The Stars of Off-Broadway's Bedbugs!!! Share Their New York City Apartment Horror Stories
Everyone who lives in New York City has a terrible apartment story. TheaterMania quizzed the cast of the new off-Broadway musical Bedbugs!!! at the ArcLight Theatre to share favorites of all their worst stories.
Brian Charles Rooney
In 2009, I was cast, by Mark Brokaw, as Candy Darling in the original production of the musical Pop! Who Shot Andy Warhol? at Yale Rep with Randy Harrison, Leslie Kritzer, and Emily Swallow. Just before rehearsals began, I moved from the West Village to my current home, a great place near Lincoln Center. After settling in, I resumed my research of Warhol, Candy, and the pop-art movement. I had obtained a published version of excerpts from Candy's diary. In addition to the excerpts, the book also contained pictures, recipes, and drawings. One picture was of a receipt from a nearby pharmacy. It was a list of makeup that Candy had purchased (Candy was transsexual, and dressed according to her true identity). I thought, Great! Perhaps I can find these items and use them in the show! I figured the pharmacy had long since gone out of business. It had not. There in the picture of the receipt was the address. It was less than a five-minute walk away. I also noticed a "customer address," as the customer in question, Candy, had an account there. The address was across the street from my new apartment building! It was both surreal and delightful. I felt haunted in the most thrilling way. Candy had lived across the street, according to a friend whom I was able to locate, for a while, in the apartment of a boyfriend. Small world, New York, small world!
My roommate and I are both singers. Loud singers. Who keep odd hours. One afternoon we were both hanging out in our living room, not singing, and there was a pounding at our door. I opened it to find a woman I don't know.
"Are you the people always singing?" she shouted.
"Yes," I told her sheepishly. "I'm so sorry, we're actors, and sometimes we need to warm up before auditions and if it's ever a problem—"
"My daughter is obsessed with you. She thinks you should be on American Idol. Could she come down and get your autographs?"
We obliged. And from then on every time either of us sang a single note in the apartment, it would be quickly interrupted by a quiet knock on the door from our new eight-year-old friend upstairs wanting to sing with us.
I lived for a year in a huge house in Brooklyn with ten other people. It was a three-story house, originally a single family home, built in 1910 and probably had not been renovated since the fifties. I was in need of an apartment and quick, so I found these folks on Craigslist. The lore about the house is that it had originally been a single-family home/doctor's office (there was an old sign on the porch that said HC Kaine Jr., MD), was later used as a brothel, a mystic lived in the attic at some point (there was still a shrine up there), and before I moved in, it had been an artist's commune.
The artists had taken the liberty of painting the beautiful old walls in bright stripes of green and blue, lighting the bathroom with red and orange lights, keeping chickens in a terrifying coop in the backyard, and they had a fondness for butterfly stickers. There was plenty of space in the house, almost too much really. Each floor had its own kitchen and bathroom. I lived on the ground floor in what once was a parlor (the key to my door was a skeleton key) with one other girl (she lived in what had to have been an old coat closet). The kitchen we shared was so big that only about a third of the shelves and drawers were used.
When November came around and our heat wasn't working, three sets of plumbers came through and refused to even try to fix this for us because it was just too confusing. Finally a pair of plumbers worked on it for a few days and mapped out the piping system by standing in different parts of the house and banging on things and yelling out "Yeah, I hear that over here!" or "Nope, nothing, try banging in another section." The first time I took a bath I never fully relaxed into it because when I stepped in the tub the floor creaked, so I spent the whole time planning my escape should the tub fall through the floor. Later when I ventured into the basement, I found my fears may not have been unfounded, because when I noticed the floor was wet down there, I looked up and saw the ceiling leaking from huge holes in the shape of and outlining the very bathtub I used every day.
And then of course there were the cockroaches. They were never going to leave. Their families had been there since the foundation was laid and they had no fear of us. At first I only saw them in the kitchen but by the time summer came around they were crawling around in my desk drawers and sleeping on my computer cables. I have a VERY hard time with bugs of any kind, and I'm sure the blood-curdling screams and curses I hurled at these creatures any time I saw them about, which was always, was a big factor in my roommates not wanting to renew my lease. Fine with me! After a year I packed up my things and my memories of this haunted house and gladly moved on.
I was searching on Craigslist for a place to live. I found a "room in large duplex apartment" for $450. The term "too good to be true" turned out to be an understatement. I went to check it out and the neighborhood was baaaad…Against my better judgment to run away, I called the landlord and told him I was there. He took me into the apartment and I entered into what can only be described as a filthy zoo.
The kitchen was the first room upon entrance and there were dirty dishes piled so high it looked like a Dr. Seuss illustration. And the animals! There were probably four cats roaming around and a few dogs. I wouldn't be surprised if someone had a reptile of some sort. After my initial shell shock, he said, "Oh, these kids need to clean it up in here." By "these kids," he was, of course, referring to my possible future roommates. I saw half a dozen young folks sitting around and we made awkward introductions. The landlord then led me up to what would be my room. It was a large bedroom…with a hanging sheet stapled to the ceiling that divided the room in half.
He picked up the sheet and we walked under it and he said, "This would be your room."
"…You mean this side of the room past this sheet would be my room?"
"Yeah. One of the other kids lives on the other side of the sheet."
Dear god. So I calmly asked, "Exactly how many people live here?"
About?!? My final question: "How many bathrooms?"
"Oh, just one. There's a sign-up sheet on the door if you want to use it. But don't worry. There's plenty of time slots always open. I make sure the guys go upstairs and pee off the roof."
That was my first experience apartment-hunting in NYC. And, as you might have guessed, I still live there to this day.
Tracey Conyer Lee
Many moons ago I was living in an apartment that had a pesky little recurring mouse. We never saw him, but we'd hear him in/behind the stove. While I hate uninvited guests who don't pay rent, I am not a freak out type when it comes to rodents and insects…as long as they know their place (which is often under my shoe!). One night while watching TV, my ex thought he saw movement and that night I insisted we keep our bedroom door shut and place a towel underneath the crack to assure sound sleep. I am a light sleeper. While in the great beyond I felt the quick scurry of tiny feet begin over the blanket at my feet and continue quickly upwards. When the unconscious me felt his prickly nails running across my face I shot up out of the bed and began slapping myself senseless, desperately trying to beat the sensation out of my cheekbones and eyelids. My ex kept grabbing at my arms yelling "stop!" but I was going to kick someone's ass, even if it was my own. We ended up sharing a less-than-comfy antique sofa for the rest of the night and the following two. My face looked not unlike the makeup scheme for Bedbugs. The bedroom door remained shut and the towel kept the little critter in until we got him good and dead in a trap my ex borrowed from work. Call the SPCA, see if I care.