On Falling Apart

My apartment sits on the border of Clinton Hill and Fort Greene in an area that is actually called Wallabout, and is one of the oldest neighborhoods in Brooklyn. My apartment, which is falling apart, is also probably one of the oldest buildings in Brooklyn. I can tell because it is falling apart.

Here is a quote from a recent New York Times article about historic Wallabout, wherein a Wallabout resident describes the Wallabout experience: “‘To live there, you’re a little bit of a risk taker and an adventurer, because you’re off the grid a little bit,’ said Gary Hattem, a chairman of the Historic Wallabout Association, who since 1976 has lived on Vanderbilt Avenue in an Italianate 1850s row house with a wooden porch.”

Gary Hattem, also a president of Deutsche Bank, does not know what a risk-taker is because he lives in an 1850s row house with a porch, most likely restored, full of period furniture, and one block closer to the G train than me.  Gary has not lived in my falling-apartment or had to call my landlord at 8am on a Sunday.

The building itself is rent controlled and has original tin ceiling tiles that have been painted white. The walls are all painted different shades of blue haphazardly and the bookshelves are overflowing with books left behind by whoever has lived there and left them. Unread books and small statues of bronze horses have gotten dusty and sit there while my roommates and I work multiple jobs to continue to live in a space with other people’s leftovers where we barely have time to actually live.  My apartment on Clinton Avenue, which I rented a few months ago during my own falling apart, has been falling apart for decades. Whenever I tell someone a story about something that happens to me in this apartment they respond with something like: “That is so New York.” Here are a few of those exchanges:

“My roommate didn’t tell me about his sub-letter until she wandered out of our bathroom in a towel and introduced herself. No, actually, even then he didn’t tell me about her.”

“That’s so New York! It’s like you’re on ‘Friends’!”

“My landlord won’t fix the leak in our bathroom, so I had to go to his office in Williamsburg and threaten to call the city.”

“ That’s so New York!”

“There’s a rat living in my kitchen. Maybe multiple rats.”

“Gross!” Pause. Facial muscles change from disgust to acceptance. “That’s so New York though.”

My sort-of ex-boyfriend told me that my apartment was “a study in decay.” The building is owned by an older Hasidic man who wanders around sometimes like he’s lost something on the sidewalk, and won’t shake my hand because I am a woman. My roommate is almost ten years older than me so when I moved in I assumed that he would assume most of the responsibility for apartment-related issues, two assumptions I should not have made. When I told him about the rat, he told me in an exaggerated voice that he “can’t deal with rodents” and (almost literally) locked himself in his room until I resolved the problem.  I fear for my roommate when I am gone and he is forced to confront things on his own.

So because my roommate is kind but useless, my other sometimes-roommate and best friend (who puts me together when I’m falling apart) brought the landlord in to our apartment one day. She saw him outside looking for something on the sidewalk again, and thought he should be looking for the rat instead. As she showed him that the rat in our kitchen had been stealing bananas from us, she also told him that we had been disinfecting surfaces and setting traps, waiting for him to call us back (the landlord, not the rat) for four days. I stood in the corner of the kitchen and mumbled that it was a health issue.

After some pleadings he finally sent our building manager, (someone who we didn’t know existed), with a can of foam insulation to fill an eight-inch hole in the space between the counter and the wall (also known as the “dish graveyard”) and another one under the sink. After I found another half-eaten banana on the counter the next day, I called an exterminator on my own to fix and complete Patrick’s shoddy rat elimination job. He told me that the foam insulation could be chewed through in less than 15 minutes.

I moved in to my falling-apartment after New York made my relationship fall apart. He found a much nicer Brooklyn apartment after we left our upper-east side apartment where we fell apart for what we thought would be the last time. We are still friends sometimes, and we compare stories about how “New York” it all is over brunches that inevitably fall apart by the third mimosa.  He wonders when my study in decay will actually fall apart and I’ll move back home to California where things only fall apart during earthquakes if you haven’t had the foundation fortified.

The truth is, I like my Wallabout, things-strewn-about apartment. I like the way it’s weird and needs to be renovated and how my landlord never fixes anything. I like the 19th-century high chair in the living room that everyone thinks is creepy, and the dinner plate with a portrait of the Eisenhowers on the wall that hangs next to the slanted wooden cabinets. I like how I assumed that the plate portrait was my roommate’s grandparents, and how it is oddly sloping downward as if one day they might just fall face-first onto the linoleum floor. I like all the mismatched dishes and mugs left behind and all the jars of fig jam my roommate made in Alabama over the summer, even though they take up a good chunk of our very small (decaying) dining table. One day I’ll miss 24-hour sushi from Mr. Coco’s and the 10 dollar almond butter that I buy when I feel like splurging on fancy groceries. I like how short-term it all feels, and how it sounds when I write about it, and I like that someday soon when I move out I’ll realize that it was all really just falling apart so I could put everything back together.

(November 2014) 

Ivory Ban Rocks the String World

New federal restrictions shift focus to antiques


On February 11, Secretary of the Interior Sally Jewell announced that the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service will implement a commercial ban on trade in elephant ivory, including bows adorned with ivory and brought to America and previously covered by certification under the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species of Wild Fauna and Flora (CITES) international treaty.

The move comes after a recent report shows that the United States is the second-largest ivory market in the world, with one pound fetching about $1,500—only a quarter of what it sells for in China. Such prices for ivory sustain international crime syndicates that are blamed for the recent slaughter of an estimated 30,000 elephants on protected animal reserves. The Obama administration is hoping to alter demand in the States with new, stricter enforcement that will undoubtedly affect the stringed-instrument world.

According to the published guidelines, import and export of elephant ivory will be prohibited. “All commercial imports of African elephant ivory, including antiques, will be prohibited. All commercial exports will be prohibited, except for bona fide antiques, certain noncommercial items, and in exceptional circumstances permitted under the Endangered Species Act.”

And, what about the ivory pieces found on many antique bows favored by players? Domestic resale of elephant ivory will be significantly restricted under proposed rules. “Sellers of antiques in interstate commerce must prove through documented evidence that items qualify as bona fide antiques,” the new Fish and Wildlife regulations state. According to Fish and Wildlife, the definition of antique is currently an interim rule that will be up for “public comment.” A final rule is expected by June.

For any in-state sale, the seller must provide an Endangered Species Act (ESA) permit, proving the ivory was acquired legally before 1990, when an international ban on African ivory trading went into effect, following a 1975 ban on Asian elephant ivory. Holding an ESA permit means the item was proved to have been lawfully imported prior to the 1975 and 1990 CITES laws. With the burden of proof falling on the seller rather than the government, sales in general will become more complicated, critics contend.

“We’ve been following the latest ivory restrictions with concern,” says Jason Price, director of the auction house Tarisio. “No one doubts that the efforts are well intended, but increasing the administrative responsibilities for antique ivory doesn’t seem to be the most direct way of combating the actual problem.”

Fish and Wildlife contends that the legal ivory trade “can serve as a cover for illegal trade,” and because it is so difficult to differentiate legal ivory from illegal, tough restrictions must be put into place. One exception appears to contradict all of the other controls. Under a special exception, some ivory may be imported through “limited sport-hunting of African elephants for trophies.”

The use of ivory has been a constant for centuries, and much of the ivory in the United States arrived years ago, making this is an especially contentious issue among antique dealers, many of whom declined to comment for this article.

Dealers who only sell antique ivory will not be affected in terms of their offerings, but the ban will add extra layers of bureaucracy, processing time, and fees. Price notes that Tarisio has spent more than $20,000 in U.S. Fish and Wildlife permit fees in the past two years.

Bow maker Matthew Wehling guesses that those hit hardest by the new restrictions will be dealers of older bows with ivory pieces. “There are thousands of beautiful bows made between 1914 and the institution of ivory bans in 1975 and 1990, which will now have to be altered if they are to be made available for sale,” he says.

As for players, it’s not illegal to own an instrument or bow with elephant ivory (provided it was lawfully imported and acquired), but if you want to sell it, you’ll either need to have it replaced or wait for its 100th birthday.

As for alternative materials on a bow’s frog and tip, some bow makers use mammoth ivory, found in the tundra of northern Siberia. “I don’t think the ivory ban will have a big effect,” says bow maker Ken Altman. “Everybody uses mastodon ivory these days. What with the melting of the glaciers, we may see a much bigger supply of mastodon ivory in the years ahead.”

My Life, Digitally

Because nothing disappears anymore, my life can be narrated through friends with active technology habits.


I’ve known  Alexa since 2001. The evolution of our relationship is as follows: LiveJournal, AIM, BlogSpot, MySpace, Yahoo, Gmail, Facebook, and millions of text messages. We have had virtual fights but we always make up, virtually.


February 3, 2014 | 9:42 PM


January 14, 2014 | 11:00 PM | San Francisco, CA


I’ve known my dad since the day I was born. We text almost everyday, and he used Twitter before I did.


  February 4, 2014 |  8:53 PM 


December 22, 2013  | 4:00 PM  | San Francisco, CA


I’ve known Cathy since I was 11 years old and we both got our first cell phones in high school so we could text in class. She lives in Nashville now and I can only see her in person a few times a year. Thanks to Apple, I can see her and her new puppy all the time.


  February 4, 2014 | 7:00PM 


September 2013  | 3:05 PM  | New York, New York


Tori was one of my first New York friends. We used our work email to plan multiple happy hours, and text messaging created a support network for jobs we both hated. She updates me on her new life in Florida courtesy of T-Mobile.


February 5, 2014  | 10:18 AM


September, 2013 |  3:25 PM | Syracuse, New York


I made a Facebook page for James in college that he never used.  He is not a technology person. When I moved to the East Coast, he started using his phone more. Sometimes you just have to.


February 5, 2014 | 7:05 PM 


January, 2014 | 12:21 PM |  Santa Barbara, CA.