Swing Time


Location Long Island City (Queens)

Rent $2,575 (market)

Square feet 2,300 (1870 two-story house)

Occupants J. Walter Hawkes (trombone player; composer-music producer for Nickelodeon’s Blue’s Clues); Meredith Harte (graphic designer, co-founder, 27.12 Design Ltd.); Todd Londagin (trombone player-vocalist); Lesley Martin (executive editor, Aperture)

Not only do you both play the trombone but you look alike! [Walter] Lesley calls Todd “creamy” peanut butter and me “crunchy.” [Todd] I’m with Meredith. [Walter] I’m with Lesley.

It’s so perfectly orderly here. [Lesley] Just stay out of the basement. [Walter] All of us had been in places before that were really cramped and small. We came here in May. We have four irons, four mixers. [Todd] Twelve chairs.

You all share the downstairs, everybody sleeps upstairs, and . . . [Walter] We have distinct boundaries. But as long as we live here, who knows what will happen? The house has a plaque from the Queens Historical Society. They made bathtub gin in the basement. You can see the slash marks on the wall. This is one of three houses built next to each other. We were told they were farmhouses. [Lesley] It’s like a reality TV show with the nine models next door, oh. [Walter] All men, shaggy hair, nice pectorals. Sometimes they’re just laying out on the grass.

So Todd, you grew up in a family band. [Todd] The Flying Neutrinos. We lived all over. I was born in New Orleans. They were building a boat on the Mississippi, a ramshackle raft.

Let me tell you what I saw walking down Vernon Boulevard in your very industrial neighborhood—though now they call Long Island City the new Left Bank. There was Bella Via, the new restaurant with the dark wood chairs like in a Bertolucci movie. Then Junior’s Café—”21 years,” the sign says and they have “zesty tomato sauce.” That’s right next to the powder-blue and pea-green Plaxall. [Lesley] The plastic factory! That’s where we signed our lease, in their conference room. You should see it! [Meredith] Suspended terrazzo stairs. They make holders for Calvin Klein perfume boxes.

[Further investigation revealed that Plaxall’s late founder, Louis Pfohl, was also the building’s architect. He came from Dubuque, Iowa, to design for the Otis Elevator Co. He loved his hometown so much that he went back and modernized all the buildings he could. Though, relatives report, “not one is quite like Plaxall.”]

Outside Junior’s, there was a Rolls-Royce. This man got in it and I said, “It’s such a nice car” and he said, “Need a ride somewhere?” I was going to say, “Oh, no, I’m just a journalist,” but then I didn’t. [Lesley] He goes into the pub! [Walter] I used to live in the East Village above a guy who was rumored to have committed a famous murder. I can’t tell which one. The apartment was 10 by 12. I shared a bath down the hall with three people, across from what was then Coney Island High. [Todd] That’s where we met. [Walter] In 1996. I was fresh off the boat from Pascagoula, Mississippi—shrimp boats, warship building, second largest in the country. [Lesley appears with a tin of blueberry muffins.] [Lesley] Mimosas? [Walter] I’ll have a mimosa. It’s been very celebratory around here. Lesley and I just got engaged after we moved in. I kept it secret, didn’t even tell Todd and Meredith. I thought, Oh my God, I’m getting engaged and I’m moving in with all these people. I asked her on the Brooklyn Bridge. I designed the ring myself.

Aquamarine! It’s like a mid-century dream in here—1950s furniture, Lesley with her muffins, as if it’s after World War II, and there’s a housing shortage so you have to live together. Now Meredith, tell . . . [Meredith] I lived in Japan five years. No, our house did not have shoji screens. Then we moved back to a small town in Iowa—Clinton.

Both your and Todd’s backgrounds are very . . . [Meredith] Transient. Lesley and I met swing dancing and then Lesley introduced me to Todd. [Lesley] I made you come to the pig roast.