Two-Room Apartment in 1930s Co-Op


Location Midwood (Brooklyn)

Rent $650 (sublet)

Square feet 400

Occupant John Montagna (bassist, songwriter, producer)

I realized there are hundreds of these buildings on Ocean Avenue that go down all the way to the sea with thousands of people I never met. Who are they? What do they do? A woman just left with a shopping cart; she had a bit of a struggle getting it through the door. Then I thought: She was alive during World War II. I wondered, did she ever think she’d hear a mayor say, “Now—if there is an envelope, don’t move it around.” I came here in March. Midwood’s not gentrified. It’s people who’ve been here a long time, also heavy Orthodox, Russians. Next door is a Hebrew school. If I look out my window, I can see a rabbi is up there, studying all night. He’s the other one up all the time. If I’m up late, this neighborhood is si-lent. Everybody’s in bed. No one’s playing music. No one’s watching Conan.

Do you feel the same in your home now? I wake up and all I can think about are spores and AC-130s, which, you know, can loiter over targets for hours. I used to wake up and think, Why didn’t he call?! Plus CNN has become like a roommate who won’t shut up. One night, I heard this noise, like something being thrown at my window. I ran in the dining room, crouched on the floor, and called 911. They said, Do you want someone to come over? I said, No, just send a cop car around my block. It was pathetic. Sometimes I think, Is there a basement of a deli where these guys are meeting every night? Though I doubt they are among us in this neighborhood. It’s very safe over here. Finally, being in Brooklyn isn’t such a handicap anymore. When I started looking months ago, I never considered Midwood. I’ve lived in the East Village, Williamsburg. But Midwood is where I grew up. I used to spend my teenage nights looking for girls. I belonged to the B’nai B’rith chapter. I’m not Jewish. But they said, The boys’ club only has three members. The girls’ club has nine. I said, What time’s the first meeting? I have a lot of memories here. My father lives about eight blocks away; my mother’s six blocks. I’m going to my dad’s tonight to build my CD rack.

Kant wrote that “man’s identity is . . . residential . . . the man without a home is a potential criminal.” Like all those terrorists in motel rooms and whatshisname who we saw in the early weeks on TV lying on the ground like a snake in some underground lair. Makes you want to decorate or clean. There is a cocooning thing going on here. I’m making a love nest for the winter. I’m not making a bomb shelter or anything. But I’m looking to spend more time here and less out in the field. In the music business or anything freelance, it’s like going out and bagging something for dinner. Now I’m staying home and writing more of my own songs. My girlfriend lives in Forest Hills. I like her house, but I prefer hanging out here because it’s the first apartment I’ve had on my own.

Your room is so orange. I’m an Aries. Also, I found out Frank Sinatra’s favorite color was orange. I was painting my apartment while all the craziness was going on September 11. I got exhausted from the tension and stress. I thought I was getting a brain tumor. As for apartments, my darkest pit of despair occurred in Williamsburg—February 2000. Me and one other guy got this railroad dump, like just “renovated.” The landlord buys old dilapidated slums, evicts everybody, slaps on paint, and jacks the rent. We paid $600 for no sink in the bathroom. I was there a year, bedridden with depression. I couldn’t get anything done. I got this apartment through an ad in the paper. I was sure they were going to look at my shitty-assed credit and say, This guy is a menace to society. I gave a very convincing argument. I told them I wanted to have an effective home base so I could build my music empire. They seemed to buy that, but then I had to get my mother to co-sign. Aubrey, the super—he’s fantastic, always cleaning and tidying. When I first saw this apartment, I was feeling in love with the neighborhood, with the building. I met Aubrey and that was it.