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Invasion of the Baby Carriages

Baby carriages are taking over our lobby.

I live in a small, 21-unit walk-up on Manhattan’s Upper West Side, and we have a small lobby. It’s simple, unadorned, and functional. Our super keeps it clean enough for my tastes, but others, both on and off the board (including my girlfriend), think he could do a better job. I actually think matters got worse when the super put in extra-bright lights, which only made the supposed cleaning deficiencies more prominent.

When I first moved into the co-op 100 years ago (actually in 1987), there were no baby carriages because there were no babies. Maybe that’s because the neighborhood was not considered “baby-friendly.” Let me explain. Soon after I moved in, I heard about my downstairs neighbor being held up at gunpoint as he walked across the park. That was bad enough, but then I heard the story of the board treasurer. He must have had a dark cloud over his head: robbed at least twice in his apartment in Boston, he had moved south to the Big Apple, determined not to be a victim again. He bought the top unit on the sixth floor and installed some metal accordion gates to keep the riffraff out. For “dark cloud man,” however, it didn’t help. One workday, a daredevil criminal leaped from a neighboring building onto our roof, climbed down the fire escape, kicked in the accordion gates, and made off with our hapless treasurer’s electronic equipment.

Yes, it wasn’t much of a place for babies back then.

But, like a late-blooming butterfly (do butterflies bloom?), the neighborhood slowly transformed itself. A bodega turned into a moderately priced fancy restaurant; then a hardware store became a not-so-moderately priced fancy restaurant. In fact, our area became a kind of restaurant row, with students from nearby Columbia University lining up for Sunday brunch at the homey Kitchenette two doors down from us.

The board was excited by the changes. Everyone thought they were good news for those living there and for those who were hoping to sell. As apartment appraisals increased, so did the crazy ideas. A fourth-floor shareholder, tired of walking up and down the stairs, sent us plans to install an elevator on the outside of our 100-year-old building. We didn’t take the suggestion seriously, considering instead the same shareholder’s request to put in a whirlpool bathtub. After insisting on strict requirements, we approved it. Hey, anything to keep up with the new neighborhood look.

In fact, we were swept along by the changing times. Thinking that our green-colored doors were institutional-looking, we talked with an architect on the board about trying different colors: we had three doors painted, each with a different hue. One was supposed to be red, but it came out as salmon pink; another was an unappealing gray, and the third was black (which led to jokes about that being the apartment of death). We went for a toned-down red.

And then the babies came. First one, then another, and another, as young couples moved into our neighborhood. Don’t get me wrong: I love babies! (Even the one with powerful lungs in the unit below mine.) But the accoutrements they now come with are daunting: big hats, protective jumpsuits, and tank-like baby carriages that are nothing like the flimsy vehicles I rode around in when I was a baby. Young mothers used to house carriages under the stairs. But soon things started spreading out – and a couple of carriages are now regularly parked by the mailboxes. I mentioned this to the board, but no one wants to do anything about it. After all, who wants to be mean to babies?

Next thing you know, we’ll be building that elevator.

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