Snowy Past


LOCATION East Williamsburg

RENT $890 [market]

SQUARE FEET 500 [four rooms in 1912 house with siding]

OCCUPANT Kurt Hoffman [graphic designer, Forward]

You’re opening an exotic red box with painted geisha girls. I have a couple of Chinese teas. Well, I used to live with Lucas. He was from Taiwan.

What’s the music piped into the bathroom? Le Retour des Saisons. I’ve been on this total Charles Trenet kick. Jerome has music piped into his bathroom.

Who is Jerome? My boyfriend. Jerome had a record that I heard. I bought a ukulele and started to sing songs by Charles Trenet.

Does Jerome like your French accent? I think he’s impressed. When I practice, I sing along to the record again and again.

A cuckoo clock! Jerome has given me such a torrent of gifts. This little Swiss lady is bouncing her ass off up and down on a spring.

The strip of tea-colored cloth with the embroidered cups? From my great-aunt Julia. It’s funny since Jerome’s mother in France does all this embroidery. Jerome has these tablecloths with this beautiful cursive writing. It’ll be like a message from his mother.

The tatami room. Lucas and I did this tatami room thing.

So this panel slides open and you sleep inside the compartment. No, I sleep on top of the platform. That’s just for storage. I have a foam pad plus a thin mattress that I pull out. Jerome gave me this Muslim call-to-prayer clock. First there’s the sound of this babbling brook. So, you used to live down the block.

Oh, yes, when I moved to New York in 1993. The memories are too much. The neighborhood made me burst into tears all the time. I don’t know if I’ll edit this out of the column before I file it. It was icy cold and no one was on the streets. I went to this art opening and I was wearing big heavy boots and this woman asked me, “Why would you move to New York? Everyone’s trying to get out.” Well, it made me feel awful and also it turned out she was wrong. Then I came back to East Williamsburg in my big heavy boots. So many artists and yuppies have bought property around here since then and it’s just swollen in value but it’s just like it was before, like an old woman or man who has been watching TV for a long time and fallen asleep, a small light from the small old screen, quiet on the snowy street. Down Maspeth, you’ll see lots of change. Every single parking lot is now a four- or five-story building.

In these snowy places, I feel someone is sitting on my head. Maybe because I lived alone. At least you were with Lucas. Actually I moved to Williamsburg with Amy, 1989. I was with Amy for eight years, five at 8th and Berry. When we broke up, I moved back to the East Village. I had an apartment there since 1978 for $90. I went to Cooper Union. I grew up on Staten Island.

Maybe I think this neighborhood’s so much about the past because it’s my past. No, it is about the past here. All this is left from the housing boom 100 years ago. There were factories, the shipyard. Greenpoint was going great guns, a boomtown. My great-grandfather moved from Liverpool and worked for a smelting company in Greenpoint. The funeral parlor where he was laid out is still there.

You and Mabel [the dog] aren’t that way at all—part of the snowy past. Here we are, listening to records, tapping our feet, Mabel too. With music, life becomes vivid and hot and full of strangers dancing who will surely meet. Music lets one see into the future. No, baby, it’s about the present. [He puts on another 78: “When the wintry winds are blowing/And the snow is starting in to fall . . . “]