A Night in the Dumpster

 

Is this the future for micro-units in New York City? 

– Jack Freund

 

 

Anne Kadet Spends Some Time in Artist Gregory Kloehn’s Creation

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Artist Gregory Kloehn on the roof deck and inside his converted dumpster at Pioneer Works in the Red Hook section of Brooklyn. Source: Kevin Hagen for The Wall Street Journal

 

By Anne Kadet

I’m writing this column from inside the dumpster I slept in last night. It’s a little stuffy, but not as cramped as you might expect. And it’s peaceful. No upstairs neighbors tromping overhead. Just the occasional truck rumbling by.

No, this isn’t my personal dumpster. It belongs to an Oakland artist named Gregory Kloehn. When he stays in New York, Mr. Kloehn lives here, in a 6-by-6-foot metal garbage bin parked on an art center’s fenced-in lot in Red Hook.

Perhaps you’ve seen a bit of Mr. Kloehn’s home already—videos of his charming dumpster were all over the Internet these past weeks. He has his $1,000 trash can tricked out with a bed, toilet, sink, granite counter, hardwood floors, lights and a single-burner stove. The metal roof cranks up to reveal two windows.

As soon as I heard about the dumpster, I called to suggest a home swap. Could I spend the night in his garbage bin while he stayed at my place in Cobble Hill? “Well, sure!” said Mr. Kloehn. He even offered to haul his dumpster home to a more desirable location. Would I like to spend the night on the waterfront? In Central Park?

 

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Mr. Kloehn inside his converted dumpster. Source: Kevin Hagen for The Wall Street Journal

 

One reason I was interested in his dumpster was because this looks to be the future of housing in New York City. Did you know that every last brownstone in Crown Heights was recently purchased by a German hedge fund? Saudi princes, meanwhile, are buying up all the Manhattan condos so they have places to stay during their annual visits. Soon, this will culminate with the entire city serving as one vast holiday pied-à-terre for Carlos Slim.

The current administration wants to fix this situation by packing the rest of us into so-called micro apartments, but that could take a while. If you want a taste of the future, there’s a probably a dumpster near you. And imagine the possibilities. Mr. Kloehn, for one, envisions buying an extra-tall trash bin, turning it into a duplex and renting out the bottom.

He also relishes the stealth aspect of the dumpster lifestyle: “Living off the grid—on someone else’s grid,” as he puts it. You could live rent-free on the streets of the city’s ritziest neighborhoods. He imagines siphoning power from the nearest Starbucks. I chuckled conspiratorially until I remembered that I have a good chunk of my IRA invested in Starbucks stock.

 

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His outdoor bathroom mirror.  Source:Kevin Hagen for The Wall Street Journal

 

There seemed to be one hitch—parking a dumpster on the curb without a permit, it turns out, gets you a minimum $750 fine from the DOT. You might as well be paying rent. But Mr. Kloehn says that when he briefly parked his dumpster and lived on Starr Street in Bushwick, he never got hassled. And if he ever gets fined for parking his bin on the curb, he’d just wheel it to a new location: “How are they going to trace it?”

Mr. Kloehn, who shares a nice apartment in Oakland with his wife and kids, gave me a tour of his Red Hook trash pad. It’s a man’s dumpster for sure. With its sleek, black cushions and metal fixtures, the interior could pass for the inside of a sports car—if the car had a toaster oven screwed to the dash. It doesn’t have a washing machine, dishwasher or home office, but then, neither do most New York apartments.

We planned our housing swap for Tuesday night. As good timing would have it, a musician friend who lives in Red Hook emailed to see if I was free that evening. “I’m going to be sleeping overnight in a dumpster on Pioneer Street,” I wrote back. “Maybe I could cook us a little dinner?”

In New York, it seems, the idea that one will be sleeping in a trash can is not even cause for remark. “Yes, dinner at your dumpster would be lovely,” she replied. “What can I bring?”

 

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The shower head.    Source: Kevin Hagen for The Wall Street Journal

 

By the time Tuesday rolled around, Mr. Kloehn had further spruced up his home, adding new kitchenware and a patio deck fashioned from wood palettes. As I unpacked my things, two hipsters came wandering through the lot and admired the dumpster. “It’d be perfect for Burning Man,” said one.

My musician friend, who arrived for dinner with a thermos of booze, was not so impressed. “Lots of people I know in Afghanistan live in containers,” she said.

We barbecued on the dumpster’s tiny grill as the moon rose over Red Hook’s brick warehouses. It was a lovely night. “If only this were real,” said the musician. “This has to be the epitome of the New Brooklyn. We’re playing at being poor.”

I told her about Mr. Kloehn’s latest project, which has a more purposeful bent. He’s making tiny houses from trash found on the street—washing machine parts, futon frames—and giving them to his homeless neighbors in Oakland. The houses are mounted on wheels, so their owners can cart them off when the cops come around. Mr. Kloehn has given away four of these homes so far, complete with keys and bottles of Champagne. Results are mixed. One of the recipients, a lady named Wonder, already had her house stolen.

No, container living is not the safest housing alternative. Thank goodness, no one tried to steal the dumpster while I slept. But it was sort of a rough night. I drifted off to Red Hook’s strange aural soundscape: crickets, tigers, heavy metal music and foghorns, along with the incessant barking of Towns, the vigilant German Shepherd guarding the lot. I only woke up about 50,000 times.

When the sun rose, I emerged from my box to see Towns emerge from his own dumpster home across the way. We greeted each other and smiled. It was a beautiful morning. Waking up in a Red Hook dumpster is a lot like camping, except there’s a really good coffee place around the corner.

Camping, of course, is only fun for a night or two. I’m not looking forward to the day when circumstances force me to call Mr. Kloehn and order a permanent dumpster home of my own.

But as any New Yorker will tell you, it’s gotta be better than Jersey.

Source: Wall Street Journal

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