President’s Potpourri May, 2016

President’s Potpourri May, 2016

May 2016

Dear 336 CPW Friends and Neighbors,

The 2016 Annual Meeting has come and gone. It was a bittersweet affair for yours truly. As was observed from the floor, it was likely the last one I will be attending – certainly the last in my current role. Perhaps I will come back for old times’ sake – somewhat in the manner that we like to visit our kids. In any event, I am moved to use this letter for a bit of reminiscence – perhaps burdening you without your indulgence. Maybe we can agree to call it “transition advice.”

My engagement with the co-op and my fellow shareholders began with my taking up the cudgel to ensure that someone in the building (resident or employee) got a fair shake. Mostly it was the staff “guys” but on at least one occasion it was a rather young single mom who had somehow got crosswise with the board. Looked at from today’s perspective, I can imagine I was an enormous nuisance to those boards back in the early days of our 31-year run at 336 CPW.At the same time, it was how I got to know people in the building – again with special focus on the “guys.”

So, at the beginning of the last of our three decades in the building there was a staff “guy” I thought wasn’t getting a fair shake. I wasn’t alone, but still it took three or four months to straighten out the issues. I got to know the union rep, as did some others who joined the fray, and a number of our group went to the union hall to attend the grievance hearing. It all came out as it should, and as a result I got to know many of my neighbors who had been anonymous for me until then. That was truly the happiest of unanticipated happy by-products. And the “guy” is still working at this same old stand 10 years later.

The next chapter did not take long to open. We needed a new superintendent – the incumbent having somewhat abruptly departed. By that time (roughly sometime in 2006) a number of residents knew Sergio Ochoa well enough to believe he was not only qualified to be considered for the appointment but also undoubtedly the best and only choice by a wide margin. For some reason there was resistance to appointing Sergio. Perhaps it was that he was a handyman and had no experience as a superintendent. Whatever the reason, agroup of us lobbied on his behalf and, in the end, Sergio got the job. I still consider that the single most valuable contribution we made to the co-op, our neighbors and our fellow shareholders.

I have worked with Sergio now for nearly 10 years. It took me some time to begin to learn the method to his madness (my mother’s phrase), as I am quite sure it took Sergio time to learn mine. But a method was surely there, and we at 336 CPW are vastly better off for all that he has done – and does – every day to ensure the safety, good repair, utility and appearance of our shared home. He does it all, and it has been a privilege and a pleasure to work with him and to support his mastery of everything that goes into managing a building of this size and complexity. And believe me, it’s not only about bricks and mortar and plaster and cement and plumbing. It’s also about psychology and people and relationships, all of which Sergio does with great care, empathy and dexterity.

Over the years, especially at the beginning of my active involvement with the affairs of the building, there has been a band of brothers and sisters who not only made it easier to face the challenges issued by a home approaching a century in age but also made it more fun. Of course we struggled from time to time, but mostly we enjoyed ourselves, enjoyed the humor of many situations – even difficult ones – and stuck together, whatever the tensions. Can I ever forget what seemed like an entire year of meetings devoted to dealing with New York City’s foremost “dog lawyer”? That’s right, a real estate landlord/tenant expert who specialized in law and situations involving dogs in co-ops and condominiums.

Perhaps I achieved the status of “dog whisperer” conferred on me at the annual meeting because I found the dogs a whole lot easier to deal with (and more logical) than their lawyer.

I wish I could talk about everyone who has touched me over the years.

Truly, I can say I learned from everyone and I enjoyed the company and the collaboration of virtually every one of my fellow board members. But several deserve special mention – even without naming them. First and foremost were my fellow musketeers at the beginning (we were three). We were completely simpático, trusted one another, had a common vision and were almost always in sync. It was rather assumed we would all join the board if our crusade was successful, and two of us did. But our third partner called me just before the annual meeting that year and shocked me into insensibility with the news of his impending demise. He passed away in a matter of a couple of months. I missedhim then and I still do. He was a delightful, generous soul. As a somewhat irrelevant aside, his memorial service was attended by more than a thousand people.

There is of course the other musketeer who has just now rejoined the board as I contemplate the end of my tenure at 336. There is a term they use in high schools for an expert trained in psychology who helps kids with their problems – a “guidance counselor.” As a title it has lost the true depth and breadth of its meaning, but it perfectly describes the role and contributions of my friend the third musketeer. He has counseled and guided with exquisite judgment, sensitivity and wisdom ever since I met him. In a sense, he has been the conscience of the board – and often helped to guide my own.

That first year of my board tenure I met a lot of new people. Many had observed how much needed to be done in the building. Most were quite willing to share their observations, along with a healthy dose of the urgency they were feeling about what they saw. The proverbial fire alarm was ringing constantly.

Two couples among those new acquaintances wanted to talk about how the building’s governance failed miserably to deal with same sex relationships. That part was easy. The difficult part was that one and probably two of these folks were very attractive candidates for the board – a fact that seemed more obvious and compelling to me than it did to them. I stalked them – one in particular. It took stealth and persistence, but the result is a great personal friend and one of the most valuable and hardest working, most dedicated and contributing board members we have had the good fortune to have at 336. She is truly invaluable, and I am quite sure I have no idea what we would have done without her.

In the decade of my board membership perhaps the best part of the experience has been getting to know almost everyone in the building. The folks who have been here since the 50s and 60s. The folks who were in the middle of the co-op process in 1970. The folks who were on the admissions committee that overcame resistance to Kathy and me as prospective new tenants back in 1984.

The folks who have worked here over the years, many of whom still do. And all the wonderful friends we have made over the 31 years we have lived here. There was the lady with whom I sometimes walked our dogs who pried out of me the nature of the cancer surgery I had just had. As a result, she disclosed she had survived the same variety and became a kind ad hoc support group member for me.

I hope this little trip down memory lane will not leave anyone feeling left out. Truly, everyone who ever sat on the board, everyone who has lived in this building and everyone who has worked here has touched me (and Kathy in many cases) in the most special ways. And truly I could fill a book of reminiscences about all of you if I had the room.

One of my favorite books closes with the main character asking one of his friends “How do you thank a man for a thousand kindnesses given over a lifetime?” Well, I am similarly wondering about all my friends at 336 CPW – How do I thank all of you for the many thousands of kindnesses given me and Kathy and our family over the years? There are two answers: One is “I can’t – at least properly and adequately.” And the other is simply “Thank you and God bless you.”

Mike Schell