RENT $948.53 [rent stabilized]
SQUARE FEET 435 [one-bedroom in 36-unit pre-war]
OCCUPANTS Ali Gentles [yoga teacher]
You have a swimming pool in your living room. Well, it’s a big, luminous, silvery black-and-white photograph of the Astoria pool. I just happened to stop there on my way over. They were looking at the pool for the Olympics.
The Olympic swim tryout finals began there the day it opened, July 4, 1936. What a day. The pool was Robert Moses’s biggest—330 by 165 feet. He built 10 that year. Fortune called it the “year of the swimming pool.” Wow.
New York City was receiving one-seventh of the WPA allotment for the whole country—all those grand, sweeping WPA projects, bringing joy to city children. At the opening, the underwater lights flicked on, the crowd gasped for breath. In later years, the Aquazines did their swimming choreography with backdrops, props, dogs. Wow.
I see more images of swimming here. How did your swimming pool theme begin? It really started with the shower curtain.
Don’t you love how exciting water is? It can’t stop moving, as opposed to earth, which just sits there. Swimming pools are all about freedom, but contained freedom, not like the hidden dangers of the ocean and possibility of disappearance and underwater monsters. Swimming pool water gets all mixed up with the sun. The splashes look like they are made from light. In the ’40s and ’50s, swimming pool blue found its way into architecture, all those insets, blue tiles on the outsides of buildings. Like when I painted my bathroom the color of the turquoise beaches of Greece.
Your neighborhood is so Greek: creamed custard, accountants, olive oil. A lot of families live here. It’s very quiet. I was married for six years almost, living up in Spanish Harlem. He wanted out of the marriage. He’s a musician. I ended up renting a room from a man in the West Village. The man had lived in his space a long time. He got really upset that I kept frozen water for my cat in the freezer. He said, I need the space because there might be a sale on meat. I lived there six months. I don’t think I’ve ever had a more difficult living experience. Except for when I came to New York and I was a nanny. This family was on the Upper East Side and every time they’d have a fight, the wife would say to her husband, “I could be with Robin Leach.” She used to date him. When I lived with them, I really thought I was a piece of property. After that, I was an actress-waitress, a personal trainer, now yoga. After Perry Street, I was looking in Spanish Harlem, Inwood, Astoria. All three were in my price range.
Where did you move to New York from? Ohio.
You said it so sadly. Well, Ottawa, the northwest part. I came to the city 15 years ago.
You have lilacs. In spring, I have to buy the lilacs and the peonies. Every fall, I have to buy dahlias.
Was your father a farmer? My grandparents were. My grandfather died a year ago, in May. Two weeks after he passed, this tornado went right through the barn.
You’re wearing red shoes. Is New York like Emerald City? My time in New York is starting to wear thin. All I know is I’d like to live . . .
With Auntie Em! Who is the stuffed black cat with red shoes? I’d taken my cousin shopping. We went into Takashimaya, just for fun. I just fell in love with this cat. I thought the price said $35. I signed. I got home. I saw the receipt said $95. I returned it. But I thought about it. The months would go by. I’d been nursing my kitty Oscar, who was sick with kidney disease.
Yes? So she passed on April 8. I was really alone. This cat with red shoes was calling me. It was Halloween weekend when I first bought it, April when I went back. It was up on this ladder. I brought it home and I sleep with it every night.