Making a Home in NYC

I didn’t actually own a home until I was 48 years old. I was in my second marriage–a second chance. Dad was helping my husband Todd and I move and he asked me to count how many times I had changed residence since I left home for NYC in 1978 with all of my belongings in a friend’s VW bus. He knew it was a lot. This took a minute for me to come up with the answer…I started counting…New York–at least five moves there. Short stop  back in Milwaukee with my parents before jobs as artists in residence at Tulane University in New Orleans, onto Steamboat Springs, back to New York, then back to Milwaukee, back to Steamboat, then to San Francisco for Dracula, Los Angeles–now that was a story–,  Cashiers, NC, Boone, NC, back to Milwaukee, Valdese, then to Chapel Hill, which another story… “Forty-two times,” I said after a long pause. I was in the theatre, an artist nomad, always onto the next gig.

Being in the theatre kept my first husband Justin and I on the road—or on the run some might say. We traveled from job to job, coast to coast and back again several times, in our old Ford Van named Hamlet. “He” carried everything we owned.

Newly married, our first place together was a six floor walk-up in New York, on the corner of Hudson and Perry Streets in the West Village. It was freshly painted white which was very appealing and covered a multitude of…well, let’s just say it made things look nice. Our bathtub was in the kitchen. The bathroom was a toilet closet with a pull cord hanging from the ceiling and it was also in the kitchen. The apartment was boxcar style–you walked from the kitchen through the dining/living space and into the bedroom. My favorite thing about it, apart from the light that streamed in through the windows, was that it overlooked someone’s garden. There was no hot water—we boiled that. We didn’t have any furniture when we moved in except a mattress and boxes with candles on top which served as our dining table. I always had flowers in vases. We collected odd pieces–cute little chairs, shelves, drawers–off the street which people had discarded and set on the curbs in front of their brownstones. We furnished most of our apartment that way.

When Mom and Dad came to visit us for the first time, they brought their sleeping bags–I must have told them our apartment was modest.They drove from Milwaukee to New York in their VW van packed full with a couch, a table and some real chairs. We had a fun time riding the subways together, sharing the sights and sounds of Manhattan, and cooking good meals in our “extravagant” kitchen

The apartment was great but the rent was high and we soon learned from other actors that you could be a superintendent (super) of an apartment building and get your rent free.

Justin found a new apartment for us where we could be supers just two blocks away. He was handy. In addition to making Hamlet run when he didn’t want to, he could fix a leaky pipe, or bring a radiator back to life.

Moving all of our belongings was a bit of a challenge because Justin was busy waiting tables and doing renovation work for the owners of a restaurant in the garment district. I was a nanny. One morning, I happened to notice a big pushcart on the playground of an elementary school. When I finished work that day I stopped by and asked the custodian if I could borrow it for a few hours. He said yes.

I pushed it home to Perry Street and parked it in front of our building. I carried our packed boxes down until I filled up the locked front corridor. I didn’t want anything to get stolen sitting on the sidewalk while I ran up and down for more things. I’d load the cart, push it down the streets, get the stuff up to our new apartment on the second floor, and go back for the next load. I had done this several times when suddenly Justin appeared. Someone had called the restaurant and told him his wife was pushing a big cart filled with things up and down the streets of Greenwich Village and he had better get home quick.

“Super” man to the rescue, he decided to fit everything else we owned on that cart in one load so he could get back to work. I had my doubts but he stacked it as high as his arms could reach. We set our cat Lady Randolph on top of it all like a queen in her castle. We said goodbye to Perry Street and pushed the cart together down Hudson Street to our new home. We did great—until the final corner. A wheel hit the street grate at the stop light in front of our new building and everything fell into the intersection. Lady Randolph took off. Justin was all sweaty and mad but all I could do was laugh as I ran after the cat. It was a skill I would develop—laughing in the face of adversity, looking for comedy in place of drama.

Justin and our son Charlie 1985

Justin and our son Charlie 1985

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4 thoughts on “Making a Home in NYC

  1. Love it Debs! I remember Ed & I visiting you two in this apartment in New York. I also remember the cockroaches being the size of a small mouse (just kidding – well, almost)!

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