New York Real Estate Stories: The House on Poo Corner

If you’ve ever lived in New York City, you know that, for people living there, “real estate” forms an even larger part of your brain activity than “sex.” Every month, you write your landlord a surreally large check, all for the privilege of living in a space your friends back home would refer to as “a walk-in closet.”

It’s no wonder you get a bit obsessed. Is there a better deal out there? Could you buy the apartment next door, and actually have a bedroom? People go to outrageous lengths to get and keep apartments that would baffle any outsiders. Case in point, a story I like to call,

The House on Poo Corner 

In 2003, my friend Darryl Purpose was performing in an artist’s live/work space in Greenpoint, Queens.

The building was in a gritty, industrial neighborhood, and the apartment itself was enormous. Room after room, with high ceilings, and lots of light. Along with the nickel tour, I got the usual story from the apartment’s tenant, “Oh yeah, when we moved here, the place was a mess…but now the neighborhood’s gotten a lot more established…our landlord’s trying to jack up the rent big-time, but we’re taking him to landlord-tenant court…it’s just too good a deal…we’re definitely going to fight, I think we’re going to win…”

I listened with one ear, and certainly envied the large, airy space. But there was one thing that kept distracting me.

A certain…smell.

Yes, wherever I went in the house, it smelled like poo. It was pretty strong. Maybe the toilet had overflowed a couple of days before, and the smell hadn’t dissipated yet. Whatever it was, I was too discreet to mention it, as I assumed the tenant was aware of the problem. I didn’t want to embarrass him.

As day turned into evening, I noticed what looked like a huge flame out the window, against the night sky.

“Oh yeah,” said the tenant. “That’s the methane burnoff from the sewage treatment plant half a block away.”

I suddenly realized that the awful smell was not temporary. It was permanent. Every day, and every night, 365 days a year, it smelled like that.

That night I thought, I can’t do it anymore. I can’t live in the kind of city where people fight tooth and nail for the privilege of living in an apartment that smells like raw sewage. 

I moved six months later.

By Sofia Echegaray Posted in Funny

Burt Bacharach’s Music is What They Play on the Elevator Going to Hell*

One Sunday morning, while listening to NPR, I heard a piece on Burt Bacharach. It listed some of his classics — Walk on By, Raindrops Keep Fallin’ on my Head, What’s New, Pussycat, etc.

“That is amazing!” I thought. “That’s truly extraordinary!”

“Why, I hate all of these songs!”

Yes, apparently there was an unseen force in the universe, tying all smarmy music together, and that force was Burt Bacharach. Who knew? I was fascinated — how can One Man write so many songs that make me immediately want to take a shower?

I tried to be open-minded. Everyone says he’s a genius, and who am I? Just a weirdo with a dream.** Nevertheless, though I haven’t yet known “success” or “acclaim” from music, and Burt Bacharach is “rich,” I still have my opinions!

I really wanted to feel differently about him. I even watched documentaries about Burt Bacharach and the Brill building. But no dice. He still creeped me out.

As he spoke in his fuzzy powder-blue turtleneck, I had a vision in my head. It’s the 1970’s, and pretty naive Californian housewife Rhonda is visited by her husband’s sleazy friend when her husband’s away.

“Oh Rhonda, let’s go for a ride, it’s a nice day.”

“Oh Burt, gosh I don’t know. I don’t know if I should. Larry might not like it.”

“It’s just a ride, right? Besides, some fresh air might do you good.”

They stop to have lunch, and it just so happens that the restaurant is in the lobby of a hotel. After dinner, wouldn’t you know it? The manager is a friend of Burt’s, and he always makes a room available, just for an hour or two, when his good friend Burt is in town. Burt sure is tired, he’d like to lie down and have some shut-eye for 45 minutes before hitting the road again. Rhonda wouldn’t want him to be an unsafe driver, now would she? And maybe she can have a nap, too! It’ll be so European.

After getting her into the hotel room, Burt says that Rhonda looks “tense” and she needs to “relax more.” After giving her a massage, he starts to kiss her, and when she pulls away, he says how this is a “new time” and “bourgeoise ideas about ‘ownership’ don’t apply to modern people like us” and “grownups make their own choices in the world.”***

Rhonda is hopelessly confused. She’s always been a good girl, but Burt is saying that being a good girl is really being a bad girl. Oh, but what about Larry? He’d be so upset. He wouldn’t understand all that stuff about being modern and grownup, he’d just be mad.

Rhonda pulls away, at which point Burt becomes enraged, “So that’s it, huh? You’re just like all the others. A tease and a bitch. You’re a cold bitch who lures me up here and then turns on me. I’ll never forgive you for this, never!

“What? I…what?”

“You’re just heartless. You don’t care for me at all.”

“No! That’s not true! I do care for you!”

And so on. At last, by a combination of smooth talking and bullying, our friend Burt sleeps with Rhonda. Afterwards, she’s completely baffled by what has occurred, but falls into a regular affair with Burt because “after all, you seemed to like it the first time” and “your husband isn’t as enlightened as we are — I’d hate to see him find out.” Maybe she even leaves her husband for Burt in the end.

And all the while, he’s wearing that same powder blue turtleneck! When she visits him, she’s not allowed to drive his car, touch his stereo, or pick out any records herself from his meticulously-arranged record collection. And of course, she needs to leave after they have sex. “I need to get my sleep, babe.”

That scenario is what I think of whenever I hear the music of Burt Bacharach. 


* The main downside to writing this piece is that I now have Burt Bacharach songs stuck in my head. The things I do for you people.

** Or a muppet who somehow took human form. You decide.

***He might also bring up something about yoga and EST and wanting to help her “open up her chakras.” It depends on which flavor of sleazy 70’s guy he is.