Location Forest Hills (Queens)
Rent $950 (sublet)
Square feet 780 (studio in pre-war co-op)
Occupant Karen Russo (financial coordinator, the Levy Group)
I was on Austin Avenue, your main shopping street. Two women in their eighties, wearing dark glasses, were walking near Chez Moi with the rhinestone evening gowns and the one woman said, “Oh, when she sings ‘I am what I am—dah dah dah,’ it is so sensational.” But you know, Forest Hills is so medieval—gables, leaded windows, Pre-Raphaelite sex. Well, it would be if one had sex here and then dressed up as Lady Guinevere or King Arthur, depending. On the other hand, the neighboring Forest Hills Gardens, based on an English garden community of healthy non-industrial feudal life, is all about feeling held, contained, protected—all warm, brown-red brick walls. I wanted to live in Forest Hills my whole life! I just moved here last summer. My father grew up in Forest Hills and that was one reason.
My grandfather was a jewelry designer. We did holidays with my grandparents. My grandfather used to have a tree he’d hang from the ceiling with little boxes. Inside would be jewelry he made for us. I was born in Ridgewood, Queens. We lived in Jersey as a family from ’87 to ’91, in a condo in Hillsborough. That was a hick town, kind of a culture shock, frankly. Then my mother, she was a cook for a church, picked up my sister and myself and moved back to Ridgewood. She figured there would be better jobs for her. She wanted to be closer to her family. My mother was Austrian. In Ridgewood it was very European, lot of Yugoslavians, Romanians. I always called it Little Bosnia. I went to Manhattan Community College. I was in the television field. I didn’t really know what I wanted. After college I was living in the Bronx. The Bronx—oh, it was terrible, East Tremont by the zoo. I moved to be on my own, have a roommate. No, he and I are not still friends. I lost my job, moved back to Ridgewood in October 2001. One day I came home and found my mother on the couch. She’d had a heart attack, passed away, 53. She was beautiful. No one knew she was sick. My father lives in Jersey. He’s manager for the Men’s Wearhouse, in Totowa.
Men’s Wearhouse! With that man in the television commercial with the gravelly voice! George Zimmer! “You’re going to like the way you look.” My father resembles George Zimmer. I met George at the Christmas parties. He’s for the legalization of pot. The party was at the Marriott Marquis.
Were they all in their suits? Yes! The greatest employee of the year gets the Aloha Award. They get to go to Hawaii.
Your friend Ana’s visiting, eating meatball parmesan at your dining table with a big Eiffel Tower on it. Ozzy Osbourne has the same one. It’s on his show. Ana and I met working at Old Navy. She lives in Harlem. We just had martinis.
So, more about Forest Hills. It brings back my childhood. You know how certain smells remind you of certain times. Burning wood brings me back to New Jersey and being a family. I walk around Forest Hills and smell the fireplaces. I think of, like, Holland. No, I’ve never been to Holland. The smell of celery reminds me of the West Coast. Ana and I were driving down to Tijuana and I kept saying, do you smell the celery? A few weeks ago, I was driving with my dad down Union Turnpike. When I was a kid, I used to imagine the rich people that lived on the right side. The other week, I realized I now live where I thought the rich people live.
You’re singing now. You have a great voice. All my life, I had this dream I was going to become famous. I had this balcony in New Jersey and I used to think my first concert was going to be on that balcony. I’d sing “Somewhere Out There.” It’s from An American Tail. I used to do it on the fire escape in Ridgewood.