Hide the Reactor


LOCATION Hell’s Kitchen

RENT $1,046.04 [rent-stabilized]

SQUARE FT. 315 [studio with alcove in tenement]

OCCUPANT Bernard J. Stote [designer]

What’s that mysterious gold book on the table? I made it. First I do the gesso. Then I paint it with gold foil.

Where do you make all your paintings? It’s pretty tight in here. Sometimes I move everything back to the wall. This large painting I did in my neighbor’s backyard.

Dream landscapes—they have faces. Eyes.

How long have you been here? Ten years. I was in South Beach for a year. I worked at the Wolfsonian Museum as a conservator. South Beach is like being on vacation all the time.

I was there in July and I wanted to kill myself—all these horrible people with tattoos throwing cigarettes on the ground around the pool. It was boiling, like the world was on fire. At night they moved in mobs down the street. I felt so healthy there. When I moved back here, I had this eczema. You have to shed your skin, like a snake.

Your shutters are Mediterranean blue. Since I live on the first floor, people look at me. You close them. It’s blue plastic mounted on stretchers.

Then it’s like the sea outside instead of Hell’s Kitchen and the garbage cans. A clairvoyant’s down the street. She’s kind of mean. You go by, she taps on the window. I live on the first floor, you hear everything. You can basically tell what time it is during the day. You know it’s morning when you hear the loud parents take the boy and girl to school. Four a.m.—the bartender. She works at a topless bar on the East Side. So she comes home. She has a huge . . .

Yes? Saint Bernard. In this size apartment.

How do you know about the topless part? During the blackout, we all bonded as neighbors on the roof. There’s another family, five of them living in one apartment and the mother won’t let any of the boys move out until they get married. Though I think one did recently. There was a woman who was Puerto Rican. She would bring me rice and beans and pork. Her name was Rose. My mother’s name is Rose. She also let me take care of her garden. But she got a boyfriend and moved. We have a community garden over on 48th.

What did she grow? Roses.

Where is your mother, Rose, at this moment? In Pennsylvania, waiting for their condo to be built. We built so many houses. We just moved around. My father worked for GE. Originally we moved to Pittsburgh because my father decommissioned the first nuclear power station. Decommissioning means they return it to nature. They lift the core reactor out on a special crane. Then a barge takes it down the Mississippi, through the Panama Canal, and all the way up to Washington State.

What is the music playing? Cecilia Bartoli. I’ve been singing “Caro mio ben.” [He stands, faces the fireplace, and sings along with the stereo.]

Translated: “Thou, all my bliss, believe but this: When thou art far, my heart is lorn. . . . Such cruel scorn!” Why is cruelty such a part of love? Can I go to the restroom?

But of course. [He returns.] I just want to say about the nuclear recommissioning. If we could reprocess it, we wouldn’t have to bury it. I rearrange my furniture every two weeks. It’s like a seasonal thing. In summer I like to sleep out front because of the air conditioner. When I had my art show, I invited 65 people. I had to figure out how to get them all in. I had to put this Eames chair in my shower stall.

You went to architecture school. Why were we talking about The Fountainhead on the phone and then I said Patricia Neal scared me? I said, I volunteer at Fountain House, a gallery for people with mental illness. You thought I said Fountainhead. On Thanksgiving, I went to Fountain House. I sang for them in the living room.

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