A Brother Sometimes Knows

Of all people to come and search me out when I’d left my family, I would’ve least expected my brother. I got a call one day. It was a Saturday when my ex brother-in-law was helping lay carpet in the livingroom. I told my brother and he offered to come finish the job and help us move furniture around.

I was surprised he kept it cool and didn’t talk to me about the family. In fact the next week he invited me out to dinner with some of his friends and his girlfriend.  We went to a restaurant downtown on the pier. It was very fancy. I was so impressed the maitre de referred to my brother as Dr. Baraban. But it was clear he was focused on not spending much money. He said things like, “Oh I think I’ll just get an appetizer”. “I’ll just take the tap water”.

My brothers girlfriend was instantly angry when she met me. I felt the same way. She was very boyish in a way. Her name was Joanna. We shook hands and that began the war. We didn’t mesh and as it turns out she didn’t mesh with my brother either.

My brother has been married and divorced 3 times. My shrink said something very profound. “Most people go into therapy. Your brother keeps getting married”. My brother is 72 and is currently living with his girlfriend, though I suspect they got married and didn’t tell me.

My brother never liked to spend money. When I have money I spend it. When he has it he saves it. So of course I robbed his piggy bank when we were kids. I always felt guilty, but not that guilty.

When he was 13 I was 20, so we didn’t cross paths much. If we’d been closer in age I doubt we would’ve hung out. I was very social and he was very quiet. He was a “know it all” and I was a curious seeker of new experiences. Yet our bond and reason for being brother and sister came clear to me much later.

It’s amazing to me how he broke the spell of my estrangement with my family. Not long after the experience of dinner with his girlfriend, Don and I saw my parents. I was very happy to see them.  Don, in his way, made it a very friendly and good experience. It was his first time meeting them. I was nervous they were going to be very angry at me, but they weren’t.  I told them about my divorce from my first husband, whom they hated anyway. I also told them about my abortion, which upset my mother very much.  Luckily Don took over here and there with jokes. Thank goodness.

Today I talk to my brother every day, and we are close. I can tell him anything really, but I know there are still parameters of what I can or can’t tell him. Like my drug business. Or my time in the circus. Or my boyfriends. All seven of them.

Just kidding. Maybe.

My 2 Million Dollar Hole in the Wall

Buying real estate in New York in always interesting. It seems like it should be a straight forward process, but often it comes with a lot of creative compromise and favors.

My apartment today is probably worth 2 million dollars. I bought it for $175,000 back in 1989.  Sounds like a bargain for New York City, but you would not believe what I had to do besides pay for it!

It is 1100 sq. feet and it’s on the Upper West Side. The first time I was in this building was when I was working as an architect. I was redesigning the layouts of the apartments and breaking one bathroom into two bathrooms.  I was basically bringing up the value of all of the apartments.

So while this was happening I was trying to buy an apartment in another building. The owner ended up selling it out from under me to someone else. Of course, I had already agreed to sell the apartment I was in to someone else and had signed a contract! So I was in a pickle. My dear friend Margaret had her own real estate firm. She was the one who hired me to do all of the architectural work.  She felt very badly I’d lost the apartment, so she helped me find this one. It hadn’t been renovated yet.

The owner of the building said he would pay for the construction of my apartment in exchange for me designing 78 kitchens for him.It was a great deal from my perspective, but actually he got me for a song.

So then he said he wanted me to do his Rabbi’s Kosher kitchen in Great Neck. I said, “I don’t do Great Neck.” And he said he would have his chauffeur take me back and forth. So I got roped into doing that kitchen too.

Two years later, everything was done including the renovations in my apartment. Today I am faced with the ability to sell this apartment and maybe travel a bit with the money.  Find a smaller place to live in somewhere and have some fun! But it’s hard to leave a place where so much of my history in embedded in the walls.

Don lived here with me. He was a Brooklyn guy and used to say, “Uptown” quietly in my ear is something was happening he didn’t relate to or understand. He was uncomfortable for him to live in more affluent circumstances. But we made our second bedroom into his writing office, and he loved it there. There was more space in this apartment and we needed it. We loved each other but let’s face it, both had huge personalities and very specific needs. Don loved to shop in the local garbage piles. He would bring home books, art, lamps…anything he thought we could use or had value. So as fast as he would bring home this stuff I would negotiate sending it back out to the trash.

This reminds me of when my family moved from Henry Street and moved to Bayside Queens. It was very sad for me. I was so attached to my home, and I feel the same way about this apartment. My whole middle life was here.  I don’t think I’ll ever leave, but maybe I have 10 years left. So now what? I’ve never had to deal with my age before. It’s really crazy. It’s crazy when it should be exciting. So who knows?

New York City makes you work hard for it. To live here, you have to be string and resourceful. Everyone is attached to their apartments because they had to just through hoops to get them. And it ‘aint cheap!

So if you ever find yourself wanting to live in NYC, just keep in mind it’s a forever place and you will have a very hard time leaving.



Under the Skin

Today is St. Patrick’s Day, which also happens to be my mothers birthday. It also makes me think of my husband, who was Irish. So it’s a double doozey of a day. My roommates left town this morning and I felt a loneliness I haven’t felt since Don died.

Last night, I took my friends Margaret and Wayne out to dinner because they have been inviting me over every other Thursday since Don died. Wayne and I had the same psychologist in the past. I’ve always thought of him like a brother. And I love Margaret like a good friend. They have always had a relationship that impressed me. My roommates are also an impressive couple. So back to back I was faced with couples, and I’m no longer in one. So the loneliness set in today.

I’ve been writing these blogs because I have had a very exciting and interesting life, but seeing these two couples, both the good and the bad, they are close and candid and have a great relationship. On the heels of today and all of my important people who associated with St. Patty’s day, I remember the journeys with the people. Like my mother and how we evolved. The most important people in your life are the relationships you work at to have.

Loneliness has to do with the relationships that you have or don’t have. I’m jealous I’m not in a relationship right now, yet I’m happy to see my friends happy in theirs. When I was growing up I had a couple of close friends. The Lower East Side was filled with change and transition at the time. Friends would come and go. Even we finally moved to Bayside Queens. You would think I was used to loss after all of that.

I never thought I was anything great. Part of it had to do with insecurities reinforced by people in my life when I was a kid. On the other hand, my parents were very complimentary of my looks but especially my brain. Also my sense of humor was one of my big-ticket items. I was always funny and it would counter any negative comments that came my way. I was a resilient kid. This past week when the installation of the tough little girl was put in from of the Wall Street Bull, it reminded me of me!

City kids have to grow up faster than the kids in the country. They are approached by so many more dangerous things in the city. When I was a kid there were stalkers, gang of mean city girls, bookies in the corridors of the buildings in the evenings. After school my mother had me go to afterschool programs until my parents were home from work. Keeping kids off of the streets is important in the cities.  Also in the city kids are expected to be more sophisticated and accepting. Kids also have to be more competitive. All of this contributes to loneliness. It makes a person very unique, which is a good thing but also can be very isolating.

I have been struggling with my loneliness. Instead of reaching out more I’ve been working from home, which is safe, but alone. When I was younger I was lonely and I would go to a movie. It would get me out of the house. Scary movies can get me out of my lonliness. The Hand did that for me, but also made me scared of bookshelves.

Today I’d rather go with a friend to the movies, but now my movie freind is very sick. I’ve been very consumed with architectural work. It’s a good way for me to avoid my upset. My upset is about missing some of the most important people in my life.

Seeing my friends who are in couple is good for me. Life goes on and I have to be reminded to live sometimes. So maybe I should go to the movies today. Maybe a scary movie.