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IDENTITY THEFT

I did wake up. I felt a presence, moments after the moment and jumped up. I saw the door was ajar. I heard someone on the stairs but I didn't bother to look because I thought it had been a messenger who had come to the wrong floor and left. That happens a lot during the day. I locked the door and went back to bed. Hours later when I was ready to go out, I realized my purse was gone. We had forgotten to lock the door. We leave it open for the cat who lives in the flower shop to come in, he likes to visit and we like him to visit. We usually remember to lock the door before we go to bed but guess we forgot. It wasn't the first time we had forgotten to lock the door it was the first time we realized we couldn't be that relaxed anymore.

I'm sure the idea of leaving your door unlocked sounds a bit strange to most people. We are in a small four story building with the ground floor being a wholesale flower shop. Everyone in the building knows each other and it feels very much like family. We have all been here for a long time, I the longest. In the summer we open the hatch to the roof to let the hot air out and keep the doors open to circulate the air. It's pretty down home here but every floor is involved in a business of some kind so messengers are always in and out. That has never been seen as a problem in the past. We all think think of it as our building. Personally, I think it really belongs to the cat. He has ingratiated himself on every floor.

I have been living here for for 27 years. I make jokes about living over buds in bondage. When the shop is closed and I enter I see the most beautiful mix of cherry blossoms, magnolia branches, or pines, depending on the season, tied up with ropes and leaning against the walls, packed one on top of the other leaving a small winding path into darkness behind the gates. The smell is intoxicating. I must say, the entrance to my home is absolute magic. In that bubble of magic, one feels safe, it's that simple.

When I moved here, it was a waste land, busy by day and dead at night. It was not a neighborhood, but at the time, that was what artist and landlords were looking for. I was aware of the holes in this system. I already knew of friends loosing their space after bringing it up to living standards. The wisdom on the street was to always assume the landlord was a crook. I shook hands with a man. We decided to trust each other.

When I first found my home I was just out of college and wanting to be a New York Artist with a New York Loft. It was the mid 70s. I was living on the top floor of a brownstone in Brooklyn near Pratt. If you wanted to be taken seriously as an artist, you had to be in Manhattan. I had looked at a lot of shares and unaffordable spaces in New York and at the point of despair I had a dream. In the dream, a realtor was showing me a space. It was the top floor of a four story building, much like my space in Brooklyn and I said, "this isn't a loft" and he said, "but it's a lot of space and it's on Sixth Avenue!". I looked out the window and it was up over the Waverly Theater on Sixth Avenue, I turned to him and said, "WOW!" and then, I woke up.

The next day I went in to help my friend with his loft on 27th and 7th. He was the second of my friends who had taken leads I had given them because they were both couples with two incomes and could afford what I was finding. I was about to do a deal with a share on the Bowery with a man who I thought was a bit strange he later proved to be a full blown pervert. I just didn't know what to do, and my friend assured me that if it wasn't meant to be, that I would find a sign. Just at that moment, we found a sign for my home in the window of a fix-it-man, remember them? We laughed at the absurdity and then we asked about the space. When I saw the space it was the space in my dream and I trusted it.

For years I have felt like I lived in the country in the middle of the city. Nothing happened here after 5:00pm. If you wanted action you had to go somewhere else. This meant very little crime, virtually no drug dealing on the streets and little or no break-in's. It was the best kept secret on the island. Secrets don't keep for ever here. We are now, thanks to zoning changes, the hottest new neighborhood. In the past two and a half years, four thirty-five story buildings have sprouted up. As I write this another is growing across the street. I had to buy venetian blinds for the first time in 27 years. The neighborhood is changing and I've been in denial.

So, this theft hit me on a number of levels. I called my credit cards and bank and closed everything down. Then I thought about what was in that purse. Books that my partner and I make one of them being a memorial to my mother who recently died. Her sunglasses! The ones she and I had found for her in Rome, that I recently inherited from her top drawer. I had just started wearing them and it made me feel good and reminded me of Rome and Mom. My keys were in there and an unemployment check with my social security number which first led me to the idea of identity theft. I did the damage control and filed the warning with the credit report people about possible identity theft. They could not replace the sunglasses.

I think my credit rating has been protected but my identity has absolutely been stolen. The cat is hardly here anymore because we just don't leave the door open now. I have had to admit that this is no longer my neighborhood. It now belongs to faceless people in faceless buildings from the first floor to the 35th. A delightful mix of diverse store front businesses have been replaced by Duane Read, CVS and Starbucks. There are fewer people to say hello to now when I walk down the Avenue. I miss them and I have no idea where they went or what happened to them. I have no relationship to what has moved in.

No independent businesses can afford to be a part of the new buildings.

I thought we were safe. Our side of the block had not been a part of this. Buzz on the street said that was because there were four landlords on our side of the street and they couldn't all agree to sell. I credited my landlord with holding out. I have always credited him with being an extradinary human being. I figured that meant we had at least 10 years before the next big push. The economy is not good and these buildings are not filling up.

The buzz now is that my landlord is selling. My landlord is now the son of the man I shook hands with.

The man I shook hands with, I trusted and over the years came to respect him as a patron of the arts. He has artists on all his top floors and he has been good to us. Yes, I do think artists should be exceptions to the rules of economy. So many of us are forced to live outside the rules of the economy to survive. Artists are an endangered species in New York. Someone has to care about the cultural foundation of the city and I thought my landlord was the embodiment of that belief. He still may be, I don't know, he may try to relocate us but this block, this building full of family is our home.

The flower shops who have held in here are pure magic. The city tried to force all of them to the Bronx in the mid 90s. They said they were a traffic problem and targeted them to the point of $300 fines per week. It got ugly. Half of them left. It was part of Gulianni's plan to redevelop the South Bronx and leave midtown sterile and open to real estate development. Years ago, I was told by someone in the real estate market that we were on bad bedrock and that there was a fault line here. You could see from our roof, that we were in a valley with taller buildings all around but not here. I thought that would protect us but evidently the fault line vanished under pressure from the real estate market.

If the flower shops and the artists living above them are all replaced by 35 story buildings it will be more than my identity that has been stolen. New York City has also become a victim of identity theft. Someone needs to put the breaks on this madness. The beauty of this city has always been it's diversity. It is being systematically destroyed. You can't smell the roses if they just aren't there anymore.

MARY PETRUSKA


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This page last updated: 13th November 2006.