Babka Park

Location Borough Park
Rent $810 [market]
Square feet 600 [floor of early-20th-century two-story house]
Occupants Jessica Baker [artist]; Ed Elefterion [theater director; professor, Hofstra University]

I passed by Shlomy’s Heimishe Bakery. I missed the chocolate babka because today is Shabbos. The bakery is next to B’nei Joseph Car Service. Everything was closed. Across the street is a brown-and-beige brick building. Men’s voices are heard. [Ed] We ate too many babka for a long time. [Jessica] We had to stop. There are quite a few obese people in the neighborhood.

Families are out walking in their good, black wool coats. The men are walking quickly as if something is going to happen—like in a play— the knock on the door. It’s so quiet except for shoes making the ice crack. “Good Shabbos,” said a woman in a mink coat to another. All the red-brick buildings have wrought-iron balconies with green plastic sheeting, a design world of its own. Oh God.

Do you have a dictionary? Yes. What do you want to look up?

I see, shabbah means rest. The laundromat is open today. Mostly Hispanics go there. They’re probably working for families who are observing the Sabbath. There are a lot of restaurants and little stores around here where they work. The migrant workers line up in the neighborhood to find construction work early in the morning.

You said Israelis run the dairy pizza places. The Hasidim go. Mendelson’s is the famous one. [ Ed yells from the kitchen.] Do you think it’s famous?

What’s Ed doing, clinking around in the kitchen? [Jessica] He’s preparing our Indian tea.

Can you talk about your landlady? If we just call her Mrs. Y, we can. She has a German accent. She came after the war. She has a number on her arm. She doesn’t hide it. I believe she’s 85. I think she’s sort of an oddball out now because the Hasidic population has exploded. This monstrosity is being built next to us. It dwarfs everything on the block. The owner calls it a two-family house.

The house is swollen, like a four-story apartment building. He took away all the light from Mrs. Y and us. He said to us, What do you like, electronics, good alcohol? When he tried to offer Mrs. Y something, she said, Are you going to give me light for my garden? She wouldn’t take anything. [Ed] She’s got roses, eucalyptus. [Jessica] And that purple flower. Mrs Y’s been here over 40 years. Her son lives around the block.

How did you find the apartment? [Ed] Three and a half years ago, I was living in like a 12-by-12-foot room in Park Slope. I used to live in the writing room of a playwright. It was in another building from where she lived. She was charging me $600 a month. There was a stove and a sink. The day before Christmas, I’m taking the garbage out. This very tall guy said, “Who are you?”—a big, looming guy with an accent. I said, “I live here.” He said, “No, you don’t. It’s illegal for her to sublet. This is a co-op. She said that she’d only use it for her writing or her family.” I found this apartment online. The lot next door with the big house used to be full of cars that were really crashed, guys coming in and taking parts out. I’d call the police all the time. The police did nothing.

Didn’t others in the neighborhood complain? I don’t know. The city says, We’ll send somebody. They never do. We filed noise complaints when they started building that house. They’re here on Thanksgiving. They’re building at 7:30 in the morning. [Jessica] We’ve been complaining about this for a year. [Ed] We call the department. The office doesn’t open until nine. It’s too late. [Jessica] I made an appointment for the inspectors. [ Ed] The day they’re supposed to come, nobody showed up to work. [Jessica] At this point, it’s built. All we can hope is that the guy is hit with a lot of fines.

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