Dirty Work


Location: Hell’s Kitchen

Rent: $750 (rent stabilized)

Square feet: 270

Occupant: Keith Rizza (freelance photographer); Carl Ferrero (graphic designer, Penguin Putnam, Inc.); Alex (cat)

The two of you are on the edge of the sofa with your hands folded. [Both] We just quit smoking.

The jitters! Your sofa is a brown, black, and beige weave. In fact, everything in here is woven or it’s a storage basket or a bundle of birch branches. [Keith] I’m used to a warm kind of house. [Carl] I’m a big fan of wood.

Is incense burning? [Keith] It’s probably my cologne—Shiseido, Feminite du Bois.

You know, a smell is a whole place in itself. It can be a room with furniture. In the case of your cologne, perhaps a room in Asia in the early ’60s. As Gaston Bachelard mentioned in his The Poetics of Space, when he was writing about raisins… That’s kind of what I’m going for, kind of Asia.

Let’s get into something meatier. So how did you find this place? Actually, five years ago I saw an apartment in this same building through my friend’s sister. At the time I said, No way on God’s green earth am I going to live in Hell’s Kitchen. The neighborhood was boring and depressing and no character. When I first came to New York, I thought it would really be nice to live in the West Village, Soho. They were all out of my price range. I’d come to go to school at Pratt. Then I moved in with my first boyfriend, who had a beautiful apartment in Chelsea. But then I broke up with him. I had to start doing roommate situations. I lived with insane people constantly. At one point I was sleeping where the front door was literally two feet from my bed. My roommates would come home at three in the morning with friends. Years passed. I heard about another apartment in this building and I didn’t have to think twice. I’d learned that living in New York is about getting a good space at a good price. Meanwhile, the neighborhood has been changing. A lot more people my age and with the same taste as me are starting to move in. It looks like more tax dollars are going to fix the sidewalks and streets. Nicer stores are opening up. Of course, when I moved into this apartment, it was not a pretty sight. It was really dirty and infested with bugs. I talked to different people about what to do. A lot had success with Combat roach bait. I had professionals come in, bomb three times. I’m petrified of roaches. I start crying when I see one. When I saw the first one, I flipped out so much that I had to call someone on the phone to help me kill the bug. They had to talk me through it. I was in hysterics. I sealed up every crack in the apartment. This place is always clean—clean behind places you wouldn’t even know. I think the people who lived here must have been absolute animals. I found condoms behind the stove.

Did they toss them over when they went to make coffee? So what are your favorite cleaning supplies? Comet, Windex, bleach, ammonia, and Murphy’s Oil Soap. Anything that sterilizes.

Carl, before you moved in with Keith three months ago you had a problem with pigeons. [Carl] I used to live on Pitt Street. The building I lived in was one step from being condemned. It was covered with pigeons. They never went away. They were just crawling all over, nesting everywhere. [Keith] You couldn’t even see outside some of his windows, there was so much poop.

Keith, did you start cleaning Carl’s place? He didn’t have tilt-out windows, so you couldn’t reach the outside. But Carl is a very clean person. Though he has a cat. It’s kind of hairy. And now the cat is here. I vacuum twice a week.

Keith must be a joy to live with. He’s so tidy. [Carl] Tell me about it.