Wednesday, November 28, 2012

Out and About in the East Village

In this weekly feature, East Village-based photographer James Maher provides us with a quick snapshot of someone who lives and/or works in the East Village.


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.

31 comments:

pinhead said...

James! Where do you find these people?

Mr. Feeney, sir, much respect for a live well lived and an awesome head of hair.

marjorie said...

Fascinating interview. And ditto on the excellent-hair observation! And yay, pit-bull rescue. (And I can relate to the taunting of the nuns and priests; I used to deliberately enrage the Orthodox rabbis in my Jewish Day School by saying Adam and Eve had to have been cavemen, and by getting all the other girls to pray super-loud behind the divider (girls in the back!).)

John M said...

This one guy is worth a million hipsters and trust fund babies. Hell, he's worth a good thousand or so of me.

Ken from Ken's Kitchen said...

This is a great series. And Mr. Feeney is JM's best subject yet.

Anonymous said...

He's 79?! He looks 49! Props! And great series as always. Thanks for posting!

Anonymous said...

This is the guy that saw the East Village gentrify before all of the people complaining about the current gentrification were even born.

Anonymous said...

Anyone who rescues a dog, has my full attention and respect! Great interview. Great guy! Awesome dog!

aveaisessex said...

I've seen this guy walking around for nine years, long enough to see his sweet hair turn from jet black to it's current salt-and-pepper wave. You just knew he was badass. Great piece!

Anonymous said...

I see Mr. Feeney on the street all the time, so this was very enjoyable to read. Thanks.

Anonymous said...

Great article. Mr. Feeney is the real deal and for 79 he looks like he's in great shape! More power to you sir!

Anonymous said...

Nice read. Great to see a story about a real old timer and hard not to notice he doesn't dip into pathetic whining about how the neighborhood has gone to shit. coughcough

THE NOTORIOUS L.I.B.E.R.A.T.I.O.N. said...

My favorite installment so far!

Hey19 said...

Beautiful dog, he seems to have really gotten her back to good health after a tragic situation.

Anonymous said...

Before I opened the comments I knew there'd be folks on here saying this guy was more worthy than hipsters blah blah. This guy has as much worth as any other human who mouth breathes in this neaighborhood, on Sixth Street or on this planet for that matter. He may have led a great life, he may not have. I have no idea. God bless the guy, but his presence does not detract from the contribution of any other person in this or any other neighborhood, be they renters, owners, teens or octogenarians. Enough with the comparing the worth of humans garbage.

Shawn G. Chittle said...

John M nailed it.

This guy is why I love the LES and NYC! What a heart of gold this man has!

edgar said...

Excellent piece.

Goggla said...

What an interesting man - I'd love to hear more of his stories.

Thanks for sharing!

Marty Wombacher said...

I'd love to have a beer or three with Mr. Feeney! I love this series. James hit it out of the ballpark with this one! Great work!

Anonymous said...

I like the part where he was a teenage heretic. Question everything! Nice write up. Would be interesting to hear more from people like Mr Feeney, people who have really been around and have lived through all these changes.

Anonymous said...

My family and my self thank you all on the wonderful comments for my grandfather We truly do. Also to you as well James Maher. He is honestly an amazing person and I'm happy a fraction of his life story has gotten out there. Thank you all again. Sjm

izzyfudge said...

So touching on many levels. Obviously, Mr. Feeney is an incredible human being! I've seen him around with Misty, she's very beautiful.

Anonymous said...

Guys like this are what make NYC great and I am so angry that Bloomberg types are pricing them out of the city.

Thanks for this series. Means a lot to me.

highlandsdream@live.com said...

THAT'S MY DAD! He is a wonderful person. He's lead one of the most interesting lives I have ever heard, and he is also a wonderful storyteller. He is the best. Love you, Dad.

Anonymous said...

That's my Dad! He has lead one of the most interesting lives I have ever heard, and is a wonderful storyteller. He has always been my inspiration. Thank you John Maher for sharing your time with him, and helping the people see what the lower east side was and still is,a great place with great people. Love you Dad, keep punchin'.AMFK

Anonymous said...

11:33PM,

Most people like Mr. Feenery were priced out of EV/LES long before Bloomberg.

Anonymous said...

This is my grandfather and it brought tears to my eyes reading this not because I've never herd his story I've herd it a million times but because finally people know how wonderful he is I love my grandfather and he is one of the greatest men alive VQM

Anonymous said...

This is my grandfather... Bring him a bottle of whiskey and he would be your friend forever

Gojira said...

@Anon. 1:25 - Please tell me what your grandfather's favorite brand of whiskey is and where I may bring it to him, so that I can sit at his feet for about 3 weeks and listen to all of his stories. My dad passed 8 years ago and took all of his "growing up in NY in the 1920s and '30s" tales that I never tired of hearing with him; I miss him - and them - more than I can say. You should get your dad/grandfather on videotape reminiscing so that when he is no longer here, you can still see him and hear his voice as he remembers...

glamma said...

beautiful stuff. i wonder if he knew peter romanowski aka the mayor of avenue a??

Anonymous said...

Great story about Mr. Feeney- what a great guy with terrific stories- and good lookin' too. Cheers to you and your rebellious soul- my favorite: "God gave me a brain and I like to use it!" I would love to sit and have a drink on the stoop with you to hear you tell more stories!
And saving Misty shows your heart of gold. You are her hero.
All the best, Sinestra

Anonymous said...

This is my neighbor!!! Mike always has stories when you see him. He's a lovely human being and Misty is a sweetheart.