Wednesday, August 30, 2006 at 16:09:14 (EDT)

50,000 watts of goodwill

The building around the corner from my house was sold in the past year or so. I know this because the building has been marginally fixed up (new windows on the back that face my yard, replacing plywood boards,etc). Also I know there's new management because suddenly the building is fulla white kids. There appear to be a few black families left, but there are definitely some honkies up there somewhere. We know this primarily because at least one apartment has a band practicing in it.

On a certain level this pleases me. I like the idea of other bands coming out of Clinton Hill, though I admit that's a pretty arbitrary reason for liking a band. There's another band that practices on my corner, just high school kids who plays gigs at CBGBs at 7 o'clock. But the kid who lives there lives in a duplex whose lower floor is subterranean. So you can't really hear his band, except the occasional rumbling from the corner.

This new band lives on the top floor of the building. They don't practice very long or very late, but when they do, everybody knows it. Once we were hanging out in the backyard when they started up. Our neighbors (who have been super kind when it comes to my own band's practices) were also in their back yard, making comments towards the blaring music 100 feet away. As the summer progressed, they seemed to get quieter, until I realized that what had happened was they had bought 3 in-window A/C units, so the windows were just closed. The other day I walked by the front of the building on my way to the grocery store and realized that however loud it sounded from the back was nothing compared to how it sounded on Grand Ave.

It's really friggin' loud.

Not hold your ears while an A train scrapes the inside track loud, but definitely take-notice, raise your voice to speak on the sidewalk loud. The neighborhood seemed to be taking it in stride, but I bet some of the guys hanging around would like unfettered access to their apartment. This made me feel guilty about the noise my own band makes in our basement, but we've tried to contain it as much as possible.

We only practice a couple of times a week and never go past 9pm. We're down in the cellar; i've noticed that if you stand outside you can barely hear it. But inside the house I know it can be pretty loud (somehow I don't worry about the opinions of the other people who live in my building). The next-door neighbors have spoken up when they thought it was too loud, but they haven't said anything about it in years now (except for the one guy who makes fun of my attempts to play the saxophone).

What bugs me ultimately about the band is that they're making things worse for me. People are gonna associate the loud band's behavior with me, either because of how I look, or the fact that I too produce a certain amount of noise myself. If the neighborhood was all raw lofts full of gritty artists, I'd be all for it. But it's not. I just add this to the growing list of trespasses I observe the newly-transplanted committing around here. So maybe I'm a hypocrite, maybe I'm feeling a sense of invasion I have no right to possess (considering I only got here 5 years ago).

Then they started shooting fireworks off the back of the building.

It started one Sunday a few weeks ago. at first it was amusing, some Roman candles and screamers. It made the cats jump. It was funny. But they keep doing it! Not every night, but just when I've forgotten about it, they start it up again. It's like they're daring the neighbrohood to respond. But somehow, I don't think they're thinking at all about the neighbors.

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Monday, August 21, 2006 at 16:55:19 (EDT)

Watch out momma cuz I'm going Whole Hog

All this real-estatin' has left me exhausted and barren of inspiration. While other blogs fight over who 'broke' the story of the pig that lives in the neighborhood (how 'bout March 24, 2005?), I think about things like "If I finance more of the closing costs, I'll have more capital left over to make value-added upgrades to the sewer main." I always wondered why people stop going out to bars or have to be in bed at a reasonable hour, but now I think I know: Buying property saps the very essence out of you. Still, I hope it won't last; otherwise, what is the point of even doing this if it makes me a dried-up ol' grump? Hmm, that sounds like my old landlord ...

Anyway, in the spirit of documenting my remaining period in Clinton Hill, allow me to recap some stuff I've experienced recently. We've been spending a lot more time at The Alibi and Rope, old haunts I've become reacquainted with lately. They've beefed up the lighting in the Alibi's backyard, some hooded flood lamps on top of the deck make things much more inviting than the olden days of the bare white 100-watt bulb (which has been nicely shaded with a steel lampshade made by one of the regulars). Rope is also still very friendly, it's become the de facto home of the Sweet Action Skate Club, which, against all odds, seems to be growing in membership by leaps and bounds (who knew so many people wanted to strap on skates and injure themselves outside of Roller Derby?)

It was brought to my waning attention recently that there's a newish cafe on the Fort Greene side of things, called Smooch. Despite the name it seems like a nice place, and almost all the food is vegan. I haven't eaten there yet, but who could have guessed a year ago that there would be two vegetarian restaurants within a couple of blocks of each other in these parts? I have dined at Red Bamboo many a time, and it never fails to amaze me what they can do with textured vegetable protein. I almost believe a carnivore could eat there and not even know the animals are missing. Okay, maybe they could tell, but they might not mind it.

A stroll down Clinton Ave last night reminded me of the Crazy Cat Lady who used to stand in front of her brownstone and try to sell passersby old magazines at severely inflated prices. I looked up the records of her house at 306 Clinton and determined that she's grown too old to care for herself, but the house has been put into the name of a trust and the proceeds from its sale are earmarked to support her for the rest of her life. She'd been in that place nearly 40 years! I guess it comes as no surprise that she's in the old-folks home now, considering that even several years ago she was exercising some dubious judgment (no electricity in the house, several tell-tale cat carriers stacked up by her front door, trying to sell me a 5-year old copy of Us Weekly because "it has Brad Pitt on the cover!") Now, all I can think of is when that house sells, she'll be able to afford to buy the nursing home.

I'm sure Bushwick will have its share of colorful characters, and some not-so-colorful ones, but I suspect a dearth of run-down bars, and I can pretty much guarantee the only Morningstar Farms Chik'n Nuggets I'll be seeing there will be the ones I've transported from some more upscale location. But at least I've noticed no lack of stray cats in the new neighborhood, so I should feel right at home in any case.

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Friday, August 18, 2006 at 13:22:04 (EDT)

She always hated his hacking cough

You gotta be kidding me

We had the inspection of the house yesterday. What a depressing experience! Despite this home's outwardly decent appearance, inside it harbors many horrors. chief among these is the presence of some good ol' fashioned ASBESTOS in the cellar! Can you believe this? I mean, really, who still has asbestos? It's in the form of pipe insulation on two heat pipes that run the length of the property. It's not totally crumbling, but as you can see, it's not exactly looking secure. So it costs a lot to get rid of asbestos, sure. But how do people live with it for years and do nothing about it? Wouldn't that be considered a good idea by pretty much anyone? So now the sellers are going to have to pay to have it removed, right as they are about to relocate to Hotlanta. They could have done this 10 years ago and enjoyed all those carcinogen-free years (and feasibly paid far less for the removal). But now they have to pay for it anyway and they don't even get any benefit from it.

That's what I keep thinking about in terms of my own possible home ownership. The engineer found some issues with the house that won't be a problem for at least 10 years, but will cost a lot to deal with (such as roof repair and brick pointing of the facade). We certainly won't have the money to do that sort of thing for a long time, but it definitely be taken care of somewhere down the road. By the time it becomes really necessary to fix, we may have adequate equity in the house to finance larger projects. Of course, that's a long way off. I think the average length of home ownership these days is something like 5 years. So I guess I might end up having to make some big repair right when I'm selling the house, just to keep a buyer on the line. And the circle of life continues ...

But still, really. Asbestos. Come on!

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Thursday, August 10, 2006 at 12:24:19 (EDT)

Get god, get giddy, you're moving to the city

Let it not be said that I did not have a Darned Good Reason for letting this blog grow moss lately: I was consumed by Real Estate. Jeannie and I have been looking to shack up together somewhere, so we figured why not blow our lifes' savings on a house in a disreputable neighborhood? And it now appears that we are about to do just that.

Our offer has been accepted on a house in the bowels of Bushwick Brooklyn. I warned you kids we wouldn't be able to stay in Clinton Hill! I will miss its amazing architecture, its shady lanes, its entitled yuppies. But we can barely afford this house, much less anything in high-profile neighborhood. As you know, Bushwick has been touted for a while now as The Next Place You Are Missing Out On, but that is not exactly the Bushwick we're buying in. Most reports about the gentrification of Bushwick involve the northern part of the area, where everything is warehouses, 6-family buildings, and displaced college kids whose brokers told them this was "East Williamsburg." We'll be setting up shop on the other end of the place, the southern end, where it's all houses and 99-cent stores.

The neighborhood admittedly seems rough, but the house is near to all the services we need, a supermarket 2 blocks away, bodegas on every corner, and the J train one block away. Yes, we'll be living in the shadow of the elevated train, whose noise our agent said, "Aww, ya hear it once, then you never hear it again." I'm hoping that this location inspires me to ride my bike more, as I've learned it's a very quick ride between Bushwick and Clinton Hill (otherwise, only the B26 bus is a worthwhile option to get there).

Here's hoping the deal makes it to closing. I'm not sure what will happen at this point as we work out the deal's details. Soon we'll have an inspection done to root out any problems with the place, and then it'll be time to lay out the cash. We've been working out a budget for a while now, we may have to curtail some of our nightlife now (turns out we go to a lot of shows and drink a lot of beer, who knew?).

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Thursday, August 03, 2006 at 11:35:12 (EDT)

Get home safe

So meanwhile, I'm back on the house-buying horse. Sadly, to do this, I must abandon the neighborhood that for so many years has been my sanctum. Clinton Hill is one of the finest residential spots in the country, but now that I'm finally in a position to purchase property, I've long since been priced out of my own neighborhood. A million dollars for a house here is a "bargain" in the eyes of wealthy transplants like those found on Brownstoner. I seriously considered a tiny box of a house that faces an ugly laundromat simply because it was 'only' $595,000. Then I came to my senses and realized that Brooklyn is one big-ass borough, so we looked elsewhere.

Bushwick has a terrible reputation ("Murder Capital of New York!") but has access to the J train, one of the highest rated subways on the Straphangers' survey (then again, they rated the L train even higher, where were they at 5 in the morning on a Saturday, only to find there's no train whatsoever?). Aside from Bed-Stuy, which really only has subway access at its far borders, it's the only neighborhood that still seems to have 'affordable' houses (okay, I'm not ready for East New York, yet). This is partially because everybody thinks we'll be mowed down by random machine-gun fire the moment we step off the train. Everybody keeps telling us how unsafe it is, how sketchy everything is, all delivered with knowing groans of concern. But none of these people who tell us this have ever lived in Bushwick; indeed, some people who warn us about the area have never even been there.

So, I put it to you people: how bad is it? I would love to hear from somebody who actually has lived in the area we're looking at, not somebody who heard from somebody else about how some guy got jacked for his Blackberry. We're looking in the mid-to-southern end of the neighborhood mostly, where all the houses are. We'd be interested in any part of the area, but the northern side of the neighborhood is all warehouses and 6-family railroads. Down by the Gates Ave J station there are lots of properties for sale, some are pretty nice. Of course, Broadway is always gonna be kinda ugly, but hey, there's a Payless shoe store right there. That's gotta count for something!

Certainly it seems more dangerous than Clinton Hill. But then, wasn't it Clinton Hill that saw the shooting deaths of two people in the past couple of months? Not to mention the related lockdown of Grand Ave, the brothel on Lefferts Place, the weird double murder earlier in the year. I've always felt lucky that I've never had any serious problems here (besides the occasional beating), but everybody I know who lives in Clinton Hill has been mugged or otherwise assaulted during their tenure here. So I'm not exactly a babe in the woods here. I'm not trying to fool myself that Bushwick is some haven of happy families who will bring us welcome baskets and give us inappropriately long hugs when we move in. But if I'm way off base, if I've barely escaped the hood with my life on my visits there, somebody tell me. Give me some comparison, is it like as bad as, say, Youngstown?

Speaking of neighborhoods, I can't recommend highly enough the act of riding a bike around Bed-Stuy, especially on the really nice blocks (there are a lot of them). The area surrounding Stuyvesant Heights is especially awesome, architecturally speaking. I gotta bring my camera next time. And one time I had to ride through a group of kids who were playing stickball in the street. I rode through on my ridiculous folding bike and they didn't even throw the ball at me. I totally would have.

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Thursday, August 03, 2006 at 10:59:36 (EDT)

Tossing and turning and freezing and burning
Is it bad for you to run in and out of the air conditioning into the hot air outside repeatedly? I was disappointed last night at Trash because the AC didn't seem particularly strong. By the end of the set I was as sweaty as I usually get during live performances (and lately, rehearsals). But when I stepped outside, the heat was overwhelming; after 10 minutes when I went back inside, Trash suddenly felt sub-zero. I guess it's all relative.

Throughout the evening we kept going in and out, and it never got any better outside. It's impossible to believe that in less than 6 months, we'll be cursing the cold and bundling up in parkas and funny-looking hats. It seems incorrect that we're still at the mercy of Mother Nature. Calvin (of Hobbes' fame) is right: "I mean, look at this! We still have weather?! Give me a break!"

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