Square feet 550
Occupants Diane June Campbell (program coordinator, Department of Programs & Services for People With Disabilities, Lincoln Center); Mikki Baloy (actress)
[This story is so big that Emily’s Pork Store, the funeral monument place, and singing neighbor Eleanor, who’s still upset that they built the BQE right in back of the house, will have to be discussed at another time.] How did you find your way here? [Mikki] Oh, man! [Diane] I’ll go first. I moved five times last year. I had a place in Bay Ridge, but after I signed the lease I lost the place. I went to Jersey City to look. It was cold, raining. It was St. Patrick’s Day. It was really sad. I’m Irish. I didn’t know Jersey City at all. I saw a couple of places, a tenement with a stove in the living room. I went to Astoria that night. It was the last stop on the N. The real estate office is in the station. I saw a pretty strange one, a furnished basement, $700, ultra-Christian family. Then another basement studio, a wacky Italian family. The guy said, “No bringing boys home.” There was a weird smell, hardly any hot water. I decided I’d move in with a roommate. I looked in the listings, went to Jackson Heights, met a guy named Rick. He had a puppy. But when I went to get the keys, he said the dog died. He was really upset. I thought it showed compassion. He called me two days later at work and said, “Our building’s been sold. Mrs. Chow, the landlord, had a heart attack. She’s in the hospital but her family has control and they want to move into the flat.” He was giving me five days to vacate. I went into somebody’s office and started crying. I moved back with my parents. I’d given Rick $1800, rent plus two months’ security. He promised to wire the money. I ended up taking him to small-claims court. He never showed up.
[Update! Life churns and turns! Diane called: “Channel 4 said the same guy scammed somebody out of $10,000. They’re tracking him down.” Back to the interview.] I met my boyfriend, Tony, when I lived in the smelly basement, at a poetry reading in Park Slope. Our eyes met across the room. Tony would do movie night once a week. One night Mikki came. [Mikki] It was Hamlet, the Ethan Hawke one. [Diane] We’ve seen all the others. [Mikki] Someone I worked with at the bookstore, Borders on Park, needed a roommate. He told me the rent was $1500, three people. I’d be paying $500. Once I owed him like $100 and he wrote me an e-mail threatening to evict me. Then I found out I was paying half the rent for the whole apartment. Diane’s boyfriend was a customer at Borders. I went to his movie night because I was so stressed out. My cell phone rings in the middle of Hamlet: “We’re going to throw your stuff on the street.” Diane’s boyfriend said, “Stay on my couch.” Then Diane and I decided we’d live together. We looked all over, found one we fell in love with, spacious, Nostrand and Park Place, $1000 a month. [Diane] This real estate agent wouldn’t give us the apartment. [Mikki] He asked me, “Can I order a cheeseburger?” He thought if I was an actress, I must be a waitress. [Diane] He was downright rude. He had no legal ground not to give us the apartment. I had the income to get it. [Mikki] Diane made this really good point about rent-to-income ratio. [Diane] I shuffled numbers around. [Mikki] He went, “Oh, that’s cute, very cute.” [Diane] I really let into him. Finally he had no choice. We went at night at 10. It was pretty terrifying. A police officer suggested we not move there. The realtor was thrilled. [Mikki] Who cares. [Diane] Then I thought, hey, Sunset Park. I went, met Rose, who’s not a licensed broker but an intermediary. She showed me the place—police station at one end of the street, federal prison on the other, but it had character. She jacked up the rent $100 when we took it. [Mikki] The toilet overflowed. She said, “Don’t use so much toilet paper.” [Diane] The heat didn’t work. [Mikki] She was getting sick of us interrupting her trips to Atlantic City. [Diane] One night coming back from a yoga retreat, Mikki called and said, “The kitchen cabinet fell off the wall.” We found this apartment on a message board on Bedford.