Tyvek /taɪˈvɛk/ is a brand of flashspun, high-density polyethyelene fibers, a synthetic material; the name is a registered trademark of DuPont. The material is very strong; it is difficult to tear but can easily be cut with scissors or a knife. Water vapor can pass through Tyvek (highly breathable), but not liquid water, so the material lends itself to a variety of applications: envelopes, car covers, air and water intrusion barriers (housewrap) under house siding, labels, wristbands, mycology, and graphics. (from wikipedia)
I live on a mixed block in Bed-Stuy. It’s not a picturesque brownstone block. The buildings here are either brand new with no personality or dilapidated without being charming. My neighbors are Pratt students, yuppies who haven’t yet had their puppies, young guys with dreads who think they have a band, large Chassidic families, and an alarmingly jolly Texan who I’ve come to like a bit because he’s kind enough to knock and remind me when I’ve left my keys in my door. There’s a playground next door to me and it’s shared by everyone—the school kids (mostly black) during their recess, Chassidic kids and their moms (and on Saturday night their dads), moms of color with their own kids in strollers, black families who BBQ for special occasions, and guys playing chess. There’s a guy on my block who plays Soca music loudly during the day and then, in odd moments, vintage Amy Grant. On his porch he has a huge cardboard cut out of some island destination. A man on the street told me once that he drinks all the time. My building super sounds like an extra from the Borat film. He hoses down our walkway everyday in the summer and keeps it clear whenever there is snow and wonders aloud why a woman my age, especially one with plants on her balcony, is single: “You don’t, you don’t, you don’t have anyone? A man? But the flowers up there. Everyone talks how pretty they are.” Sometimes the Chassidic women smile shyly at me.
The Southern girl in me says hi to all of my elderly neighbors (the urban feminist does her best to avoid the invasive gaze of men), and they all say hi back. Except for my neighbor across the street. I say hi, she looks through me, or away from me, or around me. On days when I’m off to campus she is always on her porch, and I can’t help myself from at least mumbling good morning. The building she lives in, a two-story, single-family dwelling I think it’s called, is falling apart. From the street you can see rotted wood planks under the eaves of a roof that needs replacing. There are gaps between the boards. The one window at the front of the house is covered by a large bush. Her stoop is painted that same orange you see on construction cones and gates. She sweeps it everyday.
As far as I can tell, she doesn’t do the stoop visiting that the other folks in my neighborhood seem to enjoy.
For the first two years I lived here, she lived next door to an empty lot. I don’t know what was there before, but when I got here it was covered in grass, weeds, and bushes. You could see an old tire or three. For a little while there was an abandoned car. A wooden gate appeared one morning (and was instantly covered in graffiti). From my balcony I could see people, men, going in from time to time and looking around. Some sort of small bulldozer came in one day and picked at the ground, gave up and went home.
They cleared the ground in earnest one weekend, and the side of my neighbor’s building was covered in Tyvek. I hadn’t noticed how far back her building went until they put the Tyvek up. I also hadn’t noticed the chimney. It’s a big building, and it’s all hers. You never see anyone else go in or come out. I know because I’m out here on my balcony all the time. First thing in the morning, over lunch, late in the afternoon, and in the evenings playing on-line scrabble against my dad.
When I lived in Clinton Hill, just on the edge of Bed-Stuy, I fell in love with the brown lady brownstone owners. I would see them here and there cleaning their front porches in the morning. They are women of a certain age—maybe late 50s (it’s hard to tell with black folks)—and they remind me of my Dutch aunts who scrub their stoops every single day, without fail. The brown lady brownstone owners have flowers and potted plants near the door. And the doors are all gorgeous and gleaming. Right after my landlord told me I could no longer afford his building, I chatted for a bit with a woman sanding the front door of her brownstone. It seems she is remodeling it herself.
The building in the lot across the street, next door to my neighbor is going up fast. The men arrive in two small waves—Hispanic men first, sometimes in a large van, and then white men in trucks. They start early and this week they’ve started laying the brick layer by layer over the Tyvek. They stand in a row and layer. You can’t see them from street level, but I’m one floor up, so I can see it all happening. So can the Chassidic children. There’s a little guy who sits on his balcony and watches them for long stretches of time. Sometimes his mother lets him peek in the gate. Men in full orthodox gear stop by everyday to check the progress.
My neighbor has started sweeping more than her stoop. She sweeps in front of the gate—on the sidewalk, in the street, around the construction gate. She’s methodical about it and sweeps around the men as they show up for work.
Last night I heard her voice for the first time in two years: she was yelling at some Chassidic kids who were pushing their toys on her sidewalk. “Get away. Go away. Get. the. fuck away.”