the jackhammer

the weirdest aspect of writing here is, in some ways, how ill-defined the audience is. am I telling stories, or chatting with friends? if I fill in the background details, am I boring you with things you already know? if I leave them out, am I coming across as frustratingly vague and unclear? perhaps you can give me gentle nudges one way or the other as necessary.

one big thing that happened, that I sort of assume everyone knows about, but I don’t believe I’ve ever actually mentioned here: I became a homeowner last november when I bought the apartment where I’ve lived since 2005. (I’ve lived on this same block for almost seven years now; my beloved one bedroom that was my first grownup home is just next door.) it was one of those fabled insider deals: I was a tenant when the building’s owners decided to convert it to condos, and I paid for the privilege of a well-under-market-rate purchase price with thirty months of angst and uncertainty surrounding lease renewals, failed financing plans, conflicting appraisals, and transactions involving more money than I had ever dreamed of spending. but it worked out and now my building is about half owner-occupied, while the rest of the apartments are still leased to rent-stabilized or -controlled tenants. I know that for resale value purposes I should want fewer renters, but I hope that they stay as long as possible. they are, after all, the people who lived here when my own apartment was a crack den, the citizens of the new york city into which I was born. my new york. their brooklyn.

anyway. one of the slow-burning side effects of this condo conversion is that we’ve had at least one improvement project going on somewhere in the building for the last several years. first it was the renovations of the units that were abandoned by non-regulated renters who didn’t want to stick it out in the hopes of eventually buying their homes. this is an old building, pre-war and modestly maintained as you would expect for a long-term rental property, so it’s always had its rough edges. but when the construction started I would often find bits of plaster and dust falling from the gaps around the heat risers, floor varnish dripping from the ceiling, or appliances littering the sidewalk with their doors removed, making it impossible to cross the street. then there was the scaffolding that turned my bedroom window into a cage while the facade was repainted. the endless attempts to turn the front yard into something resembling a garden, which mostly succeeded in unearthing the trash that people have thrown there (from their windows, I think?) over the years. now we have an unseemly mixture of hosta plants and fake lilies sprouting from the apparently none-too-hospitable soil.

none of this really mattered to me one way or another. I have no investment in living in a prettified building; I’m here because I love my neighborhood (and, just a little bit, because I hate moving). but this summer they’ve started to make changes in earnest: renovating the interior courtyard and turning the formerly off-limits basement into a laundry room. I’m very excited about the on-site laundry! I’m sure if I stay here long enough there will be an eventual roofdeck too. anyway the view out my bedroom window now looks something like this:

courtyard under construction

and from 9 am to 5 pm every day there is someone jackhammering the courtyard floor into pieces, growing a pile of concrete hunks with rebar spikes protruding like the unpleasantly crooked legs on a dead spider. the jackhammer isn’t even as loud as I expected, but between its pounding in the courtyard and the noise of the compressor that’s parked on the sidewalk out front, there just isn’t any silence around here during the day. no quiet moments.

I’ve always considered myself a city person and one aspect of that is that I’m comforted, not just unbothered, by the incessant hum of background noise made by subways, sirens, trucks, and punctuating gunshots. street noise is my lullaby. so I’ve been surprised to find that the lack of quietude in my apartment has made me painfully sensitive to every other sound that normally wouldn’t even register. flatbush avenue bus traffic; airplanes homing in on laguardia runways; delivery trucks idling along the curbs; train wheels whining from underground. even the park, with its drone of hornets and daycampers, is too loud. for the first time in years I can’t bear to listen to music through my headphones.

it’s a temporary condition and one by which I am not too deeply bothered. mostly it reminds me how lucky I am to have a home on this quiet little block in the middle of my lively borough and my never-sleeping city.

Posted August 15th, 2010 in how sweet it is.


  1. mom:

    I love the whole story. No detail could bore me even if it was a familiar detail. It’s your relationship to the details that makes it so interesting. I request lots of stories!

  2. krisis:

    I follow pretty closely, but I don’t think I understood entirely the whole rent/buy situation until I visited you in April.

    Not living in the city for the first time means for the first time I live somewhere truly quiet. I’ve gotten over it being unnerving, but it makes ME quieter. The dynamics of my songs are changing to not always have to drown out the outside world.

  3. rabi:

    yeah, I definitely never explained the situation to the internet. I think the internet mostly knows that I bought the apartment though.

  4. gwyn:

    Yay! My favorite blogger is back! And I agree with your mom- the details are what make your stories so good. Somehow you manage to make even mundane everyday stuff sound interesting.