Not For Sale

Not For Sale
Protest at the Brooklyn Museum real estate jamboree

Monday, October 28, 2013

CRED

My credentials to undertake this chronicle are: 1. I am a writer. I may even be as good a writer as I am a singer, which is very, very good, unusually good.

2. I am the published "as told to" author of a book FAR outside my own experience – high performance sales – a motivational business memoir of extreme rags to riches tale from Italian East Harlem starting in the 50s, The Street-Smart Salesman: How Growing Up Poor Helped Make Me Rich. A European reviewer called it as close to a Da Vinci Code page-turner as a business book could be; it's published by John C. Wiley & Co., the reigning business publisher; it's being translated into Mandarin.

3. I'm from Brooklyn, born in Park Slope Irish-Italian Roman Catholic, then to Flatbush with my mother's adored second husband, my father, who was Jewish. I moved back to Park Slope in 1984, bought a place in 1995, very lucky, and raised a child there. As of June, 2013, I live in Crown Heights with my beaufriend, the architect Tim Seggerman. I rented out my beautiful apartment in Park Slope for money to live on, let's leave it there. Gentrification there, however, is working FOR me in Park Slope as a long-time resident. The same is hardly true in Crown Heights. No black Brooklyn neighborhood is safe from Whitey at this point. That's what we're here to talk about, whether we are going to be allowed to have the "post-racial" New York we all want as opposed to the investment condos for foreign billionaires.

4. I am a drop-out from the Columbia University School of Architecture master's program in Historic Preservation. Knocking down Pennsylvania Station blew my mind. They went after Rockefeller Center! Grand Central! The entire international art scene that centers in NYC was nurtured in abandoned manufacturing buildings south of Houston condemned for highways connecting Long Island and New Jersey - Manhattan as crossover! My ambitions were idealistic and entirely aesthetic and I certainly had little appreciation and no practical experience of the pervasive racism in American society, much as I ranted about it based on what I read. I dropped out of Columbia to work on a new TV show, Saturday Night Live. Lucky!

5. I really love living in Crown Heights. As a single woman, even as a married woman, I would not have moved into a black neighborhood with or without a child. Sometime in the early 2000s another single mother and I talked about getting a Bed-Stuy brownstone for ourselves and combined 3 kids, but we weren't brave enough – no other word – to take it really seriously. But Tim Seggerman came to what used to be called Ebbets Field nearly 30 years ago because it reminded him of someplace he'd lived in New Orleans, among black people, a happy time.

6. I hope we can agree it's long past time for Whitey to take a look at his and her racism, especially anyone who insists s/he is not racist at all. Trust me, you're tainted. LOU REED explains.

Tuesday, September 17, 2013

1986: Bought The House

My beaufriend bought his house in Crown Heights, where I now live with him, at city auction in 1986. It had no roof, and hadn’t for awhile. Jackie Robinson might have hit a homer onto that roof.

The house had belonged to a schoolteacher who'd descended into dementia. The City took the house and put her in a home elsewhere in Brooklyn, where she died. Despite the eyesore condition, some eyed him suspiciously: Maybe he was the guy who threw her out. Additionally, he and his then-wife were the only white people in the neighborhood and what were they doing there exactly?

Tim Seggerman, is an artist-architect, a builder and craftsman, an alchemist of minimalist design and peasant materials. He had $14,000 in the bank on that day 27 years ago and he wasn't expecting to spend it all. He liked the neighborhood because it reminded him of where he'd lived in in New Orleans. He found himself bidding against a pair of Korean businessmen who finally drove the price to to $140,000. In those days, you could still get a house with 10% down. “Somehow,” Tim says, “my hand went up in the air.”

He rented a dumpster and started clearing the house out. On maybe the first day a squad car pulled up in front and the cop motioned him over. "What are you doing here?" he wanted to know. "These people are animals." Tim said he didn't agree and was looking forward to living here. He knew from long experience that he would be made to feel welcome in a black community. He is, other than Tony Heilbut, perhaps the most knowledgeable white man on the subject of gospel music in the land, not that he writes about it. He's a deep listener to all African-American music, indeed all the musics of the Americas, but I digress.

The cop drove away and a short time later Dot came out of her house across the street. She is the soul of kindness and I'm told that though she has a very beautiful face, the rest of her body is badly scarred from the time she ran into a burning building to save some children, back home in Edenton, NC. "We're not animals," she said to him, gently. "I know," he said.

I would like to add here that our recent experiences with the local police has been entirely positive, to our surprise. We had occasion to call 911 on a domestic dispute between a troubled pair across the street. Another night we came home to find a lovely, but distraught woman on our street looking for someone to call 911. She'd also had a domestic dispute and was deeply depressed. Now I'm no fan of the NYPD, but the officers who responded to our calls were professional, understanding, well-spoken. Go figure. But not in 1986.