Fig Chatter

 Location Briarwood (Queens)
Rent $1,284.62 (rent stabilized)
Square feet 900 (three-bedroom apartment in 116-unit building)
Occupants Christine Moore-Seidel (milliner, owner, Christine A. Moore Millinery), Blake Seidel (managing director, Olmsted Theater; teacher, Adelphi University)

Big red brick buildings are everywhere—and that expressway outside your door. Where are we? [Christine] Briarwood. Between Flushing, Jamaica, and Kew Gardens.

I saw a woman walking from the subway with a plastic bag. She said she's been here 20 years. I think she lives alone and was going to watch television while she ate her dinner. [Christine] We tell our friends, "You should come live in our neighborhood!" We've been here seven years. No, we don't know the names of all our neighbors. On our floor is a judge, an Indian family, a Jewish guy, a laborer, who's 85, and his wife from Ecuador, an African American couple, a Russian. [Blake] There are a lot of Russians, Muslims as well. The reason we chose to live here is because it was in the middle. I teach at Adelphi. Christine has her business in Manhattan. We didn't want to have to cross a bridge every night. We have a quick exit on the Van Wyck. [Christine] We visit our parents near Philadelphia a lot. [Blake] They have an old farmhouse. [Christine] Sheep, goats. My dad was a gentleman farmer. His daughters were the farmhands. Blake's from Boyertown, where there was an enormous theater fire. That's one of the fires that made the door laws on public buildings. [Blake] They must open out. It was the Boyertown Opera House fire, 1908. They were watching a Scottish play when it happened. [Christine] Which had to be a snore. Somebody wrote two books about the fire. Midwinter Mourning and the sequel, A Town in Tragedy. Blake and I met in 1986. He was the house manager of the Walnut Street Theatre and I was the lowly wardrobe mistress. [Blake] Then I came to New York to go to Columbia graduate school.

Who wants to be a milliner? Blake Seidel and Christine Moore-Seidel in Briarwood
photo: Chiho Kitajima
Who wants to be a milliner? Blake Seidel and Christine Moore-Seidel in Briarwood

This apartment is so unusually furnished. Everything is in dark burgundy, brown tones, even the books look darker. [Christine] Blake's the decorator. Doesn't it look like a men's den?

I don't know, all the green hanging plants everywhere. You have so many kinds of collections. Usually people in the city, with small apartments, just have maybe one, like the man who had 300 little Pez friends. Here—glass collections, bottle collections, box collections. [Blake] It comes from propping shows. When we do a set, we dress it out.

There's something about the way these detailed rooms open into other detailed rooms. I have this recurring dream where hallways lead to dark secret places with red velvet and lace and dolls and music boxes. It's like a Bette Davis plantation movie or someone's bed-and-breakfast or something. As dreams go, I'm not very proud of it. Oh, but your apartment also makes me think of that movie Secret Beyond the Door, where this architect collects rooms and has psychological secrets and there's a knife at the beginning and an undercurrent of sexual feelings and murder. Let's get back to Briarwood. Somehow, in a Google search, a Briarwood fig discussion popped up. Someone wrote: "Anyone know anything about figs in Briarwood?" Another wrote: "I'm no help at all." Then an excerpt: "Oh they all seemed to be pretty short trees." Ralph wrote, "When I lived on Long Island I had a fig tree." Pete tried to identify Ralph's tree. These Web pages are so funny, you'll come across some family's website and their vacation and you don't even know the family and they're talking about how so-and-so got hungry and had to have a hot dog and who are all these people. [I call a few days later.] Hi, I thought I might have dominated the conversation. Did anything happen after I left? Did one of you pass from the kitchen to the living room or something? [Christine] Yes, I did. Every time I pass between the black leather chair and the old chest where the Japanese boxes were stored, I hit the plant. Blake says, "Could you go the other way around?"

 
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