Manhattan-born and raised actor, author, filmmaker and former cab driver Eric Schaeffer has lived on the Upper West Side his entire life. He is the creator of seven feature films (he is currently filming his eighth in Paris) and four TV series, many of which are set in his beloved hometown. I Can’t Believe I’m Still Single--Schaeffer’s reality-based show chronicling his mishaps finding Ms. Right--kicked off its third season on Showtime last Thursday; he is also the author of a memoir of the same name.
We asked Schaeffer for his NYC apartment-dwelling backstory and were shocked—shocked—to find out that a guy who is nearly 50 and has made a career out of being single is, by Manhattan standards, an apartment monogamist. We also learn that chicks dig hammocks.
Can you tell me a bit about the apartment you grew up in? Your mother still lives in that rent-stabilized unit, doesn’t she?
Yeah, she still lives in the apartment I grew up in. It was a classic pre-war one bedroom on the 13th floor--overlooking the Hudson, if you sat sideways in the window.
What was your own first NYC apt? How did you find it?
I rented a small one-bedroom on 112th between Broadway and Riverside that I found in the paper for $1200 back in 1987.
Give us a brief history of your NYC apartment dwelling.
I’ve only lived in two places my entire life besides the apartment I grew up in. I lived in the place on 112th for five years. I liked the Columbia University energy and the park nearby. I moved home with my mom in 1991 in order to save money to make my first film, My Life's In Turnaround. That was a special time for me, both for bonding with her as an adult and because it afforded me a chance to help raise money to make my first movie. Then I rented the place I have now: A one-bedroom penthouse which sort of seems like a small hut on a roof to me; it's pre-war and has high ceilings and a spacious wraparound terrace. I have a sliver of a view south and then larger ones north and east and west.
Do you use your terrace as much as you expected and/or in the ways you expected?
My lovely neighbors are always offering me their cast off plants and furniture to spruce up my barren terrace, but I like it empty. I walk around out there on the phone or to just watch the city. The only thing I have out there is a grill and two seats from Shea Stadium. I recently set up a hammock that a friend had given me ten years ago that hitherto had lived in boxes above my kitchen cabinets. A girlfriend at the time told me, "If you build it, she will come. Chicks like hammocks." I'm still single, but the hammock is nice.
What have you come to appreciate about the apartment that you didn’t necessarily when you moved in? What has come to irritate you?
I've been there nearly 20 years so it's very much home. The water pressure isn't good and since it's on the roof, whenever they need to do building work they stage it from my terrace; that's not fun. Other than that it's great.
Because your personal life plays so prominently in everything you create for the public, do you find privacy at home harder to come by?
I have great neighbors (all different types of people) and they are very nice, complimentary and interested in my work.
How would you ideally like to be treated if recognized in the elevator?
I like people to just be normal. If they enjoy something I've done then I'm happy and grateful when they tell me so. You know, like how anyone appreciates a compliment.
How do you decide how much to tip the doormen at holiday time?
For anyone who grew up in NYC, you know that doormen are your first friends and sometimes your longest lasting. When you play in the lobby (as a child), they are like your favorite uncles. I tip them depending on how much I made that year.
Have you ever thought about buying a place in Manhattan instead of renting? Why or why not?
I never had the money to buy, and it always seemed a bit foolish. Unless you're going to be in the real estate business or move to the country when you sell, what's the upside? A mortgage and maintenance is a lot after a huge down payment. If I was loaded I'd buy something, sure.
It seems lately this city is overrun with bedbugs. How scared of them are you? Do you take any special precautions while traveling? Do you know anyone who had them?
Since a friend of mine had them, I am terrified! As far as precautions, I just pray.
You have become a fixture on UWS. The Metro Diner even appears on camera in your work. What about that area draws you in and keeps you there?
It’s my home. I love having both parks on either side and the river so close. When Sal and Carmine moved their pizza joint from 95th St. to 102nd St. they gave me the original sign they made when they opened in 1958. I still have it on my wall. It's the relationships with store owners and neighbors that make it feel like a small town. I also like the family vibe on the UWS. I'm not a party guy so downtown only interests me for visits. I like it to be peaceful, though lately it's getting much more crowded.
How has it changed over the years? How do you feel about the changes you have witnessed?
The gentrification is worrisome, but luckily there are enough rent-controlled/stabilized people and the projects above 96th Street on Amsterdam and Columbus in the area to ensure that it will remain interesting and socially diverse, thank God.
I know you love Nemos, but I assume they are usually not deliverable. What is your favorite food delivery place?
Of course Nemos can be delivered! It's NYC--you can get anything delivered. I order from Flor De Mayo, the Indian Grill, the local bodega, The Hummus Place and Cafe Viva. Those are my usual haunts.
You also have a place in northern New York City, right?
I rent another apartment I use as an office where I go to write. It's on the cliffs at Spuyten Duyvil, the southernmost section of Riverdale, below West 232nd Street, home of The Henry Hudson Memorial Park and the Henry Hudson Bridge, which connects it to the island of Manhattan. It takes 12 minutes in a cab up the West Side Highway. Ever since I was little when we would drive up the West Side Highway I would look at the buildings on that cliff and dream of living in one. They looked so majestic. It’s pure magic! That boat and train bridge that stands guard over the beginning of the East River branching off from the Hudson, the Palisade Cliffs where Palisade Park used to be, the GW bridge… I can just stare out the window for hours.