In about three hours, Tom and I will meet in Park Slope, Brooklyn – the third weekend in a row we’ve “traveled” there, as Manhattanites say – to look at apartments. As prescribed, our expectations are managed. Our first visit there was productive, as in, two out of the three brokers we were supposed to meet with showed up.
The first was a woman who was extremely pregnant.
“Oh I guess he’s due next week!” she said in a thick French accent, when I asked.
I expressed concerns that perhaps at nine months pregnant she should be doing something more suitable to her state – like answering emails, or getting ready for birth. “I work with a partner,” she waved down the road, “He’s parked over there.”
But unlike her partner, she lived on the Slope and was keen, I suppose, to have her children stay in the area’s expensive schools and daycares. Her work partner was a more local fellow; he had grown up in Park Slope but more than two decades ago had moved out to more affordable parts – Sheepshead Bay. He spoke with the thickest New York accent I have ever heard apart from TV characters and drove an old champagne colored sedan – filled with broken, deflated children’s toys – in which he shuttled the pregnant lady and their clients around from unit to unit. They worked seamlessly as a team – she was bubblier, more upbeat and handled the units that didn’t have stairs. He did the rest, though I’m not certain their partnership would persist after she gave birth. After a while though, his accent seemed less grating and the “take it or leave it” manner affected by other brokers seemed to hang more authentically on his face.
At one point before driving us to see the last unit on his list – a massive two bedroom on 2nd St. – he and the pregnant lady asked if we’d be alright to stop by the after school program around the corner to pick up her son.
“Sure,” we said, and waited as the man parked before what looked like a church. She eased herself out of the car and disappeared behind two heavy wooden doors through which children and parents swarmed out.
“I can’t believe how much this place has changed,” the man said, shaking his head and looking down the block, “I grew up right around the corner. For the longest time this place was a dump. We knew not to walk around by ourselves after a certain hour, you know?”
“Now it’s like nine dollar coffee shops and fancy cheese stores. It’s ridiculous.”
Then remembering his company, glanced at Tom, in shotgun, “I mean, if you like that sort of thing, great. But it just wasn’t for me.”
We laughed, it wasn’t our thing either. But we hadn’t yet moved to the neighborhood.
The woman took longer than expected and we watched the kids file out, some talking excitedly to black nannies or weary looking parents, all of whom seemed older than the average parents of young children I saw in my suburban hometown. I wondered what theses parents did for work. They seemed, for the most part, dressed in a more relaxed manner than the parents I saw on the upper west side. Less suits and yoga pants. More plaid shirts and Patagonia fleeces. Reading our minds, the man said, “How much that must cost…” He shook his head, “I don’t wanna know.” He had two kids, nine and six, and from the way he looked at the parents and kids streaming out of the Park Slope school, I felt there was more dividing his family and theirs than the car window.
At last the blonde pregnant lady emerged with a cherubic boy with floppy blond curls and a striped sweater. She let him get in first and he slid next to me with zero apprehension. I don’t think he even registered that I was there. He immediately took a deck of YuGiYo cards out and started to go through them.
“Cherie, cherie, did you say hello to the lady?”
“Hello,” he sang, not looking up.
The woman zeroed in on the deck of cards in his hands.
“Oh no! Cherie! Oh no! Where is the box? Mummy told you to keep the cards in the box! These cards were very expensive! Very expensive! Where is the box?”
Without looking up Cherie informed his mother that he had thrown it away.
His mother covered her face with one hand, placed the other on her belly.
“Cherie, you must learn to take care of your things…Mummy works very hard to buy your toys. Mummy wants you to take care of them.”
She took the cards and tucked them into a netted side pocket of his backpack, telling him not to touch them until he got home, where they could more easily be found if he lost them. But Cherie was not used to having nothing in his hands, especially for car rides however long or short. He began to kick.
“Stop kicking,” she said, “stop kicking.”
I leaned to my right, hoping to catch a glimpse of Tom’s face in the sideview mirror. The two buildings we’d seen earlier on Prospect Park West were filled with kids and strollers. Even when you couldn’t see them, you could hear them. As we exited each building, a kid would come bounding through the lobby doors like an impish ghoul returning from play, parents nowhere to be seen. Out on the street we found the neighborhood quiet. Almost too quiet. The only sounds came from the occasional stroller rolling by, the distant shrieks of kids getting out of school early. But in the passenger seat Tom looked out the window, wondering, I guess, how the last apartment would be.
Cherie would not stop kicking. Exasperated, the woman reached into her bag and pulled out an iPad – the tool modern parents hate to love when it comes to getting their kids to shut up. Like magic, Cherie calmed down once the iPad was in his lap and he began to swipe greedily towards some children’s app.
“You can use the iPad for now, Cherie,” she said, “But only because Mummy has to work and I’m sorry you have to come with me.”
We pulled up in front of an old building (though at this point all the buildings we’d seen were old), and we said goodbye to the woman and her Cherie, who didn’t seem to notice we had left at all.
“It was so nice meeting you,” she said, leaning over to shake my hand. She let it drop quickly and returned it to the mess of curls on her son’s head.
We followed the man into the building and saw the two bedrooms – completely renovated but with a strange layout. There was one bedroom with a deep closet in which there were stairs that led to nowhere – probably a converted staircase. The bathrooms were nice, but small, as though they’d been an afterthought. “Oh the tenants might like to shower, don’t you think?” The kitchen was eat-in but dim, with one window that overlooked the dumpsters parked right beneath. It had recently been updated with new appliances and cabinetry, which were a strange laminate made to look like petrified wood. Tom and I walked from room to room, nodding and imagining – at least I did – where we would put certain things. Would my desk fit here? Probably.
“This unit’s a great deal,” the broker said, and given the tiny units we’d seen before in Manhattan, we nodded – this two bedroom with two bathrooms was two hundred dollars cheaper than the tiny divided closet masquerading as a one bedroom we’d seen on Morton St.
“But it’s hard to rent out to families.”
He nodded towards the barred windows, “Because it’s on the first floor. The parents here are a little over protective if you ask me,” he shrugged, “But I guess they’re afraid of kiddie-nappers.”
“They could put their pet snakes right under the window,” Tom suggested, “That’ll deter any kidnappers.”
The man laughed, shrugged. It was clear we were not going to take this apartment, roomy as it was. “Take it or leave it,” his shoulders said.
It was getting late on a Friday afternoon and he probably wanted to head back home too, to his kids. He offered us a ride to the subway, but we said thanks, we would walk it. We made our way to Prospect Heights, where the third and last broker of the day would stand us up.
Such a shame too, because we found ourselves on a more lively part of town, the streets of which were beginning fill with people like us, young and childless and ready to spend on nine dollar coffees and even more expensive craft beers and cocktails.