Equality

Hup, Two, Three, Four

by

LOCATION Washington Heights

RENT $515 [rent stabilized]

SQUARE FEET 1,600 [three-bedroom in six-story pre-war]

OCCUPANTS Stephanie Edwards [personal trainer, Lucille Roberts]; Akobi Schuster [owner, the Schuster Group, technology consulting]; Stephanie’s mother; a family friend

What a long hall you have—45 feet! To clarify, you and Akobi live here, you said, and also your mother and a good family friend, who have chosen not to be in the story because . . . [Stephanie] My mother said it’s because she’s Christian.

How does everybody get along? It’s a full house. We hardly see each other. My mother recently bought a house upstate, in Rockhill. I inherited the apartment. My grandmother’s up there. My cousin started the migration. Akobi and I have an interesting relationship, baby. [Akobi] We get along just fine—when we don’t kill each other. [Stephanie] We don’t kill each other. [Akobi] Did you say you used to be a DJ? [Stephanie] I’ve done it all. I’m 28. I’ve lived here my whole life. My mother’s from the Dominican Republic; my father’s from Trinidad.

I was just walking up Broadway from the 157th Street stop. This was after having a snack at Twin Donut, which is so clean—they kept washing the floor over and over. Anyway, I walked along and saw all these mops, purple vegetables, and cell phones. The street has changed. The only thing I remember from growing up is the Number One Chinese Restaurant. Yes, the neighborhood was always diverse—Dominican and Puerto Rican. [Akobi] That’s not too diverse. I’m partly from Brooklyn and partly from St. Croix.

Where did you meet? [Stephanie] On 34th Street. He said I attracted him and prevented the future wife—this other woman. [Akobi] I was shopping. [Stephanie] I was doing outside sales work for a credit card company. [Akobi] She was on break from school.

Tell about the army reserve years! [Stephanie] I enlisted in ’94, directly out of high school—Martin Luther King behind Lincoln Center. I wanted to get out of New York. Plus I had an older sister and an aunt in the service. They were encouraging me to go, without telling me the negatives. I went to the local recruiter’s office across from King. I’ll never forget that sergeant. He was so sweet. Little did I know it was all lies. [Akobi] You’re the best. [Stephanie] They sent me to Ft. Leonard Wood in Missouri for basic training. That was shocking. I was a wild child. They’d say, Look in my face! Only respond when spoken to! It was open bay barracks, six people to a room. We all showered at the same time. [Akobi] I guess that’s socialization. If you go to war, that’s what you have to do.

Look at this photo. You’re in camouflage. [Stephanie] I was so chunky there. That’s my battle buddy, Finkeldey. I did an eight-year term, ’94 to 2002. I went to school at Fort Valley University in Georgia. I met some people who said it was really inexpensive. The G.I. Bill will cover most of your school. I have two sisters. One is about to deploy, to Iraq.

Will she have guns? What will she do? [Akobi] Budget stuff.

Is she nervous? [Stephanie] Actually, she’s a little excited. She’s very gung ho about America.

Is she really tough? I don’t think so. [Akobi] Yeah, she is. They all are. Her family is maternal, all controlling. It’s a clash for me because my family is a paternal one. My grandmother had nine daughters. But it’s still a paternal family.

What are your plans for the apartment now that you’ve relegated your mother to her bedroom? [Stephanie] We have a wall treatment in mind. I’m thinking terra cotta and yellows. [Akobi] It’s whatever she wants. I’m not good with colors. I know red, white, and blue.

Where is your father, Stephanie? [Stephanie] My dad’s a rolling stone. [Akobi] It’s typically Caribbean. There, it’s not considered a rolling stone. It’s culture. You can have more than one woman. [Stephanie] He has 16 kids.


schlesinger@villagevoice.com