Wednesday, June 14, 2017

Out and About in the East Village

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

By James Maher
Name: Miss Joan Marie Moossy
Occupation: Performer
Location: Clinton Street
Date: Monday, June 12 at noon

I’m from New Orleans originally. As a child, our family moved all over the place. My dad was a doctor and academic physician, so he taught in medical schools, and we lived in Europe because daddy was the head of a cerebral vascular study, an international study. During his career, he was instrumental in separating psychiatry from neurology, because in 1950 when he graduated, it was all one big department.

I was coming here in the 1970s — I was a dancer in Washington D.C., and then I went to Pittsburgh for Law School. I was coming to New York all the time, and that’s when I got the apartment and moved here. I was a go-go dancer. I did it for six years in my 20s. I never worked as a lawyer. I have covered court cases for magazine articles, that kind of stuff, but I never worked as a lawyer.

The first time I ever walked up to this building, there was a guy throwing up on the stoop and two little girls walking by all dressed up like they were having a birthday party, and I remember thinking, ‘I’m going to live here forever.’ For some reason that was the first thought that crossed my mind.

It was really different then. I guess you could say it was more dangerous, but I think New York is always dangerous. I don’t think you’re wise to let your guard down ever in New York. But it was an exciting youth. There was a lot going on in terms of nightclubs and performance and so many opportunities to participate in that – it was a very open scene in terms of diversity of age, race, gender, sexual orientation, everything. You could meet somebody of every stripe at any party or nightclub, so that was wonderful. So you had friends that were every age, from every country, every color.

All these buildings that you see across from us on Clinton Street were boarded up, and there was a big heroin trade up the street. That moved up and down the street. Across the street, they had put concrete blocks in all the doorways and windows, and I guess the heroin business had dug out a hole and somebody would be sitting inside the building. The junkies would line up, they’d put their money in, and they’d get the heroin out. And you want to talk diversity, I’m telling you, junkies come in every stripe. When you’d sit here and look out the window and watch an entire line of them, it was the stereotypical junkies, it was the guys in suits, it was the women in nice shoes.

You couldn’t get a taxi to bring you down here. The furthest place you could get a taxi was First and First. There was a restaurant there called the Baltic, which was open 24 hours a day. They would drop you there and you’d walk the rest of the way, so frequently you’d run. Somebody’s chasing you, you run.

I’ve had some experience in the housing movement – we were almost illegally evicted from this building. They would say that your building was about to collapse, then everybody would run out and they would tear the building down. That’s what they did on Stanton Street, on Fifth Street. So that’s what happened here too, and we didn’t leave, obviously.

As a result, I got involved in activism. I talk to other tenant groups when they’re at risk and that type of thing. I learned a lot about the neighborhood and the people who live here. There’s nothing like talking to people. You can sit in your house all day and look on the Internet and watch the news on TV, and it’s really not quite the same thing as going and talking to the people that are affected by it. That’s been an invaluable lesson.

We'll have more from this interview with Joan next week, including her time working at the Limelight in the 1980s and continuing to love NYC today.

James Maher is a fine art and studio photographer based in the East Village. Find his website here.


Anonymous said...

Yes agree with you . NYC is always dangerous and the LES was VERY DANGEROUS back then.

Anonymous said...

I love her! Great interview. Glad she is still here in the neighborhood!

marjorie said...

This is a fun one! Miss Moossy has a great face.

I used to walk alone thru the EV in 1990 late at nite on the way home from the Nuyorican Poets Cafe; I was always terrified but determined to do it, every time. I'd get to East 3rd Street and First Avenue and take a few relieved breaths because the Hells Angels always made that block safe...then I'd get to Second Avenue and steel myself again for the rest of the walk home. (I lived in Chelsea then -- it had begun to gentrify but still had a lot of character.)

Scuba Diva said...

I know I've heard Miss Moossy on WBAI many times; she has a great voice too.

Back when I first came here in 1980, this neighborhood was still the Lower East Side, kiddies. (Still is, actually; I'm one of the few holdouts who refuses to call it the East Village.) "Lower East Side" used to mean the part of Manhattan bordered by 14th street to the north, Third Avenue (Bowery) to the west, the East River to the East, and I don't know, Fulton Street to the south. But then again, Tribeca used to be called the Lower West Side—SoHo was already a thing—so I don't know.

I recall in early 1981 a couple of friends and I got together to make sundaes and huff whippets. We were at Key Foods on 3rd and A at 3 AM for some reason didn't feel any danger. Of course, one of us lived on 3rd between A and B, so it wasn't far to get home. Seriously, I've very rarely felt in danger in this neighborhood, and I'm glad of it; I don't even question it.

Anonymous said...

I lived on E7th Street in the early 80s when tent city was in Tompkins..I could go out for milk at midnight and felt safe..people knew each other. There was a sense of community.

Allied Productions, Inc. said...

What a great and iconic story!