Living Next To

I accidentally moved in next door to a pastrami factory in Williamsburg

Note to self: Next time you look at an apartment, pay attention to the Active Driveway signs. The author's former building is on the left. The right two doors go to the pastrami factory.

Nell Casey/Brick Underground

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My first apartment in New York was suspiciously cheap.

It was still, of course, much too expensive. My off-campus three bed, three bath during college in Baltimore was only half what they were asking in Brooklyn, if full of mice. But even at 22 and new to New York City real estate beyond my parents' door, I knew the price my roommate and I were getting for a place in prime 2011 Williamsburg was a steal. 

“What’s the catch?” I asked the broker (A broker! I liked lighting money on fire in my youth). He told me the landlord wasn’t interested in getting rich off his property, no matter how popular North Brooklyn had become. It sounded fishy, but there was a cool bar across the street and the Bedford L stop was down the block, so I signed the lease.

I’m not sure whether my landlord was actually altruistic or not, but I discovered pretty quickly that my new home did have a rather irritating quirk. It turned out my landlord owned both my building and a small pastrami factory next door. (He bragged that they were suppliers for Katz’s Delicatessen. I had my doubts, but upon researching this piece, I learned that it's true.) During the day, the factory flooded the block with a sort of saccharine odor, one that either smelled tasty or like rotting flesh, depending on whether the door was open to air out all the meat carcasses inside. 

My landlord and his brother would walk around in between shifts wearing rubber boots and plastic wrap, occasionally waving at me if I walked by on my way in and out of my building. Sometimes, I thought I spotted something suspect stuck to his boots, like a piece of gristle or bone. Maybe it was all in my head, but it made me think twice about snacking on my stoop.

The odor and cow part sightings were bearable, but the nighttime delivery pickups were less so, especially at first. A truck that sounded like a War of the Worlds tripod on steroids parked outside my window at 9 p.m., 11 p.m., 2 a.m., and 5 a.m., Monday through Saturday. On Sundays, the employees rested, as did I. The noise drove me nuts, and in the first few months all my dreams were punctuated with the roar of compressed air. Later, I started using the pastrami pickup schedule as a clock. 2 a.m. blast, already? Damn, I’ve gotta get to sleep.

I lived in that apartment for just one year, enduring in it bedbugs, roaches, and ill-advised men picked up at Union Pool, along with all the offending pastrami rumblings. I’ve lived in several apartments since, and it turns out the loud trucks were great practice for living across the street from a very popular bar in Bushwick; above a bus stop on a busy strip of Manhattan Ave; and right next to a demonic radiator. These dins didn’t come with any smells, though, so sometimes, if I’m feeling homesick, I’ll take a trip to Katz’s.

Rebecca Fishbein was most recently a Senior Editor at Gothamist. She has lived in many terrible apartments.