes right down to it, I don't blame them.


Brooke (Dollar Frugal) said...

What a nice was sad, but well-written.

I'm sure your mother knows exactly what she's doing at the co-op meetings!

Anonymous said...

I second the well-written vote. Posts like these, filled with personal stories in a sort of literary style, are my favorites.

Escape Brooklyn said...

Wow, that is really sad. I wish I had lived in NYC all those years ago when there was this strong sense of community and fewer condos. Now it's just real estate talk ad nauseam as people obsess about how much money they can make on their property.

But Inwood is supposedly a really nice neighborhood and I'm sure your parents will love their new townhouse. Four floors? How luxurious!