Friday, December 29, 2006

Brooklyn's Last Old-Lady House

A place from my memories is sort of famous (link). And, apparently, desirable.

A brownstone on Brooklyn's Sterling Place has just been sold to the shiny baby-on-the-way celeb couple du jour, Maggie Gyllenhaal and Peter Sarsgaard (let's call them the Scandinavian Double A's).

And a writer for the snarky New York Observer is melancholy about, nay, devastated by the sale. Why? Did she grow up in the house? Does she have fond memories of it? Did her grandma promise to will it to her and then forget? No. She just seems to feel the house is hers by right because she's a goddamn architecture snob.

Panic coursed through my veins: “The last old-lady house in the North Slope, the last four-story for under $2 million, get it, get it, get it, I will save it, I will love it so much, the money will come, I will rent it all and sleep in one of the clawfoot tubs....”
- Miranda Purves, New York Observer

Maggie G says,
"Step off Bitch, the last old-lady house is MINE!
Mooah haw haw!!!"

Well, I sympathize with her. Everybody who's worth knowing is a snob about something or has weird little obsessions like original light fixtures. Me, I'd be devastated if someone bought the house at Shelburne Farms and turned it into high-priced condos, or if Brad and Angelina purchased it as a playground for the 50 orphans they'll have adopted by then.

But this Brooklyn brownstone is different, because it's really not Miranda Whatever's house, whatever she thinks. It's MY house. Well, it's in my actual childhood memories, and that's just as good.

When we lived in Manhattan, we always had big old West Side apartments, but nothing swanky. I coveted the brownstones on the streets leading to Central Park, but I didn't know anyone who lived in one. However, my mother's good friend D (I'm omitting her real name to protect her privacy) lived in a gorgeous four-story Park Slope brownstone, a house right out of Harriet the Spy. D's husband was in something fairly lucrative like advertising. They had a daughter, E, between my age and Eva's, who I thought was a huge brat. (I've since heard she turned out fine and works as an upscale party planner.)

The family had a tragedy in its past, too, or what the people who write back-of-book blurbs would call a tragedy. There'd been an older child, a boy my age, who played with me back in the days pre-age four that are too murky to remember.

One day he got sick and just… died. The illness was rare, and it all happened very fast. D told my mother the last time she saw her son alive was when the doctors put him in an oxygen tent. She sternly told him to be a good boy and not complain. Those stern last words haunted her over the years.

Sexy Maggie G says,
"Ah yes, senseless tragedy,
as an actress I can understand this..."

I don't remember when J disappeared, but as I grew up visiting this house regularly, its sad history stayed in my head. D was a loud and angry and sharp-tongued woman, compared with my mom, and she scared the hell out of me. In retrospect, I think she kind of kicked ass. One of my most vivid memories of D is when she brought my mom a bag of pastries, some exotic and some not, for the two families to share. While D was elsewhere, my mom gave us kids our choice.

D was scandalized when she returned: "What were you thinking?! You gave the children the birds' nests! Doughnuts are for children, Sophie; birds' nests are for adults!" I haven't lost my affection for exotic pastries or my belief that kids should be able to eat whatever grownups eat, but I have some appreciation now for an adult who can draw the line.

Anyway, um, the house. Let me tell you about the house that Spawn of the Double A's will be reared in. Unlike Miranda, I don't know the first thing about architecture, but even as a kid I knew what I liked. I liked the bed in the guest bedroom, because it was recessed in the wall, and above your head was a sort of molded plaster canopy that had a fancy knob right in the middle. I desperately wanted to sleep under that canopy, but we seldom stayed overnight.

The same room was home to a huge set of foot-long cardboard blocks that were painted like bricks and were awesome for building forts. Through the window you could see the courtyard. But, to be honest, the very most important part of this house for me was downstairs in the dark, basement-level rec room, and that was the television.

We didn't have one at home, see, because my parents didn't believe in such things. It was at D's house that I first watched Sesame Street (the monsters scared the shit out of me) and The Electric Company and possibly even Zoom! They seemed very tedious to me because by that time I could read, and I just kinda never got the humor or the aesthetic. But I hoped they would do my bratty little sister some good.

My sister got in some wicked major fights with D, two strong-willed females that they were and are, and Eva held her own in terms of screaming and squealing. D's hubby wasn't around much, my dad was off with his new cute blonde girlfriend, and my mom pretended she wasn't there during the fighting. I also ran afoul of D for being a drama queen who would run off and sob loudly at the drop of a hat.

Maggie G says,
"Aww, these memories are sweet...

Even after we moved to the boonies, we continued to visit D whenever we were back in NYC. I have shards of memory from the junior-high years, like admiring my butt in Sergio Valente jeans (remember that steer-horns logo?) in an old cloudy mirror of the Double-A-house-to-be. Or playing card games at the dining room table while shadows grew blue in the courtyard and I was too busy concocting fantasy scenarios about Han Solo to pay proper attention.

I haven't been back to the brownstone in decades. Meanwhile, D's husband died and D herself was diagnosed with ovarian cancer. She's been fighting it for many years now and is still active: too tough to quit. She stays in touch with my mom.

Mags and Pete communicate via telepathy,
"Could we BE any MORE adorable?"

I don't blame her for selling the house to the Double A's for nearly two million dollars, if the Observer is correct. (My mom quoted the figure as a mil, but she's foggy on some practical details. She also asked me who Maggie Gyllenhaal was and how can this "nobody" really be a movie star?)

I hope the Double A's enjoy the house, but mainly I'm glad Miranda-I'm-married-to-a-rich-Manhattan-lawyer didn't get it. You just know she's got a New York gym rat butt that would look better in those old streaky mirrors than mine ever did.

Editor's note from "the bratty little sister," otherwise known as the bratty Eva the Deadbeat: props to James (who is now neighbors with the fair Maggie G) for giving me a heads up on these articles.

Who knew Park Slope had changed so much since we were kids? And should you want to case the joint, it is right by Gorilla Coffee...say hello to Mags and Pete!


Jan said...

Dearest Eva,

Thanks for the comments. I refuse to believe that you are not at least as smart as your sister. ;)


james said...

Park Slope is a changin'. The neighborhood was also recently noted as one of the best eco-neighborhoods in the country by Natural Home Magazine:

4. Brooklyn, New York

Resurgent Park Slope is only 4 miles from Manhattan and features charming Victorian brownstones, townhouses and apartments, a stimulating cultural scene and family-friendly ambiance.

Curb appeal:
Nation’s largest member-owned and operated food co-op

Five subway stops and a bus route

Activist community projects: restoring bluestone sidewalks, hosting first citywide household hazardous-waste collection day, intensive recycling pilot program

Recreational areas, a zoo, bandstand, ponds, a lagoon and picnic grounds in 526-acres Prospect Park. Nearby Brooklyn Museum and Brooklyn Botanic Garden free to the public at least two days per week

Eva the Deadbeat said...

That is IT! I am headed to Park Slope and pronto! Oh wait a minute, I don't have 2 million to buy an old-lady house with...CRAP!!! I guess I could make my home at the botanical gardens...or the zoo! COOL! Watch out Park Slope, here I come!

Eva the Deadbeat said...

Dearest Jan,

You are TOO TOO kind but really, I know my limits. I did not graduate from Harvard and I also do not get to put "Dr" in front of my name (cause if I could, I WOULD, on every DAMN occasion!!).

It is ok though, we are used to our roles as the brains and the brawn. Reminds me of that song in White Christmas called "Sisters:"

Sisters, sisters
There were never such devoted sisters
Never had to have a chaperone, no sir
I'm here to keep my eye on her

We are really enjoying your blogs! Happy New Year to you!


Q_Monroe said...

what a cool connection margot! i love it when you write. more please! eva, who is this smashing jan gent? and who is james?

Eva the Deadbeat said...

YES! Isn't, Fuchsia, a talented writer? She just knocked that one out in 20 minutes too!? The words flow like sweet, sweet maple syrup from that one! I will bug her to blog more in the New Year!

Well, Jan has an amazing literary blog and James has an amazing film blog. Visits from such blogging luminaries make me want to blog harder and better in 2007! I think I can, I think I can...

Eva the Deadbeat said...

PS And how is this for international: Jan is in Antwerp (me thinks), James is in Brooklyn, Tonci is in Croatia and Marti Webb is in England! I love the blogosphere! It makes the world feel so smaller and cozy!

Anonymous said...

did you look at your visitors map? apparently you have visitors from saudi arabia (and seemingly quite popular in saudi!), niger, nigeria, burkina faso, iceland and brunei. hmm!
ciao ya fat cow,
marti webb xxx

Eva the Deadbeat said...

where are all these far off, exotic places? me thinks i need to brush up on geography in the new year!! ;)

your fat cow forever and always,
xoxo eva xoxo

Alicat said...

Please tell Margot that she is a great writer and beg her to do more posts! :) Loved this one especially.

Eva the Deadbeat said...

thanks Ali! i will tell her! she is really good! and she just whipped that post together in a sec too. she has been writing since she was a wee girl. it certainly kept it interesting for me as a kid having an older sister with such a great imagination.

she also writes for a local paper so if you ever want to read more of her work, go HERE!