Grecian formula


Location: Whitestone, Queens

Rent: $900 (covers mortgage and taxes on father’s house)

Square Feet: 2600

Occupant: Nicholas Bakos (editor; filmmaker)

Here we are, driving around northeastern Queens on our way to your house in Whitestone, in your snazzy new black Volkswagen Beetle with the electric blue­and-red dashboard. We’re going through Flushing, which is so Blade Runner with all the Asian and Spanish signs and the planes flying low. Salsa music is playing on the car radio. A memory of my Corona days, where I lived until I was 14–1978. We were one of the last Greek families in Corona. I had mostly Dominican and Cuban friends. Corona is very Mexican now.

The Beetle is working its way to Whitestone, where you live by yourself in your parents’ former house with Italian provincial end-tables. Your father, who used to own a deli in Midtown, is retired and lives mostly in Athens. Do you frequent the town center in Whitestone, which was settled in 1645? I go to the one decent bakery.

Many of Whitestone’s brick houses have marble columns. Greeks and Italians started buying the houses in the ’70sfrom WASP families and slapped on the columns, a huge front door, and all of a sudden it’s Tara. Our house isn’t so fancy. It was built by the golf-playing Purringtonsin about 1921. There was a course next door. The whole house was blue when we bought it–light blue, baby blue.

Here we are at the house. On the hall table are photographs of your Greek ancestors in native dress. Your grandmother has a square cloth on her head. Your grandfather went to work in the slaughterhouses in Buenos Aires in 1925 because there was no money in his little village of Dervitsiani. In your all-orange bedroom, formerly your sister’s, you have books by Harold Bloom and Lawrence Durrell, who lived in Greece. I loved his Quartet, where this older woman gets involved with a young Greek ambassador but later she gets disfigured from smallpox and has to spend her remaining years in a hut with a pet cobra. Now, why are you living in this house with a black rotary phone–it rings constantly with your relatives–when so many of your friends live downtown? It’s such a contrast from your NYU anthro, Caribbean-studies Ph.D. days. Will you live here forever? I’m not sure. I’m the only person I know who can seat 25 for dinner. I did live for a few years on 7th Street off Second. Some people think it’s kind of cute here–gemütlich. To sell the house, I’d only get about $430,000,which, after taxes, wouldn’t leave a ton to buy anything in Manhattan. I like to live in both New Yorks, the big high fabulous and the indigenous folk level, though I don’t really know how much contact I actually have with the neighborhood–but I like to be around it. Of course, maybe my wanting to be a voyeur on borough life may just be a sociological rationalization for being pathologically nostalgic or a craving for domesticity or . . .

Maybe it’s about being transgressive, the excitement of crossing boundaries? You mean being a Queens boy downtown and a downtown filmmaker in a gym full of borough boys? Yes!