By Jared Chausow
By Katie Toth
By Elizabeth Flock
By Albert Samaha
By Anna Merlan
By Jon Campbell
By Jon Campbell
By Albert Samaha
"I was living in this Mafia-run apartment in Little Italy, and one night this lackey came to my door saying my landlord wanted more money. I didn't have a lease. I figured they would have just kept doing it. So I moved out that night," says Kristin Bedford, 28, who at the time was making only about $25,000 a year and going to FIT.
"I didn't know where to go, but a friend heard about this women's residence in Gramercy Park. I moved there temporarily over a year ago, but I ended up liking it and staying." The Parkside Evangeline Residence is run by the Salvation Army, the Christian charitable organization founded in 1878.
Now Bedford, who just got a $50,000-a-year job writing press releases for a computer network firm, lives in a 150-square-foot room with her pink quilt and gunmetal satin evening gown. Her $792 monthly rent includes free breakfasts and dinners"chicken Florentine, beef Florentine, always Jell-O"in a dining room with 1970s brown chairs and rose pink tablecloths.
If she can ever find an affordable apartment she will move, she says. But she loves the community. "It's really mixed. Nobody has money. Some have education. Some are on unemployment, disability. Some are students, so their parents are paying. Some are retired. One of my best friends here is a recovering alcoholic, recov-ering drug addict grandmother. My other best friend is a lesbian surfer who wants to become a nun. It's not a uniform group. I took some of them to see the movie Girl, Interrupted. I said, It's us!
"I think my upbringing definitely enables me to live here. I was raised to see people for what they do in the world instead of through the artifices of class, money. That enables me to be good buddies with all sorts of people."
Bedford, who went to private schools in Washington, D.C., "but not old-school at all," describes her upbringing as "middle-class, very politically conscious" and "not into spending." Yet there was a lifestyle split within the family. Her parents divorced when she was three. When she stayed with her mother"if you can imagine a civil libertarian June Cleaver"and her stepfather, who heads a center that creates legislation on electronic privacy, she slept in a "Civil War-era home" with "rocking chairs on the porch and thousands of books everywhere. My mother raised me in the high church Episcopalian tradition. It's about openness to questioning. It's all smells and bellsincense and organ playing and beautiful architecture and windows done by Tiffany. This isn't a suffering bunch."
When she stayed with her father, "a political filmmaker, labor organizer, really radical," for whom "material things were really uncool," they lived collectively. "That was really fun. Once I was really into painting Easter eggs and I woke up to find my eggs were gone. Everybody had done acid the night before and had the munchies and ate them all."
Bedford, who studied religion at George Washington University and has walked across Spain on a pilgrimage, says, "I think about that whole Native American thing about treading lightly on the earth. With every step I take, there's the sense that I'm declaiming who I am. It's not an easy path."
Recently, she says she spent months agonizing over whether to buy "the only watch I wanted, ever. It was Baume & Mercier and it was so expensive I can't even tell you how much it cost me. I looked at every other watch in the city. I decided I wouldn't have a watch unless I had this one. It was aesthetically perfect. I wanted a watch that would last forever."