This letter was originally mailed to Paul Auster in about 2000 when he was collecting stories on his NPR radio show Other True Tales.
Some of these stories were made into the book True Tales of American Life (First published under the title I Thought My Father Was God, and Other True Tales from NPR’s National Story Project 2001)
The story was originally accepted and then cut at the last minute from the book due to space.
This is a great Experiment. I heard about it on the radio and decided to get this down and send it out.
This is all absolutely true. The pictures included are part of my story.
A while back when I was going through my things and preparing for a move, I came across a drawing that looked as though it had been done when I was four or five years old. The drawing is not dated.
The drawing illustrates a red three story building at an intersection with sidewalks. The building is surrounded by defunct cars, tires, and machine parts. A fence surrounds the lots around the building. There is a traffic light, and a neighboring building across the street where the angle of the intersection is slightly obtuse.
What has intrigued me endlessly about this particular drawing is that it accurately depicts an apartment in Brooklyn in which I would eventually live nearly 16 years later.
The similar real world location is at 14 Bayard Street in the Williamsburg section of Brooklyn. It is directly across from McCarren Park on the south side, and has not changed a great deal since I lived there a decade ago. The building is a lonely three story building with red asbestos tile. There is a chimney on the right side of the roof exactly like the drawing. The building is surrounded by junked cars, tires and garbage, just as in the drawing. A fence surrounds the lots like the drawing. There is a traffic light out on the corner with sidewalks like the drawing. The angle of the intersection is very similar, and there is another apartment building placed exactly as it is in the drawing. If you take the elements apart they are almost too accurate to be inconsequential.
The only difference I can find is that the door on the building is in the center, while the real 14 Bayard Street, has its doorway on the left side. Interestingly, if you look at the drawing even closer it seems as though I started to draw a structure on the left side, similar to the stoop overhang and which the real building currently has.
It’s so close however, that when I first came across it I recognized the drawing immediately as where I was living. It was also the first apartment I ever had in Brooklyn and was really my first introduction to an “urban” environment.
Now this could have been only a coincidence of course, and a bizarre stretch of the imagination, only it happened a few years later with another place in which I lived.
This time I clearly made the drawing in the late 1980’s while I was actually living on Bayard Street.
In 1995 I moved into a unique sublet on the Lower East Side of Manhattan. One dominant feature of the apartment was its marvelous view of the river and the Willaimsburg Bridge. Again, I again came across this drawing after I lived in the space.
One curious aspect of the bridge drawing is that it seems to depict a huge fire, or plume of smoke, emanating out of Brooklyn. I haven’t been able to identify this smoke with any real occurrence. There was a train crash on the bridge one summer close to the spot in the drawing, and once one of the towers caught on fire, but nothing that large and on the distant horizon. The frame of the window is similarly rectangular, although not 2:1, and the element of the latticework of the bridge, makes it resemble the Williamsburg closely. I’ve often thought that this smoke in the picture might illustrate a calamity to come, but fortunately for everyone, I will be moving from this location in less than a month.
I find it very curious that I seem to consistently be making a record of the places I have lived before I have lived in them.
If anything else it encourages me to keep drawing.
X. F. Pine
P.S. On a side note (you should hold onto your hat if you are wearing one), one of the very first exterior shots in the movie Smoke shows the Willamsburg Bridge from the Brooklyn side. If you look closely in the back, beyond the bridge, I believe you can see the apartment window where I am currently writing this letter. The building is definitely visible.