Studio in Tenement

Location Lower East Side
Rent $1024 (rent-stabilized)
Square feet 250
Occupants Adam Nelson and Jake Gwyn (computer systems administrators)

How can you live like this! You're like two men in a shower as opposed to three men in a tub—crushed together in this submarine, a dark, narrow room with a shower stall in the middle. Plus you work together all day.
[Adam] We used to sit next to each other at work, but they moved our desks 15 feet away. [Jake] We do have an hour and a half apart when we wake up. [Adam] I start work later. Basically it's like Dukes of Hazzard, two cousins riding around in this hot rod, dodging cops, scoping girls. [Jake] The cousins only have one car, so they have to do everything together. [Adam] As for girls visiting . . . [Jake] We have a time-share system. [Adam] We've known each other since high school—we're 24 now—Sayville, Long Island. Jake wasn't going to high school, though. [Jake] I was there because I ran away from home. I was renting a room from a Polish POW survivor. He was a friend of a friend. I'm from Gadsden, northeast Alabama. I was born on a commune in Summertown, Tennessee. My family moved around a lot, every two years. I was the second of eight boys—I'm used to close quarters and sharing. There was a room in our house full of nitrogen-packed food, big white plastic buckets of texturized vegetable protein to feed all of us. When I decided to leave home—my mother remarried, became a Mormon, and I was going for the most remote place from my stepfather—my father's friends said if I was ever in trouble to call them. They were pagan, like witches. It's a modern movement of observance of various ancient European rites. The high priest had a friend in Long Island, though he wasn't a pagan, and they sent me there with $1000 in my pocket. I got a job off the books working for a tree surgeon.

You met Adam while treating an elm?
No. I was lonely and I was invited to a school play by two girls from the local library. I think it was The Imaginary Invalid, Molière. I met Adam at the cast party. [Adam] We lived together then, too, at my parents' house—they're teachers—after Jake got kicked out of the POW place where he was staying, because he was sleeping with a girl. I guess they made too much noise. The girl he was sleeping with was my girlfriend.

Water World: Jake Gwyn (in shower) with roommate Adam Nelson.
photo: Bilyana Dimitrova
Water World: Jake Gwyn (in shower) with roommate Adam Nelson.

Jake's like Hal in Inge's Picnic. He comes into town and nothing's the same. But Adam, weren't you upset about your girlfriend?
I didn't know.

What happened to her?
She went insane. So I go up to Albany to school. [Jake] I went back to Georgia with the people who helped me escape from my stepfather. I started massage-therapy training, later I moved to North Carolina with my girlfriend, a different one. We made an entirely organic two-story cypress log cabin insulated with organic cotton, no fiberglass. All natural varnish. We were there three years. I did my massage therapy, acupuncture, kinesiology. [Adam] It's hippie talk. [Jake] I got an invitation from someone I knew in Brooklyn. I planned to come for a week. Adam had just gotten this apartment. I said, Well, I'll stay.

What about the girlfriend in the organic cabin?
She was furious. But see, there's another thing. [Adam] Tell her. [Jake] She was 30 years older than me.

So did Jocasta, I mean whatever her name was, didn't she get upset?
Yes. I didn't say I was leaving. I took a large backpack, a gym bag. [Adam] For one week. [Jake] That's how I left home, by the way. With a gym bag.