One Bedroom Apartment in Turn-of-the-Century Brownstone

Location Park Slope
Price $700 (market)
Square feet 580
Occupant Sarah Falkner (licensed massage therapist; co-owner, Opal Center for Massage)

Your landlord is your ex-boyfriend! Ooh la la! Friends say it's very French. Others are like, are you fucking crazy? We used to live in the upstairs apartment together. Now I rent the garden apartment. I have a separate entrance. It's only been since July that we stopped living together. It was his suggestion that I live here. I was looking for a place, but not for very long. I saw absolute disasters, three people in an illegal loft in DUMBO looking for a roommate and none of us spoke the same language. I'm 32 and just the idea of roommates who I wasn't sleeping with—well, I couldn't cope with it and I wanted to live by myself really bad. He lowered the rent from the last tenant. I pay $700. She paid $850 but she never slept with him. It's very amiable so far.

Here comes your landlord now. [Eric] I could easily get $1200 a month for the apartment. I should, but that's life. [Sarah] Of course, my rent went up $100 a month. When I lived with Eric, I only paid $600.

It gets even more complex because Eric, your landlord, is also your employee. I'm opening a new business, massage therapy, two blocks from here and Eric is doing construction. [Eric] She's paying me $20 an hour for my handyman work. Anyone else I'd charge $30. Also, I'm paying off her loans. I had credit card debt from construction on the house. Sarah had debt from living beyond her means. I combined our debts into a home equity loan and that's a 15-year loan so part of her rent money is going toward paying off the loan.

This situation is like a Celtic knot. How far back does it go? Wait, you both have the same blue eyes! [Sarah] We're both of Polish descent. We went to school together 15 years ago, painting, in Indiana. I grew up in Bloomington, my mother raised me herself. Eric is from Ohio. He and I moved to New York in '88. We were living in Williamsburg. [Eric] The FBI came to the door one night. They said, "FBI, WE'RE COMIN' IN!" The guy downstairs was a counterfeiter. I heard he was doing 20s. He was an old guy. He used to play the TV really, really loud because of the presses, to hide the sound. [Sarah] Then later, our landlord went into foreclosure. Eventually we moved. [Eric] I bought this brownstone in '94. I had down-payment help from my parents, 20 grand. My father's a personal-injury lawyer. I used to be an art mover. Now I play golf in between construction jobs. [Sarah] Another thing—the week before we went shopping for the house, I'd gotten a tattoo on my arm. I went in the house, in this apartment, there was this lighting fixture on the ceiling which looks like my tattoo.

You got that uncanny feeling one gets from the unexplained repetition, didn't you? Yes! So unheimlich, as Freud would say.

Your bedroom door goes right out to the garden in back, which is full of herbs, since you study herbalism in the Greenwitch tradition. Then there are the deer skulls, the turtle shell in the cabinet. There's an LP record on the mantel of a woman in a steamy Hawaiian motif. That's from my grandfather's house in Mishawaka, Indiana. In the '40s, he sent away for a mail-order house for $300, Montgomery Ward. He packed it with with Hawaiian things.

You seem to have inherited his fiery island palette—orange sheepskin rug, orange furniture. When I lived upstairs with Eric, it was more orange and red up there. [Eric] While we were breaking up, it went from red to gray. It changed over months of denial. [Sarah] It was cooling off, just cooling off.

 
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