Tuesday, December 4, 2012

the c-word: the immaterial girl & zach vella

see the tiny building on the right, that's where i live. the big glass one on the left is imaginary but its already causing havoc.
typical nyc story - an ordinary person versus a real estate mogul. a developer (zach vella, who also ended becoming my next door neighbor), in the process of building a new property, damages a nearby property. i met zach because his little boy, with regal air, was telling all the other little kids on the sidewalk that HIS dad owned the whole building.

zach looks so nice, doesn't he?
zach apologized for his son and walked over and looked at my apartment. we even had a conversation about his possibly renting it as a sales office or buying the whole thing and attaching it to the new building.

it's difficult, on our cramped little island, to build. but when you are building apartments that sell for $6 million on the low end, you might be careful of your neighbors (especially single mothers recovering from cancer with already stretched incomes and tiny apartments).

on november 8, i came home to MY kids' room 6 inches' deep in muddy water, so i pulled on my big yellow boots and ran screaming into the building site next door.

the site supervisor and a bunch of guys came in and apologized and promised to pay for everything they destroyed.

they also promised to come and help clean up. i didn't realize how often this happens. (like the story of this photographer in chelsea), i believed them and i was still being nice.

rara's bedroom entrance and my famous yellow rubber boots

needless to say, two days' later, i was on my hands and knees with a bucket of hot water and some mold killing product, scraping the mud off the floor.  i basically spent an entire weekend, with some help from the housekeeper and the amazons, without seeing daylight. two laptops were totally submerged, one filled with college applications in-process.

this whole floor was replaced last january.

no one showed up.

a few days' later, i had a pleasant conversation with jim longson, at zach vella's company. he was kind, friendly and reassuring. he told me they would "make me whole." he suggested i hire mold remediators immediately and told me simply to send them all the bills.

i did. but after that, jim longson didn't take my calls. two weeks' later, he sent me an email suggesting i call my home owner's insurance. i called good old state farm. the adjuster came over and spoke to the site supervisor who told him he thought the water came in through the sidewalk. fortunately for me, my condo policy specifically says they do not cover water that comes in through the sidewalk. or the foundation of my building. the contractor, saif sumaida, whose company, foundations group, is doing the work had someone tell me that they had informed their insurance. charles iulo, a guy who worked for him, reiterated that they would do nothing, but he did say, "i urge you to contact your insurance."

here's family man, saif, who doesn't return my calls either.

in the meantime, the water shortcircuited the electricity downstairs which meant the pump died and the toilet waste emptied into the shower turning the entire downstairs into a giant, reeking cesspool.

in staten island, days after sandy, i walked past one home after the other with the mudsoaked contents spilling out on to the sidewalk, enormous piles of the stuff of 21st-century lives. wet clothes, plastic toys, dishwashers, washing machines, refrigerators, books, artwork. it slid down into the mud and channels of water mixed with sewage that filled the roads.

i was so grateful that i had escaped the storm, that i went to staten island to rip out drywall turned to putty by water, empty out bathrooms, pull off baseboard and wallpaper. the stench and the pervading damp seemed to permeate my body for days afterwards. and the mud seemed impossible to remove from my coat and boots.

helping people in staten island, coney island and rockaway made the transience of objects and the fragility of our lives so much clearer. i wanted to get rid of everything i owned.

so, of course, i was given an easy way to do that. three days after my electricity and internet was restored, my most precious things were destroyed.

all the beautiful indian clothes - the old brocades that my grandmother had bought back when my grandfather was indian ambassador to japan, that had made my wedding gharara, the lehngas and saris and ghararas that had been stored in a steamer trunk for safekeeping - were drenched and soaked in mud. the stuffed toys and mementos that i had saved from their infancy (you know, the baby clothes sasha came home from the hospital in, the leopard that zarina gave rara when her head was cracked) not to mention their current clothes and homework and shoes, and the floor was buckled.

all these clothes were destroyed. i can't afford to pick up the rest from the drycleaner.
what is worse, of course, is the mold. which makes the girls cough all night unless the air purifier is blasting into their bedrooms and the dehumidifier along with the allergen killing blue light is on 24-hours' a day.

even my doctor at memorial sloan kettering says i need to get out of there. mold is especially bad for people who've had chemotherapy.

i've called the department of buildings repeatedly, i've spoken to community board one, to the new state attorney general's office, julie menin who is running for manhattan borough president, and no one seems to be able to do anything.

i went to see a very impressive and reassuring lawyer, adam leitman bailey, who said, "it's an open-and-shut case. they admitted liability. they realize they don't have to do anything. you just need to show them, they can't ignore the little guy." he was happy to take on the case. unfortunately, he required a $10,000 retainer. gulp.

one kid in college, another one starting in september and two years' worth of bills a mile high.

i tried to hit up a client who hadn't paid me for a couple of years, no luck.

AUGH. in the meantime, in what seems like an anachronistic paradigm, the new york city real estate industry celebrates its moneymaking heroes, like zach vella. isn't conscious capitalism the new buzz word?

so here's what happened next: amazons of nyc: 11 N Moore St - Zach Vella and Saif Sumaida Update