Maid Man


Location: Upper East Side

Rent: $0

Square feet: 128

Occupant: Mark Noonan (Ph.D. student, CUNY; founder and editor, Columbia Journal of American Studies)

I walked into this fancy building and the doorman whisked me off to the servants’ quarters where the floors are linoleum and you live in one of the 10 tiny maids’ rooms like Cinderella. Though she didn’t have a photograph of Sylvia Plath and Ted Hughes, a poster from Faster Pussycat! Kill! Kill!, and a Brooks Brothers cranberry silk vest with thin gold stripes in the closet. In exchange for free rent for the last two years you drive a CEO, who owns a co-op in the building, to work. Do you wear a chauffeur’s hat like Sabrina’s father? Nothing uptight like that. The kind of person I drive is the kind I enjoy hanging out with. I just drive him in his Mercedes to Midtown. It works perfectly with my student needs.

Don’t you have to drive him anywhere else? No, he likes to come back on the subway. It puts him in touch with the strap holders. This apartment size is quite a shock to some people. It’s literally an eight-by-16-foot room. There’s no kitchen. It’s quite a test in determination and character to do this. But it’s for the cause of literature. My father tells his friends I sleep standing up. I’m also a book dealer, you see. Though because of the size of my apartment, you wouldn’t know it. I keep my books at my parents’ house in Connecticut. Basically I’m pretty active, so I’m always out. That’s how I deal with this apartment, going to events. And, being a writer, I have an imagination. That can make a small space seem bigger. Though I’ve learned size does matter. Umberto Eco hates getting a book from someone. He says if someone sends him a book, it costs him rent money. It’s a space-taker-upper. I got this apartment when I was studying at Columbia. I saw a sign advertising a free apartment on Park Avenue. The competition was fierce.

You have a little bathroom down the hall with peeling walls. Your exercycle is pressed up next to the tub. It must be so depressing to sit there pedaling. That’s New York. You grin and bear it until you become famous.

I’ve heard stories about these maids’ rooms. How a wealthy person might keep a beautiful young poor person in one—pretend she’s the babysitter—and then sneak down 10 times a day and say, Oh, hi, could we discuss how Billy feels about his stuffed rabbit? I don’t suppose that goes on in this building. Oh no, not here! One of my neighbors works at Mad magazine. She cooks turkey burgers for the family I drive for. The reason we both do this is the family is flexible and doesn’t ask for much of our time. We like them.

Isn’t it stuffy here in the summer? Yes, but I go out to their East Hampton estate and water their roses. I have an apartment attached to their estate. The guy I work for is so cool.

Maybe you really are the guy and you keep an apartment down here so you can lead a double life as a hopeful student. If I were the guy, don’t you think I’d rather play charades in a full-size studio?

No, the extreme is always more erotic.