One-Bedroom Apartment Over Hair Salon


Location Prospect Heights, Brooklyn

Rent $1175 (market)

Square feet 670

Occupants Kate Chumley (theater artist; cowriter of play City for Sale; instructor, Children’s Movement for Creative Education); Liberty Ellman (jazz guitarist; marketing coordinator, Blue Note Records)

It was a cold and rainy day. . . .
[Kate] I walked into the broker’s office like a dead cat. Liberty and I had been looking forever. We’d been subletting this one room, a box really, when we came from San Francisco a year and a half ago. We were looking in Manhattan, paying everybody off, just shelling out dollars for credit checks. This fax came in the broker’s office from an affiliate broker in Brooklyn. I guess new brokers hook up with established ones. She was a French woman named Mia and there was a one-bedroom in Prospect Heights and the broker said we better get there quick. Brooklyn was a completely different world. In Manhattan it was sheer brutality all the time, just gouging people. Brooklyn was cooler. . . .

Some wouldn’t think of Brooklyn as moral heaven.
Mia was totally laid-back. She wears short shorts and roller-skates with her Walkman and her dog. The building was sort of collapsing toward the middle so everything was on a slant, but there was sunlight. I wrote a check. I felt kind of evil because we weren’t the first to see the apartment, but we were the first to put down the money. Money is who gets it. I did it and I never looked back. We met our landlords, a wonderful ancient couple from Guyana. Our neighborhood is strongly West Indian and people live in the places they own, a very settled community so I don’t feel guilty all the time, I don’t feel part of the vanguard of the yuppie threat that will come. Every move I make is haunted by real estate guilt and nightmare. Our landlords take a lot of vitamins. They take a lot. They’re very sharp. We got a year lease but we didn’t get a new lease this year, but I understand it automatically rolls over. Don’t make me worried about that. Liberty and I fled San Francisco, a lot of our friends did—we couldn’t stand what’s going on there. Dotcommization has just taken over. [Liberty] We also came to New York for our careers. [Kate] Yes, but I just felt betrayed by the city. They’re letting developers destroy the Mission District, south of Market. They’re pushing out artists, immigrants, small-business owners, quadrupling commercial rents, and then building these luxury lofts and calling them artists’ live-work lofts to avoid meeting expensive building regulations and selling them as half-million-dollar condos to rich dotcommers who aren’t even artists. My sister said San Francisco has become a whore.

There was the Barbary Coast. You and your mother just wrote a play about San Francisco’s current land wars and displacement.
This is the third play we’ve written together. Both my parents are in the San Francisco Mime Troupe. They met in the summer of love. Our house was essentially a hippie house when I was born. It was in the Mission District, a little shack, the whole top had burned off. My dad put on a roof. I grew up in sleeping lofts with my sisters, three little girls. My dad knocked out a couple of walls. We had beautiful open views of San Francisco. My dad’s very talented. He was born to hillbilly parents. He got a full scholarship to Harvard but then the Mime Troupe came through town and he ran off with them. Liberty was born in the early ’70s, like me. We both had relatives who fought in Spain. He grew up in a Greene Street loft, Buddhist chanting. His dad was drummer for Todd Rundgren, but now he’s a financial planner in New Jersey. His mom was close with Jimi Hendrix. She said rock and roll got pretty corrupt so she moved to Mill Valley. [Liberty] She didn’t say that. [Kate] That’s what she told me.

Archive Highlights