By James Maher
Name: Michael Feeney (and Misty)
Occupation: Electrical Contractor, Marine
Location: 6th Street between 1st and A.
Time: 2:55 pm on Monday, November 26
I'm 79 and this coming April 16, I'll have been living in this same building for 50 years. I came here with my family when I was 10; that was in 1943. I grew up on 9th Street between C and D and there were no projects around there; it was all tenements. These buildings (Village View) were tenements also. It was all together different around here. Everybody hung out on their stoops. The women sat with other women; the men sat together listening to the baseball games on the radio; the kids played stickball, kick-the-can, ringalevio. People on these blocks were not neighbors; they were all friends.
This neighborhood was Russian, Polish, Ukrainian and Jewish. It was a working-class neighborhood. You had a lot of greasy spoons back in those days; nothing like this. There were a lot of Polish and Jewish restaurants. The prices were, forget it, dirt cheap. Back in those days when summers rolled around, everybody slept with all the windows and doors opened. Some people slept on fire escapes and some slept on the roofs to get some air. Nobody had a fan or air conditioning.
I was only a kid when I got here and when I was 13 the courts put me and my brother into a home on Staten Island. I was supposed to be there until I was 18, but I was so bad and they were so angry with me that they threw me out when I was 16. I was Catholic and went to Catholic school.
They whooped you in those days when you did something wrong. They would whoop me all of the time. I said little gems like, “Jesus was not the son of God, he was the son of Joseph of Arimathea,” and they did not like that. So I got whooped for that. And then I said, “I have a brain. God gave me a brain and I like to use it. How can you in good conscience, how can any religion call her the Virgin Mary when she was married and had two kids before Jesus. How in the hell was she a virgin?” I got whooped for that one.
At 16, I was working uptown in Hell’s Kitchen, loading and unloading trailer trucks. Then, in 1950, I located my old man and got him to sign the papers so I could enlist in the Marine Corps and I made it to the Korean War. I didn’t turn 17 until two and a half weeks before we landed in Korea.
After that I just hung out for awhile and then worked for a laundry where I made $35 a week, plus tips. Then I went into the electrical business, working for contractors and my salary went up to $50 a week for 40 hours. That’s a buck and a quarter an hour. I worked in that business for 29 years.
Misty is a rescue dog. She’ll be a year old next month; I just got her about 3 months ago. They used to use her as a bait dog to train pit bulls to fight. She had three infections. They tied her up at a factory in Jersey and left her to die. For four days she didn’t have any food or water until a night watchman heard her crying and saw her laying there. He called up animal rescue, who got her and took care of the infections. Then, when I got her she was all skin and bones. She loves people; she’s so friendly, but you can’t bring her anywhere near other dogs or she’ll attack.
James Maher is a fine art and studio photographer based in the East Village. Find his website here.