About five minutes from my paint-peeled, wood-warped brownstone apartment in Brooklyn stands one of those new luxury condos, all gray metal and glass. It’s called the Greene House, and it’s at 383 Carlton Avenue, at the corner of Greene Avenue. When I mentioned this to my fellow downwardly mobile friends, they said
“ ‘The Greene House’? Is that where they grow money?”
“That goddamn building looks like a dorm for storm troopers!”
“Ugh. Another skybox for the apocalypse.”
I jumped at the opportunity to spend a night there, in a penthouse duplex, to find out what it’s like to live in the high-rises that are sprouting up all over my neighborhood like stalks of white asparagus. But I guess I am also here to give you information, just in case you are reading this and in the market to buy the place—if you happen to have just won a network reality-show competition, own a hedge fund, or have a name like Linda Chase-Manhattan.
I packed up some toiletries and dirty laundry (duplexes have their own washer-dryers, right?) and said good-bye to my ramshackle pad—the walls stained with rust from a yearlong leak, the rotted floorboards, the toilet I flush with a bucket, the mouse skittering behind the oven, the pigeons nesting in my ceiling, and the squirrel who tries to chew the rotted wood of my window sash. (Yes, I have a negligent landlord, but the place is supercheap, and it’s the only way I have been able to stay in New York and be artsy.)
The tower, which is the highest building for a few blocks around, was designed by the architecture firm Meltzer/Mandl. It is metallic silver and looks cool to the touch. “This is the crown jewel of Fort Greene, the first luxury tower in the area,” Jerry Minsky, senior vice-president of the Corcoran Group’s local office, told me. “We think of it like an Airstream trailer. It has a retro, fifties feel.” The same developers are hard at work on another luxury tower a few blocks north.
When I reached the proper floor in my new home, a recorded voice pronounced “Eleven!” as sunny as a stewardess. Upon opening the door, all I saw were pale maple floors, white walls, and the assault of windows with breathtaking vistas.
I walked out on the balcony. Below were the tree-lined streets and Italianate brownstones built a century ago for out-priced Manhattanites seeking space. A bit further was the grassy hill of Fort Greene Park, and to my left were Red Hook’s tall shipping cranes and a miniature, cornflower-blue Statue of Liberty.
This wasn’t the only view. There are two more balconies upstairs—a narrow one off the bedroom, and another on the other side of the stairs that has a metal stairway that leads to—get this—a large private terrace. I watched the sunset from here, but I was busy texting friends, so I didn’t properly take it in.
On the narrow balcony off the master bedroom, one gets the southern view of Fort Greene and the future Atlantic Yards project, a wacky Frank Gehry–designed Toon Town that will probably look beautiful from here and not like the set of a Tim Burton film. I could also see the opposite direction down Flatbush toward where the Forté condominium, another stack of glassy luxury, is under construction. It dwarfs the Greene House by about twenty floors. Beyond that is the almost completed 40-story Oro, which has a lap pool, a gym, and a private screening room. The Website shows young people smiling in front of their windows in living rooms made of “exotic Brazilian hardwood floors from sustainable forests” and kitchens with “custom quarried Pietra Bedonia Italian stone countertops.” On the Website for the nearby J Condos in Dumbo, sleek serif-free words roll onto a blue sky painted with feathery cloud wisps: “The Joy of Living in Luxury … the Joy of Having It All.” They go for up to $3 million, with a $2,068 monthly maintenance fee.
At least for a night, I was a part of this proliferating luxury lifestyle. I wanted to smile holding a mojito, surrounded by multiracial models. I wanted to Have It All, too. Being up this high is intoxicating.
Finally it was dark enough that I could stop gawking and check out the inside, which had been easy to ignore with this omniscient vista. I noticed first that there are as many closets as there are balconies. One by the front door, two in the hallway, three in the upstairs space, and one (jackpot!) with a washer and dryer.
The owner turns out to be an architect and author of two books on design and architecture. She revised the floor plans and designed the inside herself. Downstairs, what was meant to be a master bedroom became a study, next to an open dining area. She then relocated her bed upstairs and installed a window overlooking the rest of the apartment.
The kitchen is a square of quiet and complicated appliances. A Miele Incognito dishwasher, a GE Advantium microwave, and, most notably, drawers that have some sort of contraption that keeps them from slamming. A mother’s window over the sink allows you to wash your dishes while looking at the Empire State Building.
There are three bathrooms, two on the main floor and one next to the bedroom. They all have sinks in that popular squared-basin style, which bothers me as a guest, because all your toothpaste munge spreads out and doesn’t go down easily. But I guess that is what housecleaners are for. In the upper bathroom, the owner has installed a whirlpool tub.
Except for some style choices, and the fact she probably doesn’t feel searing pain every time she receives her student-loan bill, the owner and I aren’t that different. She is a yoga devotee like me and has a vast collection of Tibetan chant music, yoga books, and yoga videotapes. She also has three yoga mats and two extras still in their wrappers. That’s more than $120 in yoga-mat yardage. But if I had the cash, I would probably do the same. I would also replace my cheap oatmeal breakfasts with wheat-free, gluten-free Erewhon cereal for $5.49 a box. And I would also really focus on cleansing my body and buy bottles of emulsified oil of oregano, Cytozyme-AD, and Amino-D-Tox.
On one of her many bookshelves are Light on Yoga, Deepak Chopra, and the I Ching, all of which I own. On the shelf above it are books on money and investing, all of which I don’t. One title stood out: Secrets of the Millionaire Mind, by T. Harv Eker, who urges the reader to “place your hand on your heart and say ‘my inner world creates my outer world’ … then touch your head and say ‘I have a Millionaire Mind!’ ” It also has handy “wealth principles” like “Practice thinking and creating ways of having ‘both.’ Whenever alternatives are presented to you, ask yourself, ‘how can I have both?’ ”
These are the truths I must learn to Have It All.
Her bedroom, surprisingly modest—if you don’t account for the spectacular view—is the room where Laura and Mary Ingalls would sleep if Ms. Ingalls Wilder wrote another book called Huge Deluxe Penthouse Near the A Train. I could imagine my owner, exhausted from creating breathtaking architectural spaces all day and wiped out from her private yoga class with Rodney Yee, coming home and flopping on her pillowy bed, looking up at her shelf, and knowing, inherently, how to make her inner world give her outer world money like it was spitting out of an ATM.
I put my iPod in her speaker station, and my playlist (Ray LaMontagne, the Go-Go’s, Broken Social Scene) sounded huge and symphonic as it reverberated over all the hard surfaces. I lay in bed, hovering like some figure in a painting by Chagall, floating over the colored bits of the city, in a gorgeous space of aspirations and light shafts and soft beds and slamless drawers, all my toxins and toxic thoughts flaking away and flushing down into sewers I didn’t see.
In the morning I was hungry and I snuck a bowl of Erewhon wheat-free, gluten-free cereal. (I’m sorry, owner! I’ll make you breakfast at my place sometime!) I wished I could have stayed another night. I wished that I will be able to stay in my neighborhood, after all this luxury happens. Of course, this town has been gentrifying since it was traded for a bunch of beads, and you can’t live here without embracing the changeable city, but there comes a point when you wonder if the changeable city is embracing you back.
I returned to my warm, dusty apartment and the animal friends that inhabit it. I didn’t feel as resentful as before. I left the place more sympathetic for this woman, and her attempts at self-work. There was a sense of generosity-gone-high-end about her. The people in those glass houses aren’t stormtroopers—but if they insist on floating above me, in their gorgeous homes, they should stop doing so much yoga and have more parties. I dumped all my freshly clean laundry on the floor and flopped down on my own bed. In quarter-hour intervals, I can see a plane out my bedroom window approaching La Guardia. I always imagine it full of people looking down at Brooklyn, getting a moment’s perspective, for $1,000 or less.
Oh, I almost forgot. The asking price of the duplex is $2.5 million.