By James Maher
Name: Anna Pastoressa
Occupation: Jack of all trades
Location: 2nd Street and Avenue A
Time: 4:15 pm on Friday, July 15
I was born in Rome. As a young person, I thought that I was in a small world, and I wanted to see the world. So I used to travel a lot, and then I decided I wanted to come and visit the U.S. It was just a visit.
When I came, I liked it, and I traveled all over the U.S. I decided that I wanted to try to stay, but New York was not my first destination. I lived in New Orleans, I met somebody there, and I got married. That’s what made me stay here in this country. Eventually, I divorced that person and I decided to come to New York. I’m from Rome and I needed to be in a big city. New Orleans had a small-town feeling.
I moved here in 1983. I came right to the East Village. I used to live on Avenue C. It was the cheapest place to be, but it was also a dangerous area. It was like the wild west, but I have to say, the drug dealers who were in charge of the neighborhood, they kept the neighborhood safe. I used to walk around Alphabet City in the 80s by myself, at night. I knew the drug dealers would be in the doorways minding their business, and making sure that the neighborhood stayed safe.
You know, I felt safe, as crazy as this sounds. It was very hard to take a cab home, because cab drivers used to drop me on 1st Avenue. They’d said, ‘You have to walk. I’m not taking you to that jungle.’ I would be mad, because I wanted to go home, but they would systematically drop me on 1st Avenue, and I would have to walk all the way to Avenue C. But then I thought, ‘Okay, from 1st Avenue to Avenue C, there are going to be the drug dealers helping out.
In fact, there were some people who were pickpocketed, and the drug dealers were the ones who saved them, or they would chase the thief. They used to tell them, ‘Do not rob in this neighborhood. Do not come here to steal, because we will beat you up. We don’t want the cops here, so you don’t do this in this neighborhood.’
I knew the drug dealers, to the point where I had an old funky car, and I used to park it around the neighborhood. One time, the car got broken into. They broke the glass, and one of the drug dealers saw the car and said, ‘What happened to it?’ I said, ‘Well, look, they broke into the car, and I don’t even have a radio. There is nothing to steal.’ And he said, ‘Where did you park it?’ I said, ‘I parked it two blocks away,’ and he said, ‘You don’t park it there. You park your car on this block and nothing will ever happen to your car.’
I remember having a little trouble sometimes with kids in the neighborhood. They would play basketball and bounce it on my car, or be a little rowdy. There was one particular kid, I was trying to park the car near my house, and he was trying to take over the parking spot and put his ball there. So one time I wanted to park there, and he started bouncing the basketball on my car, and bent it.
I got so upset that I went to the drug dealer, and I said, ‘Listen, you told me to ask you for help. Please help me, this kid is not being nice to me. I know the kid, he lives right there, a few doors down from me.’ The drug dealer took care of it. He brought him to me and said, ‘You say sorry to this lady. Don’t you ever, ever bother her again,’ and the kid was like, ‘Sorry!’ I felt so bad for him.
The funny thing is that I saw him growing up after that, and he turned into a very nice man. To date, when I run into him, we laugh. He keeps telling me, ‘I’m so sorry for what I did as a kid,’ and I say, ‘Stop it. A long time has gone by. You’re a wonderful, nice young man. Leave it alone. You were a kid.’ We still laugh. We can never forget that incident.
I had a lot of friends in my neighborhood. We were all artists, musicians. I know a lot of people here who are into visual arts, music, theater. We used get together and Tompkins Square Park was our playground; that was our meeting point. We would go together to plays. There used to be a lot of alternative theaters in this area. People had theaters in their homes, and they had galleries in squats. It was a very nice period. As much as it was considered bad, or it had a negative connotation, I think it was a fun time of New York City, and of this area. There was a lot of freedom. We knew everybody. It was like being in a village. It was a real village.
Then we grew up, we got married, we had children, and our children play together in Tompkins Square Park. It was the playground for our children. We would have parties and be with our children. We looked out for each other’s children.
James Maher is a fine art and studio photographer based in the East Village. Find his website here.