Steamy Living Room


Location Williamsburg

Rent $1,150 (market)

Square feet 730 (ground floor of two-story house)

Occupants Kevin Smith (psychology researcher, Cornell); Jennifer Smith (archivist); Astrid Smith (four months old)

So the last apartment was pretty bad. [Kevin] No sink in the bathroom. [Jennifer] Tiny, dirty kitchen, $990, illegal sublet in South Williamsburg. [Kevin] The landlord was a crazy drunk guy. Our electricity would go out and he’d come to the door. [Jennifer] “Gimme a dollar, gimme a dollar.” [Kevin] For the fuse. I just gave him a dollar so he’d go away. We got this apartment nine months ago. [Jennifer] I begged him to move into this. We’d gone to a broker. [Kevin] I said, “Show us a loft.” They said, “We have a perfect place. It has a nursery. The landlord wants someone with a baby.” I said, “No, it’s not a loft. It reminds me of my parents’ house in the suburbs.” It wasn’t what I moved to New York for. [Jennifer] The first night, I looked up at the ceilings and I thought, We can’t live here, but it really grows on you. [Kevin] The landlords have a grape arbor outside. They clean our house when we go on vacation. [Jennifer] We’re from Pittsburgh. That’s where we met. He worked at the record store and I worked at the sunglass store. It was love at first sight. Excuse the mess in the house. It was clean before. When you’re pregnant, you get this hormone that makes you want to clean. But then the hormone goes away. Look out the window—there’s Mario, our landlord. He’s taking out the garbage.

I hear him rumbling about. Listen, he just removed the top of the garbage can. Now, your low ceilings here . . . [Kevin] Like a rec room.

Low ceilings. Let me explain. I should really bring a blackboard. There are different theories as to how high to make a ceiling, one being that ceiling height should be related to a room’s length and breadth. Palladio believed height should be intermediate and, well, I don’t know that your landlords took this into account during remodeling. There isn’t time for a full discussion. But, under a high ceiling, people seem farther apart than they actually are. Note how public spaces have high ceilings—appropriate, considering one is stranger-to-stranger. Lower ceilings make for more intimacy, That’s why those low basements were so perfect for steamy slow dancing to Johnny Mathis. A time of sex and Ping-Pong. [Kevin] We live in the room, but without the sexual overtones. All our friends come here, drink beer. [Jennifer] Especially friends with babies. All our friends have a baby.

I thought Williamsburg was about people living like wild dogs and band practice and throwing food on the linoleum floors of the homes of the Italian couples who are watching TV. So the thought of everybody being responsible parents and wagging their fingers, playing grown-up . . . On the way, I walked past Salerno Surgical Supplies. There’s a plastic horse outside that you put money in. The horse rocks while music plays, “Row, row, row, your boat, gently down the stream, merrily, merrily, merrily, merrily life is but a dream.” Two little boys were rocking on the horse together. The mothers, in their flip-flops, with tattoos all over their arms and backs, one with red hair sort of 1940s, were talking as mothers do, knowing and nodding. But just the thought of my father in his navy blue suit with pictures of tigers and skulls running up and down his legs and a carefully placed earring under his fedora—well, I just can’t imagine. [Jennifer] There’s nowhere I’d rather have a baby than Williamsburg. So many bars and parties.

With a baby? [Jennifer] A lot of people are taking babies to bars. There’s even a mother’s cocktail hour at Ciao Bella. I met a lot of moms. There were margaritas. I had a Coke, but that’s cause I drank too much the night before. Prenatal yoga class is a few blocks away. They have regular mothers’ meetings. The place is called Go Yoga. They compare baby carriers. “My baby’s bigger than yours. I breast-feed more than you.”

This article from the Village Voice Archive was posted on July 29, 2003

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