I couldn’t wait five minutes. I was walking to the subway from work and called a friend who was in a conversation: He’d call back in five. I stood next to the stairwell, pacing, flipping my phone open to see if the numbers had changed. 4:51. Then, after an hour: 4:52. I couldn’t make it. Tourists flooded past me, men handed out newspapers: 4:53. What would I do when I got home? 4:54. Read a book, I suppose. 4:55. Now I could see 9 p.m., and it looked like my living room, with the TV on and a book in my hands. And by the time my phone flashed 4:56, I was through the turnstile and headed to my sixth home in eight years.
My superintendent got the boot last week; the management company fired him without remorse or much warning, it appears. He’s lived here for 39 years and they sent him a letter giving him two weeks to get out. People in the building were outraged, and took to the building’s e-mail list to register their outrage and arrange for him to see tenant lawyers. They even put a signup sheet downstairs to pledge support, which I missed — by the time I got there, the list had been removed and it was just an exhortation and a pen on a stick. Presumably those names were passed along to the people who deliver my rent statements. I have to suspect my landlords know it’s coming. They’ve done this before, and they’ve dealt with this before. It’s really hard to get someone out of their apartment in this city if they’re willing and able to fight back and whether they have rights that have been broken or not. This is part of it.
On the bright side, I’ve never been the target of something like this. I’ve been forced to move twice. Both times I lived on the second floor of a house in Queens, both times the owner sold the house, and both times were between 2004 and 2007 — not surprising, in restrospect. The amount of money poured into real estate then was staggering. In Woodhaven, Queens, a cluttered, low-lying and middle-class-at-best neighborhood, there were full attached condominiums going up that started at $650,000 by the middle of 2004. I didn’t know much about real estate at the time, and I knew jack about subprime mortgages, but I knew something was off. When the bubble burst, it took a few months for me to connect the dots. I took it for granted: to live in a city was to be transient.
That’s not how things are in my building now. Here, there’s permanence. When I moved in the person vacating the apartment told me of two local species: the “lifers” and the “steppers.” Lifers are self-explanatory. Steppers stayed 5-7 years. I was 31, and he was 37: MATH. It’s amazing that in Brooklyn, where everyone fancies themselves special, I became another puzzle piece. I was probably one before, too, but I was off the beaten path and that was its own reward. There’s an emptiness from having left Queens to move someplace so rigidly spectacular. I’ve seen this place plenty in movie sets, in sepia-toned photographs you can buy off the street. This place evokes the forties, or the twenties. White, tree-lined, beautiful when it snows. It won’t be much different in 20 years; its about slow changes, and slow movements in and out like my own.
Queens? Queens will be different. Queens is a place in motion, a place where the world constantly doubles back on itself, like the remains a giant wave following gravity back into the ocean and the teeth of another one. It’s not like that here, and so when there is something to overcome — like an unseemly eviction — the people become riled. There’s no denying the goodness of their quest. But having been where the heavy waves crash, time after time after time, I know it never stops. Just as Long Island has its turbulent Atlantic shore and its placid North Shore, Queens (tubulent) and yuppie Brooklyn (placid) express this idea — even if in doing so they inversely geographically situated to the actual tides, a funny little note. What’s not funny is a man who’s lived somewhere for 39 years being cast away from his home at a moment’s notice. For him, the years probably went by like minutes: 1971… 1972… 1973… 2009… 2010. And now, in a manner of seconds, he needs a new home.
I bet I know where he lands.