By Alex Distefano
By Scott Snowden
By Anna Merlan
By Steve Almond
By Jena Ardell
By Jon Campbell
By Alan Scherstuhl
By Tessa Stuart
How wild is the landlady?[Matt] She's really wild. She's here almost every day. She'll knock on the door: "I know you're in there." Then you have to let her in and talk for an hour. She wants the building to be like family. She lives in Jersey. When we came to see the apartment, she said, "This apartment is blessed. My son used to live here."
What happened to her son? [Matt] He passed away. [Laurel] I got this in 1999. Basically my friend Giorgio and I wanted to live together. He was at Bennington. Matt and I were at Bard. Giorgio's friend was upstairs. At that point, 1999, half the block was abandoned buildings. It was the year before the transformation. I grew up in the West Village. I'd never been to Harlem. We came to lookchandeliers, carved wood. We couldn't say no when we met Ruth [landlady]. We have a month-by-month lease now. Ruth wanted it that way. We should pursue it. But she really cares about us. Her husband's not doing so well now. [Matt] We don't want to cause her trouble now. [Laurel] The whole world needs to pray for Mr. Warren to get better.
What happened to Giorgio?[Laurel] He moved. It's weird to live with a couple. First he moved upstairs. There used to be a real crazy bodybuilder who lived there. Awesome. But he was like a slob. [She whispers something.]
What?[Laurel] Too many scandals. We're afraid to talk about them.
You got together in seventh grade. [Matt] Yeah. [Laurel] We kind of went together in eighth grade. [Matt] But we kind of broke up. You know how that is. We both work at bars. I work at the Remote Lounge.
Laurel works at the Village Idiot.[Laurel convulses with laughter and puts her head on the table.]
Who are the neighbors on the street?[Laurel] Lots of old men. The block association president is really hot, this dreadlocked, bodybuilding guy.
Is he the same as the former upstairs neighbor?[Laurel] Different. [Matt] He's really into having kids plant flowers. [Laurel] They all know us on the block. They say, "How's the record business? Are you breaking yet?" When we moved here, DMX lived across the street, you know, the rapper. Obviously this neighborhood has a crazy musical history. There are a few like yuppie white lawyer types. [Matt] Yeah. [Laurel] Look out our window. A lot of the lots are disheveled. But there's one, all marble and tiles, this couple with their fancy baby. You can see it if you stand over by the toilet. I love it here. It's really nice to have neighbors who care about your career.
When you go to Amy Ruth's with The Assemblyman Keith Wright Short Ribs and The Luther Vandross Leg of Lamb, do they ask about your career? [Laurel] We want to talk about Louise's on 121st and Lenox. It's like Memphis in 1965. Everybody watches soap operas all day. [Matt] Breakfast is $2.75. [Laurel] She'll give you a big pile of bacon. They ask, "How's the music industry going?" They're totally ready for you to blow up.
How about at the Baobab with the thiebu yap and the shawarma?[Laurel] They don't know us so well. We only go on special occasions. [Matt] They have money transfer in the back. [Laurel] A lot of people are from Africa.
What's this handwritten list on the front door titled "Very Good Rules"? One is "Open Mail."[Laurel] We learned this year. We had an overdraft. You can prevent problems by opening your mail. It's awesome.
Then there's "Use a Dish, Wash a Dish." [Laurel] We usually don't do that one.
"Make Needs Known Even if You Want to Lie About Them." [Laurel] That one's confusing.