Monday, June 14, 2010

The house next door

One night I was standing on a balcony on the opposite, western side of this building, with my friends Constanza and Blake, having a drink. It was before I lived here, and I was auditioning the building, needing to escape the Troglodyte landlords (I Trogloditti) of Flatbush Avenue...

I looked over at the fire escape next door, and met the unruffled gaze of a big, fat raccoon, not six feet away from us. He scratched himself slowly and leaned back against the empty window frame in which he was sitting. Reclining, actually, hind legs resting on the rusting fire escape. The back of the brownstone next door had no glass in the windows on the high floors. Clearly, he lived there, and was just waking up for a night on the tar tops.

Two summers ago, writing on this laptop, I looked up at a slight sound on the terrace. Straight into the eyes of a raccoon in the act of climbing onto the table on the terrace. His hands were poised against the wall, his black bandido mask frozen as he met my eyes. The cat beside me started to transform into a furry ground-to-raccoon missile. Before I could yell Es...!, the feline had shot onto the terrace, the raccoon had shot off, and within seconds a squealing and hissing ensued somewhere on the rooftops.

I still have no idea what happened, but the next day the Don got his rabies shot.

Somewhere around the same time I realized for the first time that the house next door also had people living in it. I had seen two well dressed little girls and a woman go in and I had seen a man throwing out trash in the weed-covered front courtyard. Looking through the glass-fronted door, cracked and splintering, I could see a massive barrier of old strollers and chairs stacked at the bottom of the stairs to the upper floors. Clearly the rest of the house was off-limits. There are still no rear windows on the high floors. Up above, the roof membrane, when I see it on my own roof walks to photograph this terrace, is bubbling and blistering, is home to a permanent pond at one end, where it sags, and the whole place is being allowed to fall apart.

A man I know from the neighborhood told me that the house on our other side but one, had been on the market a few years ago, that he'd been seriously interested in buying it (he owns and lives in a brownstone around the corner), but that when he'd checked the condition out he had backed away from the deal. Not only had a hoarder lived (and died?) there, amongst canyons of newspapers and magazines, but the whole place had not been maintained in decades.

The seller was the Long Island College Hospital.

Located on a nearby block, the hospital owns a lot of real estate nearby, much of it in a dilapidated state of repair. This in a very high rent neighborhood, so the contrast is stark.

So it is not unreasonable to surmise that Raccoon House might belong to them, too**, and that they might be trying to get rid of some tenacious tenants in a very slow war of attrition. Raccoon included.

The hoarder's house has since been bought and renovated and rented out. That landlord and his family live between this building and that one. A brownstone on the opposite corner -whence I had to rescue the cat after he'd been missing for 24 hours - is being gut renovated. Only it's taking years.

This was the last Cinderella block in an uber-gentrified neighborhood. I wonder what the thin-lipped couple across the way, with the blazer-wearing mothers-in-law, thinks.

What does the raccoon think? Is he still there?

Even the pizza guy is confused. Last night, carrying his flat red bag doubtfully up the Raccoon House steps to the unnumbered door, where a scrap of white paper says, Private Property, he turned to me and asked, People live here?

Yes, I said. They do.

** Update 6-14-10: Zippi Dvash, Assistant VP of Public Affairs and Development states that [---] Henry Street does not belong to LICH.

*** 7/4/10: See this new post on the ID of the owner of Raccoon House


  1. It's bad enough when individual property owners let their rentals go to ruin - this city is filled with them - but when CORPORATE owners do it there should be some serious repercussions. Cities need to invest in some big time building inspection and running down or slumlords - or those who are playing the deterioration game. you've made an oasis of your home/terrace. Let's hope you get more neighbors who will, too!

  2. Smart raccoon. Clearly he's got a good sense of location. A bandido with taste. Anyone who dealt with Troglodytes would love this cute furry rabies carrier. On the other side of the raccoon lived lysol lady who sprayed us screaming after dinner. As fate would have it, we were dinner companions at Tabac.

  3. How weird.
    Same thing in my Brooklyn neighborhood where I do see occasionally the odd brownstone, derelict and falling apart on a row of gentrified and renovated ones.
    I've never seen a raccoon on a fire escape, though!


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