The shareholder directory for my Lower Manhattan co-op keeps shrinking. Units have been combined, so there are fewer of us. And the columns for “shareholder occupation” and “employer” have been eliminated, a change that resulted in fewer neighborly requests for free services (“Does this mole look like cancer?”), fewer scripts slipped under the door (“Would you pass this along to your agent?”) and fewer unsolicited solicitations to invest in a sure thing (“You don’t want to pass this up!”).
The list could be even shorter if shareholders resisted the urge to include adult children who haven’t lived in the building for years. The only apartment that doesn’t list launched progeny is mine. I kept them on when they were away at college — even while I daydreamed about knocking down the wall between their empty rooms and installing an Endless Pool. I waited to remove their names from the shareholder directory until both had graduated, found jobs and seemed content enough with their own apartments to send change of address notices to the post office, the DMV and the Board of Elections.
It hit me that seeing young residents on the shareholder list is important to new shareholders who are in the process of creating more young residents. I realized this when I introduced one of my adult children to a recent arrival, stroller in hand, who said, “Oh, you have children?” Apparently, when buyers are sizing up the building culture, the contact list signals the level of neighborly support — or lack thereof — they can count on for the concerns of young families.
In the “lack thereof” department, I am far more amused than sympathetic when new parents in my building announce the reason for their every infraction and every demand: they have a newborn — as though such an occurrence has never happened before in our building, or maybe in any other place on the planet. Despite my children’s absence from the shareholder contact list, I well understand the overwhelming feelings that come with a baby. But I also know, as do many of my co-op contemporaries, what it was like for us in the Stone Age — that is, before we conceded to TriBeCa gentrification and installed in our former warehouse building an intercom that let us buzz in people from our apartments rather than first having to scoop up a crying baby to ride the wonky elevator to open the front door.
Paradoxically, those shareholders who raised children in our building in more retro times and who keep them on the contact list even though they’ve long ago moved out have managed to escape the “boomerang” phenomenon. Unlike almost 50% of the U.S. population, in my building adult children return not to live but to visit, usually during the holidays, often to the delight of those who watched them grow up. The only apartment where adult children return for extended periods is the one where their names don’t appear on the shareholder list: mine.
Over the years, my apartment has become the surgical recovery center for my healthy but occasionally unlucky offspring. From broken bones to an appendix that blew at the height of the pandemic, injuries have mended during extended stints on my living room sofa. Once pain management kicks in, I enjoy having my children around again without the need for restaurant reservations, Christmas trees or birthday cakes. It was the same during the years my children were on the co-op contact list, when I used not-too-sick days to steal them away at uncrowded times to climb to the top of the Statue of Liberty, or to wander around Christo’s “Gates” in Central Park or to take in a midday movie.
The most recent check-in, needing to recuperate from knee surgery, arrived last spring when pundits were forecasting a return to the lawless mayhem of New York in the ’70s and ’80s — what I refer to as “the time of my life.” To prove the point, I streamed for my patient some of the less murderous movies of the era, such as “Desperately Seeking Susan,” “Working Girl” and “Bright Lights, Big City.” While the living room film festival revealed the theme of my Long Island youth — that real life begins when you make your way to The City — watching the movies again I realized that somewhere in the background of each Lower Manhattan scene was an old storage building in a rickety neighborhood that was becoming the co-op I would later call my home.
Bridging the Gap
It’s the same building that continues to embrace its children — those in residence and those who’ve moved on. Recently, on one of those days when my daughter’s recovery took a giant step backwards, my super spotted her clomping slowly and painfully up the delivery entrance ramp. Although my daughter didn’t grow up with this super, the two of them got to know each other during her stay, sharing post-op tales and tips. As we reached the lobby, my super ducked into his office and emerged holding something wrapped in white deli paper.
“Here,” he said, “this is going to make you feel better.” He pulled apart the edges of the paper to reveal the treat within. “I just bought this. It’s the best ham in the city.”
We hand-sanitized and politely took a slice. And another. And then another. Who knew that a sliced ham, offered with kindness, had healing powers? My daughter rode up the still-wonky elevator to the apartment, feeling like she was still part of the community and, except for her knee, feeling a whole lot better.