Her chair was pure white with the most beautiful butterflies you've ever seen embroidered on the upholstery and the frame was an original by a famous designer. I don't remember which one, even though she said his name a million times before I turned 10.

I was nine when it happened and knew who Piet Mondrian was: in second grade we cut paper into geometric patterns, soaked them with primary-color ink markers, and made our art. An original Mondrian hangs on the wall above my triple-flatscreen-monitor daytrading setup here.

The chair artist was not Eames.

The chair lived in a corner of my grandparents' city apartment, dwarfed by other furniture. Their place was large but somehow still stuffy, the air always damp with the smell of cabbage, pickling spices, and lavender perfume. Visiting as a child, I preferred to stay outside on the balcony, taking in the views while seated in a heavy cast-iron chair purchased for solely for its ability to withstand cold winds roaring inland from the Statue of Liberty. More art.

These days, my art is wringing above-market financial returns, growing the tidy profit gained from selling my dead grandmother's apartment during the first dot-com boom, in 1998. My final act in the immaculately staged space was to call my pot guy, who arrived on bike in just five minutes and joined me for a fat joint on the balcony. We got the munchies, ordered assorted snack foods from Kozmo.com, and ate everything from each bag. Crumbs everywhere, feeding a new generation of high-altitude ants.

These descendents came from ants well-fed by my careless grandparents, who were forever cleaning but mindlessly sweeping crumbs out of sight. It got worse after grandpa died. The movers found a colony behind their statuesque antique breakfront, which fetched five-figures from a furniture store/auction house in Queens. I put it into Apple Computer stock.

My grandfather fed birds on the balcony. He'd raised passenger pigeons as a boy, part of happy youthful memories of stickball and the candy store, riding out to a far different Long Island in his Oldsmobile, and practicing casual racism. Those birds shat everywhere and served as urban roosters in the morning.

My parents were fighting again, so I'd hopped on the 1/9 train and when I knocked at his door, my grandfather slid back the deadbolt and opened the door with a crocheted blanket in hand. Wisps of white hair shined on his head. He grunted and handed me the blanket.

Pigeons woke me up early the following morning. I was nine and retreated to the balcony. The sky glowed with new light. My stomach growled. I didn't notice the slime of brown-white pigeon poop under my Converse.

Grandpa often hid candy atop of the breakfront--he was senile now and wouldn't notice some missing. I slipped back into the apartment and stood on a chair, her chair, to reach the cabinet top. There was nothing. I hopped down. Two smeared shoe prints stained the butterflies with bird shit.