Crawling Up the Wall


LOCATION Staten Island

PRICE $305,000 in 2005

SQUARE FEET 6,800 [two-family house]

OCCUPANTS Ann Marie Selzer [producer]; Wilder Selzer [performer]

Is this the woman you bought the house from? [Ann Marie] This is Mary. [Mary is in her blue housedress.] [Mary] I’ve been here 71 years. I lived with my parents up here. When I married, we moved downstairs.

Good-bye. [Mary leaves.] Your dining-room table looks like it’s for dividing up the money. What did Mary’s husband do? [Wilder] He was a car mechanic. A lot of his tools are still down in the basement. There’s a pinup of Mae West. Back in the day, the neighborhood was Italian, Polish, Jewish. Mary tells me these tantalizing stories: “I had my own butcher who would set aside cuts of meat for me.” [Ann Marie] The house reminds me of my grandmother’s. I loved it. We closed on April Fools’ Day.

Where did you get the money? We got a first-time homebuyer’s grant from Neighborhood Housing Services—a grant for being poor people.

How did you know about it? Through the Staten Island Development Economic Corporation. We knew grants were available. [Wilder] One of us had to take a class. It turned out to be her. [Ann Marie] How to talk to mortgage and real estate brokers, get your insurance. [Wilder] She came out feeling pretty good. [Ann Marie] The people taking the class were . . . [Wilder] A Costco clerk. She making $13,000. For one person, you have to make under $40,000 a year. We did it just under Wilder’s name. When I first called, the woman said: Do you have a job? I said no. She said, Fine, does your husband make under $40,000? Yes? Excellent. How’s his credit? I said, He doesn’t have any. [Wilder] I only have my father’s credit card for renting movies. [Ann Marie] They gave us the down payment and closing costs, $30,000. They helped us get 20 percent down, hooked us up with a 4.62 percent mortgage. I want to do it again, own more, right away.

You’d lived in that mansion for two years near the ferry with the dust, taxidermy, young men lying around, where Andy Milligan made the movie Carnage. [Wilder] Yeah. [Ann Marie] It was an SRO. We’d moved there after 9-11. I got to be good friends with the owner, a guy who bought it in the ’70s for $30,000.

Were there moldings? There were aspects that were exciting, an overgrown garden. There were 12 others when we moved in. [Ann Marie] We got run out.

All these Staten Island streets near the ferry are named after people. One’s even named after two people. [Wilder] A lot of police and firemen live here. They got hit on 9-11.

Your neighborhood’s so higgledy-piggledy cracked concrete steps, sort of a ’70s Laurel Canyon feel, but much more, ah, rough . . . [Ann Marie rolls her eyes.] This is New Brighton, which to Staten Island is the projects. [Wilder] St. George is where the Victorian homes are. [Ann Marie] Did you tell her about the cult? [Wilder] We don’t say cult. We say intentional community. [Ann Marie] They own the houses across the street, up the hill. [Wilder] They’re called Ganas. They were founded in San Francisco in the early ’70s, moved to Staten Island in the late ’70s. They own these thrift stores here—called Every Thing Goes.

How would you describe them? [Ann Marie is quiet.] [Wilder] There’s definitely a hippie edge—a puppy-dog friendliness.

Are they married to each other? [Wilder] Some say they have open relationships. They have the core inner circle, six people . . . [Ann Marie] You don’t know this for sure. Check the website. Their antique store is gorgeous. It is so well run. [Wilder] Let’s show you the garden. [We go out back.] See the snake.

It’s crawling up the cement. Are there a lot of snakes in Staten Island? [Ann Marie] They’re all over.

Are they just in the gardens? No. The kids collect the snakes and put them out on the sidewalks in the sun to dry up.

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