There was a time when the comments on Brownstoner approached those of the Brooklyn turf wars of yore. New York magazine even wrote an entire feature about it.
But lovely surprises were buried in there, and one blossomed into a beauty to rival the entire Brownstoner enterprise (all respect to the blog itself). That would be the thoughtful work of Montrose Morris, an anonymous longtime resident of Bed-Stuy and Crown Heights who knew the neighborhoods, their history and architecture, better than just about anybody.
Regular columns ensued, and they will continue. But they will not be the same. Montrose Morris is leaving Brooklyn.
In a long, heartfelt column, the last about her adopted home borough, MM, as the writer’s fans call her (yes, despite the name, a nod to a favorite architect, “he” is a she), reveals the remarkable joys and challenges living in Brooklyn has presented.
In the summer of 1977, fresh from college, I emerged from the GG train at Clinton-Washington and saw Clinton Hill for the first time. It was the Summer of Sam, although we weren’t aware of it at the time. New York City was a broke, dirty, gritty, hot and dangerous place. But it sure looked good to me, as I followed my friend to her third-floor apartment on Washington Avenue, a few doors away from what is known as the Pfizer Mansion. As an old house lover from childhood, I was mesmerized by it all: the city, the neighborhood and its great architecture, and Brooklyn itself.
What is so surprising is to hear about the difficulties Montrose Morris has faced living in the city, one that she loves but that does not always love her back. It is a struggle familiar to so many New Yorkers, yet one to that there seems to have fewer easy answers or happy endings. Thank God for Brownstoner.
I can honestly say it’s saved my life. In 2007, my career disappeared one day, and never came back. I became one of the vast numbers of middle-aged people who couldn’t find work. Resumes sent out never got a single reply. There were no interviews. Changing careers didn’t help either. I had twenty-some years’ experience in an industry that was now looking to hire people to do two people’s jobs at one third of one salary, if they were hiring anyone at all. I even got turned down as Christmas help at William Sonoma, because they said I was overqualified. I began freelancing in anything I could get, and writing for Brownstoner gave me my sanity, as well as a regular income. I was able to get a few other jobs from people who read my pieces, and a new career as a writer/researcher was born. That was cool!
But all of the freelancing wasn’t enough. Living in New York is expensive, and owning a building is ridiculously expensive. The insurance, the taxes, water and heating bills, fees, inspections, repairs; everything, in addition to the mortgage itself, is enormous. I scraped, borrowed, cashed out my 401K and re-negotiated, but it wasn’t enough. I went into foreclosure. Fortunately, I was not alone, there was a moratorium on foreclosures, and I have had time to make plans. My house is in contract, closing next week.
Unemployment? Foreclosure? For a Brooklyn hero? It is all so shocking and saddening. Yet the point that really drove things home was this passage, from MM’s first trip to Bed Stuy, too look at renting a row house with her mother in the early 1980s.
I got to know the people on the block. We had teachers, nurses, a mailman, fireman, court clerk, lawyers, plumbers, real estate agents, a retired cop and many more. We had lots of older people, including a famous jazz musician, and one of the sandhogs who built the underground tunnels of our city. We also had our junkies, pushers, petty thieves and pitiful cases.
The Observer, not always the voice of the working class, is often dismissive of the idea that New York has gotten as bad as we like to pretend it has. But could any of these middle- and working-class New Yorkers reasonably expect to make it today in the neighborhood? No doubt some are still there, maybe even a few have been lucky enough to cash out. Yet like Montrose Morris, there have no doubt been unlucky ones as well. The amazing thing is she does not, could not, see things as cynically as us.
I used to be an aspiring opera singer, so the title of my piece is a reference to that part of my life. It’s from Puccini’s La Boheme: “Addio, senza rancor.” That’s “Farewell, without bitterness, or regret.” I’ll always be a Brooklynite, whether in Brooklyn, or not. Addio!
The whole piece is a tour de force, and we highly recommend you go read it. For the next three weeks while moving upstate, MM will be filing her favorite columns from the past five years, so be sure to check those out, too. We asked Brownstoner publisher Jonathan Butler for his thoughts on the loss of one of the city’s best writers.
“It’s a sad day indeed when one of Brownstone Brooklyn’s most knowledgeable and enthusiastic cheerleaders leaves the borough. Since making the switch from active commenter to daily columnist in 2007, Montrose has almost single-handedly kept the site grounded in the topics that made me start it in the first place—architectural appreciation and preservation and a love of the neighborhoods and communities that make Brooklyn a unique place. Luckily for the rest of us, after a brief transition period, Montrose will continue to post copy from her porch upstate.”
Who knows. She might even convince us all to follow her there, too.