Rent $1157.97 (rent stabilized)
Square feet 400
Occupant Thomas Barton (founder-curator, Museum of Applied Trash; visual artist)
Skinny place! Ten feet wide! Welcome to the Museum of Applied Trash! Let’s sit in the café. All museums have one. This café’s in my kitchen. It’s not really an official museum. I started it when I moved in two years ago—all found objects. See this toilet with the three wise Gummi bears? I do a lot of installations. Though everything isn’t necessarily trash. But if it’s not trash now, it will be 1000 years from now. As a kid, I was told Styrofoam would last 1000 years. That was in the middle of Ohio—Mansfield, like in Shawshank Redemption. The prison’s in the middle of town. I grew up in a house that was part of the underground railroad. The tunnel went from our house to the YMCA. I lived in 1000 other places. My parents were divorced. My mom was a Friendly’s waitress and audiologist. One day I came home from high school in Mt. Dora, Florida. She said, “We’re moving back to Ohio.” I said, “No, we’re not.” I wanted off that train. She left. I set up my own little apartment in a garage. I was selling in a mall. I was lonely living in the garage. I kind of got suckered into moving in with this guy in a very shady area, in Eustis, Florida. We’d go up on the roof, watch people shoot up.
You blew out of Florida. Then Akron, Baltimore, New York for the first time, in ’91. I was in a play Off-Broadway, Bernie’s Bar Mitzvah. Then I went corporate—MCI. I was MCI’s number one service rep—Richmond, Virginia, San Francisco. I quit, went to Europe for a year—old row house in Rotterdam. Then a little apartment in D.C. across from this roller-skating rink—”Couples only! The Hokey Pokey!”—my favorite, of course. That was really interesting, but that was a month. I was now hosting live stage events, getting MCI employees jazzed up in 11 cities. When I got to L.A., the shows were canceled. I had to wait tables. I had a writer’s studio in the Miracle Mile district, gorgeous. Then, of course, I gave that up. My last apartment in L.A. was a unique, homey space, but the roommate was a prick. The first morning, I smelled pancakes. I thought, “Ohhhh!” I went to the kitchen. He said, “Good morning.” He had one plate at the table, ate a stack, proceeded to talk, and wrapped the other three up in the refrigerator. I thought, “OK, this is how it’s going to be.” I came to New York again in ’98. First, I did the typical New York thing—four different places. One on 80th and Amsterdam. Hell’s Kitchen—another pancake situation. Then a share, a closet for close to $1000, on Thompson near Prince. You know how when you move here, you don’t know how the game is played? Well, the girl’s whole rent was not much more than $1000. It was like, fuck it. I threw all my stuff in storage, went to Florida on business—I was working for Deutsche Bank. A hurricane came . . .
You blew back to the Upper West Side. Then my friend had a friend looking for someone to take his place in Chelsea—Bruce. Bruce is in Florida. I call Bruce up. I’m projecting myself into the phone. If someone’s going to get Bruce’s apartment, I want it to be me. At the end of an hour conversation, I said, “Bruce, it seems like I know you.” At first he said I had to wait for months for the apartment. Then he said, “Next month.” I cried. “Is it really, really mine? You’re not going to suddenly change.” Now I still hadn’t seen it. So Bruce comes back from Florida, and we decide to meet at 18th and Eighth. I see him coming. I say, “Bruce.” He says, “Thomas.” Bruce was like the first person I met when I moved to New York in ’98. I was hanging out in front of the Big Cup. Bruce was hanging out. We connected. And every time after that we talked. So I moved in. I had really nothing. The first object I picked off the street was a woman, Marilyn Monroe. She used to be a former neon beauty. I thought she looked so sad on the sidewalk. I brought her home, put her in the bay window, lit her up. No, I don’t have her anymore. Like everything else in my life, I loved her but I had to throw her away.