I wasn’t legally allowed to live in the basement of 575 Nassau Street but from 1998 until half of 2000 that’s where I called home. Two friends and I received a contract to build sales kiosks for a telecommunications company. We needed to start our own company and quickly find a workshop. We looked at a few places before I saw an ad for 2500 square feet for $450 per month in Orange, NJ. It must be a mistake I thought but when I went to see it and met the landlord, an ancient man who drove a two-tone Rolls Royce Silver Shadow, I realized it was perfect. Charlie owned the building since his own company manufacturing bags that inhibited rust on rifles was headquartered there. In the mid-nineteenth century the building was one of the original Stetson hat factories. We had most of the basement.

After cashing a rather large check we began to outfit our shop with wood and metalworking machinery. At this time I was going through a separation and needed to find a place to live. I carved out a corner of the shop, put down a floor, slapped up some drywall, put in a kitchen and added a shower to the bathroom. I moved in with my quiet pit bull Emma.

It took awhile before people started to speculate about my living there. We did keep late hours constructing the kiosks so it was hard to tell our comings and goings. Whenever I was asked if I was living there I always denied it. I learned that from President Clinton whose Lewinskygate was happening at the time. Only Ernie knew I was living there. Ernie was the New Orleans born machinist whose swarf covered machine shop sat next to ours separated only by a thin unlocked door. Ernie would always bring me coffee and want to hang out and bullshit until I said “I gotta do some work” whether I had to or not, remember I was home. Ernie would always sigh and say “it aint easy baby” upon leaving.

Sleep didn’t come easy my first few weeks at the shop. The building was divided into about 6 work spaces and some of the tenants kept crazier hours than we did. Billy the nut guy was directly above us. He would roast cashews once a week and seemed to drop full 55 gallon drums hourly, usually right above my head no matter where I happened to be standing. One of those drums must have had water in it because once a month he would spill it flooding my bathroom in the process. Frances the furniture re-finisher was another neighbor and the smells wafting down from his place were bad, but nothing compared to the weekly cashew roasting which I can only describe as a cross between urine and burning sneakers. The most annoying tenants for a while were the rap music guys whose hip hop recording studio on the top floor blasted out sampled riffs that I swear I can still hear in my head to this day.I quickly found out that there were worse occupants at 575 Nassau, the centipedes. I had never known centipedes this big and this fast. Some were 4 inches long and would move as fast as mice, which I also had. I would turn off the lights and see them moving across the floor and walls by the glow of my TV screen. The first few nights I slept with the lights on. After that I would just pull the covers up over my head. Then like everything else, you get used to it.