Two-Bedroom Apartment in Tenement


Location Bedford-Stuyvesant

Rent $750 (rent-stabilized)

Square feet 500

Occupants Dominic Brando (co-owner, Shifty Entertainment; DJ); Bert Villanueva (DJ, Hell, etc.; manager, the Big Cup)

This building looks like the kind they’d find a dead body in and the neighbors would refuse to talk. Hallways the color of dried blood. Cigarette butts on the floor.

[Dominic] Those are mine.

You say you’re miserable here.

Why? Do you have enough paper? We hear gunfights every other night. [Bert] You can’t go out for a walk. [Dominic] Sometimes you have to duck behind a car. The commute is horrible. It takes three trains to get to Manhattan. [Bert] The J line’s the worst. We had no service last summer. We had to walk over the Williamsburg Bridge and take the bus. Plus, they’re doing repairs at our stop, so they always skip it. The next stop is an eight-block walk. [Dominic] This apartment is two blocks from Bushwick. This isn’t where the artists are. They’re close to Myrtle, five stops from Manhattan. We’re seven stops. Well, if our stop is working. [Bert] There’s no food here. [Dominic] You can only get Chinese. [Bert] You can order Spanish. [Dominic] It might come in four hours, or it might not come at all. [Bert] Well, if it’s raining. [Dominic] The only good thing are the two 24-hour laundromats, if you want to consider that a good thing. We hardly have any heat. This building had three fires. [Bert] Our next-door neighbor was mugged.

I can hear one neighbor playing a jazzy version of “Guantanamera.” Why did you move here?

[Dominic] I was coerced. A good friend of mine owned the building. She inherited it from her father. Now she’s sold it, couldn’t take the pressure, though she still lives here. She got me to move here five years ago without telling me where I was going. She filled the building with all her friends. She said, Once people move in the building, they never leave. [Bert] Oh, great. [Dominic] I’ve lived all over the place. I’m used to ghettos. I grew up in a ghetto—Spanish Harlem in the ’60s—gangs, drugs. My father was a police officer. But this ghetto is 10 times worse than where I grew up. [Bert] I’m from Sudbury, five hours north of Toronto. Nickel capital of the world!

This is a casual environment, cat food on the living room floor, dusty cream paint job . . .

With big giant fur balls. [Dominic] The paint job was from after the fire. [Bert] His old roommate left a candle next to a newspaper. [Dominic] I came in, I’m like, Ohhhh. [Bert] Everything was black from the fire. I’d just moved in. [Dominic] We decided to paint. Some people didn’t help. [Bert] I was watching TV. [Dominic] It was me, Lydia—our neighbor who used to own the building—and her ex-boyfriend. [Bert] Lydia always comes up in her muumuu to chat. [Dominic] Lydia’s a singer. Me and my partner manage her. I knew her from Junior Vasquez. I used to sublet his apartment—lot of gold lamé. Now you know the family tree. [Bert] Lydia was making jello shots. Peach jello with peach schnapps. [Dominic] That and a little something else and we got the place painted. [Bert] A couple of paint strokes and they’d talk for an hour. [Dominic] I don’t necessarily invite any of my dates out here. [Bert] My boyfriend asked me why I never invited him here. I stay with him a lot in Chelsea. At least stores are open 24 hours. You can buy a chocolate bar at three in the morning. Though my boyfriend’s apartment’s the size of this living room. He doesn’t have a full-size bed. When I stay over, one of us has to sleep on the futon on the floor. It’s like a doggie bed.

You never get the whole ballpark.

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