By James Maher
Name: Robert, who is a little camera shy, with Stellar
Occupation: Hair Stylist
Location: 2nd Street and Avenue A
Time: 5 p.m. on Thursday, Oct. 23
I’m from upstate New York originally. I moved to California after graduating from SUNY Binghamton. I went to beauty school and ended up having my own salon. It was great. I had traveled around California and had friends who were living in Monterey. I spent 15 years there. But I became sick of the friggin’ fog.
I came to the city in 1986. My parents were moving back up from Florida. I spent two weeks with friends from California and partied my ass off. Then an apartment I had fell through at the last minute and friends said, oh but so and so knows this place on St. Mark's and 1st, so I ended up there with a couple of roommates.
At that point, I would come to Avenue A, go to Odessa, go to the Pyramid Club to go dancing and stuff, but you couldn’t go into the Park. It was a real mess. But I enjoyed the part of the neighborhood you could walk in. It was friendly. You could actually talk to people and meet people and stuff. There’s a sense of community. It’s changing. There are all these new buildings that to me don’t seem to fit in.
My career went really great in California. After a few years I got a clientele together and had my own salon. I was busy as hell. Then when I moved here, I found a salon to work in on 7th and 23rd. It was called Eclipse. I started dating the hair colorist. Then the salon closed for back taxes. We were able to get clients files. So we ended up sitting on 23rd Street splitting up the files. It was coming up summer and you know how dead the city gets. We were like how are we really going to survive?
I ended up back in California because that was the place where I knew. Only lasted a year there because [my boyfriend] freaked out. I think he expected Florida. In California, he'd stand on the balcony looking out through the fog and say, They called this place fuckin’ beautiful?
So we moved to Orlando. This was back in the 1990s. There were lots of job openings and, of course, the weather was great. We had a pool in the backyard and a two-bedroom house. But you can’t make any money. After doing hair for 20 years I was getting paid like $7.50 an hour. I stayed for two years and had eight jobs. I worked a couple jobs for Disney — for the Epcot Center.
I ended up coming back here. I moved to an apartment on Avenue A near 14th Street. There was a large thunderstorm once when I wasn’t there. I came back and said something’s wrong downstairs. There was black mold from floor to ceiling and all around. And [management] did their half-assed renovation of it. They just took a cloth and washed it and slapped on some paint. I didn’t think it was healthy to continue living there. I tried to get the landlord to check it out, to do something about it. The building manager wouldn’t so I got a local lab. I took a piece and they tested it and it came back with like four pages. It was Stachybotrys plus seven or eight other molds. My landlord was like, You’re just freaking out. I was like, You’re goddam right I’m freaking out.
So it was time to move. And now I'm in an apartment between C and D. It is a safer place in a lot of ways, but, then again, I would say that I don’t think it’s that safe, especially on Avenue D and especially later at night. I was returning home [over the summer] and walking the dog. I went up the steps and I saw the cops who were walking by me and I said, thank you for being out here and walking the beat, because I feel like Avenue D is going downhill and they turned to me and said, the whole neighborhood is going downhill.
In my building, two people have reported junkies walking in during the afternoon … and finding junkies in the hallway shooting up. As you walk down the stairs, there are stairs that lead into the basement. I walked out awhile ago and there was a junkie on the steps. He turned and looked up at me and carried on.
James Maher is a fine art and studio photographer based in the East Village. Find his website here.