One-Bedroom Apartment on Top Floor of House


Location Astoria (Queens)

Rent $750 (market)

Square feet 525

Occupant Lisa Bianco (occupational therapist at large New York City hospital; singer-songwriter-guitarist in band, Redjacket)

Last night I was supposed to interview these park rangers with Mountie hats who live in Brooklyn with a python and a Swiss film editor—this sounds like a Shelter column in a dream—but I said leave the python in the nature center for the night or I’m not coming, but then one of the roommates didn’t show anyway so it was a no go. So we were talking first about your job. People wave their shirts over their heads? People who’ve had a stroke. They won’t know what to do with their shirt, how to put it on. Their sense of space is just wack. Occupational therapists help them develop skills to function again in their homes. Sometimes I’ll go into the hospital gift shop with a person with vision problems. Finding a Snickers bar takes a half-hour. We ask them, does your shower have a glass door or curtain? We take measurements. A half-inch can make the difference between whether you get the wheelchair in the bathroom or not.

With your music interests, I thought we’d be talking about raves. No, but after work I hang out, do the music thing, open mic at Sidewalk. My goal in life is not just to come home and watch TV. It’s to put a little dent in history.

You got this apartment two years ago. $750, cash. My landlords don’t want to go to the bank, I guess. They’re older. You saw them when you came in. He had a stroke. They watch Spanish TV. They’re from near Naples, where my father’s from. They’re like my grandparents, nagging a little. If I make a scuff mark on the wall, I get a call. It seems all Italians hate that. My grandmother, she lives five minutes away. Her tenant has a mountain bike. She says, “Why does he have to bring the bike down, three, four times a day?” The beige carpeting is my landlords’. I don’t know if that’s an Italian thing. Beige carpet, beige wall. My grandmother has it, my mother, my aunt. I tried looking in Williamsburg near Bedford—junk, ridiculous, $1200 for a one-bedroom. I spend my money on the music. I gotta buy guitar strings. I was always into the rock and roll. I’m from Long Island, New Hyde Park. This is my first apartment. My mom said, “Lisa, don’t go.”

Will you have a family someday? Of course, though it’s kind of hard with the rock-and-roll life.

Let’s go on tour. Look, a shower mat with a skull and crossbones. My friend said, “It’s so you.”

This mirror frame is decorated with buttons. I glued them. When I got out of college, I couldn’t find a job. I was at home. I do tile work, too. Now, this is not my best, not my great work, but look, it was my mom’s old cabinet. I said, “The top is recessed. I want to tile it!” I learned tiling in O.T. school. We use therapeutic activities. By engaging in activity, you promote health and well-being. Occupational therapy started after World War II, GIs coming back. But doing tile work is very old-school. Today, health care providers dictate: If you live alone, making food would be an acceptable activity.

So Oxford won’t support the decorative arts these days. Now, if I have a stroke . . . Knock on wood you don’t.

Let’s say I do and I can’t write anymore and my brain is gone . . . It depends, sometimes it’s not the whole brain.

Then, if I’m not allowed to tile some ashtrays—this is after I get a ground-level apartment in Florida, in a former motel, the Little Flamingo—anyway, Oxford would say I could make brownies? Yes, though it depends on the person. Getting dressed would be another activity.