By James Maher
Name: Jenny Adams
Location: East 7th Street between 1st and 2nd Ave
Time: Monday, Nov. 25 at 1pm.
I’m from Birmingham, Ala. I grew up there and then went to the college of Charleston. I grew up in the south, went to college in the south and planned to live in the south my whole life. I wasn’t really the adventurous type until after college. And then I moved to Montana on a whim. Somebody had an extra bedroom for rent for $200 a month. My lease was up so I decided to move there for six months. Once I did that it opened the door to the idea that I could do it.
So I moved to New Zealand and lived there for a year. I was 23 and waited tables and worked on a vineyard for spare change, picking grapes for 60 cents every 5 pounds. That’s what a lot of the backpackers do. And then I started running out of money so I moved to Thailand for a few months. I wasn’t working but I had $1,000 left — and you can live for a really long time on $1,000 in Bangkok.
When I went broke, I came back to America. I was not happy. My parents said, ‘You’ve got no money and you’re being a delinquent.‘ I wanted to be a writer. I’ve always wanted to be a writer. My mom’s a writer, my aunt’s a writer and my grandma’s a writer. Of course I had that whole ‘I want to be a writer’ thing but you can’t just go out and write. You have to have a background. My mom actually owned a magazine at the time, so I was like, ‘Sweet, you’ll just give me a job,’ and she was like, ‘No, you have no experience and you don’t know what you’re doing.’ It was the best lesson I’ve ever had. I just expected her to hire me.
So I enrolled in grad school at the University of Mississippi, Ole Miss, in 2006 and I worked in an office in Mississippi for three years as a writer. It was a little painful but it ended up being a good experience. And then things started to happen. I moved back to Alabama and my mom gave me a job. I also got a writing job in Alabama working for a nightlife magazine. I’ve always been in the nightlife segment of writing. It started out with the industry, behind the scenes, stuff for the trade magazines. And then I broke into the consumer side, reviewing bars and spirits.
I lived in Alabama from ‘07 till ’09, when I moved here. I was sick of Alabama and was thinking about moving to New York. I knew nothing about the city, but I said I wanted to move to the East Village because that’s where all the writers lived. So I moved into an apartment on Avenue D. I had never seen anything like it. I vividly remember the first person I saw on heroin. I had never seen anyone just outside on heroin, just freaking out on the sidewalk. Before I had moved here I hadn’t seen poverty in the same way. Alabama, where I lived, was super green and clean and safe. Everybody had a sprinkler and two kids and a dog. And then I moved here and was like, ‘whoa.’ At first I thought I wasn’t going to be there very long. Maybe I’d move someplace less ‘crazy.’ But now I love it and I wouldn’t want to live anywhere else.
Sandy was a surreal time but it was also one of the best times I’ve ever had. Everybody worked so hard during the day and then at night you made new friends because you didn’t have a phone. My building got hit hard. We had tons of water in the basement. Our super lived down there in a livable space. It was completely flooded and his stuff was all destroyed. Sewers backed into the building. It was just a mess. He lost everything.
So I went uptown and got on GoFundMe to raise $1,000 for my super. I didn’t even have emails of anyone in my building but I said let’s try. And we had $600 within 45 minutes. I left it up and the next morning it was at $2,000. We raised close to $12,000 in 6 days. So I gave the super $1,500 and ended up distributing the rest of it out throughout the neighborhood. I did not realize, to give away $12,000 piece by piece, is a lot of work. We went and bought blankets for people. We went to the soup kitchens. All my friends helped. Most of it was $100 here and $200 there, going to buy groceries and shipping them to the Rockaways.
A couple of the supers who worked in the lower-income buildings on East 12th somehow found me and were like, ‘Our building have a bunch of elderly and they’re really poor and don’t have anything.’ So we went down to Target and bought 55 jackets and blankets. Just to watch these supers … take it upon themselves to find me and other people to help get them blankets and space heaters … was a really cool moment.
James Maher is a fine art and studio photographer based in the East Village. Find his website here.