In the early 1700s, Paulus Vander Ende, a Dutch farmer, built a house in what is now Ridgewood, Queens.
Two centuries later, the Onderdonks, another family of Dutch farmers, bought that house and their descendants lived there for nearly 100 years.
The house on Flushing Avenue then went through several owners, who turned the place into a scrap glass business, a stable, a speakeasy, an office for a greenhouse company and a spare parts factory for the Apollo space program.
The place was later abandoned and nearly destroyed by fire before being restored and opened to the public in 1982.
And, luckily for me, the restoration included a bathroom.
I discovered the Vander Ende-Onderdonk House entirely by accident—or near accident—during a walking tour of Bushwick with my Brooklyn Meet-Up group.
We had gone to see the Bushwick Collective, a fabulous outdoor art show of murals painted on many of the neighborhood’s factory buildings.
Now when I was growing up, Bushwick was a crime-ridden nightmare that was so dangerous it would’ve scared those early Dutch settlers clean out of their wooden shoes. Back then when we used the expression “don’t go there” that’s exactly what we meant: Don’t go there!
Bushwick has since morphed into yet another one of Brooklyn’s turnaround neighborhoods. I was still a little nervous about going, but I wanted to see how things had changed.
It turned out that I had nothing to fear. The trouble came from within, though, when I had to respond to an urgent call of nature.
I never found bathroom humor in the least bit funny and I hate it when people share their personal plumbing issues with me. When it comes to private business, your mouth, like the bathroom door, should be kept shut.
Looking back I think my discomfort with this issue may have been the cause of a rather severe problem that started when I got off the L train to meet my friends and felt an unmistakable tingling below the belt that told me to find a Gents ASAP.
I tried buying an orange juice at a local coffee shop—yeah, more liquids, that’s just what I needed!—as an excuse to hit the head but the management had wisely locked the bathroom door.
And this is where my brain shut down. Instead of asking for the key like a normal human being, I just slinked out the place clutching my bottle of orange juice, which I promptly emptied once outside, thus exacerbating my misery.
I guess I was uptight about admitting to the need to perform this most basic human function. And now that I had finished the orange juice, I was officially an ex-customer unworthy of bathroom privileges.
So the tour began. And since it was all outdoors I had to enjoy this fantastic artwork while desperately trying to ignore the mounting pressure in my kidneys.
The murals are incredible. I couldn’t believe how drab factory buildings were turned into massive canvases for some extremely talented artists. Some of these images seemed ready to climb right off the buildings and come to life.
And yet as we walked, I had one eye on the artwork and one eye fruitlessly scouting for il bango.
I got so desperate I even thought about finding an alley someplace to do the deed—something I absolutely hate as it takes me back to New York’s ugliest days, when graffiti competed with urine stains for space on public property.
Plus this was a bright, sunny day and I was in a rebounding neighborhood. Dark, abandoned alleys weren’t readily available and I shuddered at the thought of being caught in this most vile act.
Our tour was scheduled to end at a local saloon, but we had a way to go before then and I knew I couldn’t last.
Finally we walked down a street and I spotted a patch of green. Ah—it must be a public park. And where there’s a public park there’s bound to be—oh, Lordy, please—a public bathroom.
Only it wasn’t a park. It was some old house. I was crushed, knowing that I was reaching critical mass.
We realized that we had inadvertently crossed the border over into Queens and while the group headed back to the Brooklyn side, I lagged behind and approached the door of what turned out to be the Vander Ende-Onderdonk House.
I was greeted at the door by a very kind gentleman, who handed me a brochure and started telling me the history of the place.
“I’m sorry,” I gently interrupted. “I don’t want to waste your time. But...do you have a bathroom?”
“Oh, sure,” he said, and opened the door.
I just about ran to the little lavatory where I proceeded to pass enough water to put out the Chicago Fire.
Anyone standing near the door would’ve thought that a water main had broken—or the building had hit an iceberg.
I had been doing the deed for so long I actually lost site of the group, and God knows they had enough time to sail to Paraguay. I had to call our leader on my phone to find out where the hell they had gone.
“There, that’s better,” I said as I rejoined my party.
I think everybody knew what was going on, but no one made an issue out of it. And I was able to fully enjoy myself.
Someday I will return to Ridgewood and I will take a nice, leisurely stroll in and around the Vander Ende-Onderdonk House as a tribute to those intrepid Dutch settlers who paved the way for me and so many others.
And if I have to use the bathroom, well, I know exactly where to go, won’t I?