Wednesday, September 07, 2005


a good one

Downtown Jersey City is made up of microneigborhoods, all staring uneasily at each other across Newark Avenue, Marin Boulevard, or the Sixth Street Embankment. If Newark Avenue is something like our own version of Canal Street, then Harsimus Cove is to Van Vorst Park as TriBeCa is to SoHo. All are real estate constructs, and political units based on historic boundaries that feel more or less arbitrary at this remove. But the marketing wouldn't work if there wasn't something distinct about the areas, or more accurately, a way for the uninitiated to distinguish them.

When we first arrived Downtown, the Cool School of Jersey City had two contingents: those holding out against the inevitable at the Arts Center on 111 First Street, and those who lived and worked in Harsimus. Balance Hair Salon was there, and the Waterbug Annex, Lismore's home studio, Grisly Labs; later, Glenn Susser would open up his sandwich shop on Jersey Avenue. Chilltown Magazine was published from Harsimus. With no park, no PATH train stop, and a crime rate slightly higher than that of the rest of the historic neighborhoods, property values there were still low enough that reprobates like us could afford rental units.

In Harsimus, I see my first good one; a B plus, eminently liveable. It is on the north end of the neighborhood, in the shadow of the embankment. But the interior is sunny; big bright windows opening up on a leafy courtyard. There's a skylight on the staircase, even -- everything about the apartment has a restless-photon glow to it. The sink is a slab of black slate, and the walk-in closet has room for a computer desk. Nothing is renovated, but everything seems to work properly. The rent is more than we are currently paying, but there'd be much greater room for us here.

It isn't perfect. There's a faint but displeasing smell to the place. The kitchen and bathroom are functional but undistinguished. The apartment has no balcony. Since living at the Hi-Vue, we've grown so accustomed to having a terrace that going without one would feel slightly like being restrained. If we don't have a terrace door to leave open, how will the animals come in and out? At the Hi-Vue, we never shut the terrace, and we kept our bedroom windows wide open, too. One day a blackbird flew into the bedroom to keep us company. Uma, our cat, did not know whether to follow her instinct and attempt to kill it, or to run like hell toward the door. So she froze. Hilary grabbed her by the scruff and deposited her in the kitchen. There was no sense in prolonging her identity crisis -- at least not in front of the bird.

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