I moved into this house approximately 15 years ago. It is in Bushwick, Brooklyn. At the time, I had been living down the street for a year or two with a friend and had for various reasons decided that I no longer wanted a roommate and wanted to cut ties with my living situation quickly. I worked for a General Contractor who specialized in custom architectural elements – building cool light fixtures, sometimes furniture, display cases, etc. Basically, I worked in a big warehouse type space with a bunch of guys wielding power tools, but my job was just to keep the books, order stuff and generally do paperwork and sort out insurance certificates and logistics.
It was kind of the golden age of Bushwick, in a way. It was still VERY rough around the edges and thus the only neighborhood I felt I could afford. This was pretty much the start of gentrification in the neighborhood, and there was a lot of hostility from the old timers as the new generation moved in. The grocery store closed at 8pm, and most of the bodegas locked up for the night and you could only order through the bullet proof lazy susan in the window. You kind of had to almost hop scotch at night to avoid rats. There was one really good restaurant, Northeast Kingdom, which is still my favorite restaurant of all time even though it is long gone. It was always funny to go in there at dinner time, because all of the new transplants would be in there with their visiting parents because it was the only respectable place to take them. There were a few bars that were okay, but for the most part if you did not look like a long time resident, you would be ignored or given some major side eye. Drug dealers openly sold drugs out of their windows. And yet, it was kind of magical.
Anyhow, I found my apartment on Craigslist. It was one of very few that I could afford, and it happened to be one block from where I already lived. It looked interesting in the pictures. I called the owner and made an appointment to see it that night.
I had probably walked by the place a million times heading to the subway to go to work, but never knew it was there. The house is set back behind some industrial garages, and there is just an unremarkable gate with a long corridor leading back to the house. I had trouble finding it even though it was right there.
And from there, it was like the universe just pinpointed this interaction and made sure it would happen. I stepped inside the gate and the guy came out to meet me. There was a little courtyard inside, nothing too spectacular – a raised bed for gardening, but nothing but dirt and weeds. The house looked pretty dreary and ramshackle. The wooden steps were crooked and worn. Ziggy, the landlord, said “Sorry it looks like hurricane Katrina just blew through. It’s a work in progress” with a BIG hint of Polish in his accent. Part of the siding was falling off the house and I saw several generations of fixing it….. “No worries, it’s what is inside that counts.”.
Stepping inside, I knew instantly this was my new home. Ziggy is a carpenter, and the whole place smelled of fresh cut wood. He had taken an old shitty house and revived it as best he could with fresh pine flooring, custom made cabinets, but also clearly was working within a budget, so there was a ton of reclaimed/recycled stuff in there. Old, tall doors probably from the 1900’s, weird windows, exposed brick and beams. Everything he cut corners on worked and gave it more character. It was not a white box apartment. It was super unique, and I had to have it. This is where I pictured myself living.
I expressed my interest, and Ziggy said “I kind of want it to go to a girl. I feel like guys are too loud and destructive”. I said ” I am not sure if you have noticed yet, but I’m your girl!”. Then he said “Well, I also want it to go to someone who knows the neighborhood kind of .” ” I know what you mean. If you don’t do your homework and end up here, it can be a real culture shock. I have lived one block away for two years and I love this hood. I know what I’m in for”. Then he says, “Well, also, my business partner owns the building out front, and he works with metal. So during the day he is grinding metal and it can be loud sometimes.”…. I sighed heavily……”I literally work at a metal shop. That is the soundtrack to my life. I can, and sometimes do fall asleep to it……. By the way, I see there are parts of this place that are unfinished and it is not ready to rent yet” . I pointed out a big gaping hole near the ceiling exposed to the outdoors, the lack of a faucet on the sink and no doorknob. Plus he had initially said the place was a work in progress. “My dad used to fix up old houses , and I lived in one for a year while he was fixing it. I am accustomed to waking up to power tools, sawdust covering everything, and general lifestyle disruptions, believe me, it is not going to be a problem. I am also Polish.”
And I think that sealed the deal! I moved in later that month, once he fixed the gaping hole and made minor repairs.
The house was actually split down the middle to make two apartments. Mine being one, and Ziggy lived on the other side. Over the years, improvements were made. The leaky roof was replaced. a tree got planted in the courtyard. One year Ziggy ripped off the entire front of the house and completely redid the facade, which was spectacular. Eventually, he started clearing out the ‘cellar’ area, which was just dirt and rocks. I think his plan was to expand his own apartment to include a downstairs, but whilst doing so, he fell in love and got married. He kept working at it though, and eventually he came up with a large apartment down there. Then he promptly moved to Long Island with his new wife.
By this time, the neighborhood had significantly evolved. Tons of hipster bars and restaurants had emerged, a street art scene had taken hold, and Bushwick is considered “cool” now. Just within the last year or two a couple of music venues have cropped up very close by.
The apartment is great. Bigger than either of the two on the main floor. I think initially he planned on renting it out to a long term resident, but the thing is – nothing was really done with permits or anything. There is not supposed to be an apartment down there. And I think that freaks him out because if he got a renter in there who had some kind of axe to grind, they could probably cause quite a stir with things not being ‘up to code’. Ziggy also doesn’t seem to like dealing with people, or bullshit. And I can say first hand that while the space is lovely, it would lose it’s glamour over a couple of weeks. Without regular cleaning, it gets a lot of spiders as well as a secret termite nest, the humidity affects the smell occasionally, and just in general – it’s a great short term stay when you are on vacation having fun , but not so much long term rental.
That said, he thought Air BNBing the place was a better option. Like I said, he doesn’t like dealing with people and their bullshit, so he asked me if I would be interested in being the Air BNB host for the space. I book it, communicate with the guests, clean it, and deal with all of that for a small cut while he collects passive income on it. Hell yes, I was down!
And so the adventure began….