By Jena Ardell
By Jon Campbell
By Alan Scherstuhl
By Tessa Stuart
By Roy Edroso
By Jon Campbell
By Albert Samaha
By Zachary D. Roberts
You live among a high concentration of silver saltshakers, glass doorknobs, and white Victorian parlor chairs. Atlantic Avenue around here is packed with antique storesall these objects with past lives in Northeastern seaboard houses sitting perfectly still behind the windows. Outside, noisy trucks are barreling into the future.
[Kenya] Like at 3 a.m., when you're sleeping! The trucks are coming from the docks, going deep into Brooklyn. But the street's great in the summer. We moved here last June. All the stores are open late, sidewalk cafés . . .
Boulevardiers. And all the baba ghanoush and Middle Eastern restaurants where, even when it snows, you can pretend you're sitting on a red-and-orange carpet in the desert waiting for a stranger near a crumbling wall.
My father was from St. Lucia in the Caribbean, and my mother was from Guyana. I grew up with both traditionson Long Island. The people on the street here are extremely friendly; they look out for you. We've become good friends with people from the Sudan who run the Internet café. When Ari and I lived in Bushwick, I felt really alienated. I knew the deli guy, but that was it. That was a really evil apartment. [Ari] It wasn't cheap, $950 for 750 square feet. Planks were coming up from the floor, brick walls had holes, windowpanes were coming off . . .
. . . and then one day the kitchen wall swung open, and there was a tomb covered with vampire bats! Tell how you got this big apartment, or rather tell The Tale of Having the Broker by the Neck.
[Kenya] I saw it through a broker, liked it, and met the landlady, who said, You sound fine to me and I've decided to give you the apartment. But the broker got pissed off. He didn't want us to get the apartment. He told the landlady not to rent to us. The landlady was furious: You're telling me they're not good enough and they came to me themselves. She made him drop his fee from 12 to 7 percent. When we met with him, he said, How dare you go over my head. Actually, I was trying to be a broker at one point last year. [Ari] You have to be an apprentice for two years. [Kenya] I lasted two days.
Brokers are like stars. That Corcoran woman is very glamorous. She's always in the gossip columns.
They have PR assistants, car services. I saw the one I worked for, not Corcoran, squeeze 21 percent out of two girls. She had one of the moms fly up from Alabama. I said, I can't deal with this. This is not a job. I worked previously for a roommate agency. That was great. We charged the lowest rates of all the agencies. Then the owner had to sell. She wasn't generating enough revenue.
One must walk very hard on the backs of others to do well. It's the only way. How did you meet?
Through a friend in '99. About that time, a share I wanted fell through. I was out $1500. I was homeless. I asked Ari if I could come stay with him. He had a share with this woman in Chelsea. [Ari] She kept newspapers from the '60s stacked up high as bookshelves. [Kenya] Real pack rat. Well, Ari was from Atlanta, so he knew nothing about finding apartments or shares. I said, What are you doing? Why are you living with this old woman? She's like 65. He was just like, Oh, the rent's not that expensive. I said, You're paying $850 a month for her master bedroom, please. She slept in the living room.
Would you have become involved if you'd had your own apartment?
[Kenya] It would have taken longer.