My former neighbor Helen, Helen's dog Scooter, and I went down the block yesterday to visit the old-timers, who can always be found stoop-sitting on nice spring days.
There's a baby boom in progress on our old block. Not from the old-timers, of course, who range in age from mid-50s to pushing-80, but from their adult children. Families don't stray far from each other in old-school JC, and the grandparents have mostly moved into street-level apartments of their own homes. Y jokes that she saw her house once, right after it was renovated, and has stayed in the downstairs apartment ever since. She never came into my apartment, though it only took climbing a few stairs. She's in her 70s and her knees aren't what they used to be.
Y was busy with her two-year-old grandson and had no news to report, though her slightly younger brother, who lives next door, talked a lot about property taxes and where JC was going. My conversations with him have always been limited to local politics and the sad loss of his traditional JC fishing holes. A friend of his who lives around the corner said he'd keep an eye out for me for a cheap house that needs renovating.
A—who is 76, always wears a flowered housedress, and swears worse than any sailor—had big news. She'd sold her house and is moving into assisted living a few blocks away. She gave me a big hug, which reminded me of the time she'd given her flip-flops to the new woman on the block who needed to go into a flooded basement, or of when she'd first met Roberta after a winter snow and handed her a broom to clean off her car.
Which doesn't seem to go with her energetic use of the work "f*ck," but somehow, she makes it work.
"My f*cking house needed over $100,000 worth of work. I'm 76 years old, what the f*ck do I need a house for? My little room in the old-folks-home is $400 a month including all bills. You can't beat that."
Her best friend T, who had open heart surgery last year and got a stint put in last month, was upset initially but is accepting the move. T lives across the street and swears slightly less than A. T always carries dog biscuits, a bowl, and water for her furry friends. Murphy used to be scared of T, but A once gave Yancey a tongue-lashing in the dead of winter.
"That dog is cold! Take her home."
T is mad at J right now, for some complicated reason I didn't understand. J is living nearby with friends while her own house is renovated by the guy who bought A's house. Their argument involves rides in J's car and T's picking up J's breakfast in exchange for rides. When I told T it would blow over, she heatedly denied this.
C surprised me when she told me that the owners in my old building were stripping off the cedar panels on the front and having it redone.
"What? Why don't they just repaint?"
"They got estimates from people who said the siding hadn't been primed before the blue paint went up, so it rotted. Remember when Mike put it all up himself? He swung on a harness from the top and did it all himself."
Helen and I looked at her blankly.
"Was that the guy from Jetco?" I asked.
"Jetco? No, you remember Mike. He lived up there." She pointed to the top left apartment.
"Mike never did that. Jetco put up the siding when the sponsor owned it, before any of us bought it."
F nodded and agreed with C. "Mike hung down on a harness."
One of the babies started crying, so C organized an expedition to the park. Helen and I moved down to see K and L, who laughed at the idea of Mike hanging off on a harness.
"We had it repainted in 2004 but no one ever touched the cedar," I explained. The paint had chipped off then too. There had been a debate on what the problem was, but ultimately we'd read somewhere that cedar needed to be painted with stain rather than outdoor paint, and we'd just have to keep touching it up or strip it and start over down the road.
"I have a photo of Jetco putting the siding up," I declared. "It's from when I first looked at that apartment in July of 2002, and it had primer on it."
Silently, I added that I remembered when we painted, because Turbo (in Oz) and I were breaking up over the phone, and I'd been annoyed that the painters were outside my window hearing every word I said.
K remembered too well when the original building sponsor had fixed the outside. First, P from across the street had ratted out the new vinyl windows to the JC Historic Committee—the sponsor had been forced to put the right wooden windows in after that. He'd also spilled paint on K's roof, refused to clean it up, and K had gotten so angry that the sponsor had to hide to avoid being hit.
He'd had to hide from the other owners in my building too. He'd promised landscaping, a finished basement, and a host of other perks, and in the end, we'd had to do all these things ourselves. Helen and I had both bought at steep discounts when the owner was desperate to sell under a Starker Exchange deadline. We'd been promised nothing, as befits below-market housing.
I remembered when K had given me a lift up to the Parking Authority in December of 2006.
"It's a great block," he'd said. "But everyone likes to talk. Don't trust everything you hear."
Listening to him laugh about the siding story today, I had to agree.