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The Great Big Loft of 1978

I had returned from my adventures in Florida in the late spring of 1978, determined to once again become a New Yorker, rent a great big loft and stay there forever.

Yeah, right.

So, I took most of my savings and gave them to my new landlord on a lease of a 6,000-SF loft in Greenwich Village. Third floor, with a cargo elevator that was made in 1911 and had the old-style ornate metal cage doors. Lots of charm but the noises it made while in action were enough to scare even the hardiest of men.

As for the loft itself – some would have looked at it and despaired, but I saw possibilities. That’s always the downfall in real estate, isn’t it?

But it truly was beautiful. It had huge windows on 2 sides (north and west), old oak floors, a skylight and a set of stairs up to the roof, where I was assured I could have that extra space all to myself (since there were no tenants on the other two floors). I had big plans for that roof – I would have an exotic oriental garden in which to practice my T’ai-Chi.

Since this was a loft, the ceilings were an incredible 15′ high. That meant I had to build a “loft bed” – one of those beds that you climb a ladder or short set of stairs to get to. It was the IN thing to do at the time.

There was also a medium-sized kitchen and two bathrooms, so I was set to both live and teach there.

First things first, though.

In order to be able to walk around and practice T’ai-Chi in my new/old great big loft, I had to refinish the floors. They had become black with the grime of years of industrial use – it used to be some sort of mini-factory – so I girded myself into accepting the fact I would have to get the floors done. I called a few places that specialized in redoing wood floors, only to discover that they would charge an arm and two legs for the job, so I decided to do it myself.


So one Saturday I cancelled classes and went down to the local U-Haul store, which luckily had a floor sander available for rent. I plunked down a deposit, bought a few sheets of sandpaper and loaded it all in my little Triumph sports car, trucking it back to the great big loft. Thank Buddha for the elevator – that sanding machine was heavy.

Eyeing up the floor, I figured I’d need to use the coarsest-grit paper first, so I installed a roll of sandpaper that could cut a diamond with ease. I started the monster up and it promptly took off across the floor with me holding on for dear life. I managed to turn it off, but only after cutting a deep gorge over 10′ of the floor.

I took the shredded heavy-grit paper off and replaced it with a medium-grit roll,  held my breath and turned the machine on once again. This time, I was ready for the violent pull of the beast, so I was able to control it after a fashion. After a few minutes, I said to myself “This isn’t so bad” until I realized that I was daydreaming and had left the sander to sand a small patch of the floor down to the nub.

I was rapidly running out of sandpaper rolls, so off I went to the store again, just before closing time, and bought out their remaining supply of sandpaper. This was turning into a major project now.

Drive back to the great big loft, stumble into the elevator, creak, creak, creak, I get upstairs and continue my massacre of the floor. I went the rest of Saturday, through the night and for most of Sunday – hey, 6,000 SF ain’t your mother’s living room!

Of course, when my students returned Monday they all exclaimed how nice the floor was, and what was I going to do to protect it? “Protect it?” said I. “Against what?”

“Against wear and tear and spills and scuff marks”, they all chimed in. I learned I would have to get some sort of shellac or polyester or something – again, not exactly my field of expertise. Luckily the old guy in the hardware store down the street knew exactly what I needed and sold me $200 worth of chemicals in big, heavy buckets, along with some mop-type things and roller pads.

Cancelling classes on Wednesday, I was up with the sun, loading up my rollers and swabbing the decks. I must have put it on a little heavy because it took MUCH longer to dry than the instructions said. The fact that I had painted myself into a corner didn’t help any – I spent those hours meditating and kicking myself.

Cancelled classes for Thursday – I had been able to escape the corner, but at the expense of sticking noisily to the floor. Luckily I got to the kitchen, which had tile, and hence was my “safe zone”, but I wouldn’t be going out anywhere for the next day or so.

Just when the floor was dry and looking quite breathtaking, it started raining. A hard, driving rain that kept up for hours.

That’s when the skylight began to leak …

Unfortunately, I had signed a maintenance agreement along with my lease that said I was responsible for repairs. After once again getting quotes over the phone that made me nauseous I decided “how hard could it be to fix it?”.



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