Early 1980s Four-Floor Townhouse


Location Eltingville (south Staten Island)

Rent $1300 (market)

Square feet 2000

Occupant Romina Talabucon (technology consultant, A&P)

Come clean. Why are you living in south Staten Island if you work in New Jersey, which, on bad days, is a two-hour commute? Then at nights you drive to Manhattan to the Fourth Wall Workshop to play Rose in It’s Not Funny and Cheryl in Darn It. Are you sure your parents don’t own this townhouse and you get to stay for free? No. I’m renting it from my mom’s friend. I just couldn’t resist the deal. I got it a month ago. I moved back from San Francisco last year. I was in Brussels, Chicago before that. Everybody asks me why Staten Island. I live two neighborhoods down from where I grew up, in Great Kills. All my friends are here. They’re firemen, policemen. I was born in ’71 in the Philippines. When we moved to Staten Island, we were the only non-Caucasian family in the entire area, the only ones who weren’t Irish or Italian. A lot of my baby-sitters were Irish.

Let me tell the reader that we’re talking, not in your house yet, but in your silver convertible Volkswagen Cabrio. Your cousin, a physical therapist, who just moved from the Philippines, is in the back seat. We’re seeing the sights. What a place, Staten Island! Why did your parents move here? I’m not quite sure. None of their family was here. Growing up I had a lot of cousins in Woodside, Jersey City. There’s a street there named Manila. We all played the piano. We’d take turns at family functions. My parents still live in their house in Great Kills. We call it the red schoolhouse. It looks like Little House on the Prairie. My father’s name is Romeo.

Here’s Wolfe’s Pond. [We stop and look at nature.] Now Hylan Boulevard. When I was growing up, you’d see people on horseback. Now big houses are popping up everywhere here. It’s still relatively inexpensive to have one in Staten Island.

Hylan is where Olmsted’s house was! This was before he designed any parks. He ran a fruit farm and did landscape experiments. Oops, we just passed it. Let’s go back. Wait, where is it? Well, we never saw it. Too much traffic. Everyone has a corral fence around their house. I grew up in St. Clair’s Parish. I think they lost the largest number in September 11. I had one friend who was lost. He was the first boy I ever kissed. I went to the same high school as Susan Molinari. The nuns kept drilling that in, Susan Molinari.

Here’s your house. Oh that’s nice, the chain-link gate slides open for your car. Here’s the living room. It’s so bright in here. Now we have to get back in the car? You’re always in your car. We have to drive my cousin to the Upper East Side. I used to live in Tudor City, where my parents own an apartment. When I went to San Francisco, my sister moved in. I hope she’ll have a child, they’ll move, and I can move back. Tudor City is real interesting—diplomats, doctors. But when somebody has an apartment, they never sell. My parents got it because a cousin was living there. Now we’re driving through Great Kills.

Richard Gass lived over there. Sal Castelli, John Adamo. I was pretty lucky. All the guys in high school were cute. I was a cheerleader since I was nine. They make us start young here.

Here’s fancy Todt Hill. Big houses, little land. Now the Verrazano Bridge, how elegant, like a Scandinavian silver bracelet. There’s the Gowanus. I think I’m getting carsick. I just turned around and your cousin looks entirely different—black leather jacket, dark glasses. She’s on a cell, very Bond. Is she wealthy that she lives on the Upper East Side? [We arrive.] Look at this beautiful street. No, somehow she got her sister’s rent-regulated apartment, high ceilings, fireplace. She thinks everybody in New York lives like that. We tell her, “That’s not normal!”

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