House of Birth


LOCATION East Village

RENT $528 [rent-stabilized]

SQUARE FEET 800 [one-bedroom in 1952 building]

OCCUPANTS Rene Alberta [filmmaker]

You were born . . . and raised in this apartment. I have an interesting relationship with my landlord. It’s strange. I’d guess he’s in his mid-sixties. He’s kind of like a dad to me. He’s very handsome. We’ve had some knock-down, drag-out fights. My most recent film, I shot on the roof. He threatened to bust us. He threw us off the roof.

I reached his wife, who said he’s just the property manager. Her father’s the bigwig owner.

She said, “We have no insurance for that,” meaning people on the roof. How many were up there? Forty or 50.

Oh. Well, that’s quite a crowd. My neighbor called and complained. She’s a doc filmmaker herself. Another neighbor is a TV producer. A doc filmmaker is inside my film. It’s kind of like the Escher drawing of the hands that are drawing the hands that are drawing the hands. My landlord came up. Steam was coming out of his ears.

But it must be the insurance issue. Bullshit. There’s a garden and a hammock up there. [She shows a photograph.] A hammock is dangerous. I told my landlord that we had million-dollar liability insurance. Later I got permission to shoot in the hallway. He’s very supportive of my work. My mom thinks he’s terrible. I say he’s just being a businessman.

I saw your most recent film, above & beneath. It was on Reel NY! You get on the subway, like Swan in The Warriors. You never saw it? Well, he’s got to make it back to Coney from the Bronx with his gang. The other gangs are trying to kill them. Anyway, in your film, you’re anxious. You look like you’re being followed. Then you leave your own body like a ghost. Cut and you’re underwater with coral and fish. When you rise to the surface, you get out of the subway, you’re all wet. What’s the new film about? It’s The Saint of Avenue B. The protagonist gives up her possessions for a spiritual life. She gets struck by divinity. News travels through the community. She’s on the roof. There’s a makeshift altar.

Then is she lifted up into the sky? No? Well, do you play her? Yeah. We have so much filming going on in the building, Law & Order . . .

The landlord’s wife said that Law & Order had “become a hassle because they’d close off the street the night before, shut the elevator down.” She said another production company just used one of the apartments. She thought that was OK. She went on about the East Village: “Fifteen years ago—if I could have brought a machete with me. I was terrified. . . . But now the young people are so smart and talented and have terrific careers—ballet . . . Did you talk to the landlord about Hans and Franz?

Who? My dogs. The landlord made me get rid of them. I think he wanted me to choose between the apartment and the dogs.

They had trouble controlling their bladders, you said. No. Dachshunds are just very defiant. They refused to be housebroken. They’re a little yappy. I don’t think my landlord will allow me to have a dog. Even though other people in the building have dogs. A month after I gave them up, my father died.

Where’s your mother? We swapped apartments in ’97. I got an apartment in central Harlem after college. I went to Sarah Lawrence. My mother said, “I’m sick of it down here. I said, take my apartment and I’ll come down there. I also have my father’s apartment at 114th and Adam Clayton Powell Boulevard. My parents divorced when I was two. My dad worked for MOMA, photo archives. I’m a landlord. It’s in this historic building. My tenant’s not a problem. She travels a lot. The last year of college, I lived with my dad. He threw me out because I used to sneak my boyfriend in. He was a street artist. I was working at Agnés B in Soho. I met him on Prince Street. He bought me a flower and he said, Let’s go out, and he was really handsome. He died in 1996. He had an asthma attack in our favorite Indian restaurant on 6th Street.

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