In the City’s Toe


LOCATION Wall Street

RENT $2,200 [market, before two-year $6,000 subsidy]

SQUARE FEET 804 [one-bedroom in 1959 former office building]

OCCUPANTS Joanne Hunt [marketing services, Clinique]; Marc Brotherton [teacher, St. Ann’s School; artist]; Lucas Brotherton

Lucas is upset and crying. [Joanne] He has a little fever, from his day care. There’s a big germ in that place. [Ding-dong, ding-dong] The bells are from the Catholic church. [Marc] The echoes down here—you never know the direction anything’s coming from. It’s like a canyon with all these sounds bouncing off the buildings. [Joanne] We hear jackhammers, horns from all the livery drivers picking up people at the stock exchange.

You have a 41-page lease. [Joanne] There’s a paragraph about bioterrorism. We got a $250-a-month grant back from the Lower Manhattan Development Corporation to live down here, a total of $6,000 over two years. They stopped it last May. Then with a two-year lease, we got two free months from the landlord and another $750 grant for having a child. You could buy diapers for a couple of months. We saw the apartment in a classified. It was advertised cheaper—$1,600. We were living in Greenpoint then, $1,000, small. It was cheaper to move to Manhattan than to Williamsburg. I told Marc, if we get this place, we not only save on cabs but on gym membership. There’s a health club on the roof. I’ve been there twice since we moved—April 2003. The war had just started—our going into Iraq. I was nervous signing this. At the stock exchange, some days there are armed guards out there with machine guns; other days, one guy’s standing there.

Your parakeet is so green, tropical. He showed up at our window in Greenpoint. He was all mangy. His beak was all twisted. With a little love, thank God, we never had to go to a vet. It’s nice to hear happy chirping in the morning. I had an iguana for seven years. He ate some change—11 cents. He had to have surgery to remove his change. He died the day after I spent $1,200. This was in Greenpoint. I met Marc in Dallas when we were 19. He moved to Chicago, I visited him there. We went to a pet store. I saw 30 [iguanas] in a tank. I felt sorry for them, all piled on top of each other in this overcrowded store. I didn’t really want him. I spent all my money on this lizard. I think you live and learn.

Your neighbors are a few other families and a lot of NYU students, you said. Across the hall, the apartment has five bedrooms. It’s all kids.

There’s been so much commotion in this building. By the mid ’90s, when it was vacant—Wall Street wasn’t as hopping then—Rockrose converted it to 435 apartments, rented it in four months. Then Giuliani had his $1.4 billion “Christmas present for New York” idea—expand the stock exchange, build a trading complex, 50-story building. The city was going to buy this building, tear it down. Rockrose began to vacate but after 9-11, the deal was off—criticism of the $1 billion public subsidy, city’s budget problems, post-9-11 nervousness. Then it went back to Rockrose and they rented it fast. There have been a ton of conversions down here. The buildings are so classical revival—all the Doric columns. Then, of course, the historical violence. In 1920, an anarchist ignited a wagonload of explosives at the former JP Morgan. Thirty-three were killed and 400 injured. In 1891, the financier Russell Sage was almost assassinated at the Empire Building, but he threw his male secretary at the bomber. It gets so rough when money’s involved. Who’s reading Emerson? Did you read “Self-Reliance”? A friend recommended that I read it every day. [Marc] Yes. I started reading him because Nietzsche was influenced by Emerson. [We go in the hall, which looks sort of in between a hotel and an office building, to go up to the roof deck.]

When you walk here, down Broadway, it’s at Liberty Street that you can see the light of the water beyond. The city opens up, all life has possibility. Then I saw the tulips in the Trinity Church yard, open to the sky, all white and purple, belting out a song for spring. I always feel like I’m on vacation when I’m down here. There is so much to explore.