Colorful Brownstone in My Neighborhood

Live from Bedford Stuyvesant, the livest one // Representing BK to the fullest…” – Unbelievable, The Notorious BIG

Remember when the theme song for The Cosby Show finished playing and the cameras panned to the tree-lined block that the Huxtables lived on, giving you a glimpse of their neighborhood?  It was in moment that I decided that I wanted to live in a Brownstone – a Brooklyn, brownstone. The buildings themselves were aesthetically pleasing to the eyes and were unlike anything that I’d ever seen before (being a girl from Cambria Heights, Queens and all).  To further refresh your reason as to why I wanted to live in one read Me (to refresh your memory → https://unicorninbk.com/me/).  I digress… This  post isn’t about why I wanted to live in one when I moved to Brooklyn, its about what’s it’s like to actually LIVE in one.

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After weeks of trying to find a place on my own, growing tired of the classic bait and switch apartment let down that I repeatedly encountered with Craigslist listings (you know – you click on an apartment listing within your budget, in the neighborhood that you specify, with pictures almost too good to be true so you make an appointment to check it out in person and are soon let down only to realize the online pictures showed the best parts of the shitty apartment to lure you in for a viewing) , I decided to use a real estate agent. My cousin had some fortune with her agent, so I asked for her number with hopes of having the same experience.

It only took a 15 minute introductory phone conversation with the real estate (RE) agent for my apartment search optimism to return. All feelings of hopelessness subsided as she reassured me with her favorite-auntie-I-got-you-boo personality and conversational style. I’d given her the parameters for what I wanted  (a SAFE one-bedroom brownstone apartment within walking distance of popular train lines, a laundromat, dry cleaner, and a supermarket in Bed Stuy). In no less than a week,  she phoned with news of a prospective place that she was was certain I’d love – she was right.

I’d met my RE agent (and her business partner) at a J line the train station (in Brooklyn) one evening after work so that they could escort me to the brownstone on Stuyvesant Avenue. She had an even stronger “auntie” vibe in person –  when we met, she bypassed a handshake and instead went in for a hug. Off to a good start. We drove a few short blocks and parked directly in front of the house, in the middle of the block. We met the prospective landlady (& homeowner) outside, exchanged pleasantries, and all went upstairs to check the space out.

I entered the main entrance door and waited in the vestibule with low expectations (I’d been in a few other brownstone before and left disheartened) as the homeowner opened one of the two mahogany wood and glass paneled entrance doors.   This was the parlor floor – a floor traditionally used for entertaining purposes. To my right were two huge solid mahogany colored sliding doors that remained closed. Down the hall was another door – a door I was never meant to gain access to (as there were tenants inside). I looked up and noticed the intricate crown molding around the hallway lighting and started to get excited.  As I continued to look around, admiring the detailed engraving found in the wooden banister on the landing of the staircase and the wood molding that surrounded the door perimeters I began to fall in love.  This brownstone had all the original fixtures and character that I’d fell in love with year before.  It was apparent that this building was constructed and maintained with care.  Anyway – again I digress.  I I followed the landlady up the squeaky dark brown wood staircase and arrived to another door, the entrance to the top floor apartment.  This was it – it was time to see what I hoped would be the final apartment viewing of my apartment search. 

Upon entrance I stepped into the living room, but I’m going to bypass that and skip to my opinion of the kitchen first…

Kitchen

The kitchen was an underwhelming small eggshell colored semi-gloss painted space. Too small for a bistro or bar table with matching chairs (which I really wanted to place in my kitchen), but large enough to comfortably provide standing room for 2 – 3 people. What it lacked in size, it made up for in storage space. 7 overhead cabinets, 3 under the sink cabinets (of which I carefully scrutinized for vermin presence), a size-able 4 shelved pantry and two overhead large shelves (for additional storage). There was very little (faux granite) counter space, but I could make do with what was provided. The oven and refrigerator were smaller than the standard size, but were brand new – a huge plus for me. There was a large ceiling to radiator window (the radiator sat directly beneath the window) perpendicular to the sink, providing a view of the brownstone backyard as well as neighboring backyard space. Topping the room off were the lackluster floors.  Nothing to brag about – plastic “wood colored” tiles (that could easily be cleaned by my Swiffer).  They weren’t exactly fancy, but like the appliances, they were new.

I could tell the landlady had put a lot of effort into renovating the space because everything looked newly constructed and smelled freshly painted. What I liked the most about this room was that the traditional entrance to the kitchen (a door is usually found at the top of the staircase) had been sealed off from the hallway. Sidebar: In standard brownstones there is an entrance from the hallway leading into the kitchen. This means that anyone from the lower level can mosey their ass upstairs into your kitchen to help themselves to your leftovers and whatever else you have in your fridge. Weird right? I learned this little tidbit while viewing of one of the many apartments I’d visited prior. I snapped a few pictures then made my way back into the living room.

Living Room

The Living room (the first room you entered when stepping into the apartment) was a nice size, not huge, but large enough to comfortably accommodate a small gathering of at least 8 – 10 people. The walls were also painted the same eggshell color in the same semi-gloss finish – in fact every room in the space was, I guess it was cost efficient. I was most excited about the extremely tall ceilings, the two large ceiling to almost floor windows, a defunct fireplace and mantle (which served as the focal point in the room), and original hardwood floors. My excitement for the space started to heighten, but I kept it cool, I didn’t want to appear TOO excited – I wanted to try and negotiate a lower rent than specified.  I snapped a few pictures then made my way down the hardwood floor hallway to check out the staple feature my RE agent boasted about – a classic claw foot bathtub.

Bathroom

I opened the door all the way and swung it into the hallway so that I could gain access.  It was cute!  I walked in and immediately noticed (and admired) the freshly painted bathtub, fantasizing about the bubble baths by candlelight that I would take had I moved in.  The pentagon shaped tiles were the same color as the walls and old – in need of a deep cleaning. To my pleasant surprise, I noticed an overhead skylight (also in need of a cleaning) that allowed natural lighting to peer into the room whenever the sun was up. As I continued to look around the moderately sized bathroom I noticed the same silver spray-painted radiator that I found in the kitchen and living room, but it was slightly smaller. To finish the room off, was a standard mirrored medicine cabinet over the sink and a small (lower than normal) sink and single door under cabinet unit. Just like the kitchen, the main entrance (from the hallway) had also been sealed off (yes, you guessed it.  Unless this door was constantly locked by you or sealed off by the homeowner, whoever lived or visited beneath you could help themselves to your toilet. Gross right?). Before taking pictures I flushed the toilet (to check for pressure) ran the hot and cold water, and checked beneath the sink for the same reason I checked beneath the kitchen sink. As I made my way back into the hallway, my RE agent told me that she saved the best room for last. She informed me that she was going to wait outside in the living room so that I could see the bedroom alone.

Bedroom

I opened the door and my jaw hit the hardwood floor.  “Holy SHIT!  THIS is my apartment”, I said to myself as I stared at the huge bedroom in awe. This room was so large that it could’ve doubled as a tap dance studio. Three huge  windows dominated the wall opposite the entrance and allowed an abundant, yet non-intrusive amount of sunlight into the room. The hardwood floor was in pristine condition and had a lovely luster to it. As I walked towards the middle window (all windows gave me a view of the front of the brownstone – pedestrians and traffic) I noticed a small makeshift closet to my left with the staple silver radiator and to my right (clearly heating wouldn’t be an issue here), and an alcove and another door (with a lock) to my right. I was curious to know where the door led to, so I opened it – learning that it lead back into the hallway. Nice – so this apartment had two entrance/exit options. As usual, I took several pictures of the room from various angles, but this time I started to actually decorate this large space in my head.  My enthusiasm was heightened, the idea of me moving into this space had become very real. I was ready to sign the lease.  

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My landlady and I thoroughly interviewed each other for the better part of 15 minutes. I wanted to know why the apartment was so inexpensive, in fact I asked her if someone had died in the space and/or if there was a bad vermin issue (like she’d actually tell me). She laughed and reassured me that none of those things were an issue.  The reason why keep the rent so low was because she owned the brownstone for well over thirty years and didn’t have a mortgage, so there was no need to have exorbitantly high rent. She simply wanted “us” to remain in our own neighborhood (as gentrification had just started to pick up).  Who said we don’t look out for our own?  I satisfied her questions and she satisfied mine and was presented a three page lease agreement. I called my RE agent (and her partner, as they were waiting in the bedroom) back into the living room and informed them that I wanted to take the apartment. I read the agreement over in its entirety and made it official – I signed the lease in late April of 2013!

Within minutes I learned that my new neighbors were related to the landlady (her slightly young sister and brother-in-law, no younger than 55 and no older than 65). They would live beneath me, occupying the parlor level (directly beneath me), the garden level (directly beneath the parlor level), as well as the basement. My new landlady called her sister upstairs and I met “Ms. D”.

Ms. D arrived at the staircase, slowly stepped into my living room with a warm greeting.  “Welcome to the building” she said with a smile. I returned the smile, but noticed that my skepticism had returned. It wasn’t her appearance – she looked fine. She stood slightly taller than me (about 5’9”), slender, and clad in a long dark denim skirt, t-shirt, and knit cardigan. Her skin was a pretty deep dark chocolate and her hair was covered by a handkerchief. I couldn’t place my finger on it, but my intuition kicked into high gear as I shook Ms. D’s right hand. While I found her smile to be genuine, it also had a slight cynicism to it. It kind of reminded me of the smiles that the velociraptors (from Jurassic Park) had on their faces before they went in to kill their prey. She struck me as a busy body and I knew for certain that we would exchange more than a few words in the coming weeks. I didn’t have to wonder if she would be nosy, report my every move to her sister, and/or complain about overhead noise because I KNEW that she would.  I moved in a week later, inspired to start my new life in Bed Stuy, Brooklyn. 

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Sitting on one of the neighborhood stoops

What’s it Like?

For anyone looking to move into a brownstone you need to know the following things:

  • The floors are THIN. If you wish to have wild passionate sex in your “loving bed” like Nola Darling does in She’s Gotta Have It, know that ALL inhabitants of the building will hear EVERYTHING. How do I know this? Well…….

    • It was my first winter in the building and Ms. D was in my bedroom flushing my radiator out (be warned, this is usually needed every winter if you don’t receive proper heat in your radiator. Sometimes the coiling is blocked by old water, so it needs to be flushed out). I sat on a footstool as Ms. D did her thing, making small talk about the neighborhood and my transition into it.  “I love how quiet the block can be at times, when cars aren’t driving by blasting their music”, I said. “Oh yes, the neighborhood really is quiet, just like this brownstone. You can really hear EVERYTHING in here., EVERYTHING.”, she stressed. Then I paused.  Was that shade?  Was this audacious heifer READING ME?  I knew EXACTLY what she was referring to, but chose not to indulge in that conversation anymore. Note to Self: Put a pillow in your mouth when you’re getting some.  .

    • As if that warning wasn’t loud and clear enough, Ms. D chose to make it quite clear that she’d heard my sexcapades and did not approve. A few weeks later, the dude that I had been dating at that time was in my bedroom (directly above hers) banging my back out. I did what any woman does when she’s experiencing this kind of pipe – I moaned, talked back (dirty) and screamed in satisfaction. Not even 5 minutes into the act did I hear this woman complaining LOUDLY beneath me.  Her audible complaints were followed by sound of her television, which increased in volume to the point where it started to compete with my moans. Unreal. At that point my GAF was broken –  I paid rent to do what I wanted and WHEN I wanted – and at very moment I wanted to take D like a champ, so I did.

    • Every once in awhile I am caught off guard by the phlegm-rich bronchial cough of Ms. D’s husband, Mr. D.  Mr. D has one of those nasty  chronic cigarette smokers coughs that I hear every so often.  You can tell that every time he coughs he isn’t covering his mouth because of how loud and violent is sounds.  He’s had this cough for almost five years, when the FUCK is he going to get a pack of Halls and some Robitussin?

    • Both Ms. D (and Mr. D) and I play music, but we respect each other. They play oldies, and I play oldies (amongst other genres of music) at a decent decibel level between decent hours. When I choose to blast my tunes she NEVER complains. She simply lets me rock out as she understands that I’m probably playing it for one of three reasons: (1) I’m cleaning, (2) I’m getting ready to go out, or (3) I’m entertaining. I guess she let’s me rock without complaint because I don’t play my music for extended periods of time – two hours tops.

    • Random noises won’t be the only reminder that you’ll have regarding the thin walls/floors. Prepare for the smells my friend. You’d better hope your neighbor(s) know how to cook, because you WILL smell whatever meal they prepare beneath you (I’m not so sure if scents travel to lower levels if you live on the parlor or garden level of your brownstone). Luckily for me, MOST of the time Ms. D’s food smells pretty good so I don’t mind. However, she FUCKING KILLS me when she decides to host her Oshun rituals beneath me. Ok, maybe I’m being extra. I don’t know if she’s worshiping anything, but it’s the only way I can make sense of the constant burning of frankincense (which stinks to holy hell), various GROSS varieties of nasty smelling incense, cigarettes, and weed. Obviously, I don’t mind the latter (as I’ve been known to indulge in the jazz cabbage from time to time), but the other scents are a problem. The smell got so bad my first year here that Ms. D and I got into an argument on more than one occasion because all of the coats in my coat closet smelled like her habit – (they reeked of nicotine, and sacrificial smoke) and the odors from whatever the fuck she was burning (often before sun rose) would seep into my living room and bedroom waking me up before my alarm clock.  Eventually we came to an agreement – I asked her (and her husband) to only smoke cigarettes on the garden level or basement as this was to floors beneath me and she agreed.  To deal with smells from the burned incense/frankincense, sage, (and whatever else she burned) (she agreed), I lined the bottom of my coat closet with plastic bags (using duck tape to keep it in place) and placed two bathroom mats over it (no more scent exchange) and bought her an oil burner and oils so she could stop burning that vile shit. We have an agreement, she would wait until after 8 am to burn her things and just like that was well in our respective worlds.

  • The water pressure is wonky. The pressure as a whole is REALLY good here, but when Ms. or Mr. D and/or one of their visiting grandchildren take a shower or use a large amount of water I can tell.  While in the shower, with no warning the pressure will drop incredibly low for 2 – 3 minutes or the pressure will remain the same, but the water will get either incredibly cold or hot. To avoid these issues, I usually take my showers earlier or later than my neighbors (you eventually learn your neighbor’s schedules as you live with them over the months/years).

  • Neighbors are everything. What you saw depicted in Spike Lee’s Do The Right Thing and Crooklyn is accurate. Brownstone residents actually engage in conversations with their neighbors, forge actual bonds, and look out for each other. When I moved on this block, I showed up with a U-Haul van full of all my belongings prepared to move myself in alone (my sis and cousin were en route to help). However, my young neighbor , who happened to be outside on his stoop, saw me struggling (after two trips to up and down my steps) and offered to help me.  Initially I rejected his offer, but soon realized that I actually needed the help.  He wound up carrying all my heavy furniture upstairs either alone or with my assistance and refused my money. I only had $75 or so on me and had to pretty much insist he take it, thankfully he did.

    • Receiving help with my heavy items has been my ongoing experience while living here. I can count on two hands the amount of times that I’ve had to lug my groceries up the stairs by myself. I am usually offered help by passing gentleman and I gladly accept the help. This is the norm – neighbors help each other here.

    • In addition, every summer your brownstone block (or a neighboring one) hosts an annual block party. Police barricades are placed at both ends of the block and all residents as well as nearby residents partake in fellowship with neighbors that you may not ordinarily speak to on an everyday basis – while you enjoy the warm weather, BBQ, music, games, dancing, and good vibes. 
    • However, I’ve noticed that with gentrification not all new Brooklynites understand the rules of engagement.  This is one of my issues with gentrification. “It” brings pretentious ass UES/UWS and/or NY transplants and their unattractive standoffish attitudes to the neighborhood.  These people move into areas that thrive off of community fellowship and shut their neighbors out instead of embracing them. These rude assholes won’t even greet you in the morning when you give them the standard “good morning”. They don’t matter though – after the neighbors catch wind of this they are treated as outcasts. Fuck em’.
  • Melanated brownstone homeowners take pride in their property. While Ms. D isn’t the homeowner of this brownstone, her sister is, so she tends to upkeep the property on her sister’s behalf. Every morning this OCD woman is outside sweeping leaves and dirt from the sidewalk onto the street. While I don’t mind her doing this, it’s the hour at which she chooses to do this this drives me crazy. There have been many mornings when she’s woken me up sweeping before the cot damn sun has risen completely. She’s extremely clean, so her sweeping comes with the territory – but I wish she’d chose another time to do this. 

    • Speaking of taking pride in property…. Remember what I said about standoffish neighbors being treated as outcasts, peep game. Last summer the residents of Stuyvesant Ave & ________ (did you really expect me to tell y’all the exact block that I live on?) received three new hipster (and probably NY transplant) tenants: A young weird Black chick (no older than 30), her White weirdo bf (roughly the same age), and some random Asian chick (again, no older than 30). They didn’t respect the rules of recyclable day, but Ms. D gave them a lesson that they would NEVER forget. Recyclable days on my block are every Thursday. This means you put all your goods into a clear plastic bag and place it directly ifo YOUR brownstone. Too bad the young White homey either didn’t know or didn’t care to respect the rules…. It wasn’t even 6:30 AM when I heard loud knocking at what I thought was my apartment door. I woke up startled, but soon relaxed once I realized Ms. D wasn’t bothering me. “Get your shit off my property. This is the second time you’ve done this and I’m tired of it. Get your shit off my property NOW before I spread it all over yours.”, Ms. D yelled.  Apparently these hipsters didn’t understand that you don’t combine your bags with whatever pile you see on the curb, you start your OWN pile. This is VITAL because if one of your neighbors fails to recycle properly and adds their garbage to your pile, the homeowner gets fined. That White boy learned that day. Respect the property of all brownstones around you or get cursed the fuck out before you’ve had your morning coffee.

  • There will be mice. I don’t care how clean you and/or your neighbors keep the brownstone, you will most likely come across a mouse or two in your apartment. I’ve been here for almost five years and have caught three. The first time I saw one (I was here for about one month and barely had furniture), Ms. D came up and put some traps down – it was caught the next day. The second time that I saw one,  the dude that I was dating at that time immediately sent an exterminator to my residence (in his stead). That mouse was caught the following morning. Lastly, I had to get gangster and fend for myself the third time I saw one. I had some leftover glue traps from the exterminator so I put a few down – and caught it the following evening. I have NEVER removed a trap myself, Ms. D or her husband remove them as a courtesy for me because I CANNOT do it. I am chicken shit and am deathly afraid of mince.  If I could get a cat I would, but my landlady doesn’t allow pets in her home.  *Kanye Shrug*. Not to worry though as I don’t have a horrible vermin issue.  To ensure that things stay that way, my landlady employs an exterminator that services the entire brownstone on a monthly basis.

I have a love-hate relationship with my place. There are days that I hate living here – when I’m awakened by the assholes that ride down my block, stop at the red light, and wait for it to turn green as they blast their trap music in the wee hours of the morning or the drunk LOUD hipsters/LOUD couples arguing/LOUD young kids walking by my bedroom windows at all hours of the night. However, those days are far and few in between. I love it more than I hate it. I am literally in the middle of everything – a 10-15 min Uber or walk to all the action that matters in BK – Brooklyn Bridge Park, Curlfest, Afropunk, Downtown BK (Barclays Center, Trader Joes, BAM), BK Museum, countless neighborhood eateries, bars/lounges, and parks (Fort Greene Park, Prospect Park). I don’t know when I’ll leave, but I do know for now I’m sitting tight – I just renewed my lease through Spring of 2019. Let’s see what happens by then. 

Would you guys be interested in actually seeing pics of my space?  If so, comment below so I can share in a following post ;).  Until then….

Stay Wild,

Marissa C.