Our Friend Trevor

October 28, 2013 at 4:49 pm | Posted in Uncategorized | 6 Comments
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When Keith and I came back to New York in 2008, we bought a co-op in a sixty-or-so unit apartment building on the western edge of the Flatbush section of Brooklyn. After World War II this was a Jewish neighborhood; then a lot of Caribbean immigrants moved in. By the time my husband became the pastor of an American Baptist congregation six or eight blocks from here, in 1978, the neighborhood also had Haitian and Latino communities in it. And today, there are also lots of (subcontinental) Indians, and three blocks further west, a section called “little Pakistan.”

The 1920s apartment building reflects these changes. On the upper floors are two Jewish women, one ninety-five years old, one 103, who have been here their entire adult lives. But there are also Caribbean and Latino families who came after most of the Jewish renters moved out. And more recently, some young professional couples–Russians, secular Jews, white ethnics, WASPS–moved in. Most of us own our apartments; the building became a “co-op” in 1989. A co-op is different from a condo in that we own shares in the apartments and elect a board that makes decisions about financial and residential matters. What enables the renters to remain here with us are New York City’s rent stabilization laws, which control how quickly rent goes up and make it difficult for the real estate firm that owns the unsold units to evict the (for the most part) less economically well-off renters still occupying them.

Our friend Trevor and his mother and younger brother lived in just such a rent-stabilized apartment, directly above us, until recently. Trevor is in his mid-forties, his brother Michael is in his late 30s, and their mother, Geraldine, is younger than you might think, but retired. The rent stabilization laws allow a renter to be away for up to six months out of the year without losing their lease, so Geraldine spent about that much time in Belize each year, while Michael stayed home and worked. Trevor, however, had had a really bad stroke in 2006, and has been on Social Security Disability since then. He was working in construction in Tampa when he had the stroke but came home to live with his mother.

Trevor is tall and thin and walks with a cane, hunched over; he has no front teeth–one of many local residents who can’t afford $11,000 for dental implants–and has a terrible time talking. I often met him on the street, walking out to Prospect Park or back, where we both went to get our exercise. We would chat a bit, and I got better at understanding what he was saying. One day I met him outside the supermarket up on Church Avenue and he was loading bottles and cans out of a supermarket cart into a recycling machine that paid five cents an item. It occurred to me that he may be the only friend I’ve got who collects and cashes in bottles and cans.

I also met Trevor’s Mom on the street once in a while when she was back from Belize. She would invariably get to complaining about hard it was to live with Trevor, but spoke highly of Michael. She was in Belize in September when I came home to see Michael packing a rental truck out in front of the building.

“We’re moving,” he said.

I said, “Oh, I need to get your address so I can come and see Trevor.”

“Trevor’s not coming,” he replied.

Turns out Geraldine had written to say that she was not coming back from Belize. And Michael was moving in with his girlfriend. Which left Trevor, for the moment, in the apartment. Trouble is, his name wasn’t on the lease.

So the management company that handles the rental units got Trevor hooked up with Adult Protective Services–better than putting him out on the street, for sure. After a while, they moved Trevor to Surf Manor, an NYC “adult home” out in Coney Island, where he shares a room with another guy and gets three meals a day. The home gets his Social Security check and gives Trevor forty-five dollars a month for incidentals.  Unfortunately, Surf Manor is reputed to be one of the worst “adult homes” in the city, with residents at one point suing for a long-term bedbug infestation, and the majority of the residents mentally ill and hardly being cared for.

Trevor now comes to see us a couple of times a week. He walks to the old neighborhood from Coney Island, three miles each way, leaning on his cane. I think we’re becoming his family, more or less. Keith is going tomorrow to see the social worker at Surf Manor because Trevor’s Medicaid drug card has expired and he can’t get his cumadin prescription refilled; I think he takes the cumadin to offset the effects of the stroke. Trevor said he tried to explain this to the social worker at Surf Manor, but she didn’t understand him. Odd to think that I would be better than a social worker at understanding the speech of a disabled man. Keith has decided to describe himself as Trevor’s pastor. Maybe he actually is.

Trevor has taken to asking us for money, because he hardly has any. I don’t think he’s conning us; Keith gave him twenty dollars at one point and he came back the next day to tell us he’d lost the twenty–could he have more? A con probably wouldn’t have told us. A clergy friend of mine is going to let me write checks to his congregation as a donation and  then give me the money in cash so we can at least take it off our taxes. We’re planning to give Trevor five dollars at a time in case he loses it.

I tend to avoid homeless people on the street. I give them some money but scurry away. It doesn’t feel very Christian not to answer the door when Trevor comes, though. Maybe I should find it a comfort that some Central Americans are as rotten to their family members as some Anglos (or whatever we are). But I don’t.

Where Do You Do Your Laundry?

July 11, 2013 at 4:22 pm | Posted in Uncategorized | 8 Comments
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As I may have mentioned, I live in a six-story apartment  building (54 apartments I think) in the middle of Brooklyn, NYC. At a certain point, in an attempt to gentrify the neighborhood,  they started calling the neighborhood “Ditmas Park,” which was the name used by the white Anglo-Saxon Protestants who lived here when Brooklyn was the suburbs of Manhattan. But really, we live in west Flatbush.

Our apartment is on the first floor, which means it can be  pretty dark. All kinds of plants have died here from lack of light. One advantage to being on the first floor, though, is that we can sit and watch the neighborhood walk by on its way to the street where the stores are, Cortelyou Road. It’s not everywhere that you can watch Hindu women  and saris, Muslim women and their daughters from Pakistan and Yemen veiled  head to foot (even their faces), couples talking Russian, families from across Latin America talking Spanish, Jewish families, mostly not wearing overblouses and yarmulkes (the Orthodox having moved farther out decades ago), very many Caribbean folks talking the Queen’s English (sort of), and old and young white gentrifiers yakking along with everybody else.

I really love living here. But I have to confess that sometimes it also makes me feel superior, to have transcended (as it were!) the kind of boundaries that diminish our supposed democracy. Until there’s a laundry crisis, that is.

Something has gone wrong with the laundry in our basement. My financial consultant has advised me not to tell you just what. But my usual bi-weekly trips down to the basement to jam the laundry into the washing machine, followed forty-five minutes later by another trip to transfer it to the dryer(s), followed an hour later by folding or hanging the clothes onto hangers and sliding them back into the closets, are in abeyance. When the baskets under the bed got stuffed beyond functioning, we had to think of something else.

The something else was a trip to the commercial laundromat six blocks away, at the corner of Cortelyou Rd. and E. 16th St. Compared to our basement laundry, the local laundromat is really something. Forty washers, more or less, some requiring eighteen quarters, some requiring eight. No spiffy money cards as at home. Forty dryers. Fifteen or twenty folks using them, almost all women. We were the only white folks in the place. Lots of different kinds of music playing pretty loud. Seriously hot and muggy.

Keith had helped me carry the laundry down to the laundromat–three big bags. The plan was that we would get the machines going, I would sit there while the clothes washed, and then call him to help me fold them and carry them home after they were dry. But I more or less became a nervous wreck as I was trying to get the machines going–poured the bleach into the wrong slot, put the laundry detergent in too soon, and was being driven nuts by the music. So I was the one who went home.

Eventually Keith called me on his cell and I returned the six blocks for the folding and carting part of the adventure. The woman on the folding table across from me had clearly been doing this for a long time; if one sock got over the dividing line, she would say “Is that your sock there? You wouldn’t want to lose track of it.” From which I took it I’d better be more careful with our socks. (Keith assured me that she had been every bit as tough with the Caribbean woman who had preceded me.) At a certain point I just threw all the unfolded and sometimes damp clothes back into the bags and dashed home to deal with them in our quiet bedroom. Some are a little wrinkled as a result, but oh, well.

Rumor has it that our laundry room in the basement will be accessible by the time the baskets under our bed are full once again. And if it’s not, there’s a Chinese laundry down on Newkirk that will pick up our clothes and wash and dry them and bring them back, even if that means I have to iron them all afterwards. I’m kind of proud of living in such a diverse neighborhood, but you don’t want to get too carried away with such things.

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