The Transom

Paint Chips Inside a building of high-end duplexes and spacious lofts, a 16-month tenant war has raged. But these are

Paint Chips

Inside a building of high-end duplexes and spacious lofts, a 16-month tenant war has raged. But these are not the cruel and usual machinations of an Upper East Side co-op. This is Williamsburg.

“It really is,” said a resident, Iris Dauber-Elbaz, “a conflict of too many creative people.”

“It’s like the Bloods and the Crips—except it’s the Teals and the Dark Charcoals,” said her neighbor, Nancy Rielle.

“I don’t like these New York stories,” said another resident, Monroe Denton. “But they’re very New York.”

The battle, over the color of the common side of each apartment’s door and its frame, is pitched between the owners of the 11 condos on the third floor of the former Esquire Shoe Polish factory, on Wythe Avenue between South First and South Second streets.

In March 2005, the Esquire building’s board decreed that each floor would be allowed to choose the exterior colors of their doors, as well as each door’s jambs, lintel and sill.

So far, of the seven condo floors, only the sixth floor has come to a consensus. But no other floor has battled like the third.

“They get the prize,” said Stephanie Eisenberg, the building’s developer, of the third floor. “One lady called me and said, ‘You have to stop this. I can’t get home every night to a note under my door.”

“This is part of the problem,” Ms. Rielle said. “Most people on this floor are somehow involved in the visual arts, so everyone has a feeling about color, you know, one way or the other. You know, there’s a filmmaker, an art historian and a collector, an artist—well, she’s a dancer, but you know—Gillian does design, the other two were journalists, and an architect, and then other people are photographers.”

On March 30 of last year, just after the board’s green light, Ms. Rielle slipped a memo under the door of each third-floor resident: “RE: Door/Trim Color Scheme For Our Floor.”

Her note suggested a two-part plan. First, she thought that people interested in proposing a new color scheme should paint a “large area” of their “door and/or door trim” with a color that they enjoyed so that their neighbors might evaluate it.

Second, after the door and trim choices had been proposed, she suggested that each unit should vote for a color scheme; the majority would decide.

That April, the floor voted. On the ballot, the tenants had to choose from eight different colors. Some of the door color choices were: natural metal, turquoise and celery. There were eight trim choices, including teal, olive and dark charcoal.

Ms. Rielle is an artist and a student of feng shui, so she also distributed a flyer to her neighbors detailing the moods and feelings that different colors carry with them. For instance, “Yellow—enriches the emotions.”

On May 1, 2005, the votes were tallied. The floor had reached a consensus on the door color: They were to be painted natural metal, by a 7 to 4 majority.

On the issue of trim, however, fewer votes were cast, and the third floor had split down the middle: four votes for teal and four for dark charcoal.

Ms. Rielle, who before settling on art worked in public relations, now sent around a ballot to address the standstill. This May 20, 2005, ballot, called “Door/Trim We’re Half Way There,” gave floor members three options to rank: Individuality, which would allow each unit to select its own trim color; Uniformity, which would enforce majority rule on a single color; or Middle Ground Compromise, allowing each tenant to choose between teal and dark charcoal.

But these proposed options didn’t sit well with Ms. Rielle’s neighbor, Ms. Dauber-Elbaz. Ms. Elbaz, a real-estate agent by trade, was concerned that a hodgepodge of door-trim colors along the hall would lower property values. She slipped a memo of her own under each door. Dated May 25, it said that a unified color scheme for door trim would be the only acceptable option. Also, she included a personal note:

“Rafi Elbaz is an architect of international acclaim …. In his professional opinion we will all benefit from the second option of Dark Charcoal.”

Later that summer, a floor meeting was held to address the color divide. They met in Ms. Rielle’s apartment. Her walls are painted in many hues and shades. Although wine and beer were served, it was not a relaxed get-together. “It was like the Civil War—brother against brother,” said resident Jim O’Grady, 46, a freelance journalist and an adjunct processor at New York University. “I was in the charcoal camp, the side of righteousness.”

In fact, Mr. Denton, 59, an art historian and collector, found his neighbors downright rude. “Someone who shall remain nameless looked at me and said that I had to go along with whatever the majority votes, because it’s a democracy,” Mr. Denton recalled. “I said, ‘No, I don’t think so. That’s tyranny of the majority.’”

Mr. Denton said that he became fed up with the lack of manners at the meeting. Ms. Dauber-Elbaz announced that the turquoise color Ms. Rielle had selected for her trim made her nauseated. “That’s not nice,” Mr. Denton said. “Say ‘It’s not to my taste,’ not ‘It makes me sick.’ That’s intolerance, which is the basis of oppression and bigotry.”

Neither the teal nor the dark charcoal factions gave up ground. Ms. Dauber-Elbaz left abruptly. The meeting was a bust. The third floor was nowhere near a door-trim consensus.

“I realized a lot of people just don’t embrace color,” said Ms. Rielle. “That’s what it came right down to: those who embrace color and those who like it neutral.”

“We sort of gave up for nine months,” she said.

In March of this year, Ms. Rielle and Stefania Borghi, her neighbor across the hall and a fellow consensus-fighter, started up their color lab again. “People were asking about the doors. And it just felt like time,” said Ms. Rielle.

Ms. Borghi hung out a number of color swatches on her door. In time, neighbors started dropping by to give their two cents.

On June 6, they put up a ballot for a “warm earth” reddish color. The color was almost chosen—but it was hamstrung by two dissenters.

“Several people mentioned that they would be happy with a color similar to the red that was there to begin with,” Ms. Rielle said. “It will mean someone going to get more paint.”

Ms. Rielle is trying to locate a shade that would match the original factory building’s red as closely as possible—a return to an authenticity of sorts.

“Yeah, there’s been tension,” said resident Gillian Schwartz, who is the design director for Bumble and Bumble. “But if more than four eyes roll at once, a community is forming. I think the root of the problem is resistance to change. As an earnest attempt at micro-democracy, the process was educational and entertaining. But at a point, I was ready for a benign dictatorship. If the board had just sent paint crews to do the job, people would have been thrilled with or gawked at the new coat of paint. I bet that’s how it works in the Gretsch building.”

“I remember thinking, ‘This process is so left-conscious, it’s veering right,’” she said.

“If I don’t get my color,” Mr. O’Grady said, “I’m going to chain myself to the lobby.” He understood the root of the problem at hand. “We live in a hyper design age, where we are all raging aesthetes.”

—Spencer Morgan

Screech Grown Up; In Trouble; Well Hung

“We’re a pattern-recognition-based species,” said Dustin Diamond, 29, known best for his work as Screech on the television show Saved by the Bell, of growing up before his public. “We don’t like change; it usually has to be forced upon us. And being a recognition-based species, I’m classified as a squeaky-clean, loveable-nerd, Saturday-morning guy. I’m not allowed to be a 29-year-old man expressing my emotions and feelings in less than a child-friendly manner.”

And so, last week, Mr. Diamond found himself at Porky’s NYC, a cavernous and fairly new bar at 55 West 21st Street. It may be the worst watering hole in New York City. It’s not that the bar—where a woman goes about selling orange Jell-O shots topped with whipped cream, and where the walls and ceilings are drowned in “flair” and black light and raunchy signage and music apparently piped directly from the worst end of the Jersey Shore—is the sort of bar a 15-year-old getting drunk in the woods dreams of; it’s that it’s the bar that a 15-year-old getting drunk in the woods would create, if he were given the power to create a bar, because he doesn’t really know how anything works or how to translate what he thinks he wants into reality.

Mr. Diamond was there to sell T-shirts. The shirts read “Save Screeech’s House,” and the misspelling, Mr. Diamond’s agent said, is because NBC owns the right to that character’s name.

For the last month or so, Mr. Diamond has urgently peddled these $15 shirts anywhere that will have him. “I have 30 days to cough up $250,000 for my house in Wisconsin,” Mr. Diamond said. “They”—they?—“know my credit isn’t great, and I can’t get a loan. I’ve lived there for three years. I have $200,000 in it already, and they could keep my equity.”

This was confusing. “I had a mortgage, but it was through a land contract, and he”—he?—“has decided to call in the remainder of the amount all at once,” Mr. Diamond said later. “I make better money than a lot of people. But I don’t have $250,000 lying around.”

Mr. Diamond’s home is in Port Washington, Wis., population 10,892.

“Everyone knows,” said Port Washington’s Re/Max United real-estate agent, Tom Didier, speaking of Mr. Diamond’s troubles. Reached by phone on June 26, he had just returned from a closing seven doors down from Mr. Diamond’s house. “It’s the talk of the town.”

Mr. Didier had also previously shown Mr. Diamond’s house to a few of his clients, and described it as “a neat-looking one-and-a-half-story Cape Cod, with an exposed basement.” He said that the house had been listed at between $300,000 and $380,000; he believed, from checking sales records, that the price of the house had been $350,000.

How could Mr. Diamond be in for $200,000, and urgently owe $250,000? The land contract, Mr. Didier said, would have to be at an absurd interest rate. “Assuming he hasn’t trashed the inside of the home, if he has any sort of income, he should be able to refinance.”

Instead, Mr. Diamond apparently remains a slave to whatever cruel soul holds his paper.

Mr. Didier said that people get a kick out of Mr. Diamond’s presence in town. “The town has a nice fishing heritage—people ask: ‘Hey, does Screech really live in Port Washington?’”

Mr. Diamond said that he is on the road, doing standup, 47 weeks of the year. After his appearance at Porky’s, he would go to Los Angeles to tape a TV Guide Channel interview, and then have a photo shoot for Hustler magazine.

Would those photographs be clothing-optional? Last month, Mr. Diamond told Howard Stern that his penis measured 10 inches. “It’s totally true,” said Mr. Diamond’s girlfriend by phone. “Dustin Diamond—and also David Cassidy. True.”

—Max Abelson

Dear Tracy

Anthony Bourdain, the chef, author, and Travel Channel sensation, had come to Siberia from a wrap party for an episode of his show, No Reservations. Siberia, just a bit west of The New York Times, is where hacks go to get drunk, and so most people did. That night, June 26, people had gotten together to celebrate the coronation of Steven Garbarino as BlackBook magazine’s new editor-in-chief.

“You gotta respect a man who spends that much time with a blow dryer,” Mr. Bourdain said. “Steven’s exactly the right mixture of evil impulses, literary skills and personal grooming. I will write for him.

“And I have a scoop! Apparently, Tracy Westmoreland will be doing a ‘Dear Abby’ advice column for BlackBook,” Mr. Bourdain said. Mr. Westmoreland is the owner and hands-on proprietor of Siberia.

Is the burly barkeep qualified to be giving advice?

“Who’s better conditioned to understand human nature than a longtime operator of nightclubs in New York, especially this fuckin’ sleazehole bar?” said Mr. Bourdain. “Whether you’re building your dream woman out of nail clippings and recovered human flesh in your cellar, or you’re an Oscar-winning screenwriter, a tabloid reporter, an organized crime figure or my mom, we all bask in Tracy’s reflected glory.”

Mr. Garbarino, clad in a mint seersucker blazer, said unleashing Mr. Westmoreland on readers was only one of many new ideas he’s considering. “It’s about turning things upside down, but not in some pretentious, weird way,” he said. “BlackBook is waiting for a personality, and I know a lot of good personalities, in this city as well as in L.A. There are so many people waiting to tell the right story but have not been given the right assignment.”

As an example, Mr. Garbarino said he planned to have Mr. Bourdain interview Christopher Walken about cooking. “It’s like: Walken. He gave me one of his cats, he gave me one of his Abyssinians, and he’s like, ‘Do you like macaroni?’”

“The idea is, BlackBook will break new people—but the thing is, there’s all these people like Jack Nicholson who can be rebroken,” Mr. Garbarino said. “I mean, when Nicholson’s wearing a dildo in The Departed, that might make him the subject, that might make him the cover of BlackBook.

“Fashion is key in this situation,” he said. “Mixing pop culture and literature into fashion and not giving a shit what Vogue and everyone else is saying is in at the time is so much more fun.”

Mr. Westmoreland, for one, is always ready to be rebroken. He saved 72 lives while lifeguarding on Rockaway Beach, worked at both Studio 54 and the Palladium and has been to the Philippines, he said. He works sometimes as an actor.

“Whatever forum that Steven wants to give me,” he said, “I want to ask people—and I don’t mean this disrespectfully or anything—but you know, like hot women, they’re always asked about their boyfriends and their girlfriends. That’s just boring. I’m not interested in any of that. I want to ask, like, Eva Longoria how she feels about, say, cheese.”


The Transom