Studio in Tenement


Location Lower East Side

Rent $1024 (rent-stabilized)

Square feet 250

Occupants Adam Nelson and Jake Gwyn (computer systems administrators)

How can you live like this! You’re like two men in a shower as opposed to three men in a tub—crushed together in this submarine, a dark, narrow room with a shower stall in the middle. Plus you work together all day.
[Adam] We used to sit next to each other at work, but they moved our desks 15 feet away. [Jake] We do have an hour and a half apart when we wake up. [Adam] I start work later. Basically it’s like Dukes of Hazzard, two cousins riding around in this hot rod, dodging cops, scoping girls. [Jake] The cousins only have one car, so they have to do everything together. [Adam] As for girls visiting . . . [Jake] We have a time-share system. [Adam] We’ve known each other since high school—we’re 24 now—Sayville, Long Island. Jake wasn’t going to high school, though. [Jake] I was there because I ran away from home. I was renting a room from a Polish POW survivor. He was a friend of a friend. I’m from Gadsden, northeast Alabama. I was born on a commune in Summertown, Tennessee. My family moved around a lot, every two years. I was the second of eight boys—I’m used to close quarters and sharing. There was a room in our house full of nitrogen-packed food, big white plastic buckets of texturized vegetable protein to feed all of us. When I decided to leave home—my mother remarried, became a Mormon, and I was going for the most remote place from my stepfather—my father’s friends said if I was ever in trouble to call them. They were pagan, like witches. It’s a modern movement of observance of various ancient European rites. The high priest had a friend in Long Island, though he wasn’t a pagan, and they sent me there with $1000 in my pocket. I got a job off the books working for a tree surgeon.

You met Adam while treating an elm?

No. I was lonely and I was invited to a school play by two girls from the local library. I think it was The Imaginary Invalid, Molière. I met Adam at the cast party. [Adam] We lived together then, too, at my parents’ house—they’re teachers—after Jake got kicked out of the POW place where he was staying, because he was sleeping with a girl. I guess they made too much noise. The girl he was sleeping with was my girlfriend.

Jake’s like Hal in Inge’s Picnic. He comes into town and nothing’s the same. But Adam, weren’t you upset about your girlfriend?

I didn’t know.

What happened to her?

She went insane. So I go up to Albany to school. [Jake] I went back to Georgia with the people who helped me escape from my stepfather. I started massage-therapy training, later I moved to North Carolina with my girlfriend, a different one. We made an entirely organic two-story cypress log cabin insulated with organic cotton, no fiberglass. All natural varnish. We were there three years. I did my massage therapy, acupuncture, kinesiology. [Adam] It’s hippie talk. [Jake] I got an invitation from someone I knew in Brooklyn. I planned to come for a week. Adam had just gotten this apartment. I said, Well, I’ll stay.

What about the girlfriend in the organic cabin?

She was furious. But see, there’s another thing. [Adam] Tell her. [Jake] She was 30 years older than me.

So did Jocasta, I mean whatever her name was, didn’t she get upset?
Yes. I didn’t say I was leaving. I took a large backpack, a gym bag. [Adam] For one week. [Jake] That’s how I left home, by the way. With a gym bag.

This article from the Village Voice Archive was posted on February 20, 2001

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