John Bredin
John Bredin


English Teaching + Real Estate = My Inwood Formula for Success

On the surface, it would seem they have little in common. The ethereal world of the college English Professor—concerned with inspiring young minds to love literature and express their ideas in essays—and the rough and tumble world of New York real estate. Not in Inwood. Manhattan’s northernmost province, wreathed in a primeval forest, has an ancient, archeological magic that seems to defy logic. Anything is possible here, including the strange fusion of these opposite-seeming professions.

My Lewis and Clark-like discovery of Inwood happened a year ago. I had recently begun teaching English at CUNY’s Borough of Manhattan Community College—located in the heart of trendy Tribeca—when I received word that I’d be assigned, for the following semester, to teach at BMCC’s new off-site campus (CUNY in the Heights) on the corner of Cooper and Isham. My first reaction was: “Oh my god, I’ve been banished to the hinterlands of civilization!”

Much to my delight, upon emerging from the last stop of the A-train at 207th Street, I felt the complete opposite of banishment: Sweet liberation! Ahhh, the wonder of Inwood immediately cast its enchanting spell over me! As a writer and lover of art and literature and cinema, I couldn’t help but fall in love with the aesthetic beauty of the place; so much more authentic, interesting, and human than the pre-packaged slickness of downtown. Inwood is literature and literature is Inwood! If Tolstoy were a modern day New Yorker, would he live in a chi chi soulless part of the city? No, he’d be shacked up at the Dykman Farmhouse working on his next masterpiece, taking a break to chat smilingly with the Latinos at a local bodega. My first visit to John’s Doo Wop Deli was a pop cultural moon rock of a revelation. What with the 50's thru 70's celebrity wall of fame, the fascinating Vegas kitsch (big Elvis picture) meets old school New York Italian vibe, and John himself quick to identify a tune on the Deli soundtrack—“that would be Jerry Vale”—you almost expect Frank and Dino and Sammy to come strolling in at any moment!

There’s a lovely Hansel and Gretel, land-that-time-forgot aspect to the hovering northern tip of Manhattan. Such a feeling is anchored by the Cloisters. Boasting the largest collection of medieval artworks in the world, its gothic ramparts watch like a sentinel over the community—a soothing reminder of tradition and permanence in an age of My Space internet fluff—from its perch atop the magic green hills of Inwood forest. Ahh, the miracle of Inwood forest! Glacial. Sedimentary. Prehistoric. It’s the city’s last bastion of raw and wild woodland, evoking the Sherwood Forest of Robin Hood, or the site of a classic Grimm’s Fairy tale: “Little Red Riding hood.”

It also brings to mind one of the founding fathers of American literature, Henry David Thoreau. Where else but Inwood Forest could a modern day urban Thoreau pull a Walden Pond, spending a year in the woods in splendid isolation? In his celebrated essay “Walking,” Thoreau claims it’s essential for a city person—in order to retain their sanity—to spend a few contemplative moments each day in a rugged natural environment. He also wrote that, of all natural phenomena, he takes the most healing solace in contemplating a salt marsh. Geological fact: where is the only salt marsh (this strange curiosity of nature) in Manhattan? It’s right in Inwood!

Field trips with my students to Inwood Park, in nice weather, have now become a happy part of my pedagogical routine. Since my students come from all parts of the city, I get to see the wonder and amazement in their eyes as they discover Inwood Forest and the salt marsh for the first time. I encourage them to write about it and many do. Tour guides at the Inwood Park museum are more than glad to offer a spontaneous lecture on the local wildlife, plants, and wigwam that sits on their site. We also visit the boulder marking the spot where the Lenape Indians—on a very bad real estate day for them in 1622—sold their Island home to the Dutch for 24 dollars in trinkets.

Since my salary as an adjunct professor is as awful as the compensation the Indians received for Manhattan, I recently got a real estate license to supplement my meager teaching income. The key to selling real estate—the key to all sales really—is to have a passion for your product. You need to locate the poetry in what you’re selling, then communicate this effectively to your customer. Passion is also the key to being a good English teacher, your “product” being a love of literature and writing. Naturally, I’ve chosen Inwood—where I currently ply my teaching craft—to practice my new vocation of real estate agent; a place I’m so passionate about I had to write this essay to prove it. With a special thanks to my own new “teacher,” Andrew Shell—owner of A.N. Shell Realty (with the nice big window onto Broadway and 207th)—who gave me the idea for this writing project. Maybe I’ll share it with my students: to encourage them to go for their own dreams, and to nudge them to write about what they love.

Okay, that’s enough work for one day. It’s sunset time in Inwood. That’s when the sky above the Jersey Palisades transforms into a canvas for a gorgeous abstract painting—in glowing, vivid pink and orange hues—illuminating a swath of molten gold across the steel-blue rippling Hudson River, as seen under the curiously-curved Henry Hudson Bridge. Magic, secret treasure of Inwood-ites. There’s a spectacular view of it on a bench near the salt marsh, which is where I’m headed now.

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