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Other People’s Brownstones

The Brooklyn Paper

When Smartmom’s Friends with Brownstone ask if the Oh So Feisty One would be willing to water their plants or feed their pets while they’re away, she almost always says “yes.”

“OSFO loves taking care of pets,” Smartmom tells the FWBs. Or “OSFO is saving up for a new Build-a-Bear, so she’ll be more than happy to make a little change.”

But those aren’t the real reasons why Smartmom is so quick to accept these pet-sitting offers for her daughter.

It’s all about Smartmom and her brownstone envy. Truth is, she just loves to spend time in other people’s brownstones.

Call it play-acting or a form of delusional behavior. Call it whatever you want. While OSFO plays with the cat or fills the plastic bowl in a birdcage with little pellets, Smartmom gets to commune with her inner brownstone-dweller. She even cooks in the kitchen using her friend’s All Clad pans or listens to their Glen Gould CDs sitting on one of the parlor chairs.

Buddha knows Smartmom would love to have her own brownstone. But having missed the S.S. Real Estate as it sailed away, vicarious brownstoning is probably the closest she’ll ever come.

Last weekend, while OSFO shoveled cat poop into a garbage pail in their friend’s roomy brownstone, Smartmom sat in the sun-drenched couch of the master bedroom reading the New Yorker (and the always-scintillating Brooklyn Papers).

Later, while OSFO was re-filling the cat’s bowls with water and foul-smelling cat food, Smartmom admired the colorful tiles on her friend’s shower wall.

“I’d love a bathroom like this,” Smartmom heard herself say aloud to no one.

Last summer, OSFO and Smartmom took care of two guinea pigs and a pair of Mynah birds in the lovely home of another brownstone friend. This one had a fancy Jacuzzi in the bedroom — and you can bet she and OSFO took turns taking bubble baths in there with the jet stream on high.

Ah, this is the life.

Shoveling cat poop or rolling up newspaper from the bottom of a urine-stained cage is small price to pay for this kind of temporary luxury.

Smartmom is the first to admit that she feels marginalized in her own neighborhood, where real-estate values have gone through those limestone roofs. It hurts to have been one of the early settlers in Park Slope yet failed to stake a land claim.

Back in 1991, Smartmom, Hepcat and Teen Spirit arrived in Park Slope after being priced out of Manhattan. She, for one, had to be dragged kicking and screaming to their first apartment on Fifth Street.

But they needed the space, and Park Slope was an oasis back then — even if your friends and relatives treated the East River like The Great Wall of China.

Smartmom didn’t live up to her name then, failing to buy a building because she and Hepcat weren’t even sure if they were going to like it here. It was Brooklyn, after all.

But the red brick, the brownstone, the dogwood trees, the sense of community all struck a chord with Smartmom. She fell in love with the scale of the neighborhood, its architectural integrity, and its beauty.

All these years later, Smartmom still enjoys walking down Garfield or Berkeley at night staring longingly — OK, hungrily — into bay windows.

What a nice life those people must have, she thinks. How lucky those children are to grow up there; to romp in a leafy, green urban backyard; to eat festive dinners by candlelight on the back deck.

But OSFO doesn’t see it that way at all.

Her reasons for enjoying these pet-sitting jobs are very much her own. She likes the money, of course — and she’s growing quite a savings account at the fancy new Commerce Bank on Fifth Avenue. Plus, she loves animals and dreams of opening a pet-care center when she grows up.

And she doesn’t seem to have a bit of brownstone envy. In fact, she hates it when Smartmom wanders around the house.

“This place is too big,” she says. “I don’t like to be on a floor without you.”

Last weekend, while Smartmom fantasized about having a bedroom big enough for more than a bed and a dresser, OSFO was impatient to go home.

“Don’t you want to stay here any longer?” Smartmom asked.

“Not really,” OSFO said. “I want to go home.”

Home really is where the heart is. Similarly, Teen Spirit made his parents promise that they’ll never, EVER move out of the apartment on Third Street. And while OSFO sometimes says she’d like a bigger bedroom, she’d hate to live in a building where her best friend didn’t live on the first floor.

Even if her kids have good values, Smartmom is still besieged by crippling bouts of brownstone envy. Luckily, the occasional pet-sitting gig is like a soothing ointment on the pain in her butt called “the grass is greener” syndrome.

One quick dose, and she’s back to life on Third Street.

Louise Crawford, a Park Slope mom, also operates “Only the Blog Knows Brooklyn.”
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