MY BROOKLYN BRIDGE: BROOKLYN TOURS
When I left my parents home I was twenty–one years old. At that time I was working in the film production industry, doing what I loved. My dream was to become a Hollywood cinematographer, and I felt I was well on my way to that end. I worked regularly as a freelance assistant cameraman, cameraman on student films, some TV commercials and low budget features. I also learned gaffing, sound recording and production management, all the skills that one needed on a film set.
Quest Productions, a company in the Film Center building at 630 Ninth Avenue was giving me a ton of work, I was a free-lancer, (what’s new?) they were my main client. We traveled around the country shooting documentaries, commercials, etc. The owner of Quest was a man named Bill Jersey. Bill got his start in the film business as the art director on The Blob, a classic horror film. It was Steve McQueen’s first leading man’s role. I felt really lucky to have found them!
One day, while sitting in the equipment room, prepping a shoot, I was unintentionally eavesdropping on Polly, the secretary. She was on the phone, talking to her boyfriend. I heard her say ” so what are you going to do with your apartment?” Boing! I felt all the cylinders on the locks of fate slip into place, and pop, a door sprung open.
My ears perked up, and when she got off the phone I asked her about the apartment. She mentioned off-hand that she and her boyfriend were moving in together and that he was giving up his place. “Where” I asked her, “Brooklyn Heights” she said. “Can I take a look?” I queried, not giving it much thought. “Sure” she said, “come tonight!” “What’s the address?” “54 Sidney Place” “Ok, I’ll be there.” Since my days of Brooklyn Tours were well in the future, I didn’t know anything about Brooklyn Heights, I’d never heard of it. She wrote the directions down, and later that evening I went to Brooklyn.
I took the A train to Borough Hall. I was struck by the different feel of the A, it was far funkier than the F to Queens that I knew. I climbed out of the hole and walked towards the Heights,down Joralemon Street towards Sidney Place, first across bustling Court Street. It was odd, because the closer I got to the Heights the quieter and more peaceful it became. I came upon Sidney Place, a single laned, tree lined street, a world I was not familiar with. On either side were stately brownstones. Fifty-four was on the other end of the block, so I walked down, I hit the buzzer on the ground floor apartment and Polly quickly came to the door. She took me to the rear apartment and showed me in. And what a place, it was fairly large, but what trumped everything, was that beyond the two French windows in the kitchen, was a rose garden in full bloom.
For a city boy, who’d grown up in an urban environment , it was miraculous. I asked her how much the rent was? “Eighty bucks a month” she said. I said, “I’ll take it!” She said it was cool with her, but she’d have to introduce me to the landlord, who lived upstairs. She took me up the stairs to meet Gus and Nina Ballas who owned the house. He was in his seventies, with a full head of white hair, and a courtly manner, his wife Nina, sat elegantly by his side as he interviewed me. I can’t remember any specific questions, but he ultimately said to me, “I’m not looking for a tenant, I’m looking for someone that I can trust as a family, like a son.” I told him that I would be a good tenant, someone he could trust and rely on, that I would treat the apartment as if it was my own. He shook my hand, and that was it, the apartment was mine. I was officially a resident of Brooklyn. (For the sake of clarification, the interior photograph on the left is what the apartment looks like today, not when I lived there. The current rent is about 3 grand a month.)
When I returned home that night, I told my mother and father that I was going out on my own. My mom was shocked, she said “But I thought you’d live here ’til you got married. “oh mom, really? The die was cast! Surprisingly, I would fall in love soon enough, a love affair that continues to this day, she would be my friend, my confessor, my home. Over the course of the next fourteen years I would commune with her two or three times a week. In summer swelter, in winter freeze, middle of the day, or late at night, I would stride purposefully from Brooklyn Heights to downtown Manhattan across my beloved Brooklyn Bridge.