Wednesday, July 12, 2006
MJ in JC: Origins
In 1987, Woody—a guy I knew in college—went to Prague.
Which led me to where I am now, in a meandering, roundabout sort of way.
We'd attended Antioch College in Ohio, home to radicals, leftists, punk rockers, hippies, and all kinds of rabble-rousers throughout its 150-year history. That's what had initially appealed to me about Antioch, though its generous financial aid offer and work-experience program tipped the scales.
At some point, Woody became enchanted with Czech literary dissidents. He borrowed some film cameras and took off for Prague. He interviewed a lot of people and came back with tales of a band called Plastic People of the Universe and an activist named Vaclav Havel. (I think he later gave too many drinks to too many Czechs when he worked at the Knitting Factory, but that's just hearsay and a story for another time.)
In early 1988, I was driving my beat-up mustard-colored 1972 Volvo station wagon down West 4th Street. The details are a bit fuzzy. Why was I driving in Manhattan? Where was I living at the time? Was I up in Riverdale at my then-boyfriend's sister's apartment? I was in New York on an Antioch job, working for the Epic division of Marvel Comics.
Who was riding with me? I don't remember. But they knew Woody too. Because as we drove past the Tower Records Sales Annex, I said, "Hey, there's Woody." And they agreed. We parked and went in. Back then, it was possible to easily find a parking space in Manhattan.
Woody was working as a cashier at Tower Records. I hadn't known he was in New York, but when you're 20 and a roaming Antioch student, coincidences seem like the most normal thing in the world.
"Are you looking for a place to live? I saw a good place last night. It's in Jersey City." Woody had met someone in Prague, who had given him the phone number of a Czech friend in Jersey City. He'd met her and it turned out she had a three-bedroom place to rent in Jersey City. Only $750 a month. $250 each if we found another person.
"Jersey City? Ew. Isn't that—like—another state?"
Nevertheless, I needed a place to live so I agreed to drive over and have a look. I called the Czech friend—a painter who in another serendipitous moment would years later become Michael Kraiger's landlady—and got directions. Go through Holland Tunnel. Go left. Drive about 8 blocks. Stop. You're there.
I was sold on the incredible convenience and the amazing price. And the PATH train went right to it and was only a dollar a ride.
Woody eventually moved on, and revolving roommates finally turned into a permanent situation. I lived with the Other Marie and Otis Ball (and a few rats). We had a blast. We were home away from home for dozens of indie bands who came through the area, though this got really out of control after we moved a mile away to Mercer Street. Our landlady lost our first apartment in the Great JC Property Tax Reassessment of 1988, the end of the last JC real estate boom (when realtors tell you that property never goes down, refer them to any owner who lived in JC in the late '80s). We ended up with a much better place, no rats, and $950 a month rent.
After a few years, the Other Marie and I each bought two-bedroom condos on Avenue B in Manhattan. The condos were a mere $55,000 each, though that seemed like a lot at the time.
Long story short: When I sold my Avenue B place and went around the world, I meant to go back to Manhattan. But I loved downtown Jersey City, and I had a lot of friends there. Maybe, I thought, I'd buy a place, renovate it, sell it, and then keep the proceeds since I was moving to Australia anyway.
Australia fell through (first in a series of Marie-moves-to-other-country-for-man stories) and I ended up living in the condo I'd intended to renovate.
I love it, though I'm frequently traveling. I'm bored and hot here, because I work all day and refuse to turn on the air-conditioning. But the neighborhood is great, the old ladies on the block are charming, the Italian delis are cheap, and if I ever work up the energy to get off my butt, I can zip over to Manhattan or in the other direction, to the Delaware Water Gap. All because Woody wanted to go to Prague.