Three-Bedroom Apartment, Pre-War Building


Location Washington Heights

Rent $1,758.20 (rent stabilized)

Square feet 1120

Occupants Matthew Underwood (history teacher, Beacon School), Nolan Haims (theater director), Carl Flanigan (Off-Off-Broadway producer)

I have to tell you what I saw on the way over. The building with the big brown and cream sign: Lissemore Music Studios, which made me think of people learning to play the violin in the 1950s. Then I wanted to explore St. Nicholas Avenue—it’s about four blocks down the hill—and have chimichurri, habichuelas con dulce, and frio-frios, and get some sugarcane juice. But I got involved at the store on Broadway and 181st with the ceramic musical piggy banks and the Chinese urns and the plates with the china swans nose to nose looking dark and ominous. By the time I got to St. Nicholas, the man who makes pastelitos was putting away his cart. St. Nicholas is all music and colors, and then you walk east and wham, you’re in the grip of trees. It’s so bucolic around here. [Nolan] You hardly see any police—quiet in every sense of the word. [Matt] About once a week, there’s an ambulance in front of the buildings. [Nolan] The place is filled with old European Jews. [Matt] This is all Revolutionary War around here. [Nolan] Matt’s a history teacher. [Matt runs off to get his book.] [Carl] The first woman to take up arms in the Revolution was up in Fort Tryon. Her husband died in battle and she took up his musket.

I was thinking about how in any neighborhood—with the thousands of people with their individual lives and their thoughts about their jobs, their bladders, the big, the small— it’s impossible to think of every minute existence and all the infinite occurrences, even the number of people who walk in and out of any one dry cleaner in a day—though I must say the dry cleaner near me is wonderful. Kim runs it. She told me she has 40 cousins. But she went away, so one of her relatives is there and he plays opera all day long and I was thinking of what heightened emotional state he must be in every single second. But I get the impression none of you are enormously connected to your neighborhood. [Carl] Nolan’s always at the theater rehearsing. I’m at my girlfriend’s in Long Island City a lot.

Look at the tidy stack of Glad bags—zipper, freezer, storage, sandwich. [Nolan] Cleanliness is my caveat. [Carl] We have a cleaning woman every other week. I have to make a mad dash every fortnight to make sure I stay over for the day she comes. [Nolan] I had a wine tasting a few weeks ago. [Carl] I was drunk before anybody showed up. [Nolan] It’s hard to get people up to Washington Heights. I inherited the lease from my old college roommate—Northwestern—a few years ago. [Matt] I found this on the Northwestern listserv in January. Before, I was paying $1100 to share a one-bedroom in Chelsea. [Carl] I moved to New York in ’97 to work on The Lion King. Nolan was looking for a roommate. Me and Nolan—like we have the same conversation we had in college: This person sucks. How could you think that play was good? My girlfriend thinks we’re a bunch of theater lovies. She’s from Ireland. That’s what they call Kenneth Branagh, Emma Thompson. Everyone in the industry is a lovie.

So let’s go see your rooms. Oh, this must be Matt’s room with the history books. This must be Carl’s with the ski poles. I feel like I’m a friend of your parents and I’m seeing your rooms before you go to sleep. Now, Nolan’s wing—the bookcase with the 5000 theater programs. Nolan, you’re holding up a little rock. [Nolan] An opening-night gift—from Karen Mason. Another gift, a rubber crocodile. This picture, that’s me in front of the Kremlin. I was in Circus Smirkus. Here’s my seventh-grade prom photo.

Ah, you have The Silence of Chung Ling Soo, the magician who never spoke. He died onstage performing the bullet catch. His death certificate reads “death by misadventure.”

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