Riding Shotgun

Three Men, an Apartment, a Tortilla Factory—and That's How They Like It

 LOCATION Bushwick
RENT $1,450 [market]
SQUARE FEET 550
OCCUPANTS Bryn Roberts [jazz pianist]; Gregory Ritchie [drummer]; Tomas Bauer [architect, Schwartz Architects]

Who's the nude man running through the living room in the bath towel? [Gregory] That's Bryn.

And the woman? [The woman] I'm leaving.

Gregory Ritchie, Tomas Bauer, and Bryn Roberts
photo: Brian Kennedy
Gregory Ritchie, Tomas Bauer, and Bryn Roberts

This place with the narrow stairs, the peeling brown mantel, the ripped-out fireplace bricks, the maroon couch that looks like somebody was murdered on it or there was a shoot-out. [Bryn] It seems like I'm not going to be here long. I've been saying this since I got here, September 3, 2001.

You spent September 11 here. It was pretty shocking. I was by myself because both my roommates [earlier ones] were at work. There was no phone.

You're near the auto sales lot with the orange, blue, and yellow pennants flapping in the big empty gray sky, Lucky Star Trading, the Ready Mix Concrete place, and the catering hall for baby showers. They always had a clandestine meeting space there. Only recently they put up the awning. [Gregory] There's the Boar's Head distribution plant, a tortilla factory. [Bryn] It's like the tortilla headquarters here. [Tomas enters with beverages from a deli.]

Tomas, your dark glasses are on the back of your head. [Tomas] It's a new Bushwick thing.

Do you ever wear them on the front of your face? No. [Bryn] Did you go to Luiz Grocery? There are four things for sale. [Gregory] We're the only non-industrial building in the neighborhood. [Tomas] Did you tell her about our landlord?

The plumbers with the store downstairs. [Bryn] Our landlord's father was born in this building. [Gregory] They used to drive a truck to work. Each one had a shotgun and a couple of pistols. [Bryn] They were held up here and shot at. [Gregory] This was all German construction, old German molding. This is the last residential building around here.

You and Bryn travel a lot. You're from Canada. Do you all practice in the apartment? [Gregory] Some. I have to put rubber pads on the drums.

You said you had this big table that the former roommates built. But it's just this skinny work platform. [Tomas] It is huge.

Well, of course, if you think so. Now Tomas, you are from Slovakia. [Tomas] I just came back yesterday from a visit. I took the subway from JFK. Oh my God, it looked so bad, so poor, coming back to Bushwick. Walking here, it's 10 blocks from the L train, I have this suitcase on wheels. It's so hard in Bushwick because all the sidewalks are broken. This is the first time I was back to Slovakia since I moved here one and a half years ago.

Before you lived here, you rented a room in a Williamsburg housing project. How can a person rent a room in a subsidized apartment? [Bryn] It's kind of sketchy. [Tomas] It was a very nice apartment. It was maybe depressing, because of the people. It was actually scary. [He hands over something.] Here is what one of the architects from before left behind.

A fake mustache and spirit gum adhesive. Was he a spy? [They are silent.] Tomas, earlier you said that you didn't know anyone when you moved to New York, that you just knew the iconic things. Then you learned that there are two societies. One is the big Manhattan. The other is the little Bushwick, Brooklyn, and how the people live. [Tomas] Big people in New York think this is the biggest city in the world, that people all over everywhere know all about it. My friends in Slovakia don't know about it. My parents, they were here.

What'd they say about the apartment? We spent our time seeing big things in Manhattan.

Bryn, you're running your finger along the mantel. [Bryn] I'm amazed at the dust.

 
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