1976

As a sculptor, Mary Ann knew tools and structure, and her father, Bill, an engineer and a true Mr. Fix-It, regularly made the trip in from New Jersey to help out. A stocky man with an enormous head, capped by white hair and a beard, Bill would come with tools and supplies, and though he didn’t talk much, he was a patient and generous mentor. We ran wiring and installed plumbing, built walls and bookcases, replaced the semi-opaque window glass, and created a full bathroom. I had little experience with power tools, much less designing and building my own home. Yet working with Bill and Mary Ann, I was remade in their image, proud of my new skills in carpentry, electricity, and plumbing. And Mary Ann was ingenious in extending our dollars. We scavenged boards and wooden food crates from the street to construct kitchen counters; we ducked under a chain link fence and climbed to the third floor of an abandoned Bowery flophouse to pry tiles off the bathroom walls for our tub enclosure.

—Rock In A Landslide

 

From the start, Mary Ann addressed our pecuniary challenges with the resourcefulness and chicanery of Robin Hood. She pried discs from electrical junction boxes and filed them down to use as subway tokens. She tapped into an unmetered gas line to feed a ceiling-mounted space heater; when the utilities company found out and made us install meters, Mary Ann figured out that we could unscrew the gas meter each month, attach it to our big vacuum cleaner, and run it backwards before the meter reader came, keeping our bills blessedly low. I rarely invented the plans, but I always went along, glad to stretch our few dollars in order to keep me taking photographs and Mary Ann making sculpture.

Rock In A Landslide

 
I rarely invented the plans, but I always went along...
 
 

Late one night, some glass seltzer bottles next to the stove exploded, and, jolted from sleep, I leapt up—naked and without my glasses on—and ran blindly across the room, yelling and waving my arms to scare away the intruder. With clear amusement in her voice, Mary Ann would recount being propped on one elbow, astonished at my recklessness and saying to herself, “That’s the man for me.”

Rock In A Landslide

 
 
Kelly Nowels