Neville Chamberlain on the Upper East Side?

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05/05/2006

960 Park Ave., NY, NY 10028

Neighborhood: Upper East Side

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The monthly meeting of the co-op’s Board of Directors is tonight at 7:30, so I clean the basement a little earlier than usual. I am just finishing mopping the floor when Mrs. 11B, the President of the Board, steps out of the elevator onto the wet floor. She apologizes for ruining my hard work and slowly tiptoes across the floor as if that will somehow lessen the damage. Everyone does this for some reason. I don’t mind. I don’t care what the floor looks like—the important thing is to be seen cleaning it.

The other Board members soon arrive and they start the meeting. At this time, I usually make myself scarce. I pour out the contents of my bucket into the slop sink and rinse out the mop before going up to the package room to get the dry cleaning and whatever packages need to be delivered. I call each of the tenants to let them know I’m on my way, “Hello, this is Mr. Murphy. I have a delivery for you.” But even with advance warning some of these people come to the door half-naked, which is why, after ringing 12B’s doorbell, I immediately turn my head and glue my eyes to 12A’s doormat. When the door opens, I blindly shove an oversized FedEx envelope in the general direction of the habitually underdressed and dangerously underfed Mrs. 12B.

It is only 7:50 when I finish, so I stop the elevator between the fifth and sixth floors and read the newspaper for the final ten minutes of my shift. While changing in the locker room, I overhear the Board meeting next door. They are discussing a possible increase in the tenants’ maintenance fees to pay for lobby renovations. I laugh to myself, knowing how violently opposed many of the tenants will be to this proposal.

Disputes between tenants are a fact of life in apartment buildings, but in the last year, inter-tenant relations have become dangerously strained; and in a building full of lawyers things can get ugly. Back in the spring, there was almost a bloody coup d’etat when the Board decided, without consulting the other tenants, to allow those who wanted to replace their windows to do so. This was seen by many as an act of war.

The building was truly a house divided. The pro-choice insurgents argued that the current windows were ugly and didn’t keep out the cold. The conservationist camp screamed that the main reason they bought into the building was its beautiful Art-Deco design, the integrity of which would be hopelessly compromised if people could just put in any windows they wanted, without regard to the overall aesthetic.»

There were accusations of conflicts of interest, lawsuits were threatened, some tenants demanded the whole Board be ousted for making such a momentous decision without putting it to a building-wide vote. When it was finally voted on, the conservationists won in a landslide, and two of the Board members were replaced.

The warring factions are usually divided along generational lines. The younger, more recently arrived tenants have made a great deal of money in a very short time. A few years ago, these people wouldn’t even have considered living anywhere east of Lexington, but everyone was getting so rich in the late 90s that there just weren’t enough available apartments on Park and Fifth. So, forced to settle for a less prestigious address, these people are compensating by turning their new homes into palaces. They are the ones who are leading the charge for the new lobby. They also want to expand the gym and hire a concierge.

The older people in the building, who have made less money over a much longer period of time, are offended by the brashness of their new neighbors and do not see the need for such frills. Another frequent complaint of the old guard is the noise and dust from the constant construction going on in the ever expanding apartments of the inconsiderate newcomers. The Sterns in 14A will soon be the Sterns of 14A and 14B. Mr. Stabile in 17C has bought 18B and 18C and is going to convert the three apartments into a giant duplex. The older tenants were outraged that the Board approved the plan. When bitching to me in the elevator about Mr. Stabile and his ilk, 17A compared them to another group of notorious land grabbers.

Now, comparisons to the Nazis are definitely overblown and in bad taste. And yet, I can’t help thinking that these ultra-rich young tenants share a certain hyper-developed sense of entitlement common to conquerors throughout history. That they peacefully satisfy their lust for Lebensraum by buying out the guy next door and knocking down a few walls rather than by invading Poland is--as far as their bitter, envious neighbors are concerned--a distinction of little significance.

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