Williamsburg Gingerbread

I turned on to Bushwick, oh god. I don't want to live here. It's so ugly.

  Location East Williamsburg
Rent $1,150 [rent stabilized]
Square feet 600 [railroad apartment in early-century walk-up building]
Occupant Jessanne Collins [writer; marketing assistant, Guilford Press]

A fiction-writing room! Here's my novel. It's about this sort of decrepit town in Connecticut and these sort of messed-up people who live there—to make a long story short.

What's that sound? My cats are talking to the birds.

Jessanne Collins
photo: Cary Conover
Jessanne Collins

The red-painted floor is the star of your house—especially in the bedroom. By the time I got to this room, I had no stuff left. The front of the house is crooked. The ceiling goes up from one side to the other.

The closet leans to the left. How do you feel when you wake up here? It's so cavernous. The ceilings are so high.

You have a dresser with a purple glass perfume bottle. I wonder who lived here before? I bet it was a family with teenage daughters putting on nail polish. I can hear them laughing —though little do they know what is to come. Look at the old door painted over inside: Even the locks are painted shut. Your books . . . Do you think The Bell Jar is in every woman's library?Yes. I went through a Sylvia Plath phase. I think that's why I went to Smith.

I can hear a neighbor talking. Daytime on weekdays is always so strange in these neighborhoods. It belongs to another time. A sign on the side of a building on the street reads, "Castoria—The Friendly Real Estate Office." My landlord's face is on it. It is all faded.

I hear the cat scratching. The landlord was really nice to me. You know, you don't trust realtors as a rule. He's old Brooklyn, Italian. It seemed too good to be true. He had turned down all these people before me. The girl at the office, who is my age, said, He must really like you. I was moving from Boston—I didn't even have a job. When the rent was supposed to go up, he raised it less than he had to. His office is on Graham. It's got the metal grates, neon lights. I found it the first day, July 20, 2004. I'd looked at a few places. One was like $1,000, one window facing into a courtyard. I was like so exasperated. I turned on to Bushwick. Oh God, I said to my friend. I don't want to live here. It's so ugly. Then we walked in. It was summer, the sun was pouring through every window, the red floor was glowing, and my friend said, You have to take it. All my stuff is red. For a long time I was only into black. When I went to Smith, I had a shaved head and jungle fatigues. At Smith, everybody was like that. So I let my hair grow out.

Grand Street is so cheerful. The Dominican Bakery has a chocolate pirate-ship cake, the Grand Morelos Diner with the rose-pink booths has a complex white-and-lavender cake with columns, ramps, and bridges connecting it to smaller cakes. You wrote that you grew up in a mill on top of a river and that you like "cozy little spaces in ugly decaying landscapes, places that are past their time in history, and cultivating new growth out of broken stuff and situations." You were speaking from an emotional, literary standpoint. But from a visual one, decaying landscapes are more accessible; they can make a person feel richer. Perfect stone mausoleums are diminishing. I was looking at the sign next door: "Warning, Keep Out. Poison Baited Area." A woman passed by and said, "Winter is coming." When I touched the siding on your building, it jiggled. I was thinking, nobody's ever made a gingerbread house that looked like a Williamsburg two-flat, with peppermint siding, but gray. Great.

The tire store could be made out of licorice.

 
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