As told to Laura E. Kelly by Edie Jarolim
I was in graduate school at NYU in the late ’70s and I found the dream: a rent-stabilized apartment in a beautiful building on 5th Avenue at 12th Street. The apartment was tiny and dark, about 450 square feet with a tiny galley kitchen and a little sleeping alcove. But what a great location! I had tons of visitors all the time who’d stay on my pull-out couch.
These were my wild NYU days and I had lots of romantic encounters. My interactions with men in the building, however, are not always so romantic.
1The building was a really fancy old building, across from First Presbyterian Church, a French Gothic Revival landmark built in the mid 1800s. (In the years I lived near the church, it was most notable for having lots of homeless people camp out in front of it. That all ended when Guiliani became mayor.)
As an older building, it had a cage-style elevator. You couldn’t operate it yourself; there were elevator men who did it. I didn’t really enjoy having to make conversation with them, but most of the men were nice and friendly.
There was this one guy, though, that we called the Gray Man because… well, he was just very gray—his face was gray, his hair was gray and he looked kind of grim. He had a middle European accent and I thought of him as “Transylvanian.”
One day, as I was riding the elevator down to do my laundry in the basement, Gray Man suddenly spoke to me.
“You know, miss, I would like to get married.”
Startled, I said, “Oh…. That’s nice.”
Encouraged, he said, “Do you think you might be interested?”
I don’t think I’d ever seen him smile before. It was wolfish. Combined with his accent, there was something vampiric about him.
The question was just SO weird, coming out of nowhere like that, but he seemed to want an answer, so I finally replied, “No, I don’t think so.”
The problem was this happened when I had just put in a load of laundry in one of the machines in the basement. I had to keep riding his elevator up and down. I eventually waited to switch my wet clothes into the dryer until after he went off duty.
Whenever he saw me after that, he gave me his creepy smile.
2The opposite of the Gray Man was the playwright John Guare, who lived in the building. He was then just known for his off-Broadway play, House of Blue Leaves. He was young, tall, and dramatic; I think he might have even worn a cape in those days. He also had two black pugs.
Turns out Guare’s mailbox was right next to mine in the lobby. One day we were checking our mailboxes at the same time and our two mailbox doors clinked, as though we were clinking champagne glasses, and he said, “Oh, I always hoped this would happen.”
I was flustered and said sarcastically, “Yeah, right!”
And that was the end of that encounter.
He did end up marrying someone else who lived in the building, a gallery owner named Adele Chatfield Taylor. She turned up in a bit part in the movie of Six Degrees of Separation. Could have been me, if only I’d known how to flirt.
3While I didn’t go out with John Guare, I did have a boyfriend who came from a dramatic family—Tony Clarke. His dad was a jazz musician and his brother is an actor, Clarke Peters, who wrote the book for the show “Five Guys Named Moe.” Tony was very flamboyant and funny, and wore great hats.
The building across the street from my place was the Cardozo Law School, a division of Yeshiva University, which was why my apartment was so dark; the school blocked all the light into my apartment. This boyfriend used to lean out the window and look across the street at Yeshiva University, wave and say, “Hi, it’s me again, the schvartze with the hat.” Yeah, the black boyfriend who spoke Yiddish.
Ilived in that apartment for 14 years. It eventually went co-op and I owned the place for a while. But by 1990 I was looking for something with light and space and affordability, so I moved to Tucson and sublet the apartment. You could only sublet for two years, though. I tried to work out a share with my subletter, where I would have the rights to come back to it two weeks a year, but my lawyer—who was a friend—mysteriously blew the deal. So in ’92 I finally sold my 5th Avenue apartment for $90,000. I know: can you imagine what that apartment—even small as it is—would go for today?
It was a great building and I would love to still have access to the apartment as a pied à terre. But it’s gone. And at least I don’t have to ride that elevator.