Location East Harlem
Price $3728.66 ($916.56/mo. maintenance)
Square feet 860
Occupants DeBorah Gray (program assistant, Church World Service; colon hygienist/nutrition consultant, Cooper Longevity Center; assistant manager, Sisters Cuisine); Leslie Gray (freelance master carpenter); Kendel Gray (student, BMCC); Michael Willoughby (camp counselor)
You’ve got a traffic jam in the corner of the living room. [Leslie] These trucks are radio controlled. The Renegade hasn’t been run in a while—got to work on it. See this wall system? I built it around these fish tanks, kissing fish. [DeBorah] He likes to make things. [Leslie] I first thought about making the tanks into terrariums. But fish are more of an eye-catcher. They came from the old apartment with us. [DeBorah] We moved from hell to heaven. [Leslie] Just a few blocks away, 121st and Lexington, drug traffic right up the staircase. [DeBorah] Here we have a doorman. [Leslie] At first we were kind of skeptical. But he’s there 24 hours. [DeBorah] It’s a whole different way of thinking here.
I was just in Marcus Garvey Park across the street. There are all these flowers. People are sitting quietly under the heavy green trees, the sound of basketballs, ba-bom, ba-bom. This is a city-subsidized co-op. I called to see how much affordable housing like this has gone up. They said they’ve begun construction or rehabilitation on 204,000 units since ’87. There are income restrictions, depending on family size. Locals have preference on 30 percent of the apartments. I heard about the building when they broke ground in ’94. I was too late to get in for the lottery—so many people for 135 apartments. But some got to the final stages and backed out. Reverend Calvin O. Butts of the Abyssinian Baptist Church came and blessed my home. [Leslie] We’re both from Harlem. [DeBorah] I grew up in the projects. [Leslie] My grandfather had a shoeshine stand, Mr. Lee’s, 141st and Lenox. It was up for landmark status. If some people had done the right thing, it would still be there. When my parents moved from a tenement to Co-op City in ’69, I kept their old place for five years, put in some black lights, pillows. I had a turntable that played vertically. It was just a matter of weight systems. Then I’d entertain guests. [DeBorah] We hadn’t met yet. [Leslie] We met through my fraternity, a dance. The Order of the Feather. I was with the New York City Mission Society. [DeBorah] They get youth off the street. [Leslie] Best-kept secret in Harlem. [DeBorah] Now he’s moved up to the Order of the Bonnet. He made the bonnet and this lodge pole. They do the Eagle Dance during the ceremony.
I recently realized that all apartments—movie stars’, everybody’s—always have two things: remote-control devices and vitamin pills. You, too, like bread and water. Let’s go to your son’s room and see his action figures. Hundreds are on the bookshelf, about to charge. I hope that one with the pumpkin head doesn’t get us. Spiderman is on his back. If you touch one, he’ll know it. My son’s in California right now working on his rap artist career. I have another boy living with me this last year, Michael. He didn’t have any place to stay.
You’re pulling down a mysterious suitcase from the closet shelf. [Leslie] Marvel comics from 25 years. I refuse to get rid of them.
It’s the Phantasmal, half-plant, half-animal—all murderer! I got some autographed. The artwork’s not as great as it used to be. [DeBorah] Leslie makes clocks, too.
What are those wooden things shaped like pyramids? [Leslie] Banks. I made them with oak veneer. I close each one and date it.
A person would need dynamite. There’s no way to open them. Yes there is, but you have to come back to me.
This article from the Village Voice Archive was posted on August 28, 2001