I first met Andrew Jimenez, Ben Janse, and Sean Damlos-Mitchell in the Autumn of 2011. We had just begun our first semester at the New School, and were hoping to earn MFAs in Creative Writing; Andrew and Ben for fiction, and Sean and I for poetry.
Back then we were all in our mid-to-late twenties, and although we had been accepted by the New School, over time, Sean, Ben, and I would learn that it would be several more years until New York would fully embrace us, support us, and create enough opportunities and friendships where it felt as though we could actually see ourselves living here for a while, and thriving. Andrew’s place in Bed- Stuy helped.
Even when it was only Andrew and a few roommates who we didn’t know living there, the place felt like home. Somewhere to throw a party. Somewhere to write. Somewhere to read, or just listen to music. Somewhere to crash for a few nights, or a few weeks, however long it took to answer two questions that’d we’d often ask this city, “What now? What next?”
When we gathered for this interview almost six years after that first autumn, we talked about what Andrew’s place meant to us, and we tried to piece together how our friendships had formed. We talked about the craft of putting sentences together, and even just for a short moment, we tried to define poetry.
We talked about the J Train, and the A train, and the C train. And we touched on what it’s like to go back and read your own writing, from years ago. “It’s really weird,” Andrew said, “because it’s some- body who you know really well, but who isn’t you.”
Andrew: Do you mind if I put on some background music?
Emily: That’s a great idea.
Isaac: Sure, yea.
Andrew: Sure you would mind, or sure you would like me to put on some background music?
Isaac: Sure, I would not mind.
Sean: Could you put Death Grips on?
Isaac: Wait, what’s the guy, the drug-dealing music song?
Andrew: Oh yea, Stitches.
Isaac: Yea, Stitches.
Sean: Yea, we’re going to listen to Stitches, all day.
Isaac: Who is Death Grips?
Sean: It’s punk, like rap. It’s really noisy. It’s good.
Emily: You guys had an LCD moment last night?
Andrew: Oh, many.
Isaac: Lisa Loeb. You searched for her?
Andrew: Lisa Loeb. You know, I’m not afraid to admit it, I love Lisa Loeb.
Sean: Are you recording this now?
Isaac: Yeah, yeah, we’re live on the air.
Andrew: Let’s do . . . the piano bar.
Isaac: “Study, work, or relax to some of the best jazz piano of today, and yesterday.”
Sean: It doesn’t say though, converse, or interview.
Andrew: We can’t do it.
Sean: Yea, sorry.
Andrew: Alright, let’s ask these questions. Let’s do it. What’s this conversation about? Ask a fun one to kick things off.
Isaac: Of course, so I was thinking - there’s actually a fourth roommate who is no longer with us, and I thought we’d sort of talk about what --
Sean: Don James?
Isaac: Well, Mouse used to live here.
Andrew: Oh, yeah! Yeah.
Andrew: The non-human roommate. So you want to know . . .
Isaac: Well, what’s it like without him . . . tell me about Mouse, Andrew. I mean you’re the one who lived here first, so . . .
Isaac: So when did you move in?
Andrew: And I got Mouse in 2009.
Andrew: Yeah, yeah. I lived by myself.
Isaac: In here?
Andrew: Downstairs. And then I moved up here in 2009, but I got Mouse a few months before that, and so I lived downstairs by myself and it was just, kind of lonely.
Isaac: You lived down there for two years?
Isaac: How much was the rent back then?
Andrew: Thirteen hundred. Yeah, I had a real job at the time. And yeah, it was just kind of lonely. So yeah, actually, I lived down there by myself, and I had another friend for a little while who was staying with me while he was getting his life together, his name also was Shawn, but he spelled it the other way.
Sean: The wrong way.
Isaac: The inappropriate way.
Sean: It’s very inappropriate.
Isaac: It’s so offensive.
Sean: We can’t spell it out loud here.
Andrew: And actually, this is actually kind of funny. So, the dude’s name was Shawn, and he had a cat named Ben, and Ben really loved me. Like way more than he liked Shawn. Which is also true for these guys.
Sean: That’s right. Wait, were there names really Shawn and Ben?
Ben: Andrew has always been with a Sean and Ben. His whole life. And he always has to be.
Sean: Yep, in every eternity.
Ben: Or the universe will collapse in on itself.
Andrew: So then Shawn ended up moving in with his girlfriend, and he took the cat with him, and it was really sad, so I got Mouse.
Sean: And then you got a new Sean and Ben. Andrew: Yea, a new Sean and Ben. And Mouse. Sean: It’s very strange.
Andrew: And Mouse was cool. He was kind of like a dog, he would follow me around, and meow a lot. And he would always want to sit on my lap. It was kind of annoying, but also kind of nice.
Isaac: When did he move on? Andrew: When was that?
Sean: Last year?
Sean: About a year ago.
Andrew: I guess maybe it was in the fall, last fall.
Ben: That long, huh?
Andrew: Yea. He was just really old. When I got him, he was about eight or nine already. So he was like sixteen.
Isaac: When you say you were downstairs, you were in this place, or down, on the lower floor.
Andrew: On the garden level.
Isaac: So you had access to the backyard.
Andrew: Yeah, which I never used.
Andrew: It was just overgrown, with leaves everywhere.
Sean: Why didn’t you clean it up, have some friends over?
Andrew: I cleaned it up once, but I don’t really spend --
Ben: Oops. I tried to turn it down.
Andrew: Yea, that’s the lowest it can go.
Ben: I have the speaker right in my ear. No it’s okay.
Andrew: Yea, if I wanted to go outside, I would just go to the park, or sit on the stoop. I didn’t really care about using the backyard at the time.
Sean: What would you do at the park?
Ben: That’s really sad. Now we’re locked out of the backyard, we can’t get there no matter what.
Andrew: Well, the thing about being outside is --
Isaac: You can jump down there, right?
Ben: You’re right, I take back the “no matter what.”
Andrew: --- there’s no sunlight back there. It’s all just shade from the houses.
Sean: It’s nice on a really hot and sunny day, during summer.
Andrew: Yeah, in which case I’d just rather stay indoors.
Isaac: Do you guys ever do the stoop sitting out there together?
Andrew: All the time.
Sean: Yea, not together usually. Andrew: Unless we’re having a pipe.
Ben: Yeah. Usually when we smoke pipes. Usually one of those. Not during the day time. I don’t really like sunlight very much. And it gets bright on the steps.
Andrew: The backyard is perfect for you then.
Ben: I know.
Andrew: We’re allowed to go down there.
Ben: We are. Well, Denise isn’t down there now.
Andrew: But she told me that she tells her tenants that we're allowed to go down there.
Sean: You see some creepy guys in your backyard - don’t worry -
Andrew: It’s just the neighbors.
Sean: It’s just the neighbors from upstairs.
Isaac: So, you just told your landlord, “I want to move upstairs,” how did that work?
Andrew: The people who lived up here were moving out, and he really wanted them to stay, and I think they were paying two thousand a month at the time, and he said, “If you stay, I’ll let you have the place for eighteen hundred a month,” and they were like, “We would love to stay - but we’re all just doing different things with our lives.” And so they told me about it, and I called my landlord and I said, “I heard about this deal, I’ll move up there and pay eighteen hundred a month,” and he just said, “Okay.”
Isaac: Well, first, how did you find the place, in 2007?
Isaac: Craigslist. And then when you moved up here in 2009, you had to find the roommates?
Andrew: Yea, I just found some roommates on Craigslist.
Sean: You posted an add looking for Seans and Bens.
Andrew: Yep. Seans and Bens only.
Isaac: Did you have a lot of people cycle through?
Andrew: I had, I think, two sets of roommates before I met these guys.
Andrew: One of them was this crazy artist guy. I think when he moved in he was twenty - he was really young. He went to F.I.T. I want to say, and he was this weird performance artist kid - and he -- well, I don’t want to tell this. It’s a personal story about him.
Ben: Sounds like the kind of juicy details I’m looking for.
Isaac: So, Ben, you were here before Sean, or who moved in here first?
Ben: Yea, I moved in here first. I moved in here just temporarily at first.
Isaac: And when was that?
Ben: It was the fall of 2014. It was after we graduated. I left with my ex-girlfriend because she really wanted to go to California or something - and we broke-up along the way, so after a couple of months I came back - and had no place to live, and had quit all my jobs. I had no jobs. I had the best sequence of jobs. I had four part-time jobs that would all work one day a week.
Isaac: Whoa. What were those jobs?
Ben: It was great, bartending, catering, babysitting . . . No wait there was . . .
Sean: 67 Burger, were you there too?
Ben: Maybe, during part of it I was. And for a little bit it was teaching, because I was teaching at the New School. So it was like a variety. But there was this woman living in Sean’s room now, and she wanted the other room, just to have nobody in it, but she never stayed here. The four months she lived here, she spent two nights here. And I had no place to go. I just came back, and so Andrew said just go in this room, and so I was in the tiny little room. But also I couldn’t use her bathroom up there, that was a real strict thing.
Andrew: Oh yeah! I forgot about that.
Ben: So I was just using Andrew’s bathroom, which is in his bedroom. And after a couple months I thought, well, I guess I should start paying rent.
Isaac: That’s not bad.
Isaac: What’s the screening process like, Andrew, with new roommates?
Andrew: Well their names have to be Sean and Ben. I don’t know. I didn’t really have a screening process. I had people come over, and I made sure that they were normal and seemed cool, and I guess that was really it. I just felt them out. It was easy with Ben and Sean because I knew them already. I hate having roommates. I’m really --
Sean: He’s really mean to us.
Andrew: I’m just kind of particular about my space, and I don’t really like sharing it. So if I need to have roommates, then I want to be with people who I know and like. And so I was lucky.
Isaac: So Sean, when did you move in? I can’t really remember.
Sean: Oh yea, it’s hazy to me too. Well, before I actually moved in here, I actually stayed over there for about a month. With all of my boxes.
Isaac: You’re indicating by the window near the reading area, right?
Sean: Yeah, by the window. There used to be a couch there.
Ben: I forgot about that.
Sean: Yeah. I moved out of my old apartment, 593 Bushwick.
Isaac: That was a good place.
Sean: Where I was with you, actually yeah. And I was looking for an apartment, and I wasn’t so sure where I was going to move yet, so I moved all of my stuff here. And at that time the room that I now live in was available to move into, so I probably should have just done that, because I ended up moving into it a year later anyway, but then I moved into South Slope and moved all of my stuff out of here. Then moved back here, and into a room, the tiny room upstairs for a year later. And that’s where I resided for about six months. Ben is much better at dealing with tiny spaces than I am.
Ben: Dealing with how little they cost!
Sean: Yeah, I found it depressing, and overwhelming.
Isaac: So you switched rooms?
Sean: So we switched rooms, yeah.
Andrew: Which Blurns didn’t know about.