Drab Expensive Cells

The Street Hustle

For a city faced with budget cuts due to a bad economy, declining population and the loss of a major tax base on Wall Street, New York is still going through something of a building boom.  It seems that every avenue in every district of Manhattan has some sort of a residential building in the middle of construction.  Jumping over 2 x 4’s and dancing around rusty nails is now far more common than avoiding junkies and panhandlers.  The city is reinventing itself once again.

Limping down 14th Street after another closing shift, I noticed a small crowd gathering on the northeast corner of 7th Avenue.  Several workmen had closed the street, allowing only pedestrian traffic to pass through as a crane took down some debris from a small building.  Generally, when a group of New Yorkers stop to gawk, there is something totally out of the ordinary or stunningly weird going on, more than just the daily construction found all over NYC. So I joined the group of ten and looked across to the south side of the street at a building with no face. 

The salvage crews had placed blue sheets on both sides in order to protect the six-story walk-up at 152 West 14th Street from the spring elements.  The apartments were in rows of three, with bed sheets, pictures, mattresses and various other detritus hanging over a side where there used to be a wall with windows.  The crowd was murmuring, trying to figure out what had happened. Did the building collapse, was anyone hurt were among the questions floated about. “Was it terrorists,” one woman asked loudly.  I chortled trying to figure out which was worse, a suicide bomber who failed to detonate or one that detonated with so little force only the windows of a building had to be replaced.

“The façade of the building was unstable and sliding down.  So the owner decided to have it replaced,” a security guard from the building behind us offered.  “Once it’s fixed, all the people who live there can come back.”

I was transfixed for a few minutes, watching the crews cleaning the white paint off the rust colored bricks.  I wondered if this was one of the old Rooming Houses Woody Guthrie and Stephen Crane had lived in while roaming around the West Village when it used to be the nation’s bohemian hub.  However, the more I looked at the twelve exposed units, the more the nature of my New York existence became obvious.

I grew up in a large, sprawling home in the suburbs.  The rooms weren’t all squares or rectangles many were oblong, oddly shaped or semi-circular and they all had storage spaces, closets etc.  But in New York, we give all of that away, the space, the closets to live in drab cells barely a step up from Soviet style effieciency apartments so we can be close to the action on the street or wherever.   We pretend our homes are fabulous or elegant or beautiful but in truth, they are all small, drab and claustrophobic.  That’s why we paint the walls white, not for sanity’s sake but to give the illusion of more space.   

Even my apartment, with its wonderful New York address and stoop facing the only private park left in Manhattan, is no different.  I have two -square rooms, three if you count the small bathroom, in a straight line.  Slightly larger than the cells in Pennsylvania’s Eastern State Penitentiary, in which the Quakers housed their criminals during the 1790’s.  However, those prisoners had an outdoor space.  I wonder what they would rent for on the open market.


Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *


Every Friday, get 2 for 1 movie tickets when you use your Visa Signature card.

Recent Comments