Studio in 1940s Building


Location Sunnyside (Queens)

Rent $850 (rent-stabilized)

Square feet 400

Occupant Vanesa Katz (adjunct English professor, LaGuardia College)

You have G Lalo French writing paper! I love the pink but I’m afraid to use it or I’ll run out.

And old typewriters, a Remington Royal! They’re from Argentina, where my parents were from. My mom’s dad was kind of a free spirit, a painter. When the family needed money, he’d clean typewriters. That’s how he met García Lorca, because he was cleaning the typewriter of the Spanish ambassador. My grandfather’s 87. He e-mails me all the time.

Oh, look at his picture. He was a movie star, too. Here he is with my grandmother at Mar de Plata, a seaside town near Buenos Aires.

He has on a snappy white hat. She’s in a 1940s sundress. Here’s a woman next to a palm tree, someone on a mule. And your grandmother in a black dress, holding an open book, looking so sad, like she’s been reading Anna Karenina. Her parents were from Belgium, the Catholic side of the family. My father’s side escaped Poland and the Nazis in the 1940s, came to Buenos Aires. I was born in Argentina. I went to an all-girls yeshiva because at the school in Brighton Beach a little girl was raped. I learned Hebrew and English at the same time. But we had a tree at Christmas. My father owns a liquor store in Sunset Park. I mostly grew up in Staten Island where they still live, very suburban. I moved here two months ago. I was living with my former boyfriend but we broke up. We met at Hunter College. He works in the UN publication department. He’s from Puerto Rico. He convinced me to move to Bay Ridge because the rent was so cheap. Bay Ridge is awful. It’s more like Staten Island than anything. The only good thing is Century 21 and a great plant store. The people are not really very interesting, no cafés. I couldn’t go to a bar, hang out alone. It was a trek to go to work, take the R. Statistically it’s the worst train in New York. The 7 is the best. I read it in an article about the Straphangers association. I love subway stories. He’s still in Bay Ridge—six years! And he’s young like me, 27. I continued to annoy him about moving. We almost put a deposit on a Woodside apartment but the bedrooms were smaller than this alcove. He’s six-five. Woodside is kind of boring. Then I decided I was moving with or without him. I got this, from a broker. It’s cheaper than anything in Astoria. I love it in Sunnyside. I walk to work.

Do you know what I read about Sunnyside? In the 1920s, executives kept their mistresses here because it was inexpensive and close to downtown. When I look at these rounded alcoves and the little closet doors and the view of the back of another building, I can’t get out of my head Myrtle in Gatsby, remember how she and Tom, the wealthy married man, had that cocktail party in the afternoon in her small apartment, though that was 158th on the West Side, but there were all those people drinking hard liquor in the sunlight, probably stationery salesmen or something—”Hey honey, give me a double.” Then when I was walking around the neigborhood here, I could see one of those mistresses, in her flimsy flowered dress going to the movies at the Center Cinema on Queens Boulevard because her boyfriend had to cancel and stay home with his wife. Oh, that Lynch Funeral Home a few doors down, where they laid her out when she died, probably early from heartbreak. But really your life with your magical realism books and longtime friends from Staten Island who are all lawyers has nothing to do with this. Nor does the Turkish restaurant on Queens Boulevard with the copper bowls or the Romanian one with the gold mirrored ceiling and the mannequin in a folk dress. Things are different now. Though maybe there are a few mistresses living out their final days here.

Archive Highlights