LOCATION Upper West Side
RENT $0 [in exchange for work]
SQUARE FEET 130 [room/bath in condominium in pre-war building]
OCCUPANTS Miriam Ruth Anna Marie Schleser [au pair and artist]
This is the building they show at the beginning of the Seinfeld show, you said! Sort of ivy-covered, rosy pink flowers on the trees. The birds are chirping madly. [First we visit Miri’s employer, Barbara Nair, who has lived here for 20 years. The lovely apartment is being renovated. A golden retriever is tied to a pole while a cleaning lady is tidying up. Barbara is at a computer in her daughter Priya’s room. The bed has a hundred stuffed animals, mainly dogs with floppy ears, and a pillow that reads “Princess Priya.”] [Barbara] Miriam is a wonderful au pair. I’ve had 12. She is one of the few who has been able to get into the family. I have two older boys. They either like the au pairs or they can’t stand them. One is studying at Wesleyan. [We go to Miri’s room.]
What color pink is this? It’s like being inside a seashell. [Miri] Bubble Bath. I went to the three hardware stores to pick this one. Colors, art are my life. Since I have to work 42 hours a week, my only free time I spend doing my art. I do a lot of little sculptures that are very fragile. I like things that float in the air. Everything is sparkle. See, I put sparkles on the walls.
What is your schedule? I wake up at six. I do Priya’s washing, her clothing, then her breakfast, and I bring her to the bus. Balan, her father, he’s from Malaysia. He works on Wall Street. He’s 10 years younger than Barbara. Priya and I fight every morning. She tries to copy me but on the other hand she’s independent and wants to choose herself what to wear, what is cool. I have the biggest sticker collection. She is very jealous of my collection. Here’s Hello Kitty. I started it in Germany. Teddy bears and clowns. Eight o’clock, I am at the Art Students League. I help monitor, set up. I’m at school until one. Then I come back and work for the art center from one to three. [Barbara Nair has started an art center in Killingworth, Connecticut, near her country house.] I go up on weekends to teach the other people.
My father died when I was five. My mother left for Spain. I was living alone with my grandma. Then my grandmother died. I moved to Spain when I was 11. [She brings out a blue glass music box.] The engine for the music is broken and I’m so sad. Somebody told me years ago that because there weren’t people, I had to focus on things. I never watch TV. They said I should have a TV in my room here. So I put it up on the wall. I did it myself. My mom had a boyfriend in Spain. We lived in a finca, a traditional old Spanish farmhouse. We had to install everything. My mom was always busy. He taught me how to get wires together, fix lamps.
You’re leaving here in August. Barbara wanted me to stay longer. I want to spend full time on my art, study for degrees. A friend, who’s an au pair in New Jersey, we’re looking for an apartment. We went to International English school in Spain together. She didn’t know what to do with her future. I told her, come with me. She’s my best friend. We love each other. We both had very confusing childhoods with lot of things happening. We’ve been looking in Williamsburg, Chelsea. We go to laundry services and look on the boards. Because we speak Spanish and German, we get papers in those languages. We look on the Internet, on traffic light poles, on bulletin boards in supermarkets.
We forgot the rest of your schedule. I pick up Priya at three and from three to seven, we do everything together. She goes to ballet and I bring her there. We go and buy clothes. She wants to have everything I get. I have a Burberry jean jacket. I take her to Century 21. Lela, the cleaning lady, makes dinner every day. I make Priya her dessert. Then I’m free at seven or eight. I do some art work and go out partying, with some people I met on Halloween on the street. They are older, 24. One is a lawyer, the other works on Wall Street. They take me everywhere. Sometimes, I sleep only three hours.
This article from the Village Voice Archive was posted on April 27, 2004