GOING THE EXTRA MILE

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Joseph Dickerman, who is 89 and a lifelong bachelor, said he thinks of his doorman, Ion (John) Simion, as a good friend-and sometimes even a son. Simion returns the sentiment in kind. The building worker checks in on Dickerman from time to time, an act not required of a doorman.

John Simion moved to the United States from Romania with his wife and young son in 1976. Photo By: Andrew Schwartz

John Simion moved to the United States from Romania with his wife and young son in 1976. Photo By: Andrew Schwartz

And every now and then, he delivers a little comfort food. One day, Dickerman mentioned how much he missed his mother’s homemade chicken soup. Simion started asking his wife to make chicken soup, which he now brings in a bottle to Dickerman.
“He is a person of strong character, good morals and family responsibilities,” Dickerman said. “He is certainly an outstanding, newly self-made American.”
Born in Romania, Simion immigrated to the United States with his wife and young son, Paul, in 1976 and has lived in Westchester for about 18 years. He took a job as an auto mechanic and then drove a taxi for eight years. Now with his work as a doorman, Simion said he is satisfied where he is and has no plans to change occupations.
“I like it for 18 years and want to keep it for many more years,” he said. “I like to be with the people and see them every morning.”
Not only does Simion like seeing people all the time, they like to see him, too. Dickerman, who has lived in the apartment building at 600 W. 246th St. in the Bronx since 1960, said that Simion has become increasingly important to him over the years. He said the tenants like their doorman so much, they refer to him as the “Waldorf-Astoria millionaire doorman.”

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Going the Extra Mile

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I arrived
in New York with no job and an arthritic black Lab who could not climb stairs.
After six weeks at Grandma’s in Larchmont, I emptied my savings account
to move into a dank ground-floor studio beneath the Brooklyn-Queens Expwy. Eight
months later the dog went to Texas (and then on to Jesus), and I got out of
there, moving to Park Slope, then Clinton Hill, then, just last month, to Woodside,
Queens. With each move I’ve gotten more space for less money. I believe
that with patience and a pioneering spirit, you can still find great deals in
New York real estate.


The first
step toward apartmental bliss is overcoming your phobia of neighborhoods you’ve
never heard of. Take Kensington, Brooklyn, for example, a little-known neighborhood
that was once part of Flatbush. Comprising a mix of Russians and other immigrants,
religious Jews and a more recent influx of bohemian types, Kensington is nestled
on the F line between the Ft. Hamilton Pkwy. and Ditmas Ave. stops.


Last December,
Emily Pierce and her husband, Adam, bought a two-bedroom apartment in Kensington,
in a large art-deco building on Ocean Pkwy. "Park Slope was too expensive
to buy," Emily says. "It’s outrageous. I looked and immediately
knew there was no way. I started talking to people who were like, ‘Look
at Lefferts Gardens and Kensington,’ and I’m like ‘Kensington?
Where’s Kensington?’"


The Pierces
paid $152,000 for their co-op apartment, which Emily estimates is 1150 square
feet. (Prices listed in the April 19 New York Times for comparable apartments
in Park Slope ranged from $269,000 to $639,000.) It is a comfortable home, with
a huge master bedroom, parquet wood floors, a sizable foyer and elegant archways.
The area in Kensington around the Church Ave. F stop has some conveniences,
but where the Pierces live, near the Ft. Hamilton Pkwy. stop, it’s very
suburban.


"It’s
not developed at all," Emily says. "There’s not a lot of stores,
not any restaurants… All the locals are like, ‘Oh, we go to
Bay Ridge.’" I ask why the locals don’t just go to Park Slope.
"It’s a very lovely, working-class mentality [here] and Park Slope–the
chichi-ness–they don’t go for that, to pay three dollars for a coffee…


"To
get to the good grocery store I trek with the dog and the cart and just deal,"
she continues. "There’s one bar, which is actually really awesome,
it’s called Shenanigan’s. It’s totally Irish. They buzz you in–I
guess they’ve had problems with crime–but the guy’s totally nice…
A bunch of us went over there after the Super Bowl–Adam’s a Patriots
fan–and we all went over there buying drinks, and we tipped, and he was
like, ‘Oh my God, you’re tipping me? Who are these people?’ So
he’s always very happy to see us.


"But
other than that there’s nothing. It’s sort of weird. And I realize
it when I have visitors. They’re like, ‘Where can I go out to get
a bite to eat?’ and I’m like, ‘Honestly, you have to go to Windsor
Terrace or Park Slope. Or go to Manhattan.’"


Kensington
might not be the hippest place to live, but that’s not why people move
there. "Once I got married, I was like, ‘Okay, it’s time to buy
the house and make babies,’" says Emily. "That’s what the
second bedroom is for–it’s for the breeding eventually."




For those seeking the comfort
of the outer boroughs without leaving Manhattan, there’s Inwood, located
at the northernmost tip of the island, above Fairview Ave. The intersection
of Broadway and 207th–at the final stop on the A train–teems with
activity: there’s a Rite Aid, a C-Town, a laundromat, a Dunkin’ Donuts,
a pizza place, a barbershop and plenty of other businesses. The area east of
Broadway is predominantly Dominican, and the streets rumble with traffic and
conversation. The west side is quieter, with rows of condos and apartment buildings
and tree-lined streets.



Hank Wagner,
a 33-year-old actor and musician, has lived on the west side of Inwood with
his wife, Sarver Bajina-Wagner, for five years in a one-bedroom apartment at
Seaman and Academy.


"I’m
from the Upper West Side of Manhattan," Hank says, "and Inwood has
the sort of feeling that the Upper West Side had when I was growing up in the
70s… It really is a melting pot. There’s a lot of neighborhoods in
New York that’re supposed to be a melting pot, but really people are still
ghettoized–the black folks are over here, the Jewish folks over here, the
Hispanic folks over here. And this really is healthily mixed. Every apartment
building has a mix of every culture and we all get along.


"The
thing about the neighborhood that stands out for me is that while sometimes
it’s lacking in things that we’re used to downtown, like coffee bars
and Internet bars and more restaurants and stuff like that…it does have
things like, you can get your shoes fixed at the shoe guy; you can go to the
butcher and get meat that’s not dyed red and is healthy; you can order
your Christmas turkey with him a month in advance."


Hank and
Sarver’s rent-stabilized apartment is spacious, with wood floors, a sizable
living room and an eat-in kitchen ("In the East Village it would be an
apartment," says Hank). The rent when they moved in was $670 and is now
about $750–cheap even by Inwood standards. "The big moving-up into
this neighborhood, like people really getting it, happened at the end
of the 80s and throughout the 90s," Hank says. "And now this neighborhood’s
getting as expensive as any other. It’s a little bit cheaper so it’s
really worth looking it up…but almost all of Manhattan now is becoming
a high-rent zone. We’re one of the last bastions of lower rent–and
having a nice home for that low rent."


Hank’s
day job–he works with a company called Readers Theater Workshop, which
helps facilitate creative programs in public schools–requires him to travel
by car most of the time, but public transportation to and from Inwood is not
bad. The A train runs express, arriving in Midtown in as little as 20 minutes,
and the 1 train is also nearby. Late nights, though, are another story. "If
I’m coming back late at night, a car makes…an hour, hour-and-a-half
journey–potentially, with train delays–a 15-minute car ride. That’s
why I drive, but the train is great."




Where I’ve settled,
in Woodside, Queens–after seeing 20 disappointing apartments in Brooklyn–is
15 minutes from Grand Central, and has all the amenities I need. There are grocers,
hardware stores, restaurants (including Sripraphai, perhaps the best Thai restaurant
in the city) and a rather insane number of Irish bars. I have two bedrooms (I
converted one into a home office) in a big three-bedroom apartment that I share
with one other person. For this I pay $712.



Michael
Quiñones is a copy editor at US Weekly and has lived in a studio
in Woodside for about a year and a half. His rent is $650 for an 11-by-19 room
with a mini-kitchen and attached bathroom. He lived with a roommate in Astoria
for a while before a friend tipped him off to the studio. "I had the chance
to live alone and jumped on it," he says. "I had no idea, no clue,
what Woodside was like… I got out of the train and I was just like, ‘Wow,
crazy.’"


Woodside
does make a strong impression. Beneath the elevated tracks of the 7 train at
61st St. is a bustling community of recent immigrants from Ireland, Korea, China,
the Philippines, India and probably dozens of other countries. It is also a
neighborhood that, aside from shifts in demographics, seems not to have changed
much in many years. The Mom ’n’ Pops vastly outnumber the fast-food
franchises.


Michael
works near Rockefeller Center, and his commute takes 20 to 40 minutes, depending
on train connections (he transfers from the 7 to the N/R) and time of day. He
sometimes takes the Long Island Railroad, particularly late at night. "You
just go to Penn Station and Woodside’s the first stop. There’s so
many trains that even if you’re there at 3:30 the next train will be leaving
at 3:45 and it takes 10 minutes to get here."


I mention
that the first thing I noticed about Woodside were all the Irish bars, and Michael
weighs in: "I thought [Woodside] was gonna be more of a hangout spot, but
there’s really nothing going on in that way, especially because–and
this is the craziest thing for me–it’s just because I’m not Irish.
And it’s totally off-the-boat Irish–hardcore, like they all know each
other. And so it’s really weird. There are a couple of hip places here,
but when I go in nobody looks at me, everybody kind of knows each other and
I feel like an outsider."


We go to
one Irish bar, Saints & Sinners (formerly "The Bridge"). It’s
around 8 p.m. and we have no problem getting served, but I’m dismayed that
the clientele consists primarily of middle-aged men. The following weekend,
however, I go to another bar, Kilmegan, late on a Saturday night. A band with
two singers "all the way from Brooklyn" competently plays 80s hits
("Blister in the Sun" segues into "Come on Eileen"), and
the crowd–more women than men–is having a criminal amount of fun.


I order
a Guinness and try to fit in, reckoning that I am between 1/16th and 1/32nd
Irish. It doesn’t work; everyone else drinks Bud. No matter. Practice makes
perfect. I’m never leaving Woodside.


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