Maybe you think you'd put up with a lot for a nice view, but do you know precisely when New York City’s garbage trucks get rolling in the morning, or hold your breath in the summer to avoid the smell of chicken filth? Our narrator has called her corner of the Columbia Street Waterfront District home for four years, and she has been doing just that. But as she tells it, the view and the neighborhood make the whole thing worth it, even if it means extremely early wake-up calls every morning.
On the waterfront
I've lived in this apartment for four years, which is disturbing, now that I think about it. That's a long time for me, but the place has its charms. Really, everything about the apartment is charming, even the weird gross stuff. For one, the Columbia Waterfront District is incredibly conveniently located in between two totally different neighborhoods, Cobble Hill and Red Hook, so depending on which way I walk out of my door, I can have two different neighborhood experiences. Also, it’s cheaper than both places. It might be the smallest neighborhood in New York City, and it’s also one of the less irritating neighborhood names, because apparently it's been called that for a while.
[Editor's Note: Brick Underground's series “Living Next to” features first-person accounts of what it’s like to have an iconic or unusual New York City neighbor. Have a story to share? Drop us an email. We respect all requests for anonymity. This article first ran in May 2018. We are presenting it again in case you missed it.]
Also I have a perfect view of the Manhattan skyline, which I'm sure will go away when they build a huge high-rise in front of my place, something they're in the process of trying to figure out how to do. Besides being in between two cool neighborhoods and the nice view, this neighborhood has exactly everything I need. There's a botanica, there's a nice secondhand store, there's a coffee shop. There's a great bar I love, the Jalopy Tavern, and there's a second bar, 40 Knots, for when I don't want to go to Jalopy. I really hope no one else moves here and messes everything up for me.
Moved in a hurry
When I first moved to the neighborhood, I didn't live next to either the slaughterhouse or the trash truck depot. First I lived two streets away, on Carroll Street, but then my landlord sold the building. By that time I was already completely obsessed with this neighborhood and there was no way I was gonna leave, so in my haste to find something else I found this place. The price was right, and the room was big enough so what was going on outside was like the last thing I paid attention to. I guess it wouldn't have really mattered to me, that it overlooked the trash lot, but it's not something I would have realized impacts me so much until I moved in.
Honestly, I was in such a hurry to find a place that I didn't even look to see what the bathroom looked like. It's like a truck stop bathroom, as my roommate puts it. The shower is the size of a person. You have to slide into it sideways to get in it. If you want to shave your legs, you have to get out of the shower to do it. It's this whole ridiculous thing.
So I think it’s charming, but when I've taken a cab home, cabbies have said things along the lines of, "Are you quite sure this is where you live?" They get very concerned, I guess because the building looks abandoned. They're building a luxury apartment next to me now, but before that it was just an abandoned building, and on the other side it's an abandoned lot, though they've put up a billboard with ads on it now. The building was built in 1901 and it's not a pretty 1901, it's like a sh---y old building with a brick facade that's crumbling. My place looks like this haunted terror mansion on this abandoned street.
The construction next door caused a big crack down the front of the building, so the Department of Buildings slapped [up] a "F---ing fix this" notice. They just spackled over the crack though, which I'm pretty sure didn't fix whatever structural damage was caused. So I'll probably die before this article gets published. [Ed. note: She is alive as of publication time.] But now even with this new construction, and Citi Bike across the street, none of those things have changed the garbage lot or the slaughterhouse.
'Live Poultry Market'
So as far as the slaughterhouse goes, I should clarify. A lot of chickens live there and they scream all the time, and so I just assume they're being murdered, but maybe they're just being housed there. There's also a picture of rabbits on there, which is disturbing. I have to assume they're being killed there because why else would they have this entire building full of chickens? I’ve heard a rooster before nearby too, which I assume comes from there. I don't know that it's ever woken me up, but those things crow at weird hours. They're a little off. I heard one crow in the dead of night before.
The smell is just horrendous, especially in the summer. On the way to my apartment, I make an effort to cross the street to avoid it. If I'm walking up Columbia coming toward my apartment, I'll cross to the other side of the street, or I'll start holding my breath two buildings ahead of it and not let my breath go until I'm safely to the corner Alma is on [past the slaughterhouse]. The stench in the summer really emanates.
I don't know if it's chicken blood or just chicken filth and bodies or what, but it's terrible. I can't discern any specific chicken smell from my apartment, thank God. But I also just might be used to it. [Maybe] it's just soaked its way into my hair and skin and will stay there forever now. [Maybe] I smell like chicken blood and I can't even tell.
As for the trash trucks, they wake up and start clanging around at like 4 a.m., because that's their natural wake-up time, I guess. I didn't realize that when I first moved in. They wake me up every single day. I don't think I've slept well in years. I got one of those sleep apps where you can track how you're sleeping, and I've finally noticed that at 5 a.m. every single day I wake up, because that's what the trash trucks are doing. Except on Sundays. Sundays I get to sleep until like 9, which is great.
The garbage men are either in there really early in the morning or really late at night. Those are the trash hours. You've got the witching hour, and then the trash hour. I'll be walking around in my room at night and I just change in my window looking out in the truck depot. Then I realize if I can see people they can probably see me, and so I walk away.
As for the trash itself, it's not a smell so much as it's a bunch of detritus that kind of floats around. We have screens in our windows for the summer that keeps it out at least. I don't know if it's worse than just regular New York City filth, but my roommate is convinced there's stuff that floats around in the air from the trash trucks, and ever since she mentioned that I started noticing it myself.
What I do wonder sometimes is whether the chicken in that building—is that the chicken I eat when I go to Alma across the street or Jalopy down the street? Or is it sent off to like New Zealand to get processed before being shipped back here? I try to avoid these deeper questions, but sometimes it's unavoidable.
One last thing
Also, there’s this really weird art right down the block from me on Degraw Street. I still don't understand what that art is. It's been there for ages. It's gotten a little bit flashier in the last couple years but it's been this open, life-size diorama with this life-size horse for quite some time, I would say at least a couple years. There's no one ever there, but I occasionally see people there taking a picture of it, because it's awesome.
But I don't know what its purpose is. That's not very journalistic of me. I should probably find out. But there's almost nothing it could be that could bring me as much enjoyment as not knowing. So I'll continue to not know, I guess.
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