neighborhood: sunset park | space type: music & living space | active: 2004–2011 | links: none (sorry!)
The Jerkhaus is an incredibly lived-in communal-housing and punk-show space. They’ve had almost sixty roommates over the seven years the house has been active, plus hundreds of crashers and couch-surfers and short- and long-term guests. Not to mention the bands that come through to play shows, and all the people who stop by for parties and gatherings of all kinds.
It’s housed in a fancy-looking brownstone, and in fact I was worried that I had the address wrong, until a couple of pierced boys with torn shirts let me in. It’s a terrific mess in there, full of bikes and records and ashtrays and posters and busted chandeliers and foam-leaking sofas and sagging stuffed animals and speakers and graffitied subway signs. It’s, in other words, an incredibly loved space.
brooklyn spaces: Tell me about the Jerkhaus.
Kever: Well, it’s a punk house in Brooklyn. Tons of people have stayed here. It’s like an old-fashioned step on a bum’s path, like a hobo travel point. There’s a sign with a little picture of a chick rocking out with a guitar, a dude with a bindle, some space cleared out on the floor.
Rudi: People stop by and say, “Someone who used to live here like three years ago said we could stay here.” When we moved in it was really cheap, and we had plenty of space for people to sleep on the floor. Right after we moved in, the RNC took place, and there were all these people nobody knew staying here. We had all this soundproofing foam from the people who lived here before us, so we just laid it out and had pretty much one floor as a giant bed.
K: I like the idea that we were housing people who were going to the RNC to fuck it up, to protest.
R: It was cool being a part of that. At that point I didn’t have much of a mind to protest, so I stayed home and gave people towels and directions to the beer store, or I called my roommate’s mom to be like, “Dave’s in jail again, just letting you know. Don’t worry, he’ll have a vegan sandwich when he gets out, thanks to the Anti-Capitalist Kitchen,” which is what Food Not Bombs was called then.
brooklyn spaces: Has there been trouble over the years? Has anybody come in and fucked shit up?
K: Yeah, there’s been pains in the ass, but nothing too crazy. There’s been no theft of property, to my knowledge. No violence, really. It hasn’t been bad enough that I think people should be afraid to have a house like this.
brooklyn spaces: Did you set out from the start to have a space like this?
K: Yeah. But our landlord and the neighbors are a big reason that it’s been able to go on for so long.
R: We’ve always paid rent, and there’s always been someone the landlord could go to and say, “Don’t let your friends sleep on the roof,” or “No live music. Have a party, but don’t have live music.” Of course we’ve had live music anyway, but if there wasn’t a complaint, it didn’t really matter.
brooklyn spaces: How about the running of the space, like buying toilet paper or cleaning the kitchen. Is it all collective?
K: It is all over the place. We had house meetings for a little while, but they were the worst fucking thing in the world.
R: It just kind of became whoever buys toilet paper buys toilet paper.
K: The pains and joys of communal living.
R: I’ve left many notes, but I gave up. I have a different outlook on it now than I used to.
K: You learn to expand your comfort zone.
R: It’s not a bad thing. You know when you walk into a room where there’s cigarette butts all over the floor and beer cans everywhere? That means someone had fun. Probably ten people had fun.
K: Beautiful, Rudi!
brooklyn spaces: What’s your relationship with the neighborhood and the community?
R: I’m very proud to be a punk kid who has lived in southern Brooklyn for a long-ass time. I didn’t move here because there was a cool café or a hip bar nearby. I’ve seen the neighborhood change a lot; there’s not a lot of hipster-driven stuff here yet, but it’s coming. I’m glad that I lived here when I did because I think I got a much better feel of living in Brooklyn, like Brooklyn Brooklyn, not just an offshoot of the Lower East Side. I don’t know if that’s an asshole thing to say, but it does give me a sense of pride. I’m also glad that I lived in a place that had so many people being creative, even if they were just making a zine or trying to change the world by not bathing. A lot of weird people have lived here and had a lot of unsavory professions and made a lot of weird art and music, and I’m glad that they had the space to do that.
brooklyn spaces: So why is the Jerkhaus ending?
K: Our landlord’s selling the place.
R: The building is in considerable disrepair. A couple of months ago we were having toilet trouble, and when the landlord and the repair guy came in, they were like, “We have to fix the toilet right now because the floor is rotting out under it, and if someone sits on the toilet, it might fall through the floor.” The place was cheap when we moved in because the building was not in the best condition, and we obviously didn’t care. We just keep paying rent anyway. We’ve had bedbug infestations and all this other stuff, and the landlord has just been like, “Well, tough noogies. You’ve got horrible roommates.”
K: Right after we moved in, one of our roommates was like, “Hey guys, look what I found! Just lying in the street!” It was a mattress. So from the beginning of the whole thing we had bedbugs.
R: At the time you had to go to Washington Heights to get bedbug-specific killer, because bedbugs weren’t such an epidemic yet. Of course, since then, everyone and their mother has them.
brooklyn spaces: Is anyone going on from this to create the next incarnation of the Jerkhaus?
K: Fuck no. Others because they don’t have the ambition, and Rudi and I because we’ve already gotten all the love and joy we can get out of this place. We sucked it all right out. The burnout rate in this job is pretty high. I’m surprised I held it for as long as I did.
R: You’re the patron saint of Jerkhaus!
K: I’m the biggest jerk!