Two-Story Apartment in 1841 Building

Location Greenwich Village
Rent $1950/mo. (market)
Square feet 1500
Occupants Dug McDowell (coproducer, Pork at the Lure; live-act producer, Black Party); Kate Wagner (chef)

We are examining a miniature scale model of your apartment that you made after you were in the slammer. [Dug] Yes, I started working on it the minute I got out of jail. I was just in for two weeks. See, last year this guy was staying with me. My roommate Kate said, Gee, he seems to have a lot of guests. One night I was sleeping and eight storm troopers kicked the door open with two SWAT guys in black masks. While I was napping, this houseguest had brought five friends over and I guess there were things on the dining room table. If drugs are in plain view, everybody on the premises is charged equally with possession. In the end, the guy took the rap. The lawyer wanted a plan of the apartment so he could show my bedroom was back here and drugs were not in plain view of me. See, I used little flat wire for the models of my Barcelona chairs. I still can't get the Wassily chair right. I've lived in this apartment almost 12 years. They've never raised the rent. The person who owned the building died. I've been on month-to-month since '98.

In the dining room, hidden under Indian blankets—a few feet from the baked ham and lavish dinner that Kate has prepared—are glass cages with an eight-foot boa constrictor and his partner, a four-and-a-half-foot python who I wish would drop dead. Just thinking about them sliding around in their cases with their horrible round selves makes me want to jump out the window. There, there. I've had the snakes eight years, since they were as big as pencils. I've always taken in strays. I grew up on a horse ranch in central California. You have to feed the snakes live food. Of course, they only eat two days a month—they are all about efficiency. One eats two live rats, the other eats just one. . . .

Dug McDowell and his roommate, Kate Wagner (in cage), in the Village
photo: Jay Muhlin
Dug McDowell and his roommate, Kate Wagner (in cage), in the Village

I can't believe we're having this conversation. Well, this marine I knew who was a security guard for FBI headquarters—there's like penthouse housing for marines over the FBI building—he was breeding boas, green opalescent. They glistened like CDs. He could get $400 a snake. One year he made $16,000, bought himself a jeep.

How could the marines let him breed snakes in New York? These men are assassins. They don't want them to have hobbies like knitting. So he brought me one snake as a gift and told me to watch the other. He's never been back. I've had 15 roommates. They've all been crazy. One installed a washer and dryer. I had no interest in a washer and dryer. Our living room is the color of makeup and dessert—pumpkin custard. I used my piercing jewelry to make tassels for the curtains. Here are some barbed-wire snakes on the wall. Don't think of them as snakes, think of them as sperm and egg. I like conceptual levels, physics. Kate—who's from Hawaii—she lives in the tower with the silver walls, that's on the second level. You can go out on the roof. That's where we watch the Halloween parade.

Is this cage with the metal chains and the rings for the snakes? [Kate] That's for humans.

As a producer of Pork at the Lure on Wednesday nights, you helped invent a favorite Shelter concept, "Sadist in a Shack." [Dug] My former roommate Peter and I designed it. We went from a two- to a four-wall construction—put in a porch, dirty mattress, beer cans all over the place. Peter's the sadist and he goes inside and tortures people and then guests watch through the slits.

Now what's this room in your apartment—more metal rings and the chains? It used to be the dungeon. Then we painted it lavender and rented it to people on holiday. This house is like the center of the universe, like Grandma's house. The only place in the Village where our friends can drop by and go to the bathroom. We call it stop and plop.

 
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