The Five Heartbeats


Location Harlem

Rent $3,600 (market)

Square feet 2,300 (turn-of-century building)

Occupants John Caniffe (financial analyst); Michael Owens (contract paralegal, New York City Law Department); Kevin Phelan (sales rep, Fortis Insurance Co.); John Prom (mortgage broker, Countrywide Home Loans); Sean Whitson (freelance copy editor)

Elsie—the pit bull with the energy of 5,000 grown men! That’s what Kevin said. This is the biggest apartment I’ve ever been in. The hall alone is like a ballroom—you could swim in it. You’re near the New Ebony Hotel with the neon sign. The apartment buildings all have Ionic columns holding up the entryways. Adam Clayton Powell Jr. Boulevard is grand, so wide. [John C.] This was the Fifth Avenue of Harlem. [Kevin] Back in the day.

You’re on the very south end of Harlem right above 110th. Do you go to all the new Harlem restaurants? [Kevin] There aren’t too many right around here. Not too many Irish bars either. I go to 125th, get all the new rap CDs for $3 each.

You’re practically all of Irish descent. You make me think of all those cops in that convertible in Mulholland Falls with Nick Nolte. Kevin said John Prom found the place—he’ll be in the photograph but I heard he’s on his way back from New Orleans and he needs to recover—anyway Kevin said John Prom was driving in a car on the West Side Highway and saw a billboard: “Live in Harlem, come this way . . . ” How mythic. [John C.] When we called Tony, the realtor, he said, Do you mind looking above 96th? At first we said yes, but then we checked it out. [Michael] We moved in a month after 9-11. John Prom and I had been living together in Park Slope. [John C.] My lease was up in Brooklyn. [Sean] I moved from Allentown. [Kevin] I moved from D.C.

Four of you went to Boston College together. I’m trying to imagine your nightlife. [Kevin] We go out together, Friday, Saturdays, depends. [Michael] Some of us do better than others. So it becomes an issue of where to go. [Kevin] I love the Upper West Side. It’s easier to get home from. Downtown, it’s tough to get a cab up here at 12 at night. [John C.] It’s a little difficult convincing girls to come back to Harlem. [Michael] Though Kevin was quite successful the minute he moved in. [Kevin] That’s ridiculous. [Michael] I didn’t get laid in that room once. Kevin has my room now. It was impressive.

Isn’t it a little awkward for a woman? It would be like going to a fraternity house but in later life. [Kevin] Absolutely. [Michael] Some say intimidating. John Prom is the only one who has a girlfriend. To this day he says she’s very sheepish coming over. I don’t think she’s that way otherwise. [John C.] Not that many people have roommates when they’re our age—27, 28.

Do you think you’ll be together in your seventies, rubbing Elsie’s stomach? She gets excessive physical attention. [Michael] Oh God. [Sean] I don’t see how one of us alone could manage Elsie. John Prom found her.

John Prom finds everything—the apartment, the dog. [Sean] The girlfriend. [John C.] John Prom pays the most rent. He’s got the biggest room. [Michael] John Prom and I grew up in the same town in Michigan, Grosse Pointe, and didn’t know each other and we both moved to the same small town in Connecticut. [John C.] I grew up in a candy store. We had a fire in my house. I have four older sisters. We had to find a house with enough bedrooms. The only one was with a candy store from 1929. Mrs. Moore, the lady who owned it, had to sell it. She was going blind. [Michael] You sold candy to the Boston Symphony. [John C.] Mrs. Moore sold candy to FDR and Katharine Hepburn. It’s called Stowaway Sweets. My parents started a bed-and-breakfast, Stowaway Suites. It’s like two rooms in my parents’ house.

This article from the Village Voice Archive was posted on April 22, 2003

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