Okay, so it’s been quite a while since I wrote for this space. I’ve been busy. Have you tried becoming a first-time New York City co-op owner? Yeah, I’ve been busy: The “three months buried under a mound of paperwork” kind of busy. Did I mention that the process entails at least four sets of lawyers delightfully burning and slashing as they cut a path through the red tape, sparing the wallets of neither the anxious seller nor the impatient purchaser? I’d like to go into more detail by raving at certain of those parties to the transaction—specific people who were uncommunicative and who bordered on incompetent. However, given that it is mostly lawyers who were involved and also given that I don’t want any of them further involved, I choose to refrain. Let me just say that without the calmly reassuring tone and sound advice of the selling real estate broker, I wouldn’t be sane enough today to report on the process or the outcome.
So, enough about the process; I’m very happy with the outcome. My home in Kensington, near Ditmas Park, is an oasis of tranquility, a place of refuge when the whirligig that is Manhattan becomes too much. When the Midtown Manhattan workday is over, serenity is only a few stops away via the express Q Train. Conversely, when the weekend finally arrives, I can venture out from my cave to experience the joys of a Broadway play, a new museum exhibit, or a delectable Manhattan dinner—all within a half-hour’s journey.
Now that I am at last settled into my apartment, I’m able to ponder why ownership means so much to me. I missed it horribly. I had owned homes in Alabama for most of my adult life—until my divorce of almost a decade ago. Post divorce, I had rented in towns around Huntsville, Alabama as I worked in that area. Upon moving with my partner to New York City, we found ourselves occupying five different apartments within six years. Our odyssey started on the Jersey shore, at the Newport neighborhood of Jersey City, where we lived in a gated community. The idea was that we needed to get our feet wet—learn the ways of the city—before diving into the deep end of the city proper. We soon decided that being on the “wrong” side of the Hudson was not ideal: Waiting on the PATH train to traverse Hudson Bay only to wait again for the New York Subway trains was no fun. Living where we could only look at the splendor that was and is Manhattan didn’t feel like we were even getting our feet wet. It actually felt like our ideal of big-city living was all washed up.
So we jumped over that expensive Manhattan real estate and landed in Brooklyn. First, we settled in Crown Heights, finding ourselves loving the architecture and our neighbors there—all ensconced within a jewel of a building where we were definitely the minority, inside and out of the complex. Unfortunately, “out” was a problem, for we were holed up right in the middle of a less than friendly neighborhood, one that didn’t cotton too well to two Southern white boys invading their version of deep, dark Africa. Add to the name-calling—“Go home, crackers!”—the almost nightly gunshots, and the occasional guy sprawled out on the street or sidewalk with stab wounds, and we decided that a year in Crown Heights would be sufficient to give this writer the real-life experience he sought there for his writing.
From Crown Heights, we migrated south by southwestward to Windsor Terrace, where we spent a very interesting year learning still more about the vagaries of renting in New York City. We lived on the second floor of a semidetached home, above our landlady. Let me just say—ever mindful of the power of lawsuits to infringe upon free speech in modern America—that an owner has the right to make “requests” of her guests, no matter how odd those requests may sound to the tenants. Notwithstanding an owner’s quirks and the things one might learn about said owner and her family via shouting matches reluctantly overheard, the tenant can in no way justify to said owner a reasonable request to which he might expect acquiescence.
This new knowledge gained led us to move six blocks—southward again—to a smallish condo building. We leased a nice apartment from an owner who would be living on the other side of the Borough. This arrangement left us reasonably satisfied, but still longing for our own place. The lessons presented—and learned quite well, mind you—taught us that ownership creates certain prerogatives that are simply absent for renters—like the ability to choose a paint color to our own liking without having to grovel for official sanctioning.
One more move that took us just a bit more to the south finally let us find our balance. Don’t think that I don’t know there will be issues to resolve as a co-op owner. The Board has most of the power. Many desired changes to the occupied unit still have to clear that committee hurdle. However, that’s a bureaucracy that is likely to possess a level-headed member or two to whom one can appeal for reason.
Many travelers possessed with wandering souls will shout to the open sky—and to anyone within earshot—that it’s best not to own. Rather, they say, strive to be free, to move with the wind across the face of the earth. To those free spirits and would-be philosophers, I say that even a ship needs an anchor—with a port to put down in—so that one can take stock of events remembered from the islands of adventure just departed and to restock for new explorations yet to come.
In reviewing the rise and fall and rise again of my excursions into the complexity of home ownership, I recall the theme of Pearl S. Buck’s “The Good Earth.” Its Pulitzer prize-winning depiction of the importance of property as an anchor for life resonates with me. Foolish mistakes with money, eventual flight to the big city, the many struggles and the will to overcome—yeah, I’ve been there and I hear those echoes in my life. Oprah’s endorsement made the 1931 novel new again. She’s had both the challenges and the victories that made the novel’s power real for her.
I have survived huge struggles, and I’m confident that I will also achieve great victories. Already, I am back from the brink of renter’s hell, back from the cliff’s edge of a fatal fall. I stand on the cusp of new challenges and grasp for the status of character-building greatness through new challenges. We all have stories to tell, for all lives have challenges. Endurance of the events that make up our stories is the key to the rewards we want in life. Pearl S. Buck knew this simple fact: Endurance is the ultimate victory.