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I'll take Door Number Two

We old-house-loving Brooklynites love a good door, and lo, there is a poster celebrating this one, among others:

bstonedoor.jpgThe poster is being promoted at a wonderful-sounding lecture, "The Labor Behind the Luxury: Technology and the New York Brownstone," on Tuesday, April 25, at 6 p.m. at the General Society of Mechanics and Tradesmen, 20 West 44th St.  (212-840-1840). The talk is being given by one of my first journalism mentors, the legendary Everett Ortner, a guy who started pioneering brownstone preservation back when people laughed at you for buying into crummy old Park Slope. (I worked with Ev as a college intern at Popular Science, where he was an editor.) If you are prone to doing renovator can-you-top-this stories, don't try any out on Ev Ortner; he was probably living that story before you could lisp the words "crumbling cornice" or "graffiti'd terra-cotta ornamentation."

 The actual poster is tiled with a mosaic of (mostly brownstone) doors, like the famous "Doors of Dublin" poster.   A valid artistic choice, but it would be nice to see some doors with a bit more diversity of character, say, like the door to the Crazy Stable:

dismaldoor.jpgNow that is a doorway with character. It is a wonder anyone has the courage to ring the doorbell, come to think of it.  Like so many things around here, it illustrates Several Problems at Once. There is the alligatored dirty-white paint; we have actually had the house trim painted since moving in, but since I plan to strip the doorway moldings, we had the painter skip them. (It's been so long since we painted, the rest of the trim looks almost this bad again.) There is the Child's perky hand-drawn house number; the original pane of beveled glass miraculously survived for decades until a passerby rocked it, and there went the original gilt number. I have lots of little jars of gold paint and stencilling kits with which I keep meaning to reapply the numbers to the replacement (non-beveled) glass.

And then there are the stained-glass lights, or what's left of them. Obviously, they've been bilaterally busted, presumably by someone trying to reach in and open the door. Mr. Chang "fixed" the jagged holes with plywood. Hardly surprising, since he also painted the lights with white house paint...on both sides. Now, if you are going to paint over stained glass, which isn't transparent anyway, it can't be to enhance your privacy; he must actually have decided that white paint looked better. I've been stripping them with Zip-Strip (works fine, even on the lead) and my dad's old set of dental tools (no, he wasn't a dentist, just a tool obsessive) and a million boxes of steel wool...on and off for years now. You could chart my mildly bipolar episodes by my zeal for stained-glass-stripping.

And then when I am done, and only then, we will get them fixed. (I have a little pack of business cards of stained-glass artisans; Brooklyn can keep several in business.) I have no idea yet how much this will cost, not a clue. Probably lots.

This is, of course, one of those ghastly eyesores that one swears will be High on the Priority List when one moves into a wreck. Why, they even named a phenomenon of urban blight the "broken-window theory," I believe--the notion that such an unhealed wound gives permission to inflict bigger and more brazen injuries. (And people do like to throw rocks at the Crazy Stable, at least little ones; conversely, I suspect that our implied poverty may actually deter burglars.) But soon, the cosmetic lure of renewed stained glass or gleaming wood doors gives way to the daily subsistence struggle of leaking water heaters, mouse-gnawed alarm-system panels, exploding radiator valves, and strange electrical problems. Months turned to years for our poor door, and like a toothless but beloved old relative sitting on the porch, the entryway came to be a perverse part of the scene we call "coming home."

And because it is the front door, it has become, like a facial disfigurement, a strangely integral part of our identity--a sort of built-in wince when we meet friends or greet strangers. "We're the ones with the broken front windows," I tell first-time guests breezily. It's a handy-dandy wordless sign to all: Yep, we have so run out of money.

I can't judge our old door too harshly. Through it we carried the Child in from the hospital, and the Mater out to the hospital. (The other way around would have been worse.) Loyal friends (and a few courageous meter-readers) have been undeterred by its miserable aspect. And perhaps by our 20th anniversary in the CrazyStable this year, it will present a reconstructed and freshly peeled face to the world.  If not, it will still be the way into home.

  The doors, the doors, in wisdom let us be attentive.

 Litany of the Offertory, The Divine Liturgy of St. John Chrysostom (According to the Byzantine Rite of the Catholic Church)

Posted on Wednesday, April 5, 2006 at 06:06PM by Registered CommenterBrenda from Brooklyn | CommentsPost a Comment

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