I'm a little slow today. I just switched to Sanka. So...have a heart?

Saturday, July 01, 2006

I'm on the diving board, and about to take the plunge...

So: I live in essentially the "Law School" Dorms. Well, it was law school, but now all the horrible undergrads have taken over. My house, for lack of a better word or phrase, is gorgeous, huge, and awesome. And I fucking love it. But, it's time to move. And by move, I mean sell mummy and daddy's place before the asking price tanks with the Condo market, and move to the beach. And purchase myself my own home.

As with many big decisions, I have agonized over this decision, while simultaneously not thinking it through completely.

But whatever. I never research my big decisions. I went to Wisconsin because...I was told to apply. I went to Miami because my friends were applying...and then I got waitlisted at Fordham. Or did I get rejected? I don't remember... And I was sure as fucking hell not going to CUNY Queens College or Hofstra for Law School.

I bought the Mercedes, because the dealership didn't give me a chance to go have a BK Hamburger and mull my choice.

Anyway, my point. I'm about to plunk down almost 300K for a hellhole on South Miami Beach. In many parts of the country, 300K could buy you a sizeable house, on an actual piece of the Earth. If, say, I lived in Nebraska, I'm sure I could have a mansion for that. Ohio? Mansion. Wisconsin? Mansion. South Beach? A dark 670 square foot hovel built in 1965. Okay, that one was only 235K. 300K could buy me something nice, but I don't quite have the 10% downpayment yet. Nor do I want to imagine what that mortgage payment would look like. Today, I looked at my first place.

I have Four mandatories when I'm looking for a place: 1) Parking. 2) A Dishwasher. 3) 33139 Zipcode. 4) NOT AN IMMIGRANT TENEMENT HELL-HOLE.

Today's place, Number 206 at 1498 Jefferson Avenue, failed number 2 and number 4.

From the outside, the building was sort of sketchy, but, as with most places in Miami Beach, you cannot judge a book by its cover. It may look like a roach-infested pit from the outside, and have beautiful granite countertops, bamboo floors, and stainless steel Bosch appliances.

Sadly, this place...had none of those attributes. As the realtor and I took the small, blue elevator from 1965 up to the second floor, I luxuriated in the aroma of 40-year-old elevator grease. You know that smell. It smells like what the 1964 Sunbeam Mixer used to smell like after it had been whipping egg whites for Passover sponge cake for a couple minutes. Hot oil.

The elevator dumped us into...a second-story courtyard atrium. Towering above my head were rusted railings, peeling terra-cotta colored paint, flaking concrete, and doors with jalousie window slats caked with the grime resulting from 40 years of hard use and home deaths. I could hear Telenovelas blasting and babies crying. And right then and there I decided that I would rather die than live in this building. The Realtor tried to expound on what a nice feature this interior, treeless courtyard, with puddles of standing water was. Because I had nothing nice to say, I said nothing at all, while imagining sleepless nights caused by domestic disputes reverberating off the high, dirty walls of the compound's courtyard.

Ray fiddled with the LockBox. I noted with disgust that jalousies on this particular unit were open. It was 90 degrees with 90% humidity. It was going to be stinky in this...condo. I tried to find a silver lining -- there were two mezuzzot on the doors, on on the main door, and one on the kitchen door...the last resident, H. Bernstein, according to the door bell and the door posts, had been a Member of the Tribe, and had followed the V'Ahavta. (U'chtav tam, al mezuzot beitecha, u'v'sha'a'recha.)

We entered the dim, grim, galley-sized kitchen. The air was heavy with humidity, and the scent of must, hidden mildew and elderly urine. There was another smell in the air. I believe it is called, "lonely death."

I surveyed the dark claustrophobic kitchen, taking in the linoleum too ugly to even be ironic, the white-oak-veneer particleboard cabinets, the utter LACK OF A DISHWASHER, and the empty water bottles propping open the refrigerator and freezer so they didn't become mold farms.

I was already ready to say, "fuck it," but I had come all this way. And wasted poor Ray's time. I had to keep going.

Gingerly, I made my way out of the filthy kitchen with the yellow-and-brown-patterened linoleum floor and floral contact paper-covered walls, and into the dining room/living room area. Even the light switches were coated in black dirt. I was already overwhelmed with 1) disgust and 2) depression.

Apparently, H. Bernstein's lawful heirs had stopped mid-way through packing up his/her belongings, and left the house. Probably sobbing. Probably because of that delicate pee smell. Either that, or the feeling of hopeless despair and utter loneliness that saturated the walls.

The ghastly linoleum continued into the dining room area, and under the vintage dining room table, which will eventually be sold in a mid-century antique store on Biscayne Boulevard. I'm sure out of context, everything in that apartment would have been fabulous. However, jumbled together, with the piles of salvaged "China" and ashtrays, and screws and U-Haul Boxes, and rotting circa-1968 faux-walnut sideboards, heavy with door trim and large tarnished brass handles, and 1972 black vinyl Barka-Loungers, and urine-stained floral sofas, all of which was covered with a thin film of black grime (mold), the effect was less charming. I felt like a voyeur on the last days of one of the holdouts of Pre-Renaissance Miami Beach. "Use your imagination," Ray said, "Use your imagination...really hard."

I tried. And though I'm creative, I'm only human. As I stood amongst the wreckage, illuminated by a filthy chandalier, I surveyed the floor coverings and the wretched carpet. I wondered how much someone would have to pay me to lay face down on the living room rug. More than $235,000.00, I can tell you that much. I took in the chaos, and the degradation. This was once where someone lived, and this was the decedent's property, that he had willed to someone. And they didn't want it. If I bought this place, I would take it lock, stock, and carpet. And it occurred to me that if I was going to spend that much money on something, I shouldn't be totally grossed-out by it.

And then I checked for a dishwasher again, and saw that there was none. And then I turned to Ray and said, "I'm very sorry for wasting your time, but we can get the hell out of here. This place gives me the creeps, and will require more money to be dumped into it before I would even consider moving in, than I currently have."

"I hear you on that one, this place is awful," said my Realtor. And, indeed it was. Neverthelesss, in order to get a sense of the size, though, we did press on, into the further reaches of the apartment, with its Montgomery Ward particle board microwave stands, and yellowed newspapers.

The bedroom was a generous size, with the same carpet of dubious grey (possibly once pink?) that festered in the living room. Dirty brown light filtered in through the window. There was another late '60s rotting pressboard bureau, a pink and white exercise bike older than God, and a queen sized bed, stripped, except for a fitted sheet - Hospice pink. This was the bed where, presumably, H. Bernstein passed over from this life to the next. Yitgadal, v'yitgadash, sh'mei ra-bah. B'alma, d'vrah chhi'ru'tey, v'yamlich malchutey; B'chayaychon, u'v'yomeichon, uv'chayey d'chol beit Yisrael...

The closet had the same linoleum tiles found in Synagogue Basements and Methodist Fellowship Halls, that either underwent rennovation, or construction, in 1965. That same bluish-grey marble print with dark swirls. The closet also had some stupidly designed doorless upper-storage area that went straight through to the living room. It may have had a window...which was stupid, in my opinion. Stupid and gross.

The bathroom was tiny, and in the same suicide-inspiring pink as the bedsheet and, formerly, the carpet. I don't remember much except for the glass shower doors, and the thriving colony of black mildew in the grout between the tiny shower tiles. I do remember being grateful that H. Bernstein's last earthly bowel movement wasn't floating in the dusty mauve toilet. ...B'agala, uv'eezman kariv, v'imru: Amein.

Oh, but the closet space! Dozens of square feet I could devote to storage and clothes, and the boxes that I love to hoarde!

But it was not to be. I could see why this large space was going for a mere 235K. Because it was the first ring of Hell.

On a skipping strip of Super 8, 35 mm film in my head, I could see H. Bernstein's last day play out in this place. He wheeled his little gold shopping cart through the courtyard, stooped over and frail, in houndstooth plaid pants, cokebottle glasses and white orthopedic shoes. He unloaded his cans of Campbell's Thick N' Chunky soup into the cupboards of the dark condominium that he had shared with his long-deceased wife in happier times.

Y'hei, shmei, raba, m'varach l'alam, ul'mei, ul'maya. He snacked on a Ritz cracker, but lost his appetite halfway through. He stashed the meat of dubious quality that he had purchased at the Corner grocery store on 15th and Michigan, in his stinking, squalid regrigerator. It was difficult for him to stoop over and wipe out the inside.

Oh, but he was so tired. Yit'ba'rach, v'yish'ta'bach, v'yit'pa'ar, y'vit'ro'mam, v'yit'na'seh. He shuffled through his apartment, anxious to arrive at his bed, where he would just take a little schluffie, because he was so tired. And it was so hot outside, but the air conditioning would run up his electric bill, and the Social Security benefits weren't increasing as fast as the price of soup. V'yit'ha'dar, v'yit'ha'leh, v'yit'ha'lal, shmei, d'kudishat, breich hu.

He had once been so happy here. There were the Mortsteins next door in 207, and the Gluckmans in 205. The Schindlers in 310 and the Cohens in 401, 214, and 309. When he and Sylvia had moved in 30 years ago, the place was a little run-down, but it suited their budget, and there were plenty of people to play Bridge with. They were never lonely, and everyone watched out for one another. On Erev Rosh Hashannah, the courtyard buzzed with the sounds of pots of meatballs being stirred, and onions being chopped. The air was rich with the scent of roast chickens and chopped liver, and Matzah Ball Soup, and tzimmes and Honey Cake. L'eilah, min chol bir'cha'ta, v'shir'a'tah. Tush'b'cha'ta, v'nech'e'mah'ta, da'a'mi'ran, b'al'mah, v'imru: Amein.

Over time, the neighborhood changed. One by one the neighbors died, or moved to nurshing homes. Ten years ago, Sylvia had died. And the immigrants started to move in, with their loud Spanish, and their screaming babies, and their foreign smells. Since then, he had done the best he could, but he was tired, and didn't know how to keep house. And the once shining surfaces began to dull. And blister in the constant salty humidity.

"At least you're getting an idea of what 670 square feet looks like," Ray said, encouragingly. Good old Ray, finding the Silver Lining in this shitcloud.

I stared at the bed where a year prior, H. Bernstein had removed his glasses, and lay his bald head, fringed by white hair, on long-since-removed pillows. He expected to wake up, watch a little Wheel of Fortune, have some soup, and maybe watch some Murder She Wrote. Except that this time, when he closed his eyes on that muggy July afternoon, he never opened them again. Y'hei sh'la'ma, rabbah, min she'maya. V'chayim, aleinu v'alkol Yisrael, v'imru: Amein. Oseh, shalom bimromav. Hu'ya'ah sei shalom, aleinu v'alkol Yisrael, v'imru: Amein.

There's a feeling a place gets when someone has died an unhappy death inside. And No. 206, 1496 Jefferson had that feeling in spades. I wouldn't have lived in the place, unless I had it completely and totally gutted. And then completely and totally gutted the rest of the entire building. I wanted NONE OF MY WONDERFUL BELONGINGS rubbing up against atoms of lives long past, still clinging to every sticky, greasy, dusty surface in that place.

"Okay. Let's get the fuck out of here," I said to Ray. "You don't have to tell me twice," he responded. And with that, we made our way out of the five-foot-wide kitchen, and back into the squalid courtyard, which, although atrocious, was at least teeming with life, instead of heavy with death.

And so began my search for an investment opportunity.


Blogger vidas said...



I'm speechless.

10:14 PM

Blogger Jessica said...

Wow. Much different description than I got over the phone. :) But... for real... can you stop wasting your writing talent on the law? Thanks.

3:43 AM

Blogger Mike said...

That depressed the hell out of me. Thanks.

1:11 PM


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