Julie Ostrowski

Hello. This is a picture of me and my husband outside the Park Slope, Brooklyn brownstone apartment I had lived in for the last 10 years. I moved into the place in November 1998 and moved out in February of this year, after getting married Feb. 2. It was a pretty good deal living in a rent-stabilized place for that long and the landlady never raised my rent. She is a 90-year-old Italian woman who has lived in the neighborhood all her life. She is kind of eccentric, but pretty nice. I once got locked out of my place and when I waited in her apartment to figure out how to get back in, she offered me some Grand Marnier which I never had before and it was really good. People were jealous when I told them I paid $988.19 a month for a one-bedroom apartment in Park Slope. I kind of miss it but I don't miss the flying cockroaches, incessant street noise, stange noises from drunk people on the weekends and mentally ill people at all times screaming incoherent things, honking cars or the lack of sunlight in the apartment, especially in wintertime. 

Let's see, what else...I work as an instructor in a NYC adult literacy program run by the city's Human Resources Administration in downtown Brooklyn where I teach pre-GED and College Prep (reading, writing and math) to working recipients of public assistance. Before that I worked as a newspaper editor at Newsday in Long Island and at the NY Daily News. While the job I have now is hard, it tends to attract a higher caliber type of person than newspapers do. While I have many friends in the media business who are really good people, I find the field seems to attract some very ugly personalities. A couple of weeks ago I got a teaching award for "distinguished teacher" at one of our recognition ceremonies. It was kind of nice, even though I think most awards are stupid.

I notice many people in this class teach grade school or high school. That's one of my biggest nightmares. Many of my adult students don't want to be in class but are mandated to be there by the city welfare rules. But still, they're adults. I'm not sure how I'd manage teenagers. Probably not well. I don't really like managing people.

So I'm doing my thesis on Joyce Carol Oates, who is from upstate New York, like me. She's from Lockport; I'm from Buffalo. Part of my thesis is related to the novel The Falls, which was published in 2004 and is a fictionalized account of the Love Canal toxic waste disaster in Niagara Falls in the 1970s. Basically these chemical companies left toxic chemicals buried in the ground and they seeped out and made the residents there very sick and even in some instances killed them.

Over the July 4th weekend, I took a drive up to Love Canal with my husband (he's from Australia and they don't do things like Love Canal there). The area is eerie. There is a huge rectangular, fenced-off grassy field with tons of toxic waste buried beneath it. The government claims the area is now safe. Most houses immediately adjacent to the site have been torn down and the area looks like a ghost town, but there are still some holdouts who never left, so there are three or four houses still standing around the landfill, looking lonely and forlorn. And there's a senior-citizen retirement community next to the dump. It's wierd.

I'm intrigued with how Oates explores the urban crises of the '60s and '70s. I'm the youngest of six and the only gen-xer among baby boomers. So I was always curious about what the '50s, '60s and '70s were like for my family before I was born.