The Horns of My Dilema

From my journal:

6/27/2007 6:41 AM

When we came home the other day in the mail was our lottery number for the Mitchell-Lama buildings on Queens Boulevard and 60th Street. The Number is 1! Apparently there are vacancies and in the next few months we will probably be moving in. It costs a pittance and the fees are about half our current rent per month. Linda and I walked around there yesterday and the place is a classic towers and gardens development of big buildings with balconies on a well-manicured campus. A bit sterile and off the beaten path, but for a rent reduction of about 50%, we’ve got to consider it. I feel most sorry for Mason who has made friends and goes out and plays here in the neighborhood. Chandler is pitching a bitch.

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6/28/2007 4:33 AM

I tried, but couldn’t get back to sleep this morning. Yesterday was the kids’ last day of school for the year. Good grades and good kids. Chandler came home jokingly bewailing her next class assignment, “nerds, nerds and more nerds.” Mason went with his friends from school and hit Burger King and then hung out at the park playing soccer. Lennox went to the zoo with school and Linda went with them. It was a good day.

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As I walk around Sunnyside Gardens, which was recently landmarked by the City Council, I was struck by how much I really love the neighborhood. It is living like this that I came back to New York for. Trees, stores, livable scale, neighbors are all in a pleasant neighborhood. Sigh. Of course to turn our noses up at the savings that living in the Mitchell Lama co-op would offer would be foolish. So what I have is a battle of my two basic flaws or strengths.

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I am an esthete of some sort. I like the way things look and the style and livability matter a lot to me. How I feel in a particular place, how it pleases me aesthetically really, really matter. This is both because I think of myself as a man with my own, uncompromising philosophy of style: good living is something that validates my specialness. And finding the beauty tucked away in a crowded immigrant neighborhood is the exact type of aesthetic ur-elitism that I link to my identity.

I am also frugal. Actually it is a strong sub-current of my personality. I think it is both genetic and learned from my salty New England mom. I don’t like to waste things. As I’ve stretched into middle age I’ve noticed that I behave I a lot like depression era seniors: rubber bands, paper clips, and other expendables get saved because I might have to actually buy them later. I am an ant in the ant/grasshopper continuum.

Now these are not exact analogies, but I think that this comparison works: my inner Martha Stewart is in a life and death struggle with my inner Susie Ormond. They are locked in a Canadian Cage Match-Up, fighting to the death. GRRRR. 47 years old and I’ve got blond bimbos fighting it out for my soul. I thought I outgrew this whole lust thing with puberty. Susie Ormond, played by Jessica Simpson, fights tooth and nail to defeat Paris Hilton as Martha Stewart for my eternal soul, and the future happiness of my family.

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Will the tag-team of Ormond and Simpson win and cast me into the perdition of the towers of doom, where my monthly expense will be cut in half, though my elitist sense of self will wither and die? Or will it be the paroled Paris Hilton with her ex-con partner Stewart, with their ineffable sense of style (perhaps seasoned by time in stir), that will win out and cost me thousands of dollars a month to maintain a haughtier image of myself? Oh, the fates are cruel, my life decided by an all blonde-ambition WWF tag-team fight to the death in (and for) my soul.

So these are the horns of the dilemma that I live on now. Fortunately I alone am not responsible for this decision, and I will lean heavily on Linda and the kids to make the choice (though it ain’t lookin’ good for the doyen of style and hotel heiress and their frivolous ways).

Please, good readers, if you are out there, weigh in on this one: let me know what you would do. Send me an email, or leave a comment here.

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18 responses to “The Horns of My Dilema

  1. Okay, I hesitate to even open my mouth because this is a scary question to risk influencing you on but here it is:

    1. I think you should go for it. Hilarious tag team metaphor aside (by the way it’s WWE now not WWF; the panda protectors won the lawsuit) it’s not as simple as choosing between Jessica and Paris and here’s why. With half off your rent, you can splurge like Kennedy’s the first year. Then, after a year, you can decide if you really miss the bourgieness. If you do, you can start saving up for a down payment in Sunnyside or wherever you wanna go and walk right outta the Mitchell-Lama. Or you can stay and keep paying half the rent — it’s your choice and you can reassess it year to year. If you let this lottery thing go then you won’t have the choice anymore.

    2. Me wife asked how old your eldest is. I told her like about thirteen? Is that right? Anyway, she’s concerned about how a child who’s so old will adjust to moving to a whole new neighborhood.

    3. Definitely check out the neighborhood first; check crime stats, public transit, check for environmental hazards, etc. Propertyshark.com is a good reference.

    Dude!

  2. Thanks Sig, we are weighing all of the concerns. I’ve gotten a lot of good suggestions including weighing the ethical concerns of accepting subsidized housing when we can afford market rate; spiritual and contemplative decision making ideas; and a few plain “go-for-its” from people in the ‘hood. Chandler is actually not too tied to this neighborhood (she goes to school in Astoria), but Mason is out and about with all of the lads all the time. He plays soccer in the park and got lost for hours in a multi-block light-saber battle/ water fight yesterday. This is not easy.

  3. staff, i’m insanely busy, but i’ll give you 3 mins on this (i’m obsessed with all things real estate): you gonna have to go for it, my friend. the savings are too substantial to pass up. make sure the neighb is safe and then go. you were #1 on the lottery. it’s so hard to get into these mitchell-lama properties and even though you can afford market rate, the market isn’t exactly balanced right now, is it? you’ll be able to save, and to buy in less time and then you’ll gracefully pass on the subsidized savings to another deserving family.
    see y’all in the fall. the coco bean and I are at vassar doing the e.t. bit.
    cheers,
    v

  4. Also — maybe you can “afford” market rate compared to other people but with three kids, and college tuition time hurtling toward you like the comet that wiped out the dinosaurs, I bet you could make the argument. Not to mention that in some neighborhoods in New York City, “market rate” is probly already out of your / our / most teachers’ reach. I assume they’ll have to check your finances anyway — even if you won the lottery, I don’t think they just let you walk right in, so I would let them tell me if I didn’t qualify.

    But on the other hand, yeah, the multi-block watergun and lightsaber war defnly gives one pause. That kinda massive kid bonding doesn’t happen in every neighborhood, even middle class ones, so it is a nice thing to have found.

  5. Yeah, what choice…rough gig!
    But this is not some selfishly convenient thoughtless capricious decision on your part. As it is not a small thing for them it is not a small thing for you either. It is clear there is a benefit for the entire family, and you are considering them and this has been planned for.
    Children will adjust, children will abide. Mason will adjust, he will make new friends and he may even keep in touch with some his Sunnyside friends…allow him to do so. Those true friendships will transcend time and space. He will certainly make new friends, that’s who he is.

    Accept that you may be unpopular for a time, and be humble with that, but I believe you and Linda will be respected for making a difficult choice and accepting that responsibility with a clear, loving heart and consistent presence. You will take the hit because you have faith in your children to forgive you and respect you. Let them learn a powerful life lesson through you. Let them in on the process as much as they can stand, respect them but remind them that this is a mature adult process that they may face some day.
    I trust you will both make the best choice for all involved, with all humility and honesty.
    And if it doesn’t work out in the long run you will be honest about that with yourself.

    Take advantage of the lottery, 50% cut in expenses is hard to pass up…save up for that down payment, get that good fixed rate
    that comes with a good credit rating. Create equity and establish some sort of legacy for your family.

    Then again you may decide to stay in Sunnyside.

    I hope this makes sense.
    Later bro’
    J

  6. I think if you start a Martha Stewart/Susie Ormond fan-fiction/erotica site, you’ll make enough money to live anywhere you want! That’s what my grandparents did during the Depression.
    We live down toward 67th and QB. You should definitely check out the area. It’s not the Sunnyside vibe, but it’s nice around here. Lots of families. Not a lot of crime (as far as I can tell). What part of Queens is that considered?

  7. I’m working on getting juvenile on the Ormond/Stewart WWE site and treating the kids like I would have liked to have been treated. Thanks guys, and I will figure out a way to avoid the Jurasic epoch comet of three college educations, with or without a move.

  8. How important is the sense of roots to each of you? (Sometimes I still regret that I don’t live in my hometown, though I left it forty-five years ago.) Then on the other hand, the adventure of life is something that can be harmed by incubating too long in one spot.
    It’s almost impossible to say what the impact of moving will be on a child or young person; maybe he/she will blossom; maybe not. A supportive and wise family can overcome potential adversity, but many families don’t have that built in.
    Bottom line: Who will blossom best either way? Prettiest bouquet wins.

  9. Albie Sent me this:

    Hi Staff,

    What can I say. I am reminded, when reading your tale of the time our family first moved from Sacramento, California to DC, driving across country southern route during the civil rights era in a Ford Falcon with the kids sleeping in the back, and moved into a highrise in Alexandra, VA, where I couldn’t wait to get out and move into a “neighborhood,” in particular, DC (although many advised against living in the district), I vote for your current neighborhood or one like it. But, then, I don’t have to pay the 50% more in rent.

    I recall well, while Michelle and Matt were in school in Virginia, I kept wandering around DC with Carol and Ben, saw a nice little “pocket park” with some Mothers sitting on a bench with kids playing on swings. (Yes, they were white, a rare sight in the District.) I wandered over and began talking with them, asked them what they thought of living in the area. One of them, Margaritte Kelly, mother of four, invited me over to her townhouse, gave Ben, Carol and I peanut butter & jelly sandwiches, told me about the 200 member babysitting coop, etc, and I was hooked. I think the townhouse we rented, corner of 7th Street and North Carolina, I believe was $700 per month–two stories, small back yard, three bedrooms…those were the days! $700 was a big chunk of change for us nevertheless.

    Eastern Market (just burned down) was a block away. Lifetime friendships formed in short order. Barbara Brent and her three boys. We are still in touch. Judith Jordan and her two girls. Penn Ave, a few block away, where the kids found and conned me into buying Ginger in a pet shop; easy for Dave to hop transit to Ex Office building; I walked to part-time gig as aide to a congressman; Library of Congress a few blocks away. The Brent public school, integrated, only 85% Black, also within blocks. The beginning of my own education about education.

    I could go on, but . . . You know the rest of the story (or at least parts of it) which led to the South End. The five story house on W. Brookline was rented for $400 a month! When we moved to Dorchester, they seemed to be the remote suburbs, but there was a subway nearby. The two family “Philadelphia style” house worked out great with a couple kids in college. They had their own apartment.

    So, as you make your decision, especially if $$$$$ are the “tipping point,” don’t forget to factor in money for transportation, other things you take for granted and shrinks, in case someone in the family goes stir crazy.

    Do they have two families where you live now? In Dorchester, that allowed some income to come in to offset the mortgage (which was $32,000, so we are talking the stone ages. Plus, renting gave some tax advantages. I guess buying these days is out of the question.

    Perhaps, if you see your potential high rise rental experience as a stint in the Peace Corps or the Army, a chance to save up that 50% rental savings as a down payment on something you feel more attached to, that’s one way to look at it that could make it all look worthwhile.

    Lastly, even in a high rise, or maybe moreso, there are good people you can network with, develop a sense of community. If you do move there, be proactive about finding the fun folks, the ones whose homes you feel safe about having your kids be there for dinner on the night you are stuck in traffic. That’s what I loved about the South End. There were always a dozen or so homes that could serve as an alternative family when the going got complicated. I once asked Carol which of our homes she felt was most like “home,” and she replied, 195 Appleton Street, which was Brett’s house!

    Love your blog. Could not figure out how to respond on it.

    Albie

  10. Ah, wiser minds than I have weighed in here, and I second much of what they say.
    Your kids will adapt. And they will eventually understand. The bit about the hard life lesson? That’s good. And your kids are smart, and empathetic. And your family is tight. They’ll forgive you. In fact, they’ll probably be stronger for it.
    And since you’re not Paris Hilton, a 50% reduction in rent is sort of the deal breaker for now, dontcha think? If you’re disciplined about it, think of what you can sock away for a down-payment on something in a few years.
    Your writing is elegant, professor. Love your blog.

  11. I may be a bit out of line in posting on such a personal topic but here goes ..the old adage rings true home is where the heart is also, every neighborhood has a hidden beauty. From what I’ve seen you and Linda can find the beauty hiding anywhere. I vote for the rent break….Stafford, if you don’t mind me saying from your photography you find the beauty in garbage on the BlVD:-) I’m sure this new place will have a thousand discoveries waiting for you and your family. Also, if it sucks you can come back…. oh and is anyone in line for your current digs hahaha. .

  12. I felt it was time I weighed in too, especially since I awoke last night at 2:50 am thinking about this whole damn thing. It’s not just about saving money, if it were that easy then there would be no dilemma. First, these “savings” are purely in theory only. In practice, we could easily “eat” our potential savings away. We have lots more money now than we ever did at University Village as grad students and we haven’t been able to bank any of our “extra” money. These extra bucks could easily go towards eating out, traveling the world, and frivolous spending.

    For me, it’s really about quality of life. Sunnyside is so darn cute and convenient. We have three supermarkets and lots of specialty stores within blocks vs. one Key Food at Big Six. There are two playgrounds within walking distance, one is just a block away. Mason frequents the nearest playground daily and Lennox has also been going to this playground. Did I mention the movie theater 4 blocks away that Mason & his friend went to by themselves the last two days? The schools for the two younger kids are within walking distance, just across the street for one and three blocks away for the other. Next year, Chandler will need to take the subway to get to school. Right now the subway is 4 blocks away – very easy and safe to get to and from. If we take the Mitchell Lama, Chandler will need to cross Queens Blvd, which is a 10 lane highway (basically), and have a 10 minute walk to get to the train. A move means taking all three kids on public transportation 5 days a week morning and night. I guess that could work since Stafford and I will also need to take public transportation to work rather than walk, which we get to do now.

    Stafford & I will adjust. But I wonder which choice will give the kids a better quality of life. Choosing money alone is too easy. We are building friendships in this neighborhood and it has taken almost 2 years to do that. I don’t want to wait another two years to find community. Big Six is pretty isolated – thanks to the blvd of “death.” The choice is money (and all that it brings) vs. convenience (in all aspects of our daily life), being in a neighborhood with trees & flowers and feeling safe. I have no idea what we should do. I guess we’ll need to wait for more information. We haven’t even been offered the apartment. Who knows maybe when we see it, the choice will be clearer. Until then, thanks so much for your viewpoints. We really appreciate them.

  13. Dear Daddy,
    I think we should take the Mitchell lama, even though I’ve been protesting against it. This is because, I’m miserable in Sunnyside anyways, so why not be miserable and have more money?? You guys (Mom and you) have already moved me to New York, so moving a city away won’t be that hard, I hope.

    Also, with the extra money we “save” we can get an air conditioner for Ms. Marchasalla’s (my new teacher) class. This will be sooooooo helpful, considering the fact that we’re on the fifth floor, and it does reach about 95 degrees up there during September, May and June.

    Another advantage for taking the Mitchell lama (besides the fact that I can FINALLY get a dog, since I’ve only been waiting 11 years) is that Mason, Lennox, and I can elevator race. We can also pretend we’re Zack and Cody from the Suite Life of Zack and Cody and run up and down the stairs bothering you and mom.

    Alo, I will finally get to paint my room, and be guarenteed that I will have my own room for the six years I live with you and mom. That is why I want the Mitchell lama.

    (The most important reason is I FINALLY get my own dog!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!)

  14. Instead of giving my opinion, I’ll tell you what I hear you saying.
    Though it seems a little crazy to pass up such a savings, it sounds
    like deep down right now you both would choose quality of life over
    cash–and it does sound like a pretty high quality life. I also
    appreciated what Linda said about how easy it is for “extra” cash to
    disappear. But whichever way it goes, I’m sure you’re decision will be
    preceded by much family deliberation. Thanks for sharing your inner
    wrangling with us. I so admire your family’s closeness and your
    careful, thoughtful wrestling with such a tough decision. It says a
    lot about you that it is such a tough decision. Keep us posted.

    lots of love,
    Cheri

  15. having to cross queens blvd every day = not good

  16. Hello all,

    Stafford asked me to “weigh in” here. To begin, I think both Stafford and Linda will recognize my need to qualify my remarks. As the oldest of three children that lived in 5 different states by the time Iwas 18, my heart goes out to Chandler. As a resident of Oakland, who lives in a “safe” neighborhood, but who has worked for the past 4 years in a “dangerous” neighborhood a mere 5 minute drive from where I live, I would love to chat with Linda and Stafford about the post-modern definition of “quality of life.

    I have lived in a small, rent-controlled studio apartment for 11 and a half years. Recently I started a job that now gives me the financial ability to move to a bigger place (in theory). My boyfriend lives in gated community of condos in the Oakland Hills. I was walking to the pool there yesterday morning and relished the casual waves and smiles exchanged with neighbors. And did I mention the QUIET? At 45, I find silence a quasi-religious experience. While I am not a parent, I have worked with school-aged children for the past 15 years, and have listened to children that are in the age range of your children talk about their fears about the gunshots they hear in their neighborhoods when they are trying to sleep at night. They have described recurring nightmares of witnessing the death of a parent or other family member while simply walking in their neighborhood, or perhaps being killed in their sleep by an intruder to their family home. One of these children asked me over a casual lunch, “Have you ever been shot?”

    While I did not experience these horrors growing up, I am keenly aware of what the experience of feeling unsafe as a child is like. The point that I want to make is that I think Chandler, Mason and Lennox are experiencing a quality of life now, and will be wherever they live, because of Linda and Stafford’s parenting skills, not their environment. Feeling safe starts at home. The fact that Chandler not only feels safe enough to express her opinions, but is given the same space and respect for them as the adults on the blog, in my opinion, is more important than what neighborhood she lives in or how she gets to and from school.

    I agree with Stafford that saving money is important. This is why I am not moving to a bigger place…I am still thrilled with the novelty of having a disposable income and being out of debt. But if I had a child? I would opt for my boyfriend’s community in a hot second. Not having a six figure income would be my only obstacle.

    At the risk of sounding painfully corny, I would advise seeking the counsel of a Higher Power. Whichever decision you come to, you will have my support. I admire the care and consideration you are using as a family to make it.

    Love, the long lost auntie

  17. Came across your blog, are you still in the Mitchell lama?

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