One-Bedroom Apartment in 19th-Century Brownstone


Location Park Slope

Rent $0/mo (temporary)

Square feet 600

Occupants Barbara Zinn (executive search consultant; aspiring education policy analyst), Jenna Zinn (first grade, Corlears)

Park Slope has never looked more 19th century and civil with its gaslights, finials, and turrets than it does right now. And so far away from that smoky hell where you came from, with broken windows and your home covered in ash. You just arrived tonight in a stranger’s brownstone, having had to flee Battery Park’s Gateway Plaza—right across from Ground Zero—where you lived for 18 years. I have to summarize the following because there’s so much in your story—everyone’s story. If they were all told in a documentary film, five minutes per New Yorker, it would be an interminable horror movie. Anyway, you were not in your apartment when it happened. You were beneath the World Trade Center, trapped on subway stairs with a hysterical, stampeding crowd. You eventually got out, fled north to get to your daughter’s school in Chelsea, crying off and on. Once there, total strangers and friends, exhibiting the purest display of unflickering humanity, were coming over, telling you you could stay with them. I was thinking about how emergencies are a test of character. You realize who the generous ones are. One of the friends called Citihabitats. This woman called in minutes. I was sure she was in social services, but she was in PR. Two hours later—she apologized for the delay—she found me this beautiful apartment, offered to us by people who had never met us. We can have it a month, maybe two, for free. I have lost everything. My entire client base was in my computer. The jury’s still out on whether the data can be retrieved. Yet it’s impossible to feel hopeless. Total strangers handed me shopping bags full of clothes, 15 at least. I had to tell them, stop.

As of this writing, no one can live in Gateway. I’ve gotten in three times already. There was an army sergeant barking orders at us. He said, “Do you hear me?” I said, “Yesssssssir.”

It is wartime. But maybe he was upset because he wasn’t ordering soldiers around, just a bunch of apartment dwellers with rolling suitcases that everybody used to take in car services to and from airplanes. You, yourself, in your banking days, went to South America at least once a month. Now, for thousands of Battery Park evacuees, it’s a humbling, bumpy roll from subway to home. We had to climb the stairs—it’s a 35-story building. They told us we had to clean out the refrigerator—I didn’t—close windows, and get back down with stuff, in 15 minutes. I stayed 40; what are they going to do, arrest me?

Then you had to scrape the ash off the Barbie dolls, which in another country might have been a potato. This was in many ways a middle- and upper-middle-class evacuation—an experience that took away the fat. The future? I could never bring my daughter back there. My lease expires this month anyway. The apartment looks like it’s been raped. That ash could be asbestos, human ash. I just remembered I had a ton of clothes in the former dry cleaner. I have a Fendi mink in storage. The odor down there is really bad, something I can’t explain. I’m just going to leave the beds there, everything. But I won’t move out of the city. I will not abandon my daughter’s school. I’m from Bethpage, Long Island. When I first moved to Battery Park in ’83, I was the third person on my floor. There was no working elevator call button. When you wanted to go down, you stood at the shaft and yelled, “23 down.” Gateway was the first building down there. It was beautiful, peaceful. I remember I’d sit on the esplanade reading the Sunday Times and be the only person out there. Over the years, it became people of all ages. There were summer programs, African drumming for families, everything. I feel like I’ve seen Battery Park through its inception to its decline. To see the decline, on top of everything else that’s happened, it’s heartbreaking.