peter walsh

Photo: Jonny Valiant

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It's a truth universally acknowledged that renting in New York City involves paying twice as much for half the space. Add an extra person to that space, and the math slips even further out of your favor—especially if you're both sitting on enough stuff to stock a Bloomingdale's. And if that new arrival is your mom? You can expect to confront a whole other set of challenges.

So discovered Ashley Williams, O senior editor and lessee of an Upper East Side one-bedroom, who recently acquired a roommate: her mother, Esther, who's found herself in a transitional period. "Mom had been teaching English in Massachusetts, and working as a private tutor in Tennessee before that," says Ashley, "but she was looking for a change—"

"—and I'd always wanted to live in New York," Esther cuts in. A vivacious semi-retiree, she gives off a whiff of that other Esther Williams, the buxom beauty who made her name starring in features for MGM. (This morning, dawn has barely broken and Esther is singing to herself in the living room while dancing a jaunty merengue.) Ashley—who possesses an easy laugh and an outgoing nature—is an apple who hasn't fallen far from the tree. This is that rare mom-daughter duo who genuinely enjoy each other.

Maybe that's because they share a few key traits—like, say, the insatiable desire to hoard clothing. And a mutual quirk that could generously be called pragmatism (you'll never catch these two without an umbrella!) and, less generously, pack-rat-ism (do they really need eight?).

Esther is staying in the apartment only until she gets settled in one of her own, but even a few months is a long time to feel cramped. And there's no denying that the living room is currently overrun: a metal clothes rack sags with Ashley's tops and tees, displaced when Esther took over her dresser; boxes of Esther's paperwork clog the corner by the window; and Esther's swollen duffel bag, which she can't yet unpack, slumps against the TV console. "Yeah," Ashley says with a sigh, "I hate that duffel bag." It doesn't help when Esther makes plain that the stuff inside the bag is here to stay, with a defensive "It's not like there's that much in there," followed by a definitive "We're not going through the duffel bag." Okay, then.

Next: Peter Walsh to the rescue!


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