Deborah Thomas and Hannah Silverman spent September 11 searching for their 10-year-old sons, best friends who attend school near the World Trade Center site. The kids were fine, but Silverman, who lives at 400 Chambers Street, couldn’t go back to her ash-caked home. Naturally, Thomas volunteered her Lower East Side loft.
“It’s the hardest thing I’ve done in a while,” says Thomas, publisher of Extra! “My husband was working at home, and everyone else was in the back of the apartment all day.” With bad air outside and school closed, the three adults and two kids spent lots of time indoors over two very snug weeks. “Let’s just say I know who the light sleepers were,” says Silverman, laughing. “I couldn’t get up at night to use the bathroom without waking a few people.”
Sharing a small place is always tough, and these were no ordinary guests. “You get emotional outbursts for no reason – stressed out, withdrawn,” says Roberta Benzilio, an executive at William B. May and one of Battery Park City’s 7,000 refugees. Benzilio did a couch tour for three weeks before she found a temporary place uptown. “Living in friends’ houses – it’s disruptive,” she says. “What’s the old saying? Guests and fish stink after three days.” (Most guests, anyway: Chelsea’s Ilan Cohen says that during the two weeks he and his partner housed a friend and her German shepherd, she made sumptuous dinners and walked his dogs daily.)
Stephen R. Markman, a lawyer, spent a month in his mom’s “AOL room,” his old bedroom in Queens. “There’s nothing I love more than my parents, but there’s nothing I hate more than living with them,” he says. His oldest friend was also staying with his parents nearby, and the two spent nights revisiting the diners of their youth and discovering Howard Beach’s bars. “My parents don’t wait up per se,” Markman says. “But they’re usually up.”
Even amid tensions about bathrooms and bedtimes, however, the hosts all say they’d do it again. Like many of the displaced, Benzilio had more offers than she could use, even from long-lost high-school classmates. “People have been wonderful,” she says. “If I didn’t have friends to help me get through this, I’d be in Bellevue.”